Transcript: Nightly Business Report – June 20, 2019

ANNOUNCER:  This is NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT with Bill Griffeth and Sue  Herera.  

SUE HERERA, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR:  New high.  The S&P closes at a  level never seen before, as bond yields fall below a key level and  investors wonder what`s next.  

BILL GRIFFETH, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR:  Hot home prices.  Mortgage  rates are falling but it may not be in the best interests of buyers.  

HERERA:  New perk.  What would company is doing to help employees save for  retirement and pay down student debt at the same time.  
Those stories and much more tonight on NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT for  Thursday, June 20th.  

GRIFFETH:  And we do bid you a good evening, everybody, and welcome.  
There were a number of notable movements in the markets today.  On Wall  Street, for example, as you heard the S&P closed a new high, with the  investors cheering the idea Federal Reserve might cut interest rates next  month.  That seems to be how the market interpreted the Central Bank`s  pledge to sustain the expansion which we told you about yesterday.  
Oil prices are up more than 5 percent on geopolitical concerns and oil  stocks followed suit.  And finally, interest rates continued lower with the  yield on the 10-year treasury, dipping below 2 percent for a time today to  a three-year low.  

At the close, the Dow rose 249 points for a 26,753.  The Nasdaq added 64,  and the S&P 500 was up 27 at that record.  
Bob Pisani was following the action from the New York Stock Exchange.  

BOB PISANI, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT:  What`s behind the  rally?  There`s a lot of euphoria out there, euphoria about the Federal  Reserve and Central Bank policy and the prospects of lower interest rates  and euphoria about U.S./China trade talks.  

Energy led the gains today.  Crude oil spiked almost 6 percent after Iran  shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone in international airspace in  what U.S. officials called an unprovoked attack.  This, of course, comes  amid mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran and amid recent  attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.  

The markets took a dip briefly midday on comments from President Donald  Trump saying Iran made a big mistake, quote, unquote, and hinting that the  U.S. could be considering a strike against Iran, but it bounced back soon  after when the president appeared to speculate that perhaps the drone was  shot down in error after all.  

Trade also played a part in today`s moves.  Stocks moved higher on a  headline coming from the “South China Morning Post” that China and U.S.  negotiating teams may be meeting as early as Tuesday next week before the  big G20 Summit.  

So, what`s missing from this rally?  We`re lacking some fundamental fire  power.  Just look at Carnival (NYSE:CCL) Cruise Line today.  It is cutting  its full-year forecast because of weaker European bookings and more travel  restrictions.  Carnival (NYSE:CCL) closed down 8 percent and took down  rival cruise line operators Norwegian and Royal Caribbean along with it.  
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Bob Pisani at the New York Stock Exchange.  

HERERA:  So, with parts of the market at a record, what is next for stocks?
Joining us to discuss this is Brian Levitt.  He`s senior director of  investment strategy at Invesco.
Welcome, Brian.  Nice to have you here tonight.  


HERERA:  And you make the point that we are still in a long-term bull  market.  There`s more to go.  Why do you feel that way?  

LEVITT:  Yes, I mean, investors need to get used to the fact that this is a  slow growth world without a lot of inflation.  So ,what that means is even  though this cycle has been going on for a long time, we haven`t built a lot  of excesses in the economy.  We`re not seeing the inflation that brings  forward Fed interest rate hikes, and it is very rare for cycles to end  without a series of interest rate hikes.  

The reason why the markets have been responding the way they have in recent  days is because the Fed has backed down off their tightening stance.  And,  you know, with valuations where they are and the global economy OK, this  could go on a lot longer than people suspect.  

GRIFFETH:  And, in fact, you are among those who feel the Fed will cut  rates maybe a couple of times this year before the end of the year.  And  I`m curious, you know, Fed chair Jerome Powell reminded everybody yesterday  of the Fed`s dual mandate of maximum employment and stable prices.  
What is it that`s calling for a rate cut right now do you think?  

LEVITT:  Well, what is calling for a rate hike right now is that — 

GRIFFETH:  Rate cut.  

LEVITT:  I`m sorry, rate cut, is inflation expectations have fallen  meaningfully in the United States and around the world.  And so, you know,  if you think through the last number of years, the Fed tried to raise rates  in 2015.  While they did, they had to back off of it.  They did it multiple  times in 2018, slowed the economy, and now they have to back off of it.  

So, every time the Fed tries to step in with a different policy stance,  i.e. tighter policy, the markets react, yields go down, borrowing costs go  up, the economy slows.  The markets go down and the Fed backs off again.  
And so, this is no different than what we saw in early 2016 and, you know,  the Fed is rightfully doing it.  Inflation expectations are simply too low  in the United States.  

HERERA:  We do have some headline risks, though, do we not?  We have an  upcoming G20 summit.  We don`t have a trade deal with China and now we have  renewed tensions with Iran.  

LEVITT:  Well, we always have headline risk.  I mean, if we`re going to  wait until there`s absolute certainty to invest, we`ll never invest.  
You`re right, the trade policy is disconcerting.  And, you know, the big  risk with trade is that it will lead to a flight to quality, strengthen the  U.S. dollar and slow down the U.S. economy again.  So that is a risk.

But the reality is what that means is the Federal Reserve is going to lower  interest rates and stay easier for longer.  So, you know, three years ago,  investors would have been talking about Brexit, what did Brexit mean?   Brexit meant easier policy around the world and markets that continue to go  higher.  

So if we get a bad outcome between the U.S. and China, that`s not good from  a macro perspective, but what is more important is what does it mean for  investors?  I suspect you might have a battle of volatility around it but  the Fed will respond and markets should likely go higher.  

HERERA:  On that note, Brian, thanks so much.  Brian Levitt with Invesco. 

LEVITT:  Thank you.  

GRIFFETH:  As we mentioned earlier, investor optimism apparently is being  driven by the hope that the Federal Reserve will lower its bench mark  interest rate.  But is it the right time to cut?  
Steve Liesman takes a look for us tonight.  

STEVE LIESMAN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT:  A bullish stock  market reaction to the Fed`s announcement this week, suggesting a stock and  bond market that are virtually certain the Fed will cut rates next month  and even more beyond.  

There are reasons for the exuberance.  Eight Fed officials forecast at  least one cut and seven of them are forecasting two.  Fed chair Jay Powell  said the balance sheet run-off — that is the quantitative easing that it  had been reversing — could end earlier.  Powell also hinted at a possible  full half point cut instead of just a quarter.  

And that`s the call of Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), which said in its Fed  report, quote, a July rate cut of 50 bases points or half a point is  coming.  Downside risks in global growth and trade have dragged the Fed  away from neutral.  The federal market community will want to take an  aggressive stance.  

But is the market too bullish?  Rate cuts generally come with a weaker  economy and that could mean earnings disappointment.  From the other side,  there remains the possibility the cut never happens because the president  strikes a trade deal with China and the economy turns out better than  expected.  

IAN SHEPHERDSON, PANTHEON MACROECONOMICS:  With the summit with Xi, I think  it will be a positive outcome.  I think they both need a deal.  They both  need a success.  I don`t think the tariffs will go up on July 1.  I think  the employment report on July 5 will be fine, and I think that the second  quarter GDP number will be fine.  

LIESMAN:  And then there`s the market level.  Back in 1995, the Fed cut  rate when like today stocks were at or near an all-time high.  That worked  out well as the economy and the Dow marched on for years to come.  But it  cut rates near an all-time high in 2007.  That ended poorly for the economy  and the stock market.  

So, investors have to puzzle over whether the rate come is coming, how much  is coming and if it does come, will it be enough for the economy?  
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Steve Liesman in Washington.  

GRIFFETH:  And low interest rates have certainly been good for dividend- paying stocks this year.  They have been hot and could get hotter if the  Fed does, in fact, cuts rates further.  

Joining us to talk about that, David Dietze, president and chief investment  strategist at Point View Wealth Management and a big fan of dividend paying  companies too, at the same time, right?  


GRIFFETH:  Well, I was going to say, are we taking more risk — certainly  you get a better yield from a lot of the stocks than you would from  treasuries for example right now, but are you taking more risks because of  the high prices right now?  
DIETZE:  Well, certainly.  I mean

, now that the interest rates have fallen  so much because of anticipations of Fed rate cuts, dividend stocks are  looking more and more attractive as people who are traditionally in fixed  income are now looking over their shoulders and looking at some of the  better yielding stocks and saying, maybe this is where I can pick up some  more yield.  This is particularly true because credit bonds are also very  tightly trading relative to treasuries.  

GRIFFETH:  Right.  

DIETZE:  What I like about dividend-paying stocks right now is if interest  rates continue to go lower, they look that much more attractive.  Look, we  hit an all-time high today, Bill.  What happens if something doesn`t work  out, that there`s a breakdown in trade negotiations or the Fed doesn`t  cooperate?  The market could retreat.  
Again, dividends give you some stability, some cushion, which gives you  some protection to the down side.  

HERERA:  But you are particular about what you like.  So you say that there  — you have picked three or four stocks for us that would work in a low  interest rate environment, and perhaps a lower interest rate environment.  

DIETZE:  Well, we like health care stocks.  You know, that`s the other  growth sector besides technology but it has been held back due to political  concerns, Medicaid for all.  So, we are looking at some of the best  franchises out there, and lo and behold, they`re paying some of the best  yields.  

I would cite Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), which is probably the bluest of all blue  chips in pharma, internationally diversified, great R&D pipeline, but you  got 3.4 percent dividend which has grown over the last five years by 8  percent a year.  

And I would also look at CVS (NYSE:CVS), is now very vertically integrated  with its recent merger with Aetna (NYSE:AET), 10,000 pharmacy stores across  the country and it`s yielding close to 4 percent.  And that dividend has  increased of over 20 percent per year on average for the last decade.  

GRIFFETH:  We also showed you like Exxon and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) in the  dividend-paying category.  But they`re not all are created equally.  There  are at least a couple that you`re not looking at because they might be too  expensive?  

DIETZE:  To characterize it quite broadly, I think you have to be careful  of dividend bank stocks because the only thing worse than a non-dividend  paying stock is a high dividend paying stock where they cut it and then  look out below.  

I`m looking at AT&T (NYSE:T) right here, which is yielding about 6 1/2  percent, significantly more than Verizon (NYSE:VZ).  You have to scratch  your head and say why.  Well, they diversified heavily into content as well  as traditional telecom.  It`s hard to see how those synergies are working.   They have a tremendous debt load.  

Verizon (NYSE:VZ) is staying focused.  So, if there`s a hiccup perhaps in  the satellite business, they have trouble with the debt, they may and have  to cut the dividend, look out below.  
And, of course, retailers — unless, they have a great strategies against  the Internet competition, their dividends are also at risk.  

GRIFFETH:  And Bed, Bath and Beyond is the one that you are looking at most  closely there as well.  

DIETZE:  Absolutely.  

GRIFFETH:  David Dietze with Point View Wealth Management, always good to  see you.  Thanks for stopping by.

DIETZE:  Thank you, Bill.  

GRIFFETH:  You bet.

HERERA:  Well, lower interest rates generally translate into lower mortgage  rates which is what happened this week.  And while that may seem like good  news for the housing market, it`s not all that great for buyers.  
Diana Olick explains.  

DIANA OLICK, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT:  Falling mortgage rates  are helping more house hunters make the math work on a monthly payment.   The average rate on a 30-year fixed has fallen steadily since April,  lowering the payment on every home for sale.  But lower rates are also  bringing out more buyers, fuelling competition yet again, just as fast- rising home prices were finally slowing down.  

SKYLAR OLSEN, ZILLOW SENIOR ECONOMIST:  The recent drop in the 30-year  mortgage rate gives you a reason to believe that the short — excuse me,  the slowdown won`t last very long.  

OLICK:  In fact, price gains are suddenly widening again.  The median price  of a home sold in May rose 3.6 percent annually, the largest jump in seven  months according to Redfin.  Prices are gaining the most steam on the low  end of the market where prices are leanest.  

Builders are of little help there.  Housing starts dropped over 12 percent  annually in May and permits were lower as well.  What the builders are  putting up is largely on the higher end as they battle high costs for land,  labor and regulatory compliance.  

GLENN KELMAN, REDFIN CEO:  The only issue is that as rates go down, you  still have low inventory, and that`s going to limit sales.  So prices are  going to go up, sales will not be as strong.  

OLICK:  The supply of existing homes for sale was gaining but is now  shrinking again, especially for affordable homes.  Part of that is due to  increased investor demand.  At the end of last year, investors made up over  11 percent of home purchases, the highest rate since Core Logic began  tracking in 1999.  

The vast majority of those buying are small investors coming in with cash.  
For regular buyers, the sting of higher prices and the increasing  competition from all-cash investors are both negating the benefit of lower  mortgage rates and taking the heat out of what some thought might be a hot  summer for housing.  
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Diana Olick in Washington.  

GRIFFETH:  To the economy now, the number of Americans filing for  unemployment benefits is still clinging to its lowest levels in decades.   Initial jobless claims fell by 6,000 last week.  That was a bigger drop  than expected.  And the number of people already collecting unemployment  benefits known as “continuing claims”, that`s near the lowest level since  the early 1970s.  

HERERA:  And the gauge of manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia area  fell this month to its lowest level since February.  The report cites a  decline in prices for the drop as well as a slide in new orders and  shipments.  

GRIFFETH:  Time to take a look at some of today`s “Upgrades and  Downgrades”.  
We begin with shares of Hershey tonight.  They were downgraded to  underweight from neutral at Piper Jaffray.  The analyst cited the stock`s  valuation and its historically high premium compared to peers.  Price  target, $125.  That stock fell a fraction to $137.64.  

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was initiated with a hold rating in new coverage of  Deutsche Bank.  The analyst cited a potential low in the anticipated  introduction of 5G phones next year.  Price target, $205.  That stock  closed just below the level at $199.46 today.  

And Tesla`s price target was lowered sharply at Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS),  down to $158.  The analyst believes volume estimates are high and he sees  the stock trending lower.  Goldman`s rating on Tesla does remain a sell.   Shares fell 3 percent today to $219.62.  

HERERA:  Still ahead, health care costs are expected to rise for companies  even as they put more programs in place to lower them.  

HERERA:  Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) issued a warning of sorts.  CEO Tim Cook says  that if the next round of proposed Chinese tariffs go into effect, they  would reduce Apple`s contributions to the U.S. economy and weigh on its  global competitiveness.  The threatened tariffs of up to 25 percent would  impact nearly all of Apple`s products, including the iPhone, the iPad, air  pods and repair parts.  

GRIFFETH:  International tax law has been a focus of U.S. lawmakers for a  while now.  Remember two years ago, Republican leaders in the House pushed  to rewrite the code to prevent companies from shifting profits overseas.   And today, two prominent Democratic senators proposed a new idea, one that  they say will help American workers.  
Ylan Mui has details from Washington.  

YLAN MUI, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT:  Democrats unveiled a new  proposal today that would raise taxes on foreign profits to help unemployed  workers here at home.  The idea comes from two powerful senators, Ron  Wyden, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, and Chris Van Hollen, who  sits on the Banking Committee.  They argue that the current tax system  encourages companies to build their factories overseas.  

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD):  We want to take away incentives to move jobs  overseas, make sure we incentivize employers here at home, and then  incentivize them to hire Americans who want to work but who are out of  work.  

MUI:  To fix that, they call for closing those loopholes or creating a  minimum tax on overseas earnings that would apply to every company.  
But not everyone believes there`s a problem.  Republicans overhauled the  tax code last year in hopes of stopping companies from parking those  profits overseas.  

GORDON GRAY, AMERICAN ACTION FORUM DIRECTOR OF FISCAL POLICY:  Combined  with the reduction in the corporate tax rate and with the international  provisions, my own view is the incentives to invest in the United States  have improved, certainly improved over the old tax code.  
MUI:  But the senator said making sure those companies pay their fair share  could raise a lot of revenue, money that could go towards subsidizing jobs  for America`s long-term unemployed.  

VAN HOLLEN:  What is really an effort to get people back into the system,  because these are individuals who once you are out of work, it is harder  and harder to get a job because employers look at your work history and it  becomes a chronic problem that hurts the family and hurts the whole  economy.  

MUI:  That prospect is generating interest from presidential candidates who  are both embracing ambitious, new policies, and looking for ways to pay for  them.  

Amy Klobuchar made tackling the international tax code part of her agenda  for the first 100 days in office.  And Joe Biden supported raising taxes on  foreign earnings when he was vice president.  So, it`s a good bet you`ll  hear a lot more about these issues on the campaign trail. 
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Ylan Mui in Washington.  

HERERA:  Slack makes its Wall Street debut.  That`s where we begin  tonight`s “Market Focus”.  
The workplace communication software company began trading at an opening  price of $38.50, well above the $26 reference price set by the New York  Stock Exchange.  Slack came public in a direct listing instead of the  traditional IPO, and the CEO says it was the best route for his company.  

STEWART BUTTERFIELD, SLACK CEO:  I think there`s a lot of investors who are  used to a model where they get a small allocation, they wanted a big one.   In direct listing, at least they have the opportunity.  One of the hopes  for a company like us is that there`s not too much volatility, and we are  hoping that this model with as many sellers, many buyers, supply and  demand, we reach a market clearing price a lot earlier. 

HERERA:  Slack shares rose nearly 50 percent to $38.62.
Darden Restaurants (NYSE:DRI (NASDAQ:TBUS)) beat analysts earnings  expectation, but fell short in revenue and same store sales growth, because  of less foot traffic to the company`s top chain restaurant, Olive Garden.   Darden also gave weak guidance.  But the stock was up more than 1 percent  to $118.67.  

Kroger (NYSE:KR) reported better than expected quarterly earnings.  The  grocery store chain saw same-store sales come in flat but digital sales  rose.  Kroger (NYSE:KR) also affirmed its full-year guidance but the shares  fell more than 2 percent to $23.13.  

GRIFFETH:  Merck (NYSE:MRK) today held its first investor day in five years  and it laid out its strategic priorities to drive value.  The key is to  broaden its portfolio beyond its blockbuster Keytruda.

KEN FRAZIER, MERCK CEO:  We`re here to show today is that we have great  opportunities to grow revenue beyond Keytruda, with our vaccines, our  animal health business, our hospital specialty business, the oncology  pipeline beyond Keytruda.  So, we have those opportunities to drive revenue  growth, margin expansion. 

GRIFFETH:  And Merck (NYSE:MRK) shares fell a fraction today to $84.60.  
Walmart has agreed to pay more than $280 million to end a seven-year-long  investigation into a global corruption probe.  It settles charges that the  retailer ignored evidence of internal corruption that helped fuel its  overseas expansion.  As part of that settlement, Walmart acknowledged  wrongdoing.  The stock rose a fraction today to $110.32.  

HERERA:  Rising health care costs have been a major issue for corporate  America for quite sometime, and a new survey shows the headache isn`t going  anywhere anytime soon.  
Bertha Coombs has more.  

BERTHA COOMBS, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT:  Health care costs  keep rising and next year, the growth is expected to accelerate.  Private  employer costs are expected to increase 6 percent in 2020 according to  PWC`s Health Research Institute, up from an average of 5.5 percent growth  last three years.  
One big driver?  High-priced specialty drugs.  

BENJAMIN ISGUR, PWC HEALTH RESEARCH INSTITUTE:  One of the reasons that we  have the drug costs increasing is because there`s a higher proportion of  drugs that employers are buying, are specialty drugs, and those tend to be  more expensive than non-specialty drugs.  So, over time, that will increase  the cost.  

COOMBS:  While specialty medications to treat complex conditions like  hepatitis and cancer make up one-fifth of all employee prescriptions, they  account for more than 40 percent of overall drug spending.  Over the last  decade, employers dealt with the problem by making workers share more of  the cost, but PWC says raising deductibles and co-pays isn`t working.  
ISGUR:  Almost one-third of employees with — with high deductible health  plans actually cannot afford their deductible.  So, that`s a big wake-up  call for employers.  

COOMBS:  Employers are now focused on tackling high prices head on, pushing  insurers and pharmacy benefit plans for better deals, and more large firms  are contracting directly with medical providers to steer workers to the  most cost effective care.  

ISGUR:  They`re looking at setting up their own primary care networks and  primary care clinics on site to better take care of their employees at a  lower cost.  They`re looking to help nudge their employees to lower cost  sites of care.  

COOMBS:  What it means for workers?  A reprieve on deductible increases,  but expect narrower choices for care and more of that nudging to take  preventive steps to fight chronic conditions and stay healthy.  

GRIFFETH:  And coming up, solving a catch-22.  How one company is helping  employees save for retirement while still facing high levels of student  debt?

GRIFFETH:  As student debt levels continue to rise, some employees have  been opting to pay that down instead of saving for retirement, but now some  companies are offering a new perk that helps workers do both.  
Sharon Epperson is in Pleasanton, California, for us tonight.  

SHARON EPPERSON, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT:  Recent grad Harvir  Humpal is building technology that could someday save heart transplant  patients.  

HARVIR HUMPAL, ABBOTT EMPLOYEE:  Each day is a new challenge.  It`s a very  dynamic, complex setting but it is very rewarding.  

EPPERSON:  The 24-year-old biomedical engineer had three job offers coming  out of grad school.  He chose this one at Abbott, a global health care  company.  Not for the salary or medical benefits, but because it was the  only one with a program that could help him save for retirement while  paying off his student loans.  

HUMPAL:  It was the main linchpin to why I accepted an offer.  

EPPERSON:  Employees usually have to contribute part of their pay to their  401(k) plan in order to receive matching company funds.  Abbott`s Freedom  to Save program gets rid of that requirement.  As long as Humpal uses 2  percent of his salary to pay off his student debt, Abbott will make a 5  percent pretax contribution to his 401(k), even though he`s not putting in  a dime.  The money is fully invested in two years.   Abbott executive Steve Fussell says the program pays for itself.  

STEVE FUSSELL, ABBOTT HUMAN RESOURCES EXECUTIVE VP:  The cost to us is  actually very minimal.  There`s actually a five-to-one pay back because of  our retained talent and avoiding of cost of turnover in this group.  

EPPERSON:  Nationwide, seven out of ten recent grads have taken out student  loans, graduating with an average debt of about $30,000.  That`s hurting  their ability to save for retirement.  

Research shows that college grads with student loans only save about half  as much as those without loans by the time they`re 30.  Some employers  recognize how difficult this debt burden can be and they`re trying to help. 

SCOTT DOBROWSKI, GLASSDOOR CAREER TRENDS ANALYST:  We`re starting to see  more and more employers offer this type of benefit because it carries a  long-term monetary value for the employees.  

EPPERSON:  According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 8  percent of employers offer student loan assistance.  The largest include  Aetna (NYSE:AET), Fidelity Investments and PricewaterhouseCoopers.  Right  now, none except for Abbott help with retirement savings.  However, next  year the insurance company Travelers plans to roll out a similar program.  

FUSSELL:  It is a valuable benefit because people who are just beginning  their careers don`t have to make a trade-off between paying off their debt  and saving for their future.  

EPPERSON:  Humpal is taking the $150 he would have put in his 401(k) and  adding it to his monthly loan payment.  That`s translating to big savings.

HUMPAL:  Initially, I had $60,000 in student loan debts.  I will pay my  loans four years faster and I will save $7,000 in principal loan interest.  


HERERA:  Here is another look at the day`s final numbers from Wall Street.   The Dow rose 249 points, the Nasdaq added 64, and the S&P 500 closed at a  record.  

And that is NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT for tonight.  I`m Sue Herera.  Thanks  for joining us.  

GRIFFETH:  I`m Bill Griffeth.  Have a great evening, everybody.  See you  tomorrow.  


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