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Chinese Inflation Turning Down – More Confirmation on Inflection Point

November 9, 2011
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Chinese Inflation Turning Down – More Confirmation on Inflection Point

Overnight, China released inflation data for October, which came down as expected and declined meaningfully from the previous month. Chinese consumer inflation, which includes food and energy prices, was up 6.1% in September, and up 5.5% in October. This data shouldn’t be a complete surprise because China has been on a tightening campaign all year with higher interest rates, lower credit growth, and an exchange rate that has slowly appreciated this year. The actualization of lower Chinese inflation is  important because it provides the political cover for China to start easing monetary policy. In addition, many global commodities such as; copper, oil, cotton, wheat, corn, sugar, etc. have declined which will eventually help ease pressure on Chinese inflation. The Chinese Producer Price Index also declined meaningfully based on the...

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New York City Taxi Medallion Bubble – Prices Appreciate to $1M

November 8, 2011
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New York City Taxi Medallion Bubble – Prices Appreciate to $1M

Bloomberg recently reported that New York taxi medallions changed hands this October for a record $1 million. There have been a number of reports over the years demonstrating that investment in taxi medallions has outperformed stocks, bonds, real estate, and other financial assets. While this may be true, the yield has clearly come way down making investments at the new elevated prices much riskier. Reportedly, a $1M taxi medallion returns $2,500 in profit per month ($30k per year) which amounts to a 3% annual yield. The argument for medallion investment revolves around the regulated supply and recession-proof taxi fare industry dynamics. There is a public company called Medallion Financial Corp (TAXI) which has participated in the bull market. The company offers financing for the purchase of the medallions, has...

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Market Confidence in Italy Hits New Lows – Berlusconi to Face New Rounds of Confidence Votes

November 7, 2011
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Market Confidence in Italy Hits New Lows – Berlusconi to Face New Rounds of Confidence Votes

Italian 10-YR bond yields hit 6.62% this morning, which marks a new high since concerns over the sustainability of European sovereign debt began to unfold. This wasn’t supposed to work this way after the Eurozone leaders announced a new structured investment vehicle to be put in place to leverage up the EFSF. It remains unclear who is going to fund the SIV which raises doubts around how much firepower the EFSF will really have and whether Italian interest rates can be maintained at sustainable levels? All of this uncertainty takes place while Italian bonds yields escalate towards unsustainable levels, government approval ratings hit new lows, Berlusconi’s trial for soliciting an underage prostitute moves forward, and the real economy in Italy remains under intense pressure. The above issues are very...

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Magnifico! – Getting to Know Mario Draghi & Analysis of the ECB Monetary Policy Press Conference

November 4, 2011
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Magnifico! – Getting to Know Mario Draghi & Analysis of the ECB Monetary Policy Press Conference

The global equity markets have been held hostage by fears of a crisis since the summer. Taking another step back; crisis fears, macro, and policy responses have really been driving all financial markets since the summer of 2008. To be clear, the economy always has a meaningful impact on the investing environment, but the recent four years have been remarkable. Sound and prudent public policy has been of paramount importance, and a necessary condition, towards stabilizing the economic and business environment. The importance of the change at the helm of the ECB this week cannot be overstated. Now there are hardened and unrelenting cynics in the investment community, often quite vocal, who will say that nothing matters and the global financial system is inevitably doomed. Those who have read...

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ECB Cuts Rates 25 basis points – Dovish Comments From Draghi

November 3, 2011
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ECB Cuts Rates 25 basis points – Dovish Comments From Draghi

The ECB cut interest rates by 25 bps down to 1.25%. This was somewhat of a surprise cut as many expected Draghi to start his tenor by demonstrating some hawkish resolve – consistent with the views of departing ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet. Draghi presents a viewpoint that inflation is expected to fall further while highlighting that monetary growth is only moderate. He appropriately downgrades the forecast for Eurozone GDP growth and points out the “intensified downside” risks to the Eurozone economy. He goes on to point out that inflation is likely to fall below 2% in 2012. These are important comments because they immediately reveal that Draghi has a more dovish inclination relative to his predecessor. The ECB has more room to cut rates and the comments regarding the...

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When Will the Market Start to be Forward Looking – Early Signals from Asia?

November 2, 2011
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When Will the Market Start to be Forward Looking – Early Signals from Asia?

The markets have been through a period of wicked volatility with a significant pullback almost to the point of entering a new bear market. Intraday the S&P 500 was down 20% from its high but closed above those levels and went up from there. From the market’s closing bottom of 1,099 the S&P had a tremendous move higher up about 17% in 4-weeks. During this period, one of the characteristics of the market has been an obsession with day-to-day and even hour-to-hour news. The situation becomes impossible for investors because the news flow is utterly unpredictable and investors can get whipsawed and hacked up quite easily. Often the market is described as a voting mechanism for 6-9 months out. Understanding that this is the normal state of things will...

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Welcome to the ECB Mario Draghi!

November 1, 2011
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Welcome to the ECB Mario Draghi!

Who is Mario Draghi? Today is day #1 of a new job for Mr. Draghi, the President of the ECB, which right now is the world’s most powerful position in finance. Under normal circumstances, that position would be the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board but at the present moment, the ECB President will have more of an impact on the direction of the global economy in 2012. I wish I could outline a viewpoint on whether Mario Draghi tends to be more of a hawk or a dove. Based on a read of the few writings and speeches that are archived it is difficult to have a strong impression. It is my view that any conclusions as to whether Mr. Draghi will be a hawk or a dove...

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Yen Intervention Take Three – Reminder That There Are No Safe Haven Currencies

October 31, 2011
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Yen Intervention Take Three – Reminder That There Are No Safe Haven Currencies

Japanese leaders intervened for the third time this year as JPY strength below 77 yen/usd is clearly constraining a recovery in the world’s third largest economy. Japanese Finance Minister, Jun Azumi announced a unilateral move with an additional pledge to keep selling in the future. The action took place because Japan believes the yen strength has broken from normal economic fundamentals and linkages. Japan’s leaders are right. In the recent couple of months, the US economy has been the most resilient of the developed market major economic zones. Normally when the US economic growth rate picks up relative to other nations, the dollar strengthens. The FX flows related to the fear of a financial crisis in Europe have thrown a lot of normal relationships out of whack. The Yen...

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Personal Savings Rate – Lowest Since 2007!

October 28, 2011
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Personal Savings Rate – Lowest Since 2007!

The personal savings rate has been an item of contention and debate as the profligacy of the US Consumer has been in focus throughout the 2000s decade. During the height of the housing market boom, the savings rate got down to zero and at times was even negative. US Consumers in the aggregate were thought to be dissaving – spending through total income. Many years later, the data were subsequently revised and the savings rate was altered to slightly positive rates during the mid-2000s time period. The data have some volatility on a month-to-month basis but I note that the data released this morning from the Bureau of Economic Analysis print a savings rate of 3.6%. For 2008, 2009, 2010, the rate has been over 5%. For the first...

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Europe’s Eleventh Hour Fix

October 27, 2011
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Europe’s Eleventh Hour Fix

After keeping the world on edge and pushing up against the brink of a European recession, details of the European fix have been trickling out. It is sure to be a headline filled Thursday, Friday, and weekend. I won’t focus on the specific details because many of them still aren’t known and the ones that have been announced are likely to evolve regardless. Europe has recognized the enormity of its financial crisis. The European financial system couldn’t fund itself, sovereign interest rates started to spiral out of control, and the Euro experienced a rapid and unhealthy correction. It seems absurd to highlight that Europe recognized that this was collectively a very big problem but at times, even right up until the end, European leaders at any moment could seem...

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Eurozone PMI – Continues to Slow as Europe Bickers

October 25, 2011
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Eurozone PMI – Continues to Slow as Europe Bickers

Economies don’t function well in a “crisis steady state”. In Europe, the business environment has actually been surprisingly good during the third quarter despite what at times has seemed like every effort to induce a collapse. A number of consumer and industrial companies have pointed out that growth hasn’t fallen off a cliff and if Europe can simply instill some confidence business could pick up. Unfortunately, Europe seems intent on going at its own pace, and not treating the current financial crisis, well – like a crisis. The longer the “fix” gets dragged out the greater the odds that the Eurozone leaders talk the region into a recession. A recession is massively counterproductive to solving Europe’s fiscal woes because it creates the need for more austerity and more spending...

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US Industrials See No Evidence of Global Recession – Results from Caterpillar (CAT) and Parker Hannifin (PH) Hammer Home the Point!

October 24, 2011
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US Industrials See No Evidence of Global Recession – Results from Caterpillar (CAT) and Parker Hannifin (PH) Hammer Home the Point!

Caterpillar (CAT) reported earnings that were very strong this morning beating estimates quite handily. The details were $1.71 in EPS vs. consensus of $1.57 (a 9% beat). As important, the company outlined an environment which is consistent with global growth persisting and a strong outlook for 2012. Caterpillar’s organic sales were up by 34% this quarter excluding the recent acquisition of Bucyrus. Caterpillar is a cyclical company that is overly sensitive to changes in the global economy. For perspective, in 2009, Caterpillar saw sales decline by 37%. Each of CAT’s business segments has what are called “trough plans” which are fire drills that prepare CAT in advance for sudden slowdowns in the global economy. This is a company and management team which is used to handling volatility in the...

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Uniqlo Launches Flagship in New York City – Prospects for the Brand and Fast Retailing (9983.JP)

October 23, 2011
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Uniqlo Launches Flagship in New York City – Prospects for the Brand and Fast Retailing (9983.JP)

Uniqlo is the main global brand produced and designed by Japanese parent company Fast Retailing (9983.JP). Uniqlo is a brand which has been around for quite some time but with a domestic focus on market share in Japan. The company has done a great job of growing as a Japanese specialty retailers with their compartmentalized presentations and spartan, clean, and colorful styles. The clothes come across as very neat, sharp and essentially Japanese. Over the past month, Uniqlo has initiated a major marketing campaign in New York City to build brand and flagship store awareness. The advertising has been all over the subway, grand central, bus stops, and taxis. The New York City flagship opening is on 5th avenue and 34th street. The store just opened on Friday and...

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Lyondell Bassell – Diversified Manufacturing Exposure with 25% Upside

October 21, 2011
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Lyondell Bassell – Diversified Manufacturing Exposure with 25% Upside

Lyondell Bassell Industries is a manufacturing company which produced chemicals, fuels, and polymers used for clean fuel, construction materials, automotive parts and medical equipment. LyondellBasell announced a shareholder-friendly $2.6B special dividend ($4.50/share). I believe this reflects management’s confidence in the company’s financial condition and substantial free cash flow in the medium and long term. Management indicated in its filing its intent to seek an investment grade rating over time. These actions demonstrate why the shares deserve to trade at a higher valuation. At present there is extreme value with the shares trading at sub-4x EBITDA. The company has substantially deleveraged and the risks are nowhere near the same as during the financial crisis. The cash tender offer is for $2.8B of secured notes which are due out in 2017....

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McRally – McDonald’s Posts Excellent Results with no Slowing in Europe

October 21, 2011
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McRally – McDonald’s Posts Excellent Results with no Slowing in Europe

McDonald’s posted an excellent set of results this morning and the quality of the reported earnings was very high because it came at an abnormally high tax rate. McDonald’s global same store sales came in at 5.0%. The results continue to confound many analysts and investors who fear that McDonald’s growth is not sustainable – in short it is sustainable. McDonald’s posted 4.9% same store sales in Europe and also indicated that September comp sales in Europe were up 6.9%. This strength of McDonald’s business is in Europe is rather stunning given all that is going on in the world. Perhaps the French are trading down from the brasserie and the German’s from the schnitzel and sausage houses (but I believe there is more to it than this). McDonald’s...

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Santa Will Come! – Strong Back-To-School Sales an Indicator for Holiday Season

October 20, 2011
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Santa Will Come! – Strong Back-To-School Sales an Indicator for Holiday Season

The back to school season was surprisingly resilient in August and September. We now have the full set of retail sales data available from company same store sales, the Johnson Redbook Survey, and Census retail sales. The back-to-school season varies by region and by state as school start dates aren’t uniform. Further complicating analysis is that some states offer tax-free shopping holidays which also have a variety of start dates and durations. In order to conduct a valid study, I looked at retail sales strength over the entire August-September period and correlated this to sales strength in the November-December period. I looked at all data in terms of y/y growth rates because this is what drives corporate earnings growth and expense leverage. The results are rather conclusive – with...

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Intel (INTC) – Strong Results Driven By Emerging Market PC Adoption

October 19, 2011
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Intel (INTC) – Strong Results Driven By Emerging Market PC Adoption

Intel has turned into a polarizing stock that most technology investors have a strongly positive or strongly negative opinion on. Taking a step back, Intel was clearly a premier growth stock of the 1980’s and 1990’s. An investment in Intel in 1986 at a price of $0.40 (not a typo) appreciated 100x by the end of 1999. Intel experienced a fleeting rally from $40 to $75 during the technology craze in 2000 and subsequently crashed during “tech wreck” down to about $20. The shares have remained around $20 for the next 11 years. For perspective on the de-rating Intel has experienced, shares earned $0.46 in 2002 while estimates are now around $2.50 for next year. While the Street has gravitated towards the bearish case that nothing at Intel is...

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