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Op-Ed: Cyber Monday sales figures, the Paris climate talks and more

More than 180 nations are gathered in Paris to discuss a far-reaching agreement to reduce global carbon emissions. The emerging deal would require wealthy countries, including the U.S., to cut their own pollution while helping poorer countries shift from dependency on fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change.

President Obama held a news conference today in Paris at the U.N. global climate summit; Obama said the world needs an enduring framework for addressing climate change and that he would seek an agreement that would boost economies as well as help the planet’s environment.

President Obama said the U.S. will meet commitments to help finance developing nations’ efforts to reduce carbon pollution, challenging congressional Republicans who have fought most of his environmental policies.

Some people look at the call for reducing carbon emissions and only see expenses, while others see opportunities. The number of annual patents for green energy has increased fivefold since 2002 and this year is on track to break another record after eight consecutive increases. Most patents in 2015 have been for solar technologies, 586 granted in the first half of the year; followed by fuel cells, electric vehicles, and wind power.

In Paris, countries and companies are pledging billions to fund even more research and development of new clean energy technologies. For the first time, more than half the world’s annual investment in clean energy is coming from emerging markets instead of from wealthier nations. The world recently passed a turning point and is adding more capacity for clean energy each year than for coal, natural gas, and oil combined.

For that trend to continue, rapidly developing economies are critical. Wind and solar are already competitive in price with grid electricity in some countries, and battery prices for large-scale electricity storage continue to fall.

As talks on climate change entered their second day in Paris, the Indian capital of New Delhi was buried under a thick smog, with visibility reduced to about 200 yards.

The Cyber Monday sales estimates are trickling in, and they’re looking good. Adobe Digital Index estimated that sales were up 12 percent year-on-year to $2.98 billion. It was enough to blow up the inter-webs. The websites of Target, PayPal, Walmart, and Victoria’s Secret, among a few others, experienced periodic outages or slow checkout times. Target had its biggest online-shopping day ever on Cyber Monday. Amazon said the holiday weekend was the best ever for its own devices. Adobe says each of the first 18 days of December will tally $1 billion in sales.

If you were shopping over the holiday weekend, there is a good chance that you did not buy something with Apple Pay. According to Infoscout, nearly half as many eligible purchases were made using Apple Pay this Black Friday than last year, when the service was barely a month old. After the novelty wore off, well…

Vehicle sales maintained a strong sales pace in November: On a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, sales reached 18.2 million units for the third consecutive month. Ford pickups remain the top selling trucks and the Toyota Camry is the top selling passenger car. Fiat Chrysler said its U.S. auto sales rose 3 percent year-over-year in November. While Ford (+0.3 percent) and GM (+1.5 percent) missed estimates.

Hyundai, Toyota and Nissan all came in with better than expected sales. Volkswagen’s US sales in November fell almost 25 percent. Also today, Standard and Poor’s cut Volkswagen’s credit rating a notch, from A- to BBB+, on “a tarnished reputation and brand image, reduced business prospects, a more challenging competitive position, substantial costs, and weaker leverage metrics.”

The ISM manufacturing index fell to 48.6 percent last month from 50.1 percent in October; a reading below 50 indicates contraction. In a separate report, the private research firm Markit said its final PMI manufacturing index finished at a 25-month low of 52.8 percent in November.

Construction spending jumped a seasonally adjusted 1.0 percent in October, and was 13.0 percent higher for the year. During the first 10 months of this year construction spending amounted to $888 billion. For October, residential construction was 1.0 percent higher, while nonresidential construction rose 0.6 percent.

FOMC voting member Charles Evans said today that he is nervous about the December rate hike decision. His feeling is that the Fed needs to target 2 percent inflation, adding that the Fed Funds rate may be under 1percent by the end of 2016. Fed funds futures now show that traders are assuming a 70 percent probability of a December rate hike, down from 76 percent yesterday. Keep in mind, FOMC Chair Janet Yellen will be speaking twice tomorrow.

Negotiators from both chambers of Congress reached agreement today on a 5 year highway plan. The highway measure also would revive the US Export-Import Bank, whose charter expired June 30. Lawmakers have until Friday to enact a highway plan or pass another temporary extension of transportation funding, and House Speaker Paul Ryan said his chamber will vote on the bill this week.

The legislation would provide $281 billion over six years for roads, bridges and mass transit. The measure would be financed in part by a one-time use of Federal Reserve surplus funds and by a reduction in the 6 percent dividend that national banks receive from the Fed.

Puerto Rico paid $354 million today on their Government Development Bank debt, avoiding default for now. A missed payment would have been the first default on the commonwealth’s direct debt. Over the past decade, Puerto Rico’s government has laid off 30,000 employees, closed nearly 200 schools, raised taxes and reformed pension funds. They still face $72 billion in debt, with the next payment of $1 billion due on January 1st, and there is no indication they can pay. Governor Padilla is hoping to negotiate with creditors.

Morgan Stanley is planning to cut up to a quarter of its fixed income jobs over the next two weeks, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs. The cuts reflect a slowdown in client activity, pressure from investors to lift returns and new capital rules that penalize big banks for holding vast inventories of debt securities. In October, Morgan Stanley reported a 42 percent Y/Y drop in bond trading revenue in what CEO James Gorman called the bank’s worst quarter for fixed income since he took over in 2010.

Drug-benefit manager Express Scripts Holding said it is making arrangements with a drug compounder for patients to receive a lower-priced alternative to the expensive anti-parasitic pill Daraprim, whose price jumped more than 50-fold earlier this year. Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the rights to Daraprim and then jacked up the price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill. Express Scripts said it has arranged for patients to get the drug for $1 a capsule from San Diego-based drug compounder Imprimis Pharmaceuticals.

Meanwhile, Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing, is also the new CEO of a company called KaloBios Pharmaceuticals. KaloBios, which was at one point of time trading below a penny and was planning to wind down its operations after unsuccessfully finding a strategic alternative of staying afloat in the business, hit a 52-week high on November 23. The upsurge was due to the purchase of 70 percent of KaloBios’ shares by an investor group led by Shkreli.

After gaining control of the company, Shkreli assumed the position of the CEO and Chairman of the company’s board of directors. And then he stopped lending the company’s shares to people looking to short it. The shorts were squeezed and squeezed hard. The price jumped from about 90 cents to just over $45 in a matter of days.

Markit Economics said that its Purchasing Managers Index for the euro area rose to 52.8 in November from 52.3 the previous month. All euro area countries, with the exception of Greece, are seeing expansion in their manufacturing sectors. There was also good news on the employment front with Germany’s unemployment rate falling to a record low of 6.3 percent while in Italy unemployment dropped more than expected to reach 11.5 percent. However, it is unlikely that this improving data will do anything to hold back the European Central Bank’s easing plans on Thursday.

The Bank of England singled out two of Britain’s largest lenders for failing to meet certain capital thresholds in the latest round of stress tests examining the banking sector’s ability to withstand future global financial shocks. Despite the shortfalls, the central bank said that the two lenders, Standard Chartered and the Royal Bank of Scotland, passed the exercise, and that neither would be required to raise additional capital for now, but the tests will get tougher. So they say.

Brazil just dropped its latest batch of GDP numbers, and they point to a deepening recession. The country’s economy shrank 1.7 percent in the third quarter versus the second, on top of a 2.1 percent contraction the previous quarter and a 0.8 percent dip the quarter before that. That’s the first three-quarter streak of negative GDP growth since 1999, and it’s a far worse one at that.

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