​KILLS NEW YORK HEADQUARTERS

It’s official: Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) is killing its ambitions for the HQ2 in Queens. The recent pushback from local officials has killed the move.

While Amazon will not be making the new giant “second headquarters” push, the company is still committing to add to the local teams in the New York City area. Amazon claims to have over 5,000 Amazon employees currently in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island.

What perhaps matters the most here is that Amazon also said that it does not intend to reopen the highly publicized HQ2 search (at this time). The company said that it will proceed as planned in the areas of Northern Virginia and Nashville. It also will continue to hire and grow in the 17 corporate offices and technology hubs around the United States and Canada.

Amazon did not name the politicians who were so vocal against its HQ2 being in Queens, but it’s pretty well known. The company’s blogpost said:

After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens. For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term. While polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.

It also gave thanks to the state and local supporters that did work with the company:

We are deeply grateful to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and their staffs, who so enthusiastically and graciously invited us to build in New York City and supported us during the process. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have worked tirelessly on behalf of New Yorkers to encourage local investment and job creation, and we can’t speak positively enough about all their efforts. The steadfast commitment and dedication that these leaders have demonstrated to the communities they represent inspired us from the very beginning and is one of the big reasons our decision was so difficult.

This is not the first time that fringe politicians have gotten in the way of corporate ambitions. It also won’t be the last.

Thursday’s news likely is not viewed as a major-mover for Amazon shares, but the stock was last seen down 0.4% at $1,633 in midday trading.

​More than 370,000 sensitive personal records were exposed in data breaches during the month of January according to the latest monthly report from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). Nearly a third of the records were the result of a single breach at an insurance company based in Texas.

The ITRC maintains records of data breaches in five categories–banking/credit/financial, business, educational, government/military, and medical/health care. Exposed records are further divided into sensitive and non-sensitive totals. Non-sensitive data includes email-related credentials that are not considered to be personally identifiable information; sensitive records include such things as Social Security numbers, credit card information, and health records.

In January the ITRC reported that 7.6 million non-sensitive records were released in addition to 370,027 sensitive. In the largest breach, Centerstone Insurance and Financial Services, which does business under the name BenefitMall, reported that more than 111,000 emails containing personally identifiable information were targeted in a “data security incident.”

That single incident accounted for all the banking/credit/financial records exposed in January. The good news is that last January’s total for the month was 4.38 million exposed records, including 3.4 million credit card records at Jason’s Deli.

In the medical/healthcare category, 241,412 records were exposed in January, representing about 65% of all records exposed during the month. A Texas-based healthcare provider, Las Colinas Orthopedic Surgery & Sports Medicine, reported the theft of some 76,000 records.

The business category accounted for just 12,000 exposed records last month, 3.2% of the January total.

Educational institutions exposed 4,024 records in January, just 1.1% of the total for the month and government/military organizations exposes 1,002 records.

In 2018, a total of 446.5 million personally identifiable records were exposed, a year-over-year increase of 126%. Some 343 million of those records were exposed in a breach at Marriott International’s Starwood Resorts loyalty program records.

Citing opposition from state and local politicians, Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) said it will no longer carry out plans to build a second headquarters in the Long Island City section of Queens in New York City. A recent Siena College Research Institute poll found approximately 56% of New York City residents supported the deal.

Opponents of Amazon’s New York City plans objected primarily to the tax cuts America’s largest e-commerce company was promised in return for its decision. Several politicians have put this sum at over $3 billion. Residents are more concerned about what will happen to the cost of homes and rentals if Amazon hires 25,000 people to work at the facility.

New York is now losing a boost to the city’s economy both via jobs and new construction. The Amazon HQ2, as the location is called, had the support of both Mayor de Blasio and New York Governor Cuomo. They each argued that Amazon eventually will pay taxes and that workers hired by the company will be paid immediately. This is also the case for people with jobs indirectly supporting Amazon’s efforts, which run from construction workers to restaurant employees. Had the employment boost panned out as hoped, New York City might have helped buck the national trend of Southern and Western cities dominating rankings of cities adding the most jobs.

Since Amazon carefully vetted the 20 cities that were finalists in the HQ2 race, and Northern Virginia has taken one spot, the 18 remaining finalist locations on the list presumably already have been through some level of negotiations to win. And, presumably, all have met Amazon’s major criteria, having hit almost all the benchmarks Amazon put in the request for proposal delivered to every city that went through the original bid process.

Among the criteria were that the location targets had to be:

Metropolitan areas with more than a million people
Stable and business-friendly environments
Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent
Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options

Amazon also staked out locations with existing buildings for its new workers or locations were appropriate facilities could be built. And it said the targets had to offer tax incentives, an existing labor force that could fill most jobs, a robust infrastructure and a location near a major airport. Long Island City had all these.

These are the 18 other locations on the Amazon finalist list that could be the likely alternatives now that it has abandoned Long Island City:

Atlanta
Austin, Texas
Boston
Chicago
Columbus, Ohio
Dallas
Denver
Indianapolis
Los Angeles
Miami
Montgomery County, Maryland
Nashville
Newark
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Raleigh, North Carolina
Toronto
Washington, D.C.24/7 Wall St.


​INVESTMENTS

TRUCK FUNDING

​Median home values in major U.S. metropolitan areas rose 7.5% last year, consistent with increases in both 2016 and 2017. But that may be about to change as the inventory of homes for sale rose last year for the first time in four years.

According to online real-estate firm Zillow, the for-sale inventory has grown on a year-over-year basis for four of the past five months and ended January up 1.2% compared with January 2017. That translates to 19,455 more homes on the market this year.

The less-good news is that the increases to the for-sale inventory are small compared to the rates at which inventory fell over the past four years. In July 2017, homes for sale declined by nearly 13% year over year.

Zillow’s senior economist, Aaron Terrazas, said:


























































































For four years, it felt like home buyers couldn’t catch a break as for-sale inventory became tighter and tighter with each passing month. But during the second half of 2018, something shifted. Home buyers aren’t out of the woods yet, but there is a glimmer of light on the horizon. The number of homes on the market is hesitantly inching higher – now approaching the highest level in a year and a half. In the priciest markets, the jump has been even more definitive. But buyers should not mistake a few more options for a sudden bounty. With home values still increasing at a steady clip, it’s clear that demand still outstrips supply, and with mortgage rates down from recent highs, the first quarter of 2019 is shaping up to be more competitive than the lull we saw as 2018 came to a close.

Home shoppers in West Coast cities saw the largest increases in homes for sale. Inventories rose 43% in San Jose, 37% in Seattle, 32% in San Diego, 29% in Los Angeles and 25% in San Francisco. These have been among the priciest real-estate markets in the country over the past few years, and the increase in inventories may indicate that prices are on their way down (slowly).

Of course, some cities have experienced a drop in for-sale inventories. Washington, D.C., for example, saw a 20% decline in inventory, which Zillow suggests may be related to Amazon’s announcement that the city will be one of two new headquarters’ sites. Sellers are choosing to wait, expecting demand to lift prices as Amazon staffs up.

Moderating mortgage interest rates are also helping potential buyers. Zillow noted that its listing of mortgage loan rates ended January at 4.14%, down from 4.3% at the beginning of the month.

The following chart provides inventory data for selected U.S. metro areas. The data include Zillow’s home value index (ZHVI) at the end of January, the year-over-year change in ZHVI, and the year-over-year change in the for-sale inventory.

​DATA BREACHES

​FEBRUARY NEWSLETTER 6

After years of growth, smartphone sales have started to slow worldwide. This means production will drop sharply in the first quarter of 2019, bad news for several companies, in particularly Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL).

Research firm TrendForce expects production in the first quarter to fall 10% to 307 million units. Part of the reason is that global sales in the fourth quarter of 2018 were slow and manufacturers have excess inventory. Several brands will continue to dominate the market worldwide as they jockey for market share based mostly on new features and prices.

TrendForce management said:

The latest first-quarter production figures from the major smartphone makers indicate that the top six brands by production volume for 1Q19, in order, will be Samsung, Huawei, Apple, Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo. The leader Samsung has begun adjusting its product strategy since 2H18 in order to challenge the Chinese brands head on in the market segment for economically priced but high-spec devices. For now, the Galaxy J devices still account for nearly 50% of Samsung’s total smartphone production. They will continue to be the pillar that maintains the overall production level in the near future. TrendForce forecasts that Samsung’s total volume for 1Q19 will reach 70 million units.

In terms of global market share, Samsung is expected to be the clear leader. TrendForce forecasts Samsung will increase the production of the Galaxy A phones to gradually shift the Galaxy J devices as the brand’s mainstream offerings. It is also expected to be more aggressive in the huge India market with sales of its Galaxy M. The new mix of products is meant to hold off market share growth by the largest Chinese manufacturers. Samsung’s market share in the first quarter is still expected to fall to 18.6% to from 22.8% in the fourth quarter.

Apple’s share is expected to crater, from 18.3% in the fourth quarter to 13.5% in the current quarter. Apple has announced a decline in expected sales. This is based largely on problems in China. However, Apple has struggled in India as well.

The manufacturers that are expected to do the best in the first quarter are the four largest in China, although some will suffer modest losses of market share. Huawei will take Apple’s place as the number two smartphone company based on global market share, but that share will drop slightly from 15.8% in the fourth quarter to 15.0%. Huawei may hit sales problems in many established markets has the United States goes after the company for intellectual property theft.

Among the other Chinese manufacturers, Xiaoma’s share is expected to move from 7.9% of the global market to 8.5% in the first quarter. Like the other large Chinese companies, most of its sales are in its home market. Production market share for Oppo is expected to drop very slightly from 7.6% to 7.4%. Vivo’s share should be 6.4% in the current quarter, up from 6.3% in the final quarter of last year.

Finally, TrendForce noted that these brand leaders:

… will continue to pursue hardware optimization in the immediate term, mainly focusing on these four main areas: display (i.e. high-resolution displays and all-screen design), camera (i.e. high-resolution multi-lens cameras and in-display cameras), biometric recognition (i.e. in-display fingerprint sensors), and memory (i.e. high-density solutions).


Company Ranking 4Q Market Share 4Q Ranking 1Q Market Share 1Q
Samsung 1 18.60% 1 22.80%
Huawei 3 15.80% 2 15.00%
Apple 2 18.30% 3 13.50%
Xiaomi 4 7.90% 4 8.50%
Oppo 5 7.60% 5 7.40%
Vivo 6 6.30% 6 6.40%

Source: TrendForce
.

​CLIMATE FOR BUYERS IS IMPROVING

​SMART PHONE PRODUCTION DECLINING

​DOG MODE

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PROJECTED PRICE

​POTENTIAL NEW HQ LOCATIONS.

​NATURAL GAS PRICE IS DROPPING

​The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Thursday morning that U.S. natural gas stockpiles decreased by 78 billion cubic feet for the week ending February 8.

Analysts polled by Reuters were expecting a storage withdrawal of around 84 billion cubic feet. The five-year average for the week is a withdrawal of 160 billion cubic feet, and last year’s withdrawal totaled 183 billion cubic feet. Natural gas inventories fell by 237 billion cubic feet in the week ending February.

Natural gas futures for March delivery traded down about a penny in advance of the EIA’s report, at around $2.59 per million BTUs, and dipped to around $2.58 after the report was released.

For the period between February 14 and February 20, NatGasWeather.com expects “moderate” demand and offers the following outlook:

Mild conditions with highs of 40s and 50s will return across the S. Great Lakes to Northeast Thu-Fri. The West will be cool to cold with areas of heavy rain and snow. The southern US will be warm with highs of 60s to 80s, although cooling Sun-Tue. This weekend through Wed will be quite chilly as cold air sweeps across much of the country with lows of -10s to 20s North and 20s to 40s over the South. Late next week, mild high pressure will build across the southern and eastern US with highs of 50s to 80s returning, warmest over the South.

Total U.S. stockpiles increased week over week, rising to just 1.6% below last year’s level and to 15% below the five-year average.

The EIA reported that U.S. working stocks of natural gas totaled about 1.882 trillion cubic feet at the end of last week, around 333 billion cubic feet below the five-year average of 2.215 trillion cubic feet and 30 billion cubic feet below last year’s total for the same period. Working gas in storage totaled 1.912 trillion cubic feet for the same period a year ago.

Here’s how share prices of the largest U.S. natural gas producers reacted to today’s report:

Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM), the country’s largest producer of natural gas, traded up about 0.2%, at $76.43 in a 52-week range of $64.65 to $87.36.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) traded up about 0.8%, at $2.51 in a 52-week range of $1.71 to $5.60.
EOG Resources Inc. (NYSE: EOG) traded up about 0.4%, at $97.14. The 52-week range is $82.04 to $133.53.

Furthermore, the United States Natural Gas ETF (NYSEARCA: UNG) traded down about 0.6%, at $23.04 in a 52-week range of $21.61 to $39.87.

​A rumor surfaced a few days ago that Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) were considering an investment in startup electric truck maker Rivian Automotive that would value the new company at $1 billion to $2 billion. Turns out the chatter was true: Rivian announced Friday morning that Amazon led a funding round that raised $700 million in fresh capital to further develop the all-electric pickups.

Rivian did not indicate other investors in the new round except to say that they include existing shareholders. According to a company press release from last May, Standard Chartered Bank added $200 million in debt financing to the “substantial financing” from other investors, including Sumitomo and Saudi Arabian auto distributor Abdul Latif Jameel. The equity investments provided about $500 million in capital, according to The New York Times.

Not mentioned among investors in Friday’s announcement was General Motors, which said this morning it was introducing an electric bicycle in Europe.

In comments made before Friday’s announcement, Rivian CEO R.J. Scaringe told Bloomberg that the company was not in “dire need” of new funding thanks to the earlier investments.

Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s chief executive for Worldwide Consumer, said in a statement:

We’re inspired by Rivian’s vision for the future of electric transportation. R.J. has built an impressive organization, with a product portfolio and technology to match. We’re thrilled to invest in such an innovative company.

Rivian is planning on introducing two vehicles, the R1T pickup and R1S SUV, both with a range of about 400 miles on a full charge. Pricing is expected to begin around $68,000.

The company employs about 700 people at its headquarters in Michigan and was founded in 2009 by Scaringe. In January 2017, Rivian purchased an idled Mitsubishi assembly plant in Normal, Illinois, for $16 million. According to the Chicago Tribune, the company is expected to receive $49.2 million in tax credits from the state of Illinois over 15 years, if Rivian meets employment (1,000 new jobs by 2024) and investment targets for the plant. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2021.

​For people who want to keep their pets in the car as they do things humans do, like errands and food shopping, Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) has launched a new “Dog Mode” to protect animals left in its vehicles. The electric car company said the new technology will keep the temperature at a preset level no matter how hot the temperature becomes outside.

In a tweet, Tesla management said: “Introducing Dog Mode: set a cabin temperature to keep your dog comfortable while letting passersby know they don’t need to worry.” In an illustration, Tesla shows two dogs in a car with the temperature preset to 70 degrees.

According to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), 56 dogs and other animals died in cars in 2018 through October 10. PETA’s number includes only heat-related deaths. The organization gave a list of animal car deaths by date, location and type of animal. Research shows that when it is 75 degrees out, temperatures in cars can rise to 104 degrees in only 20 minutes. PETA also gave suggestions that Tesla owners with Dog Mode do not need. Among these are to keep animals at home, never leave an animal in a vehicle in hot weather, call 911 if you see a pet in a car and recognize the symptoms of heat stroke.

Incidentally, Tesla launched “Sentry Mode” at the same time. The new technology is meant to keep people from breaking into Tesla vehicles. The company’s management points out that someone breaks into a car in the United States every 40.8 seconds (2017 data). Sentry Mode uses the vehicle’s external cameras as a “guard.” The mode operates at several levels. The technology works this way:

If a minimal threat is detected, such as someone leaning on a car, Sentry Mode switches to an “Alert” state and displays a message on the touchscreen warning that its cameras are recording. If a more severe threat is detected, such as someone breaking a window, Sentry Mode switches to an “Alarm” state, which activates the car alarm, increases the brightness of the center display, and plays music at maximum volume from the car’s audio system.

Tesla gave car owners a way to set Sentry Mode in a release that gives details of how controls should be set to activate the new feature.

In just two hours, Tesla management has released technology to protect both pets and owner’s cars.

​China iPhones are not recovering in January: Analysis of monthly government smartphone sell-through data from China suggests Apple is not seeing a rebound in the month of January after a very weak December month. Sequential decline of 18% in Jan. is similar to year ago 20% while the market is slightly, better declining 4% month-over-month versus 10% M/M last January. January non-Android shipments are down ~70% YoY, which is similar to the decline seen in the month of December. The data would suggest that Apple’s price adjustments to offset the currency impact are not yet having much positive impact on iPhone units…

New services could offset some revenue pressures: We expect Apple to introduce at least two new subscription services this year – video streaming and News, with a gaming service also possible… In our conversations with management, Apple consistently indicates that its strategy will be to have compelling and targeted content on the video side, and believes multiple streaming services can co-exist because consumers are willing to subscribe to more than one video service.

Maintains Buy rating and $185 price target. 

​Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) has released its public equity holdings as of December 31, 2018. Most investors should look at these public equity holdings as the top holdings at the start of 2019. After all, Warren Buffett and his portfolio managers tend to buy stocks on behalf of Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders and hold the positions for years.

Buffett still helps to run Berkshire Hathaway each day. He is one of the world’s richest people, and he is considered by many to be one of the greatest investors and financiers of the modern era. That obviously would imply that maybe he knows a thing or two about stock picking for the long haul. Buffett is also considered to be the “Moby-Dick” when it comes to the so-called whale-watchers who chase stock picks and strategies of the best investors.

24/7 Wall St. has tracked many of the investment strategies of America’s top investment managers, hedge fund managers and independent investors for years. Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway top that list over time. When you roll up Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett and his team, you end up with one of the world’s largest public companies that is a blend of a conglomerate with industrial and services operations, a mutual fund, private equity (or a hedge fund) and an insurance outfit all rolled into one giant entity.

Before getting into the valuations here, it is important to consider that the fourth quarter of 2018, and December in particular, was a very bad time for equity investors. Buffett likely will have not been scared like the financial media scared the public, but Berkshire Hathaway’s headline number of stock holdings was $207.3 billion at the end of September 2018. Approximately 69% of that total fair value at that time was concentrated in just five companies. The actual 13F filing for September 30, 2018, showed Berkshire Hathaway’s holdings were even a larger sum of about $221 billion in equities, and the “new” 13F filing for December 31, 2018, showed the full equity value totaling $183 billion.

Equally as important as the stock market drop that was seen through the end of December is that the Dow Jones industrial average on last look was already up over 2,500 points from the lows of the market at the start of January. Many media headlines around this are going to be about how many billions of dollars the Buffett picks (particularly around the bank stocks added in the third quarter) made. The market gains since the end of 2018 will mean much of the losses already have been recovered — particularly if Buffett bought even more of them toward the end of the year.

24/7 Wall St. has tracked the largest equity positions held by Buffett and made notes around other stake changes in some of the dozens of other equities owned by Berkshire Hathaway. These represent the top Buffett stocks for 2019 and beyond as of the current time.

American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP) was the same 151.6 million share stake it has been for years.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) was listed as 249.59 million shares in the 13F filing, down marginally from the 252.47 million shares in September (barring any confidential information, which was since “confirmed” of sorts).

Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) was 896.17 million shares at the end of December, up by roughly 19 million shares.

Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) was the same 400 million shares, another stake that has not changed in many years.

Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) was listed as 426.77 million shares, down from the September 2018 stake of 442.36 million shares (and down from 452.0 million in June and from 456.5 million prior to that).

Kraft Heinz Co. (NASDAQ: KHC) is also a continued massive holding that is outside of the normal book-keeping in the largest public equity holdings. Berkshire Hathaway owned 325.63 million shares at the end of December.

Note that Buffett announced in the recent quarters that Berkshire Hathaway would be trimming some stakes that would put the conglomerate above the 10% ownership threshold to ease regulatory filing duties and the like that are required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Some of the Buffett portfolio changes have been gradual, while others have been much more rapid.


Back in 2018, Berkshire Hathaway issued a press release confirming that “some 10% stakes” had been sold and others had been increased in areas around the companies to avoid the SEC’s 10% threshold for filings and restrictions. That release said:

These buy and sell decisions did not reflect our investment management’s views as to the relative attractiveness of the bought and sold securities but were rather a response to the 10% limitation. Similar situations may occur in future quarterly reports as Berkshire continues to have 9% plus holdings in a number of equity securities that are active repurchasers of their shares.

There may have been other slight changes made in the Berkshire Hathaway holdings, but the main changes in positions and the new position additions and deletions as of December 31, 2018, have been shown below.

American Airlines Group Inc. (NASDAQ: AAL) was the same stake of 43.7 million shares, but that was down from 44.7 million shares earlier in 2018.

Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (NYSE: BK) increased to 80.94 million shares at the end of December, up from 77.85 million shares at the end of September and from 64.8 million shares in June.

DaVita Inc. (NYSE: DVA) was a stake of 38.565 million shares, same as in September.

Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) was the same stake of 65.54 million shares as in September, but that had been up from 63.67 million shares in June and even higher than it had been in March.

General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) was a larger stake of 72.27 million shares in December, up from 52.46 million shares in September and from 51.39 million shares in June.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) was the same 18.35 million shares as it was at the end of September 2018 but handily above the levels seen earlier in 2018.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) was listed as a new stake in September, but at the end of December it was 50.12 million shares, versus a September stake of 35.66 million shares.

Oracle Corp. (NYSE: ORCL) had been a new stake of 41.4 million shares as of the end of September, but the December filing does not include Oracle in the 13 filing at all.

Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX) was down to 11.9 million shares at the end of 2018, lower than the 15.43 million shares in September and far lower than the 34.7 million shares when Buffett decided to get out from under the 10% SEC holding threshold.

PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (NYSE: PNC) increased to 8.26 million shares in December from 6.09 million in September.

ALSO READ: The 15 Best Dividend Stocks for Retirees to Own

RedHat Inc. (NYSE: RHT) was listed as a new stake of 4.18 million shares at the end of 2018, but this may be an arbitrage play on the IBM merger spread. Buffett and his team have made similar merger-arb transactions in the past.

Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) was 54.85 million shares at the end of 2018, down from 56.05 million shares in September and 56.54 million shares at the end of June.

StoneCo Ltd. (NASDAQ: STNE), a fintech company, is a new stake of about 14.17 million shares as of the end of 2018.

Suncor Energy Inc. (NYSE: SU) was a new stake of 10.76 million shares.

Travelers Companies Inc. (NYSE: TRV) was increased to 5.96 million shares at the end of December, after it had been a new stake of 3.54 million shares at the end of September.

United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL) was 21.94 million shares, down from the 25.98 million shares in September, and down from 26.684 million shares in June and 27.7 million shares in March.