NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. equity index futures were little changed late on Sunday as electronic trading resumed to kick off a holiday-shortened week following reports over the weekend that President Donald Trump has privately discussed firing the head of the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Bryan R Smith
In early trading, the benchmark S&P 500’s e-mini futures contract ESv1 was up about 0.1 percent, retracing a modest drop when trading resumed at 6 p.m. ET. Futures tracking the Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC and Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI had also drifted up a bit after opening lower as well.
With investors worried about a litany of factors, including a partial federal government shutdown, the U.S.-China trade dispute and interest rate hikes by the Fed, U.S. stocks have plunged in December. The S&P 500 .SPX has suffered its largest monthly loss so far since the financial crisis a decade ago and is on pace for the largest loss in any December since the Great Depression.
“More than anything else right now Washington and politics are absolutely driving investor sentiment and market direction and that can turn on dime,” said Oliver Pursche, a board member at Bruderman Asset Management.
As of Friday’s close, the Nasdaq alone is down nearly 22 percent from its record high close in late August and is now formally in a bear market. The Dow and S&P are not far off those levels.
The drop in futures came after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke with each of the chief executive officers of the largest U.S. banks, the Treasury said, and those institutions confirmed they have enough liquidity to continue lending to consumers and corporate clients.
Mnuchin late Saturday had issued a tweet saying Trump does not believe he has the power to remove Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. Trump has been irate with Powell, his own appointee, since the Fed has raised interest rates four times this year and continues a process of slimming down the vast holdings of bonds it accumulated to help battle the deep recession caused by the financial crisis a decade ago.
Most economists and investors assert that any attempt by Trump to fire Powell would have significant repercussions in financial markets, which have long operated on the principle that the U.S. central bank’s independence is integral to its mission and to market stability.
Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments, said Mnuchin’s acknowledgement that the White House does not have the ability to remove Powell was more reassuring for investors than trying to say it did not want to remove the Fed chair.
“The administration hasn’t been all that stable when it comes to changing their mind,” he said. “Politically these are very strange times.”
Mnuchin will convene a call on Monday with the president’s Working Group on financial markets, a group that includes Powell and the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The group, formed following the stock market crash of October 1987, is known more commonly as the “Plunge Protection Team” and met in 2009 in the latter stages of the financial crisis.
Still, Meckler says markets are likely to face headwinds as long as there are open questions about the looming trade war and when the government shutdown will end.
“Most of the statements are only saying that the worst case is unlikely, which isn’t the same as saying something positive,” he said.
Reporting by Imani Moise; Writing by Dan Burns; Editing by Dan Grebler
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Majority of Canadian workers willing to take less pay for a workplace pension plan: survey
A majority (70 per cent) of Canadians say they’re willing to forgo a higher salary in exchange for a workplace pension plan, according to a new survey for the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan by Abacus Data.
The survey, which polled more than 2,000 Canadian adults in April, signals an opportunity for employers to build back the post-coronavirus pandemic working landscape better by expanding access to good retirement plans — whether they’re defined benefit, defined contribution or group registered retirement savings plans, says Steven McCormick, senior vice-president of plan operations at the HOOPP.
According to the survey, a secure retirement remains of greater concern for Canadians than concerns about their health, debt load and job security. McCormick says this has been a consistent worry the HOOPP has seen in survey results over the past couple of years. Nearly half (48 per cent) of respondents said they’re very concerned about having enough money in retirement, while 31 per cent were highly concerned about their personal debt load and 26 per cent cited their job security. Close to half of respondents expressed high concerns for their physical (43 per cent) and mental (40 per cent) health.
In addition, the pandemic has harmed the finances of more than half (52 per cent) of Canadians’ surveyed and it’s had a particularly disproportionate affect on the finances of younger adults. Adults aged 44 and younger said they’re twice as likely (25 per cent) to have had their finances greatly harmed, compared to those over the age of 60 (12 per cent).
Generally, younger adults tend to work in roles that may have been impacted most by the pandemic, says McCormick, whether in service industries that were shut down or frontline health care that have been busy but don’t always come with access to a pension plan. “Affordability is an issue, so I think their worries increased during this time.”
And while almost half (46 per cent) of Canadians surveyed said they’ve saved more money than they would have since the onset of the pandemic, among these respondents, over half (52 per cent) didn’t put any of their savings toward their retirement. Overall, most (63 per cent) Canadians surveyed haven’t set aside or saved anything for retirement in the past year, a five-point increase since 2019.
McCormick says this may be due to uncertainty or hesitancy about whether people’s immediate needs outweigh longer-term needs. And with 55 per cent of respondents noting they were very concerned about the cost of day-to-day living, he adds that rising prices have fuelled insecurity and worries so people are creating their own emergency funds right now.
While there’s a segment of the population who’ve saved more and, for them, the pandemic has created wealth, he doesn’t see this as a common narrative in the survey data. “If you don’t have access to a workplace pension or the opportunity to have things like automatic enrolment, the uncertainty of the time may have you holding onto money,” says McCormick. “In Ontario, we’re more optimistic about the pandemic than we were maybe a month ago, but there are still people worrying about whether there’ll be a fourth wave.”
In addition, more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents said a retirement crisis is looming and 65 per cent said saving for retirement is prohibitively expensive. It’s a common and shared dream for many people in looking forward to a secure retirement, says McCormick, noting for many, making that dream a reality remains elusive.