U.S. stocks are lower in early afternoon trading on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) and the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) down 3.18% and 3.35%, respectively, at 12:20 p.m. EST.
The fourth-quarter earnings season is well under way, and this columnist took the opportunity to glean some observations from three CEOs that have a bird's eye view of the economy and financial markets: Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank by total assets, his counterpart at Bank of America, Brian Moynihan, and Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager.
Here's JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon explaining "lower for longer" oil prices (my emphasis):
The real risk [in term of loan losses] is in producing wells, cash flows are down. Surprisingly, the cost of getting the oil out of the ground has also dropped dramatically, and probably much more than most of us would have expected ... And our energy book isn't that large, relative to JPMorgan Chase. We're not worried about the big oil companies. These are mostly the smaller ones that you're talking about these reserve increases on. [...]
Dimon is pretty sanguine regarding the state of the economy, and (correctly) points out that this is a more pressing issue to most Americans than a bit of volatility in stock prices:
The U.S. economy has been chugging along at 2% to 2.5% growth for the better part of five years now. In the last two years, it has created five million jobs. If you look at the actual household formations -- car sales, wages, people working -- it still looks OK. Corporate credit is quite good. Small business formation, it's not back to where it was, but it's quite good. Household formation is going up.
So, obviously, market turmoil, we all look at it every day. But I'm not sure most of the 143 million Americans look at it that much, who have jobs.
Still, volatility can be unnerving. As CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink has his finger on the pulse of financial markets, and he thinks we should be ready for lower prices. This is what he told CNBC last Friday morning, just prior to his earnings conference call:
We're in the midst of a real market decline, bordering on a bear market. ... I believe there's not enough blood in the street. We will probably have to test the markets lower and I think when we test the markets lower, it's going to be a pretty good buying opportunity ... Another ten percent down from here, which is pretty nasty.
As of 11:10 a.m. EST, the S&P 500 has lost 4.9% since Fink made that statement.
Finally, Bank of America's Brian Moynihan quantified the positive effect of oil prices on consumers:
If you look at our card base in the fourth quarter of 2015, the spending on debit and credit cards rose 4% from the fourth quarter of 2014. And if gas prices would have been stable, it would have grown at 5.7%.
So what that means is consumers had effectively on that base of 1.7% that they received the benefit of year over year. If you translate that to dollars, round numbers, that's $20 million a day of less spending on gasoline by our consumers in our portfolios per day and from $90 million down to $70 million-ish, or something like that.
That is the benefit they get. So for a large number of consumers' median income, the cash flow increases and they get more money to spend.
When he was asked whether the consensus view was too negative with regard to the cause and effects of the drop in the price of oil, Moynihan responded:
It comes down to the question of whether you think this [oil] price is a reflection of our broader issue of growth in the economies or we're going to get slow growth [of] 2.5% in the U.S. If you're going to get that in 2016, it's going to be isolated, the negative is going to be isolated to the oil companies and related commodity producers just because of a slow growth environment. ...
[R]ight now, it's really an oversupply of oil driving prices down, and that's impacting people in the industry. And the rest of the consumers, I mean corporate customers and consumers that use oil and energy are getting a good benefit.