Posts by Aaron Task

  • America's infrastructure crisis: One step forward, two steps back

    Aaron Task at Yahoo Finance 1 day ago

    New York took a big step forward this week to address America's infrastructure crisis even as Congress took (another) two steps back. The Empire State stepped up and stepped forward with Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing plans for a $4 billion project to redesign LaGuardia Airport, featuring a unified terminal which will partially be redeveloped by Delta Air Lines (DAL). “New York had an aggressive, can-do approach to big infrastructure in the past – and today, we’re moving forward with that attitude once again,” said Gov. Cuomo. “We are transforming LaGuardia into a globally-renowned, 21st century airport that is worthy of the city and state of New York. Gov. Cuomo was joined at the event by Vice President Joe Biden, who once famously said: "If I took you and blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you'd think, 'I must be in some third-world country.'" "Third World" might be a stretch, but America's infrastructure certainly isn't first class. The American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. a D+ in its2013 report on the state of U.S. infrastructure, estimating it would take $3.6 trillion to upgrade the country's roads, bridges, tunnels and dams by 2020. In related news:

  • Crashed cars, garage fires and drones: Inside Travelers' Claim University

    Aaron Task at Yahoo Finance 1 day ago

    You probably know Travelers is one of the nation's largest multiline insurance companies, a Dow component and can often be seeing sporting a red umbrella. You might even know Travelers wrote life insurance policies on the crew of the Apollo 11, the first-ever policies for space travel. But you might not know the company is also in the business of higher education. Specifically, Travelers operates its own Claim University in Windsor, CT. There's no football team, no leafy commons with undergrads debating philosophy and no Spring Break. But they do have a year-round student body of 7500 at the roughly 200,000 square foot facility, as well as online classes that add up to about 300,000 hours of training annually. Claim University is "focused on ensuring that all of our claim professionals have the right skills and expertise to support our customers in their time of need," says Travelers senior vice president Pat Gee, who says nearly all of the company's roughly 12,000 adjusters come through the facility -- some more than once.

  • Commodities slump: Is there trouble ahead for the global economy?

    Aaron Task at Yahoo Finance 6 days ago

    Updated from July 23

    There's gobs of money chasing assets these days but there's no "bubble" in commodities, which are tanking. It's not just gold, which gets a lot of headlines; nearly all major global industrial commodities are back to 2009 levels -- including coal, gas, oil, iron ore and copper. Agricultural commodities such as wheat, coffee and sugar have also fallen on hard times. The dollar's rally has certainly been a factor in the price action, with the greenback advancing versus other major currencies amid speculation the Fed will start raising rates sometime this year. The other big story is China, which reported better-than-expected second-quarter growth of 7% last week, a development that notably didn't change the downward trend for commodity prices. (Update: Commodities slumped again on Friday after  Markit reported July manufacturing PMI for China below expectations and at the lowest level since April 2014.)

  • Danny Meyer 'copied me' but this restaurateur has no regrets

    Aaron Task at Yahoo Finance 7 days ago

    It seems like a great time to be a restaurateur: In March, Americans spent more money eating out vs. at grocery stores for the first time since the government started tracking the stats in 1992. And the restaurant sector remains hot, with investors still searching for the "next Chipotle" (CMG) and currently loving names like Papa John's (PZZA), Sonic (SONC) and Zoe's Kitchen (ZOES). Steve DiFillippo, founder of Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse, might look at this environment as an opportunity to take his concept public. While small, with only seven east coast locations (and LA coming in 2016), Davio's has annual revenue of $50 million and the kind of culture --  quality, handmade food and a hyper attentiveness to guests and employees -- that today's discriminating diners demand. In addition to Davio's, DiFillippo also owns Yankee Trader Seafood, which sells food products in over 4,000 stores and on QVC, producing annual revenue of $20 million. He says business is booming.

  • China tightens grip on market but can't stop private sector's rise: Edward Tse

    Aaron Task at Yahoo Finance 9 days ago

    China's stock market crash has been halted -- at least for the moment -- but the government's response with 'overwhelming force' has raised questions about the Communist Party's commitment to reforming China's economy. Some have even questioned whether the government reaction is hurting the credibility of the ruling party and President Xi Jingping, who in 2013 famously declared an intention to let the market play a "decisive" role in China's economy. Some have even go so far as to declare that "the government’s muddled response [to the selloff] has raised questions about Mr. Xi’s authority and judgment," as The New York Times declared. "Across China, many of the millions of middle-class investors have been asking why the party and the government talked up the market in the months leading up to the recent plunge, and then bumbled in their efforts to prevent the rout." That is "a little overreaction," says Edward Tse, founder and CEO of Gao Feng Advisory Group, former Chairman for Greater China at Booz & Co and author of, most recently, China's Disruptors. "The whole process is a big experiment for the Chinese government who have not seen this kind of crash. They're very inexperienced...trying different things to rectify the market. In the process they did some good, some bad." The key question for Tse is whether the market slide and the government's ham-fisted response will slow China's reformation toward an economy driven by the private vs. public sector. There will be some short-term impact, Tse admits, most notably the ban on IPOs restricting access to capital for some up-and-coming firms. But the long-term story remains intact, he says. "China's entrepreneurs will be the ones driving the nation forward in the coming decades," Tse writes, noting total revenues for China's state-owned industrial companies rose roughly sixfold from 2000 to 2013 vs. an increase of 18 times for those in the private sector. So what companies does Tse see as having the greatest potential to "disrupt" the global economy? Watch the accompanying video to find out.

  • U.S. Consumers poised for liftoff

    Aaron Task at Yahoo Finance 12 days ago

    For U.S. consumers, everything is coming up roses. You wouldn't know it from this week's retail sales numbers but a number of indicators suggest U.S. consumers are primed to give the economy a major boost, should they choose to go on a spending spree. U.S. consumers have "completely recovered from the financial crisis [and] recession," says David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of Standard and Poor's Index committee. "The consumer, financially, is in pretty good shape." Some data points supporting that view:

    'Very Challenged' and 'Behind the Curve'

    "Conditions are right for an acceleration in household consumption," says Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at McGladrey.

    So why are retail sales so punk? Retail sales fell 0.3% in June and May's gain was revised down to just 1%.

    A 'Fragile' Boom

    Aaron Task is Editor-at-Large of Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at

  • China, Greece put market's faith in "omnipotent" policymakers at risk: Sonders

    Aaron Task at Yahoo Finance 14 days ago

    After rattling global markets last week, China and Greece have receded from the financial headlines -- at least for the moment. This pause provides an opportunity to assess the potential implications of all the drama, both in the present and going forward. In a recent report, Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, broke the potential "contagion" risks into four categories: market, financial, economic and confidence.

    Aaron Task is Editor-at-Large of Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at

  • CFO survey shows growing concern about earnings, revenue, hiring and CapEx

    Aaron Task at Yahoo Finance 16 days ago

    American CFO's are worried, according to Deloitte's second quarter 'CFO Signals' survey. While fairly upbeat about the U.S. economy, the Chief Financial Officers surveyed by Deloitte are particularly worried about earnings and revenue growth, concerned about cyber security and overall less positive than anytime since the third quarter of 2013. Three factors are driving the skepticism, according to Sanford Cockrell III, global leader of Deloitte's CFO program and a national managing partner at the firm: concerns about rising interest rates, a potential slowdown in the U.S. economy, and 'macro' worries about the global economy. Notably, the survey was conducted in late May, before the China stock market meltdown and fears of 'Grexit' rattled global markets, albeit briefly. "It would be interesting if we asked the same questions today around the global economy, [the answers] would shift," Cockrell says, noting CFOs are particularly downbeat on the European economy, with only 5% viewing it as "good" and only 30% expecting it to improve much in the next year. But the "aha moment" in the survey, according to Cockrell, is the combination of big declines in expectations for earnings and revenue, both to the lowest level in the survey's 5-year history. That, in turn, is leading to what he calls "anemic" hiring expectations and "not great" forecasts for capital spending in the coming year.   CFOs are "quite concerned about growth cycles over the next six months to a year," Cockrell says. Just 38% of CFOs express rising optimism, down sharply from last quarter’s 48% and the lowest seen in more than two years. In addition, the survey found 65% of CFOs believe the U.S. stock market is "overvalued," up from 46% in the prior quarter. One caveat to taking a bearish view from all this is that because CFOs are concerned about interest rates rising, they may be more inclined to do deals now, when financing is so cheap. U.S. merger activity was up 60% vs. a year ago in the first half of 2015 and the average deal valuation was a record 16 times EBITDA, according to The Financial Times. It's hard to be wildly bearish against that backdrop of stock being removed from the market at premium prices. But it's hard to be a raging bull given how concerned CFOs are becoming. All sum, this might be a recipe for more sideways action. Some specific findings from the survey:

  • NYSE shut down explained: So why aren't traders relieved?

    Aaron Task at Yahoo Finance 20 days ago

    Additional reporting by Adam Samson


    The day after the New York Stock Exchange was shut down for nearly four hours, questions linger about what exactly happened and why there seemingly wasn't more of an impact on financial markets. (Yes, the Dow fell 261 points, but it was an orderly decline and largely attributed to other factors such as China's market swoon and ongoing concerns about Greece.)

    The answer to the latter question is simpler and more direct: The NYSE is no longer the center of the American stock market. Technological advances and SEC rule changes compelling brokers to seek "the best execution" for customers across various markets, most notably Nasdaq and BATS, have sent the Big Board's market share of U.S. stock trading down to about 20% today versus 80% a decade ago, according to The Wall Street Journal.

    Remain calm, but all is not well

    A bad day for Wall Street

  • 3 Reasons Greece Still Matters

    Aaron Task at Yahoo Finance 20 days ago

    Here are three reasons why Greece still matters:

    Known Unknowns: Greece leaving the eurozone, aka a Grexit, is much closer to reality today versus a week ago, when most pollsters and pundits thought Greek voters would vote 'yes' on Sunday's referendum. The 'no' vote and Greece showing up empty handed at Tuesday's "emergency" meeting have greatly raised the stakes for Greece, and the odds of a Grexit. 

    “We are changing our view and now believe that Grexit – Greece’s exit from the eurozone – is the most likely outcome,” Citigroup wrote in a July 8 research note. Other Wall Street players have come to a similar conclusion.

    More importantly, “we have a Grexit scenario, prepared in detail,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters on Wednesday. "The commission is prepared for everything."

    Raise your hand if you think that's true. 

    Sobering? Yes . Extreme? Let's hope so.