December 9, 2019

Stocks & Bonds: Market Closes Tightly Mixed After Day of Wary Trading

Wall Street lacked direction on Tuesday as it awaited the week’s main economic news, and the stock market wandered between slight gains and losses before closing barely higher.

Traders were especially disinclined to make big bets before the Federal Reserve issues its policy statement on Wednesday, which may offer hints about the future of its economic stimulus program. They were also standing pat in anticipation of the government’s initial report on second-quarter economic growth on Wednesday and the July employment report on Friday.

“This week it’s all about Bernanke and the Fed statement,” said Bill Strazzullo, chief strategist of Bell Curve Trading, referring to Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the central bank. “Stocks need a supportive statement to go higher. That is the key driver.”

To some, the market’s inertia resembled the inactivity typical of mid- to late August, when trading usually dwindles. “It seems like the doldrums of summer have set in,” said Dave Abate, senior wealth adviser at Strategic Wealth Partners.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose as much as 72 points in early trading on Tuesday — less than 0.5 percent — before flickering lower, closing down 1.38 points, or 0.01 percent, at 15,520.59.

The Nasdaq composite index rose 17.33 points, or 0.5 percent, to 3,616.47. But the Nasdaq gained largely because Apple, its largest component, jumped more than 1 percent, rising $5.53, to $453.32.

The Standard Poor’s 500-stock index ended slightly higher, up 0.63 point, or 0.04 percent, to 1,685.96. Its worst performer was Mosaic, a maker of potash, a major ingredient of crop fertilizers, which plunged $9.15, or 17.3 percent, to $43.81 after a Russian fertilizer company said it would drop out of a cartel that keeps potash prices high.

Company earnings provided little guidance. Coach, the maker of luxury handbags, slumped $4.55, or 8 percent, to $53. 30 after reporting a lower quarterly profit. But Goodyear Tire and Rubber jumped $1.52, or 9 percent, to $18.56 after announcing that its quarterly earnings had doubled.

This earnings season has been encouraging on some fronts and troubling on others. Many companies, including big names like Apple and Visa, have posted better-than-expected results, and analysts predicted that second-quarter earnings would be up 4.7 percent for companies in the S. P. 500, according to SP Capital IQ. But many of the gains were based on cost-cutting, not on business growth.

Traders continue to look for clues from the Fed, which began a two-day meeting on Tuesday, about when it might pull back on its bond-buying stimulus program.

The Fed has said it might act this year if the economy continues to improve, but the timing remains uncertain. The central bank has also said it will not raise its benchmark short-term interest rate until the unemployment rate, which was 7.6 percent in June, dips below 6.5 percent.

In the bond market, interest rates were little changed on Tuesday. The price of the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell 2/32, to 92 21/32. Its yield edged up to 2.61 percent, from 2.60 percent late Monday.

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The Media Equation: In New Orleans, Times-Picayune’s Monopoly Crumbles

A year after announcing a plan to reorganize The Times-Picayune of New Orleans into a more digitally focused enterprise that produced a newspaper just three days a week — enraging local residents — its owners have added a new innovation: they will go back to producing a printed product every day.

“We are excited about this opportunity to extend our daily reach in print,” an advertising executive at the newspaper said in the announcement.

You don’t say.

This daily newspaper thing may be catching on. Last week, The Philadelphia Inquirer announced that it would begin printing a Saturday edition again after a nearly two-year hiatus.

The much ballyhooed unmaking of daily newspapering seems to be unmaking itself, and there’s a reason for that. Most newspapers have hung onto the ancient practice of embedding prose on a page and throwing it in people’s yards because that’s where the money and the customers are for the time being.

The industry tried chasing clicks for a while to win back fleeing advertisers, decided it was a fool’s errand and is now turning to customers for revenue. But in order to charge people for news, you have to prosecute journalism.

The belief that historic monopolies will hold together just on the basis of inertia has proved to be wrong. Newspapers that have cut their operations beyond usefulness or quit delivering a daily print presence have suffered. The audience has to be earned every day.

Newspaper publishing will never return to the 30 percent plus margins it once had, but some people believe there is a business model. Warren E. Buffett thinks that a 10 percent return is reasonable, now that sale prices have sunk.

Clearly, commanding a market to change on a dime because it suits your business plan does not mean readers will obey. Just ask Advance Publications, owned by the Newhouse family, which is back to where it started in New Orleans with The Times-Picayune.

Except that the name Times-Picayune, which had stood for quality and civic constancy for decades, does not mean the same thing anymore. The vaunted Web site that was to be the lifeblood of the new enterprise remains a creaky mess, and the newsroom has been denuded of remarkably talented people.

Several of those people, including the two former managing editors of the newspapers, have gone to work for The Advocate, the Baton Rouge daily that has introduced a New Orleans edition. With a new, rich owner, it has taken aim at the market The Times-Picayune once owned.

Advance made its decisions up against some very dark trends in the business, but they were made with the dead-eyed arrogance of a monopolist in a much-changed world. Columbia Journalism Review described The Times-Picayune’s strategy of the last year as a “rolling disaster.”

It’s been a jaw-dropping blunder to watch. Advance misjudged the marketplace — the whole city and state went ballistic when the changes were announced — and failed to execute a modern digital strategy. Now it is in full retreat with new competition.

The company endlessly complicated what had been a simple proposition that has worked since the newspaper’s founding in 1837: deliver a printed bundle of its best efforts every day for a fixed price. The new distribution plan is hard to explain, but I will do my best.

On Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, a broadsheet called The Times-Picayune will be available for home delivery and on the newsstands for 75 cents. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, a tabloid called TPStreet will be available only on newsstands for 75 cents.

In addition, a special electronic edition of TPStreet will be available to the three-day subscribers of the home-delivered newspaper. On Saturdays, there will be early print editions of the Sunday Times-Picayune with some breaking news and some Sunday content.

There’s more, but you get the idea — or not. It’s an array of products, frequencies and approaches that is difficult to explain, much less market.

The move was clearly defensive, unveiled the day before John Georges, the new owner of The Advocate, announced that it would expand its incursion into New Orleans. Since early fall, The Advocate has been publishing The New Orleans Advocate, with 20,000 subscribers.

Mr. Georges, a successful businessman who had less success running for governor of Louisiana and mayor of New Orleans, held a news conference on May 1 where he was accompanied by the governor, Bobby Jindal, and the mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu. It was an indication that the home team had chosen sides and the once-beloved Times-Picayune was on the wrong side of the field.

Last July, Senator David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, wrote a brutal letter to Steven Newhouse, the chairman of Advance.


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The Media Equation: Rules for the New Ways of Watching

Yes, competition is storming out of every device and connection, and consumers have choices and leverage they never dreamed of. But network television continues to waltz along, attracting advertisers in big numbers. Cable had a great year, and media octopuses like Time Warner and News Corporation continue to find plenty of profits. Big media companies still rely on huge well-entrenched assets that include brands, distribution and capital.

But even if the sky is still aloft, there are visible, portentous cracks appearing. The inertia that has kept consumers from bolting from traditional content providers is beginning to erode as a new generation remakes media in its own image. Device companies and search outfits are intent on manufacturing their own content. And the migration of movies, music and video to the cloud could change the weather in a hurry.

Even as some of the old truisms in media still obtain — content wears the crown and strong brands break through clutter — a few new rules are taking shape.

A SCREEN IS A SCREEN Steve Jobs taught us a bunch before he exited, but one of his most current lessons could be the one with the most far-reaching implications. Content has a price tag, which is reassuring, but the old dividing lines between television, radio, Web and print disappear within the four corners of a tablet. That means, for instance, that CNBC and The Wall Street Journal are not in different businesses anymore, and in fact The Journal is adding hours of live video with each passing month. The BBC and Al Jazeera are no longer regional curios, they’re here. Every cable channel with two nickels and more than a few digital enterprises are financing the kind of narrative television that used to be available only at a certain time on a certain network.

NEW NETWORKS EVERY DAY On Christmas Day, a lot of people will take the ribbon off a Web-enabled flat-screen television, and now the fight for real estate on all those enhanced television screens will be fast and furious. Cable providers will try to keep people from downloading the products of insurgent Web “broadcasters,” but they can’t stop what’s coming. They will have to win by providing value that trumps the now-infinite channel universe of the Web. The $27 billion that traditional media just paid to the National Football League is a hedge, not an answer. So-called virtual operators — Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Google and Apple — have none of the legacy or infrastructure costs. Google has unleashed $100 million to seed new programming on YouTube, and Netflix is financing a series by the director David Fincher. That gaming device your children are playing with? That too is a network in the making. Traditional networks and cable providers have the content, but if they hold on too tight, they will miss out on vast new avenues of distribution and revenue.

THE REMOTE AS BRICK The iPad is a screen on your lap that makes it easy to navigate toward a completely personal experience. That screen on your living room wall is going to have to perform the same way to remain relevant. As it has in many other areas of technology, the smartphone will point the way. Our phones — and now tablets — are always on and poised for action. When I switched from the first iPad, which took a few seconds to boot, to the iPad2, which stands ready for duty every time I lift its cover, my use more than doubled. I expect that other devices will greet me in similar fashion. Navigating is as easy as a swipe of the finger or, in the case of the new iPhone, a verbal request to Siri. As for your remote control, well, using it is a little like hitting your television with a stick until it finally delivers what you want. If things go as they should, we will spend less time looking under the couch for the remote and more time telling our television to get us the seventh episode of the second season of “Boardwalk Empire.” And our media identity is becoming ubiquitous, and transportable: some day, I should be able to walk into a hotel in Kansas, tell the television who I am and find everything I have bought and paid for there for the consuming.

CELEBRITY AS COMMODITY The multiplatform and infinite-channel universe can manufacture its own celebrities. Is Scott Pelley a more important asset than Kim Kardashian? You may not know who Rebecca Black is, but 14 million YouTube users do and have spun her ridiculous music video “Friday” to laugh at or with her. Oprah Winfrey, the celebrity with the golden touch, got clobbered when she started her own network. Anderson Cooper felt compelled to do a daytime show to diversify his bets. Keith Olbermann and Charlie Sheen thought their audiences were a movable feast, but big chunks of their followers stayed put to watch Rachel Maddow and Ashton Kutcher in their slots.

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