Somebody’s Watching Me

Jason Norris of Ferguson Wellman by Jason Norris, CFA Executive Vice President of Research

There were two high profile data breaches this week which highlighted the importance of cyber security, as well as “implied privacy.” Home Depot announced that they had a breach where credit and debit cards used at its stores may have been compromised. Initial speculation was that this may have just happened within the last few weeks; however, some reports indicate the breach may extend back to April of 2014. There were also reports from Goodwill, Dairy Queen and Supervalu that some of their locations may have experienced a data breach. What this shines a light on is the importance of corporate security, as well as vigilant consumers. One potential solution to this problem would be the implementation of “chip and pin” debit/credit cards. Most of the world has already implemented this means of transaction, but the U.S. has not. The main difference between “chip and pin” cards and standard debit cards is, when using a chip card, there is no magnetic strip to swipe. The card is put in a Point of Sale (POS) terminal, the chip is read, and the consumer has to input a PIN number. The security for these transactions is much more reliable. The chip cannot be copied like a magnetic strip can (as we saw in the Target case, and it looks like the Home Depot breach as well.) Visa and MasterCard are big proponents of this technology; however, it has been very slow to roll out in the U.S. The Netherlands company NXP Semiconductor is a key player in the technology for these cards.

The distribution of several celebrities’ nude pictures this week has also highlighted the importance of personal cyber security. Over the weekend, more than 100 personal iCloud accounts were hacked and private photos were leaked to the media, with several prominent actresses being victimized. Apparently, this was a case of hackers easily decoding individuals’ passwords. While this action is not condoned, individuals have to remember that any material that is stored in the cloud runs the risk of being compromised.

Less Than Zero

The European Central Bank continued to take rates lower this week by reducing its deposit rate to -0.2 percent from -0.1 percent. You are reading that correctly, that is a negative number. This seems to be more symbolic, rather than having much of an impact on the market. The market impact decision came in the same announcement that the ECB will increase its purchase of ABS (Asset-Backed Securities). This is very similar to what the U.S. Fed had been doing with its purchase of mortgage-backed securities. The key item missing is that the ECB did not announce a plan to purchase sovereign debt. The ECB is hoping banks will sell their ABS to them and in its place, make loans. Europe continues to sputter out of recession with expectations of GDP growth and inflation below 1 percent. This move by the ECB showed the market that it is willing to support European economies, although one has to wonder if they have enough power to do so.

Why Worry

The employment report this morning was a disappointment with the U.S. only adding 142,000 jobs in the month of August; expectations were for over 200,000.  Ferguson Wellman believes this data will eventually be revised upward.  The economic data the last few months has been very robust and is not consistent with this weak jobs number.  Therefore, we aren’t concerned about the number unless other economic data starts to signal a slowdown.


With the Seattle Seahawks opening game win Thursday, it reminds us of the Super Bowl stock market prediction. Some may recall when we highlighted the belief that if the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl this year it would foretell a positive year to the market. So far so good with a 9 percent+ gain in the S&P 500 to date. Even with this strong run, we believe that earnings growth and low inflation will continue to be tailwinds for equities, pushing them higher to year-end.

Our Takeaways for the Week

  • Internet security will become more of a focus for companies and individuals
  • Global central banks are supporting economies - coupled with strong earnings, this is a positive for stocks