The Federal Reserve will wrap-up its policy-setting meeting at 2pm ET today, in which the central bank is expected to hold interest rates at near-zero. Although the economy is continuing its rebound from the depths of the COVID-19 crisis, the Fed remains in the spotlight with signs of no further fiscal support coming from Congress.
But the September Federal Open Market Committee meeting could offer clues for the next steps on monetary policy. A fresh release of economic projections will plot out Fed officials’ expectations for where interest rates will be through the end of 2023.
In his press conference at 2:30pm ET, Fed Chairman Jay Powell will also field questions. Powell will likely offer more color on the Fed’s new framework allowing inflation to “moderately” rise above its 2% target.
Fed watchers are also eager to hear more about whether or not more explicit forward guidance is coming, which would involve a commitment to keeping rates at near-zero or using its balance sheet until unemployment or inflation reach certain levels.
Brian Cheung is a reporter covering the Fed, economics, and banking for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter @bcheungz.
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Voter purge case before Wisconsin Supreme Court
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday in a case that could result in the purging of about 130,000 people from voter rolls in the hotly contested battleground state.
However, it wasn’t clear if the court would rule in time to affect the Nov. 3 election that was just five weeks away. Attorneys for both sides didn’t expect a decision until after the election.
The arguments come in one of several closely watched lawsuits in Wisconsin. On Sunday, a federal appeals court temporarily put on hold a ruling that would expand the time that absentee ballots can be counted.
President Donald Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016, making the fight over any change to the process of voting and who is able to vote all the more significant.
A conservative law firm was asking the Supreme Court to overturn a state appeals court’s ruling earlier in February that stopped the purging of the voters who had been identified as potentially having moved. A circuit court judge had ruled that the voters must be removed immediately, but the appeals court overturned that.
Because voters who moved were concentrated in more Democratic areas of the state, liberals argued that the lawsuit was meant to lower turnout on their side. Republicans countered that it was about reducing the likelihood of voter fraud and making sure that people who moved are not able to vote from their previous addresses.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of three voters, had asked the Supreme Court to decide the case before the November election. But the court slated it for its regular argument schedule, not a faster track, making it unlikely to rule in time to affect voters this year.
The Wisconsin case is among several nationwide asking state or local elections officials to purge voters from the rolls. On Monday, a judge in Georgia dismissed a similar lawsuit filed by two voters in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta. The lawsuit sought to force election officials to hold hearings that could have resulted in 14,000 voters being removed from the county’s voter rolls before the November general election.
Absentee voting is underway in Wisconsin with more than 238,00 ballots returned already.
The Supreme Court is controlled 4-3 by conservatives. But Justice Brian Hagedorn, who worked as former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s attorney and was backed by conservatives in his run for the court, has repeatedly sided with more liberal justices in high profile cases. Hagedorn in September sided with the three liberal justices in ruling it was too late for a Green Party presidential candidate to force his way onto the ballot after the elections commission determined he was ineligible.
In the voter purge lawsuit, conservatives argue that the state elections commission broke the law when it did not remove voters from the rolls who did not respond within 30 days to a mailing last year indicating they may have moved. The commission wanted to wait until after the presidential election before removing anyone because of inaccuracies found while previously attempting to identify voters who may have moved.
The appeals court said in its unanimous decision in February that the law in question does not refer to the Elections Commission or give any duties to it related to deactivating voters. The commission argued that the power to do that rests with local election clerks. The appeals court agreed.
No voters have been deactivated while the legal fight continues. Even if a voter has their registration deactivated, they can register again later or on Election Day when they show up at the polls, assuming they have the required documentation proving where they live, such as a driver’s license, paycheck stub or utility bill.
In another case being heard Tuesday, the Supreme Court will consider when a voter should be considered indefinitely confined. Those voters are able to receive absentee ballots without first showing a photo ID. Republicans sued in March after Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell posted online ahead of the April election that voters could call themselves indefinitely confined if they were staying home because of the pandemic.
A ruling in that case is also unlikely before the November election.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP
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3 Stocks Flashing Signs of Strong Insider Buying
If you really want to know which stocks the experts – and those in the know – are buying, pay attention to what they’re doing. Stock reports, company reviews, and press statements are helpful, but you’ll get significant information from watching what the insiders are up to.The insiders – the corporate officers and board members – have to disclose when they snap up shares to prevent any unfair advantages. Tracking their stock purchases can be a useful strategy because if an insider spends their own money on a stock, it could signal that they believe big gains are in store.So, investors looking for stocks that may be flying ‘under the radar,’ but with potential to climb fast, watching for insider purchases identify some sweet market plays. To make that search easier, the TipRanks Insiders’ Hot Stocks tool gets the footwork started – identifying stocks that have seen informative moves by insiders, highlighting several common strategies used by the insiders, and collecting the data all in one place.Fresh from that database, here are the details on three stocks showing ‘informative buys’ in recent days.TravelCenters of America (TA)We’ll start with a company that you probably don’t think about often, but that does provide an essential service. TravelCenters of America is the largest publicly traded owner, operator, and franchisor of full-service highway rest stops in the US. TA started out operating truck stops for rest, repair, and maintenance, and has since expanded to full-service fueling stations offering both gasoline and diesel, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, and other rest stop amenities. Their network of rest stops is part of the infrastructure that makes long-distance motor transport, both private and commercial, possible in the USA.As can be imagined, the social lockdowns and travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic were not good for TA. The good news is, the worst of the pandemic hit during Q1, and the first quarter is normally TA’s slowest of the year. This year, the first quarter showed a net loss of $1.81 per share. In the second quarter, when warmer weather normally leads to increased driving, the pandemic restrictions were also – at least partially – lifted, and TA reported a sudden turnaround, with a 59 cent EPS profit. Even so, that missed the forecast by almost a dime. The outlook for Q3, normally TA’s strongest of the year, is for EPS of 73 cents.Turning to the insider trades, Adam Portnoy of the Board of Directors has the most recent informative buys. Earlier this month, he purchased over 323,000 shares, laying out more than $5.32 million for the stock. Analyst James Sullivan, of BTIG makes two observations about TravelCenters. First, he points out, “The long-haul trucking industry has an approximate 71% share of total primary tonnage in the U.S. freight industry, making it the primary mode of freight transportation.” Sullivan then adds that this opens up opportunity for TA going forward: “The increasing demands of the nation’s large trucking fleets for consolidated service providers that can provide fuel and truck service on a national basis appear likely to drive additional consolidation in the industry.”Sullivan rates TA shares a Buy, and his $34 price target suggests the stock has an impressive 82% upside potential for the coming year. (To watch Sullivan’s track record, click here)Overall, shares in TA are rated a Strong Buy from the analyst consensus, based on 5 recent reviews including 4 Buys and 1 Hold. The shares are selling for $19.24, and the $22.70 average price target implies room for 18% upside growth. (See TA stock analysis on TipRanks)Highwoods Properties (HIW)The next stock is a real estate investment trust. Highwood operates mostly in the Southeast US, but also in Pittsburgh, where it acquires, develops, leases, and manages a portfolio of suburban office and light industrial properties.Where most companies reported heavy losses during the corona crisis, HIW saw revenues in 1H20 remain stable. EPS has grown sequentially into Q1 and remained flat in Q2 at 93 cents. Both quarter beat EPS expectations.Despite the solid financial results, HIW shares have still not recovered from the market collapse of midwinter. The stock is down 27% year-to-date.Through all of this, Highwoods has maintained its dividend, as is common among REITs. The company has a 17-year history of dividend growth and reliability, and the current payment of 48 cents per common share has been stable for the past 7 quarters. At this level, it annualizes to $1.92 and gives a yield of 5.8%.Highwoods’ insider trading has come from Board member Carlos Evans, who purchased 10,000 shares for $337,000 dollars last week. His move was the first informative buy on HIW in the last 6 months.Truist analyst Michael Lewis is impressed by the quality of HIW’s portfolio. He writes, “We continue to believe that HIW’s portfolio is one of the best-positioned among traditional office REITs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rent collections have been excellent and there are no large near-term lease expirations. More broadly, the portfolio should benefit from being focused in drivable, close-in Sunbelt suburbs.”In line with these comments, Lewis rates the stock a Buy. His price target, $45, indicates a 31% potential upside from current levels. (To watch Lewis’ track record, click here)Overall, HIW has a cautiously optimistic Moderate Buy consensus rating from the Street. This breaks down into 2 Buy ratings and 1 Hold. We can also see from TipRanks that the average analyst price target is $43, which implies a ~25% upside from the current share price. (See HIW stock analysis on TipRanks)VEREIT (VER)The last stock on our insider trading list is another REIT. VEREIT is major owner and manager of retail, restaurant, and commercial real estate, with a portfolio that includes over 3,800 properties worth a collective $14.7 billion. The company’s assets are 45% retail and 20% restaurants; the rest is mainly office and light industrial sites. The total leasable square footage is 88.9 million square feet.So VEREIT is a giant in the REIT sector – but size didn’t protect it from the general downturn this year. Share performance has been lackluster, and revenues have been falling off gradually since Q4 of last year. The second quarter results showed $279 million on the top line, the lowest in a year – but the quarter also saw earnings turn back upwards, reaching 17 cents per share.VER cut back on its dividend earlier this year, reducing the payment to 8 cents per share to keep it in line with earnings. That dividend has been maintained, and the next payment is set for mid-October. The current dividend yield is 4.5%, well over double the average found among S&P stocks.The big insider trade on VER comes from Board member and CEO Glenn Rufrano. He spent over $252K on a block of 40,000 shares, pushing the insider sentiment on this stock into positive territory.Covering the stock for JPMorgan, 5-star analyst Anthony Paolone sees an important strength in VER, noting that the company has been successful in collecting rents during the crisis period. “[Its] collections showed good improvement going into July, with 85% collections in 2Q and 91% in July; when considering all the abatements and deferrals, it appears that at this point about 94% of pre-COVID contractual rental revenue has been addressed, and it seems to us that a normalized run rate for this vast majority of the portfolio should take hold in early 2021; the company is making progress in working through the remaining 5-6% of non-collections,” Paolone noted.Paolone gives VER an Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating, and his $8 price target implies a 22% upside for the next 12 months. (To watch Paolone’s track record, click here)All in all, VER has drawn optimism mixed with caution when it comes to consensus opinion among sell-side analysts. Out of 5 analysts polled in the last 3 months, 3 are bullish on the stock, while 2 remain sidelined. With an 11% upside potential, the stock’s consensus target price stands at $7.25. (See VEREIT’s stock analysis at TipRanks)To find good ideas for stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.
South Africa anti-graft inquiry is biased against me
South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma has requested the head of a commission investigating corruption during his presidency to step aside over alleged “bias”, his lawyers said.
Mr Zuma has repeatedly refused to testify at the commission.
But Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has set a “non-negotiable” date for him to appear.
Allegations of corruption dogged Mr Zuma’s presidency and led him to resign in February 2018.
The former president’s lawyer has said that he would not take part until Mr Zondo is replaced.
In a letter to the commission, Eric Mabuza said: “We are instructed to seek your recusal as chairperson of the commission on the ground that our client reasonably apprehends that you have already adopted a biased disposition towards him.”
He said that Mr Zondo was no longer capable of “exercising an independent and impartial mind”.
“President Zuma has always expressed his willingness to cooperate with the commission. This is in spite of his reservations about the legality of the commission and in particular, your suitability as chairperson, given your personal relations with him”.
The inquiry, known as the Zondo Commission, was established to investigate the “state capture” scandal during Mr Zuma’s tenure as president.
This centred around allegations about an Indian business family, the Guptas, who won lucrative contracts with state companies.
The family has also been accused of trying to influence political decisions, including the naming of ministers.
The Guptas have said that there were no cases to answer and that they were in the process of clearing their name “in the face of unfounded media allegations”.
Mr Zondo has chaired the commission for more than two years and it has heard testimony from ministers, ex-ministers, government officials, politicians and business executives.
Last week Mr Zuma said he was too ill to testify.
As a result, Mr Zondo held a televised media briefing where he ordered Mr Zuma to testify in November.
Making a televised announcement “attests to the fact that he seeks to portray him as uncooperative and belligerent in the eyes of the public”, Mr Zuma’s lawyer argued in the letter.
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