“This Airplane Is Designed By Clowns… Supervised By Monkeys” – Boeing Is Facing New Embarrassment Over Its Grounded 737 Max Jet

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Plus, the U.S. just slapped new sanctions on Iran, the Labor Department’s December jobs report disappointed, and Six Flags received two downgrades from the same analyst in less than 24 hours.

Stocks traded higher to start Friday with the Dow adding 48 points higher, or 0.2%, breaking above 29,000 for the first time ever. The S&P 500 gained 0.2%, while the Nasdaq jumped 0.3%.

Leaders of Canada, Australia, and the U.K. all joined the U.S. in saying that there is evidence an Iranian missile brought down the Ukrainian International Airlines flight this week, killing all 176 people on board the Boeing 737-800. Iran is denying that the plane was shot down and said the allegations were “psychological warfare,” while calling on the international community to prove the theory. The crash occurred on Wednesday morning, just hours after Iran launched ballistic missile attacks on military bases in Iraq that were housing U.S. military personnel. “If the preliminary assessments prove accurate, the diplomatic fallout for Iran will be significant in the short term,” Eurasia Group analysts wrote in a note yesterday. The political risk consultancy firm also said that Iran saw a “good deal of international sympathy and solidarity” following the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani by the U.S. last week, with many in the global community “quietly grateful” that the country didn’t respond more forcefully to the assassination, but that “the shootdown will jeopardize that diplomatic goodwill, especially if the evidence proves overwhelming and Iran continues to stridently deny it.”

But while the plane being taken down by a missile and not by mechanical failure as initially reported is good news for Boeing, the plane maker is facing damning headlines this morning. Boeing released a new batch of internal messages yesterday in which company employees discussed their deep uneasiness with the 737 Max jet—which has been grounded since early last year following two fatal crashes—and problems with in flight simulators used to train pilots on the new jetliner. “This airplane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys,” said one company pilot in messages from 2016. U.S. Representative from Oregon Peter DeFazio, who chairs the committee that is investigating Boeing and the Max, said the messages “paint a deeply disturbing picture of the lengths Boeing was apparently willing to go to in order to evade scrutiny from regulators, flight crews, and the flying public, even as its own employees were sounding alarms internally.”

And in more bad news for Iran, the U.S. has slapped a new round of sanctions on the country’s metal exports and eight senior Iranian officials following the missile attack from earlier this week on Iraqi bases that were housing U.S. troops, a move that was in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani. The Iranian officials targeted in the sanctions “have advanced the regime’s destabilizing objectives,” the Treasury Department said in a news release, including the secretary of Iran’s supreme national security council and the deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces. The Treasury Department also designated 17 Iranian metals producers and mining companies, alongside entities based in China and the Seychelles, among other penalties.

The U.S. labor market closed out 2019 with less momentum as jobs gains slowed by more than forecast and wages rose at their weakest annual pace since 2018, according to a Labor Department report released this morning. Nonfarm payrolls rose 145,000 in December, lower than the consensus estimate for 160,000. Average hourly earnings rose just 2.9%, the first sub-3% reading since July 2018. “It’s a real question why wages haven’t accelerated more,” said Jay Bryson, acting chief economist at Wells Fargo. “Part of it may be just due to the underlying fact that inflation expectations among folks just remain very very low.” But even so, “the labor market remains solid at this point,” Bryson added. 

Six Flags shares are down nearly 19% this morning following a two downgrades from the same analyst in less than a day. Wells Fargo analyst Timothy Conder had an Overweight rating on the stock and a $49 per share price target at the closing bell yesterday. Later last night, Conder downgraded the theme park stock to equal weight and cut his price target to $42 pointing to concerns about the company’s problems in China. But after Six Flags said this morning that it would report no Q4 revenue from its Chinese partnership and year-over-year attendance declines at its U.S. parks for the quarter, Conder slashed his price target down to $38 and downgraded the stock to underweight. “Based on our revised estimates, the dividend appears secure, but investors likely will not give SIX any near-term credit until clarity on domestic demand emerges,” Conder said in his note from this morning. “We see no near-term upside catalysts.”

Stocks We’re Watching

Applied Genetic Technologies (NASDAQ: AGTC): Shares of this biotech surged as much as 128% yesterday after it reported positive results from a Phase 1/2 trial for its investigational gene therapy for retinitis pigmentosa, a disorder that causes vision loss. “These promising results further demonstrate that our XLRP candidate has tremendous potential to provide meaningful benefit to XLRP patients who today have no treatment options,” said Sue Washer, President and CEO of Applied Genetic. “The positive results observed to date give us confidence that the data as a whole will support advancement of our XLRP clinical program to a pivotal trial in 2020.”

Eltek Ltd (NASDAQ: ELTK): Shares of Israel-based Eltek jumped 17% yesterday after the company announced a new order from a governmental authority. “The original selection of Eltek by this customer attests to the trust in the Company’s technological capabilities,” said Eltek CEO Eli Yaffe. “Eltek successfully met the initial milestones of the project and met the customer’s expectations. As a result, the governmental authority decided to extend the project for an additional two years. Eltek believes that first generation of the developed product will result in additional purchase orders for products in an amount that we cannot quantify at this point. Eltek also believes that the second generation product that will be developed during the extension period will create an advanced product which will increase Eltek’s competitiveness and brings Eltek a step closer to becoming a world class provider of high-end technology.”

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