The United States Census Bureau reported consumer spending in the U.S. economy—adjusted for price fluctuation—increased by 0.2% in February from the previous month. In January, consumer spending increased by 0.1% after seeing a decline in December. (Source: “Personal Income and Outlays, February 2014,” United States Census Bureau web site, March 28, 2014.)
This sent a wave of optimism through the markets. We heard consumer spending is going higher; therefore, the U.S. economy will improve. Buy and buy some more, or you will miss out on future gains was what we were told.
However, I don’t think much thought was given to the increase in consumer spending compared to the previous years. Please look at the chart below. It shows the percentage change in the personal consumption expenditure each February over the last four years.
Change from Previous Month
Data source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site,
last accessed March 28, 2014.
There’s a clear trend. The percentage change in consumer spending this past February is the lowest since 2011. But if we were to extend this chart to include the change in consumer spending from December to February, this February saw the lowest percentage change since the same period in 2009 and 2010. This shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Going forward, it looks like consumer spending might even decline further. You have to understand that consumers have to be willing to spend; they have to be optimistic to buy. I look at consumer sentiment as one indicator of consumer spending, and it’s not looking very promising at … Read More
“What should you do when the house isn’t in order?”
A good friend of mine asked this question back in 2011. At that time, key stock indices were plunging lower due to issues regarding the U.S. debt ceiling. There was uncertainty, and many wondered what would happen next. I remember this question now because the key stock indices nowadays are falling due to troubles in the emerging markets and there seems to be panic—similar to what we were experiencing when I first heard this question.
When key stock indices are declining, instead of panicking and selling every holding in their portfolio, investors have to be strategic and instead think with an open mind and a long-term perspective.
The first step investors should take is to see where the troubles are coming from and if they are exposed to it at all. For example, these days, we see problems in the emerging markets are causing panic. If investors have a massive percentage of their portfolio invested in the emerging markets, then they should simply reduce their exposure. If they continue to hold their positions, and the markets continue to decline further, their losses will get bigger and it will be much harder to recover. If investors witnessed a drawdown of 25% in their portfolio, it will have to go up by more than 33% for them to just break even. Plus, reducing exposure not only protects investors from potential loss, but it also increases their cash position.
The second step investors should take is to exercise extra caution when key stock indices are falling. Investors should carefully screen the news and … Read More
Ah, the U.S. housing market, the so-called silver lining in the U.S. recovery—but not for long, as it may be rusting. The U.S. housing numbers are in, and they aren’t spectacular.
In the U.S. housing market, December existing-home sales rose one percent month-over-month at an annualized pace of 4.87 million units. Analysts were expecting December existing-home numbers to come in at 4.93 million. The one-percent increase also has to be taken with a grain of salt, as it was helped, in part, by a downward revision in November existing-home U.S. housing market sales to 4.82 million units. (Source: “December Existing-Home Sales Rise, 2013 Strongest in Seven Years,” National Association of Realtors web site, January 23, 2014.)
The December existing-home U.S. housing market sales of 4.87 million are also 0.6% below the 4.9-million-unit level recorded in December 2012. And sales of existing homes were down 27.9% at an annualized rate for the entire fourth quarter.
First-time home buyers—the fuel of the U.S. housing market—accounted for just 27% of all purchases in December, down from 28% in November and October and 30% in December 2012. That’s a huge drop over the 30-year average of 40% and a number real estate professionals and economists consider ideal. It is also the lowest level since the National Association of Realtors began tracking this metric in 2008.
First-time home buyers, who tend to purchase lower-priced homes, are being pushed out of the U.S. housing market recovery by all-cash sales. All-cash sales accounted for a whopping 42.1% of all U.S. residential sales in December, up from 38.1% in November and 18.0% in December 2012. (Source: “Short Sales … Read More
When it comes to investing, I think it’s important to have a balanced investment portfolio made up of value and growth stocks. I also think it’s important to be balanced in the way you look at or research stocks through both fundamental analysis and technical analysis. Being too extreme or having too much allegiance to one investing methodology means excluding a rich pool of information.
I have an acquaintance who’s an investor. He swears by day-trading, even though he’s lousy at it. Here, I’d like to employ Dr. Phil’s mind-numbing, near-sighted phrase, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” but to be fair, I don’t really know too many successful day-traders anymore.
Anyway, my friend, whom I call “the investing dandy,” is a pure technical analysis trader, meaning he doesn’t even care what stock he’s trading and most times, he doesn’t even know what the company does.
Technical analysis attempts to forecast future price movements based on past price and volume movements. The idea is to find patterns within the past movements, and use those chart patterns and past price performance to predict what will happen to the stock in the future.
Fundamental analysis, on the other hand, looks at a company’s financial statement in an effort to predict a trend. Unlike technical analysis, which considers the past direction of a chart to predict a stock’s future movements, fundamental analysis focuses on the forward-looking picture.
My friend contends that because the markets have been performing so well over the last few years in spite of lukewarm earnings, there’s no reason to consider a fundamental analysis.
Therein lies his folly. While he’s right … Read More
While talking to a friend of mine about general economics and the current market conditions, discussing topics such as where the stock market is headed next since it has gone up significantly and what these low interest rates mean in the long run, he opened the debate to an interesting front: how much cash should an investor have in their portfolio? Is cash any good to hold for investors who are in the market for the long term, saving for their retirement?
One of the most basic strategies to manage a portfolio is to invest the funds into different asset classes, which is referred to as “asset allocation.” The reason for asset allocation is that if one asset class (i.e. stocks) declines in value, the other class (those with a negative correlation to stocks), can rise and minimize the losses. Most often, investors who are saving for retirement allocate their portfolio to stocks and bonds completely—because they tend to have a negative correlation—and not hold any cash at all.
To say the least, investors who hold cash in their portfolio can benefit significantly, and may be able to earn a higher rate of return compared to those who don’t. But before going into further detail, how much cash should the portfolio of an investor actually have?
To assess how much cash an investor should have in their portfolio, they need to look at certain factors, such as how long they are planning to invest and if they need any funds in the short term.
Going back to the discussion with my friend, he, for example, plans to invest for the … Read More