The annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit started on Monday in Beijing, and I bet there will be a lot of discussion on the state of China and Asia in the global economy.
My readers all know the impact of China on the global economy, as I’ve written on its relevance before. If China fails, so will the global economy, including the United States and the fragile eurozone. Russia is already looking to extend its economic ties beyond the Great Wall.
Yet it’s clear the country that gave us spectacular double-digit gross domestic product (GDP) growth for years is now struggling. The Chinese economy has already seen its growth slow, coming in at 7.3% in the third quarter, the slowest pace since 2008. And it isnow threatening to fall short of the 7.5% target set by the government. At this point, it doesn’t look like the target will be met. In fact, there are whispers that the target could be cut to seven percent in 2015 if the global economy doesn’t experience a stronger recovery.
Pundits and China bears have been calling for the great collapse of China, specifically in the real estate and financial spaces. Yes, there is softness here, but we have yet to see a bigger crack form. You can bet the Chinese government will do whatever is necessary to reinforce its economy’s weak points. And China can definitely do this, given the fact that the country has about $3.0 trillion in reserves.
President Xi Jinping, who is in his second year of his 10-year term, knows the country needs to spread its wings globally. That is … Read More
I’m not sure how many of my Daily Gains Letter readers realize that Chinese stocks, as reflected by the Shanghai Composite Index (SCI), have outperformed the S&P 500 so far this year. After offering up underwhelming performances since 2009, the SCI has rallied 9.98% this year, compared to 8.44% for the S&P 500 and 3.23% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average as of Monday.
We’re not talking about resurgence in Chinese stocks and a return to the glory days more than five years ago; instead, I’m simply saying there’s finally some buying in an oversold Chinese stock market.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
Of course, there’s the high anticipation of China-based Alibaba (NYSE/BABA) joining the U.S. capital markets on September 19; this move will likely stroke the enthusiasm of investors here. The Internet services company is massive and will give U.S. companies a run for their money, further opening the U.S. market to consumers and businesses worldwide. You can wait and pick up shares of Alibaba or you can play the company via Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ/YHOO), which holds a 23% stake in Alibaba.
Now, if you’re a regular reader, you may know that I have been, and continue to be, bullish on the Chinese economy and China. Yes, the economy is stalling, but we are still talking about growth of around 7.5% this year, which is far greater than the rest of the G7 countries.
Just like Facebook, Inc. (NASDAQ/FB) in the social media market with its more than one billion users and enormous potential, I feel the same towards China and its 1.3 billion people. When you have a market … Read More
This past week, as many of my readers may recall, I discussed the slowing that’s occurring in the global economy as demonstrated by consumer spending at both McDonalds Corporation (NYSE/MCD) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE/WMT).
Now, my concerns have just picked up following Wednesday’s retail sales reading. The core reading excluding automotive and food sales grew a mere 0.1% in July, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which was below the 0.3% estimate and the weakest reading since way back in January, when Old Man Winter was blamed for everything.
But with the winter excuses over, it still appears consumers are hesitant on wanting to spend. Not only is consumer spending on everyday items drying up, but spending on durable goods, such as furniture, appliances, and electronics, is curtailing.
Department store operator Macy’s, Inc. (NYSE/M) reported a mere 3.3% year-over-year increase in its second-quarter sales. The company’s key comparable store sales managed to rise 3.4% in the second quarter, but things are looking somewhat soft for the whole of 2014, with Macy’s estimating growth in comparable store sales of only 1.5%–2.0%, versus its previous 2.5%–3.0% estimate.
These numbers, along with those from the discounters and big-box stores, show some darker clouds on the horizon for the retail sector, as retailers across the board try to keep afloat.
I don’t expect a sell-off in retail, but the upside looks to be limited for the foreseeable future, as the economy and jobs look to sort things out.
Take a look at the SPDR S&P Retail ETF (NYSEArca/XRT), which reflects the current sideways moves in the retail sector, with this exchange-traded fund … Read More
It’s amazing how analysts try to spin numbers that are horrible. For instance, retail sales edged up 0.3% in May, which is not something to get excited about; however, analysts have been spinning this news, saying that the poor May reading is simply a result of the upward revision in the April reading to 0.5%.
Now, I’m not sure what your thinking is, but my view is that both numbers stink and they foreshadow an economy in which consumer spending is scarce.
My excitement lies 10,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean in China, where the country’s government, under President Xi Jinping, is aggressively trying to encourage consumers to spend. This is contrary to what has happened in past decades, when the massive Chinese economic engine was fueled by manufacturing and foreign investment. Both are still prevalent, but the government also understands that it must drive up domestic consumer spending in order to lessen the impact of slower growth around the world, which has a direct impact on China.
In other words, China wants its consumers to spend the country out of the current stalling, which, at around 7.5% gross domestic product (GDP) growth, is still way ahead of the U.S. and other Western countries. The reality is that with a population of 1.3 billion people and a middle class of approximately 300 million, the potential is significant. Plus, the middle class in China has money to spend, unlike here in America, where people are struggling, just making ends meet.
In May, China’s retail sales surged 12.5% year-over-year to $349 billion, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. This followed growth … Read More
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
As the investing adage of the day goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get eating, smoking, and drinking.” And there’s plenty of tough economic data out there to send people into the arms of their favorite vices and sin stocks.
In a nutshell, U.S. unemployment has improved year-over-year to 6.7%, but the improved numbers are the result of an increase in low-wage-paying part-time retail jobs. The underemployment rate remains high near 13%, as does the long-term unemployed at 2.3%. And despite the soaring S&P 500, wages haven’t really budged in years.
In January, new orders for manufactured durable goods fell one percent, or $2.2 billion, to $225 billion—the third decrease in the last four months. Not surprisingly, retail sales, which account for about 30% of consumer spending, rose just 0.2% in February after two straight months of declines.
March consumer sentiment data missed forecasts, falling from 81.6 in February to 79.9—the lowest level in four months and the eighth miss in the last 10 months. This trickled down to February auto sales, which flat-lined year-over-year to 1.19 million and sat on the low end of annualized auto sales estimates of 15.34 million. Even January housing data were weak.
I realize most economists are blaming the weak U.S. economy on the bad winter weather, but I’m not so sure. And I’m certainly not alone. Even Stephen Poloz, the governor of the Bank of Canada, says it’s hard to believe that the recent economic slowdown is all due to the weather. (Source: “Loonie falls on Stephen Poloz’s gloomy forecast for growth,” The Canadian Press, March 18, 2014.)
The tough economic … Read More
Another month of cold weather is being blamed for the most recent weak consumer confidence numbers. Consumer confidence levels for the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index fell from 81.6 in February to 79.9 in March—the lowest level in four months. (Source: Lange, J., “U.S. consumer sentiment slips; bad weather eyed,” Reuters, March 14, 2014.)
Economists had forecast March consumer confidence levels to climb to 82. Instead of celebrating a barely there increase, economists are waxing eloquence on the two-percent decline and two-point gulf between expectations and reality.
In spite of living in North America and having to deal with the cold winter weather that affects most of us, analysts still expected consumer confidence to improve in March…and they seem surprised that it didn’t.
Analysts basically think consumers are too depressed by the weather to shop. This would, of course, bolster their opinion that the U.S. economy is only temporarily stuck and sunnier skies will prevail.
But who can say, really? March’s weak consumer confidence numbers mark the eighth miss in the last 10 months. In all of 2013, consumer confidence numbers beat forecasts only three times.
Maybe the weather can’t take all the blame. In spite of the winter storms, the average U.S. temperature for January was normal, with the warmer West Coast weather offsetting the cooler East Coast weather. The average was 30.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which is only 1/10 of a degree below normal for the month. Things weren’t much different in February and consumer confidence levels actually increased to 81.2 from a projected 80.6. (Source: “National US temperature for January normal despite winter storms,” The Guardian, February … Read More
Since the beginning of the year, we have been seeing economic data that suggests consumer spending in the U.S. economy is in trouble—we have seen menial growth, if not negative growth. If this trend continues, it could be very dangerous, since consumer spending is an important factor for calculating the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).
We recently heard from the United States Census Bureau that retail sales in the U.S. economy increased by 0.3% in February compared to January, and they were up by 1.5% from the same period a year ago. (Source: “Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services for February,” U.S. Census Bureau web site, March 13, 2014.)
This number sent a wave of optimism through the U.S. economy, since retail sales numbers are an indicator of consumer spending and they were in a decline for three months.
Sadly, it appears not many are looking at the long-term picture of consumer spending and how it’s behaving. The month-to-month changes in retail sales shouldn’t be taken very seriously—these data usually get revised. For instance, we originally heard that retail sales in January declined by 0.4%; that was later revised lower to 0.6%.
If you look at the year-over-year change in retail sales, it will start to show you the poor image of consumer spending in the U.S. economy. Please take a look at the table below; it summarizes the year-over-year change in retail sales in February from 2008 to 2014. (Note: the period date identifies the change from the year prior to that specified date; so for example, February 2008 represents the year-over-year change from February 2007 to … Read More
The feeling is mutual: consumers are failing retailers, and retailers are disappointing consumers.
First, let’s look at consumers; apparently, we’re not spending as much as we need to.
During the first month of the year, new orders for manufactured durable goods slipped by one percent, or $2.2 billion, to $225.0 billion—the third decrease in the last four months. Core durable goods (excluding transportation), on the other hand, rose 1.1%. That’s not a huge leap when you consider core durable goods slipped a further-than-expected -1.9% in December.
Retail numbers aren’t any better. U.S. retail sector sales for January fell by the most since June 2012. January retail sector and food services sales for January fell 0.4% month-over-month to $427.8 billion. In December, retail sector sales slipped 0.1% month-over-month to $429.5 billion. (Source: “Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services January 2014,” United States Census Bureau web site, February 13, 2014.)
Of the 13 sectors the U.S. Census Bureau looks at, nine reported month-over-month declines. The biggest retail sector drops were in motor vehicle & parts dealers (-2.1%); sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores (-1.5%); department stores (-1.5%); and clothing & clothing accessories stores (-0.9%). Necessities like food and gas experienced month-over-month gains.
As a nation, we expect consumer spending to generate roughly 70% of our gross domestic product (GDP) growth. These retail sector numbers do not point to sustained economic growth. Though you can hardly blame us, initial claims for jobless benefits rose more than forecast and wages remain pretty flat.
Now, let’s look at retailers. For an industry that needs consumers to buy its products or services, they … Read More
Everyone is blaming the poor economic numbers we have been seeing on the misery of the horrific winter.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen suggested that the winter was to be partly blamed for the somewhat lousy economic readings in December through to February. With the fierce winter, people are hesitant to venture out to look for work, buy groceries, eat at restaurants, go and watch a movie, or even travel.
While I do agree the harsh winter has impacted the economy somewhat, you can’t blame everything on the weather. If this were true, then we would be starting to witness pent-up demand for goods and services in the upcoming months as the snow and cold dissipate.
Or maybe it’s just because the economy is stalling to some degree.
The jobs market is lousy and will need to pick up some momentum. Maybe with the warmer weather to come, job seekers will venture out and look for work, or perhaps companies are just not hiring as much as the government wants to see, given all of the monetary stimulus that has been spent on driving consumer spending in the country.
The one area that looks pretty fragile at this time is the retail sector. Consumers simply appear to be holding back on expenditures and waiting for deep discounts.
In January, the retail sector reported a 0.4% decline in sales, representing the second straight month of declines on the heels of a revised 0.1% decline in December, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. It’s likely the extreme bad weather conditions in January and February contributed to the soft results—at … Read More
Despite stagnant wages and increased borrowing, Americans ramped up their consumer spending in January. The United States Department of Commerce said earlier this week that consumer spending rose 0.4% in January versus a forecast of 0.2%. (Source: “Real Consumer Spending Rises in January,” Bureau of Economic Analysis web site, March 3, 2014.)
Unfortunately, January’s boost in consumer spending wasn’t as broadly based as many were hoping. Spending on durable goods, which include cars, fell 0.3%, while spending on non-durable goods, such as clothing and food, fell 0.7%.
Consumer spending on services increased 0.8%—the biggest jump in services since October 2001. The increase in services spending can be attributed to higher heating bills and more and more people signing up for Obamacare. In fact, without the 11.3% jump in utility bills, consumer spending would have essentially been flat.
For an economy that gets roughly 70% of its growth from wide-based consumer spending, these results are not spectacular.
The increase in consumer spending comes on the heels of a report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis that personal income levels climbed 0.3% month-over-month in January after remaining flat in December. (Source: “Personal Income and Outlays, January 2014,” Bureau of Economic Analysis web site, March 3, 2014.)
This is pretty much in step with consumer spending. But there is an economic disconnect happening. While consumer spending fuels economic growth in this country—if left unchecked, consumer spending can also help throw the economy off a cliff.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, at $11.52 trillion, overall consumer debt levels (including mortgages, auto loans, student loans, and credit cards) are at their … Read More
According to Wall Street, the cold winter weather is responsible for holding back an economy that’s just itching to take hold. And as we’ve recently learned, when it comes to poor earnings and revenues, nothing makes for a better excuse than the weather. After all, the cold harsh winter that has blanketed much of North America doesn’t care how much money you make.
But while the cold winter weather might not care what area code people live in, the feeling is mutual—people in the wealthy area codes don’t care about the cold weather either, especially when it comes to auto sales.
February auto sales figures came in earlier this week, and it’s as if auto sales have flat-lined. Overall, February auto sales were unchanged year-over-year at 1.19 million for an annualized auto sales rate of 15.34 million—at the low end of the estimated 16 million the industry expects to sell in 2014. (Source: “U.S. Market Light Vehicle Deliveries February 2014,” Motor Intelligence web site, March 2, 2014.)
Leading the February auto sales’ non-event are the “Big 8” (General Motors Company; Ford Motor Company; Toyota Motor Company; Chrysler Group LLC, Honda Motor Co., Ltd.; Hyundai Motor Company/Kia Motors Corp.; Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.; and Volkswagen AG), which accounted for 1.06 million units, or 89% of the month’s sales.
Nissan and Chrysler were the only two Big 8 automakers to report year-over-year growth. Nissan reported year-over-year auto sales growth of 15.8%—ahead of analysts’ predictions of 12%. And Chrysler reported another solid month with auto sales up 11%—analyst forecasts were expecting an 8.8% increase. Chrysler surprised to the upside in January with an … Read More
If the stock market is only as strong as the companies that go into making up the index and their earnings are contingent upon consumer spending, then the durable goods numbers don’t really look all that great.
New orders for manufactured durable goods slipped by one percent, or $2.2 billion, to $225.0 billion—the third decrease in the last four months. Analysts had forecasted a January drop of 0.7%. The one-percent drop in January comes on the heels of a 5.3% decrease in December. (Source: “Advance Report on Durable Goods Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories and Orders January 2014,” United States Census Bureau web site, February 27, 2014.)
In January, shipments of manufactured durable goods, which have been down for two consecutive months, decreased $0.9 billion, or 0.4%, to $232.3 billion. This followed a 1.8% decrease in December.
Inventories—the number of products sitting on a shelf—increased by 0.3% ($1.0 billion) in January to $389.1 billion. This represents the highest level ever recorded and follows a 0.9% increase in December.
Non-defense orders for capital goods in January slipped by 3.9% ($3.2 billion) to $78.3 billion. Shipments decreased by one percent, or $0.8 billion, to $75.1 billion, while unfilled orders increased by 0.5%, or $3.2 billion, to $644.7 billion. Inventories increased $0.5 billion, or 0.3%, to $177.5 billion.
Even the less volatile core durable goods numbers fail to really impress. Orders for long-lasting U.S. durable manufactured goods, minus the more volatile transportation industry, climbed 1.1% in January, the biggest jump since May. This sort of balances out the higher-than-expected 1.9% drop in December. Analysts had forecasted a 0.1% decline in January core durable goods.
Still, … Read More
Consumer spending is highly correlated with consumer sentiment. It makes sense that when consumers believe their jobs are in trouble or they won’t have enough money going forward, they pull back on their spending and only buy what they need. On the contrary, if they believe all is well—they expect a raise at work and have savings—they will go out and buy things they want. This phenomenon increases consumer spending.
As it stands, consumer confidence in the U.S. economy is decreasing, which suggests consumer spending will be in trouble.
Let me explain…
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index tracks how consumers are feeling in the U.S. economy. The Board asks individuals how they currently feel about the current state of the U.S. economy, their jobs, and so on and if they believe things will change in the next little while.
In February, we found that the index declined 1.6% from the previous month. The Consumer Confidence Index sits at 78.1 this month compared to 79.4 in January. (Source: “The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index Declines Moderately,” The Conference Board web site, February 25, 2014.)
The Conference Board Expectations Index, which tracks what consumers think will happen in the next six months, also dropped significantly. This index stood at 75.7 this month, down 6.3% from 80.8 in January.
These aren’t the only indicators that suggest consumer confidence in the U.S. economy is declining. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index suggests the same. This weekly index is based on how consumers feel about the U.S. economy, their personal finances, and their buying plans.
In its latest results, the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index stood … Read More
By Sasha Cekerevac for Daily Gains Letter | Feb 21, 2014
This past weekend, a friend of mine made a statement that there must be a large amount of economic growth coming shortly because of the booming stock market, driven by investor sentiment.
As I told him, the two are not necessarily tied together.
Over the past few months, we have heard about how economic growth is about to accelerate here in America, and this has helped drive investor sentiment in the stock market higher. However, I think there are many questions that need to be answered before we can assume economic growth will reach escape velocity, and investor sentiment is heavily contaminated with a large addiction to monetary policy.
Some of the data has improved; however, many other reports only lead to murkier water.
For example, we all know that economic growth requires the consumer to be active, since consumption is approximately 3/4 of the U.S. economy. But for the holiday season, many retail companies issued disappointing results, even though there were signs that consumer spending was beginning to pick up. This is an interesting data point: during the fourth quarter of 2013, consumer debt increased by $241 billion from the third quarter, the biggest jump in debt since 2007. (Source: “Quarterly report on household debt and credit,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York web site, last accessed February 19, 2014.)
Should investor sentiment view this increase in consumer debt as a positive or negative for economic growth?
A large amount of the debt increase came from the automobile industry, but what really worries me that could impact future economic growth is the combination of higher debt with weaker retail … Read More
Conditions in the U.S. economy are deteriorating fairly quickly. The economic data suggests it’s slowing down. We already saw the U.S. economy decelerate in 2013 compared to 2012; now, investors are asking if this is going to be the case in 2014 as well.
All sorts of businesses in the U.S. economy are worried. This is not a good sign when you are hoping for robust growth.
Homebuilders in the U.S. economy have become very skeptical. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) witnessed a massive drop in February. The index, which looks at the confidence of homebuilders in the U.S. economy, plunged from 56 in the previous month to 46. Any reading below 50 on the HMI means homebuilders expect market conditions to be poor. (Source: “Poor Weather Puts a Damper on Builder Confidence in February,” National Association of Home Builders web site, February 18, 2014.)
Unfortunately, homebuilders aren’t the only ones who are worried and suggesting the U.S. economy isn’t going in the desired direction.
Retailers with major operations in the U.S. economy are feeling the same. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE/WMT)—one of the largest retailers—lowered its profit guidance for the fiscal fourth quarter, ended on January 31, 2014. The CEO of the company, Charles Holley, said, “We now anticipate that our underlying EPS [earnings per share] for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2014 will be at or slightly below the low end of our range of $1.60 to $1.70.” He added, “For the full year, we expect underlying EPS to be at or slightly below the low end of our range of $5.11 to … Read More
We see there’s a significant amount of economic news mounting against the argument that key stock indices will go higher this year. We see major companies on the key stock indices reporting corporate earnings that are dismal to say the very least. We see indicators of prosperity suggesting the opposite is likely going to be true for the U.S. economy. Lastly, we also see troubles developing very quickly in the global economy.
First on the line are the corporate earnings of companies on the key stock indices—which is hands down one of the main factors that drive these indices higher. We see companies showing signs of stress. Consider General Motors Company (NYSE/GM), for example; the company’s corporate earnings declined 22% in 2013 from the previous year. (Source: “GM reports lower-than-expected 4Q earnings,” Yahoo! Finance, February 6, 2014.)
Some might call this a story of the past; we need to look at what the future looks like instead. Sadly, going forward, companies on the key stock indices and analysts look worried as well. Consider this: so far, 57 S&P 500 companies have issued negative corporate earnings guidance, while only 14 have issued positive guidance. At the same time, analysts’ expectations are coming down as well. On December 31, the consensus estimate expected S&P 500 earnings to grow by 4.3%; now, these expectations have come down to 1.5%. (Source: “S&P 500 Earnings Insight,” FactSet, February 7, 2014.)
Looking at the broader U.S. economy, it’s not moving in favor of the key stock indices, either—the economic data isn’t looking very promising.
Industrial production in the U.S. economy declined in January from the previous … Read More
For an economy that relies on consumer spending to fuel the vast majority of its economic growth, ongoing weak retail sector sales and increased jobless claims cannot be part of the equation. But they are. And have been.
In January, U.S. retail sector sales fell by 0.4%—the most since June 2012. Economists had predicted that January’s retail sector sales would be unchanged in January after falling by a revised 0.1% in December. (Source: “Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services January 2014,” U.S. Census Bureau, web site, February 13, 2014.)
January retail sector sales, excluding automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants, showed the worst year-over-year growth since 2009. And with the harsh winter weather, January’s sales reflect the sometimes unpredictable, cyclical nature of our spending, from discretionary (e.g., cars) to non-discretionary (e.g., heating).
At the same time, more Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits for the week ended February 8. Jobless claims climbed by 8,000 to 339,000; the four-week moving average for new claims increased to 336,750 from 333,250. Many economists continue to blame the cold weather for both weak retail sector sales and increased jobless claims. (Source: “Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report,” United States Department of Labor web site, February 13, 2014.)
Fortunately, there is a silver lining to all of this. They suggest we’ll start to see an acceleration in hiring and retail sector sales in the spring and summer seasons—meaning they have written off the entire first quarter of the year, a quarter most economists initially predicted would be bullish. Myself and the financial editors here at Daily Gains Letter, on the other hand, have been warning … Read More
Consumer spending is critical when it comes to growth of the U.S. economy. It makes up a significant portion of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP)—about 70%. So, if consumer spending declines even by a little, it can really impact the trajectory of the U.S. economy.
Since late last year, there’s growing evidence that suggests consumer spending is in jeopardy. The economic data that tells the level of enthusiasm among American consumers is flashing warning signs. Investors who own retail stocks need to be very careful.
For example, retail sales in the U.S. economy declined 0.4% in January from the previous month. But this isn’t the only troubling news. The previous reported number—the change in retail sales from November to December—was revised lower from 0.2% to negative 0.1%. (Source: “Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services January 2014,” U.S. Census Bureau web site, February 13, 2014.)
The U.S. Census Bureau looks at retail sales of about 13 different kinds of businesses. In January, nine of those kinds of businesses—including furniture stores, health care and personal care stores, clothing stores, and sporting goods stores—reported a decline in their sales from the previous month.
Sadly, retail sales aren’t the only indicator that suggests consumer spending in the U.S. economy is grim. Other indicators like the U.S. manufacturer and trade inventories say the very same; they increased to $1.7 trillion in December, up 0.5% from November 2013 and 4.4% from the same period a year ago. (Source: “Manufacturing and Trade Inventories and Sales December 2013,” U.S. Census Bureau web site, February 13, 2014.)
When inventories increase, it means consumers aren’t buying as … Read More
With the markets selling off, many may not think now is the best time to consider discretionary stocks. But it’s because the markets are selling off that beaten-down stocks selling non-essential products and services (what people want, not need) might be worth a second look—not just because many discretionary stocks are beaten down, but rather because consumer spending fuels the majority of economic growth in this country.
Normally, when consumers have the money to spend, they do so on discretionary items like travel, electronics, cars, and luxury brands. But, as virtually all of us can contest, this isn’t always the case. Credit card purchases may not be the same as having discretionary income, but they accomplish the same short-term goals.
Granted, there is a mountain of evidence to suggest investors should shun discretionary stocks. Unemployment is high, wages are stagnant, and, for the first time ever, working-age Americans are the primary recipients of food stamps. On top of that, median household income (adjusted for inflation) has declined for five straight years. (Source: DeNavas-Walt, C., et al., “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012,” United States Census Bureau web site, September 2013.)
That hasn’t stopped us from spending. At $3.04 trillion, consumer credit is up 22% over the last three years. Total household debt is more than $13.0 trillion, close to its 2007 pre-recession level and just below the $17.0-trillion government debt load. (Source: Cox, J., “It’s back with a vengeance: Private debt,” CNBC, October 12, 2013.)
During the last quarter of 2013, the U.S. economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.2%. During the third quarter, … Read More
The long-expected hit to the emerging markets is finally upon us. The fact that the emerging markets are taking a beating isn’t a total surprise; on the other hand, everyone running for the exits is.
But as physics proves, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction—nothing can escape physics; not even Wall Street or the emerging markets.
First, income-starved investors poured money into the emerging markets to take advantage of higher interest rates. Then, after the Federal Reserve said it would begin tapering its bond purchasing program, the money began to pour out of the emerging markets in earnest.
In a nearsighted effort to combat the slide in emerging markets’ currencies, central banks have been raising their interest rates. The Turkish central bank has taken drastic measures to entice investors to return—on January 29 the Turkish government lifted its overnight lending rate from 7.75% to an eye-watering 12% and its overnight borrowing rate from 3.5% to eight percent. The South African central bank raised its interest rate for the first time in almost six years. And the Russian ruble could be next.
This suggests that the underlying danger in the emerging markets isn’t their currencies per se, but the way the central banks are reacting to the slouching currencies. Instead of lowering rates to boost their economies, the central banks have been raising interest rates to prop up currencies.
This could be especially dangerous when you consider that emerging markets make up half of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). If emerging markets try to follow the U.S. and raise interest rates, it could cripple their own economies … Read More
Despite assurances from analysts, economists, and central bankers, the U.S. economy isn’t faring so well—and the markets are finally beginning to see what we’ve been warning about in these pages all last year.
For sustainable growth, the U.S. economy needs to be reporting consistently strong fiscals. But it isn’t. For starters, the key stock indices, a reflection of the U.S. economy, have extended their sharp January losses. The S&P 500 is down 5.6% year-to-date, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost more than seven percent of its value so far this year, the NYSE is down roughly six percent, and the NASDAQ is in the red by four percent.
Every quarter since the beginning of 2013, an increasingly larger number of S&P 500-listed companies have revised their quarterly earnings lower. During the first quarter of 2013, the number stood at 78%. This time around, 81% of S&P 500 companies have revised their first-quarter earnings lower.
Why the big losses? That depends on whom you talk to. The Bank of America, without even a hint of a smirk, blames the much colder-than-expected weather for the weak U.S. economy, meaning the U.S. economy and global markets are performing poorly because of a snow storm…
I suggest the U.S. economy is doing poorly and the U.S. markets are tanking for entirely different reasons. For starters, the U.S. economy needs steady jobs and earnings growth. Instead, the U.S. economy is facing high unemployment and stagnant wages. For the week ended January 25, jobless claims jumped more than forecast to a seasonally adjusted 348,000.
And a record number of Americans rely on food stamps. Interestingly, … Read More
By Sasha Cekerevac for Daily Gains Letter | Jan 31, 2014
One of the more common themes that I keep reading about these days is the strength of U.S. economic growth. It’s important to get at least some understanding of the potential for economic growth, as this will impact your investment strategy.
Recent data is definitely making me ask the question: just how strong is the level of economic growth in America?
We all know that this holiday season was much weaker than expected for retail companies. Considering that consumer spending fuels the majority of economic growth in America, this is certainly not a positive environment for that sector—but that shouldn’t be a real surprise to my readers, as I have recommended an investment strategy that has avoided retail stocks for months.
If economic growth is weak in retailing, are there any bright spots for larger goods?
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the latest advance report on durable goods was quite disappointing. New orders for durable goods during the month of December dropped 4.3%, core durable goods orders during December dropped 1.6%, and excluding defense, new orders were down 3.7%. (Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, January 28, 2014.)
Another worrisome data point in the report showed that the inventory level of manufactured goods in December was up 0.8%, the highest total amount since this data series was published and also the eighth monthly increase over the last nine months.
How should you formulate an investment strategy with this information in mind?
Economic growth depends on a continued increase in consumption and production. We saw consumers pull back over the holiday season, which is clearly not a positive sign for … Read More
The first raft of first-quarter earnings reports are in…and they’re not a total surprise. Against the backdrop of a weak U.S. economy and waning consumer confidence, some big go-to stocks are beginning to show signs of distress—few more (right now) than makers of personal computers (PC makers).
Two research companies tracking PC makers delivered their reports for the just-completed fourth quarter—they’re not encouraging. Gartner pegged fourth-quarter PC shipments at 82.6 million, a 6.9% year-over-year decrease. For all of 2013, it said sales fell 10%—capping off the worst decline in PC market history. (Source: Hardy, Q., “For PC Makers, the Good News on 2013 Is That It Is Over,” The New York Times web site, January 9, 2014.)
Numbers from International Data Corporation (IDC) were slightly better (or less bad). It said PC shipments fell 5.6% year-over-year to 82.2 million units. For all of 2013, IDC reported that 314.5 million PCs were shipped—which reaffirms Gartner’s reported 10% drop from 2012. (Source: Ibid.)
But that’s where the similarities ended. When it came to the future of PC makers, Gartner said the PC market could improve in 2014; meanwhile, IDC said there was no reason to believe the market would stabilize. Why? Because PCs are giving way to mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones.
Going forward, PC makers will have to ask themselves if younger, on-the-go consumers, who use their mobile devices as a first computer, will ever want to invest in a fixed device like a PC.
IDC also said sales of PCs fell to 108 million units in the Asia Pacific (outside Japan) region—marking the first annual double-digit decline for … Read More
It seems the global economy is taking a wrong turn. If it continues on the path it’s on now, it will not be a surprise to see a pullback in its growth. As a result of this, U.S.-based global companies may see their revenues and profits fall, which eventually leads to lower stock prices. You have to keep in mind that the U.S. economy is highly correlated with the global economy.
First, it seems that the demand in the global economy is slowing down as we enter into 2014. One of the indicators of demand in the global economy I look at is the Baltic Dry Index (BDI). The BDI is an index that tracks the shipping price of raw materials. If the index declines, it means demand in the global economy is slowing. If the BDI increases, it suggests the global economy may see an influx in demand. Below is the chart of the BDI. Note that since the beginning of this year, the index has collapsed more than 32% (as indicated by the circled area in the chart below).
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
But that isn’t all. We continue to see dismal economic data out of the major economic hubs of the global economy, too.
China, the second-biggest economic hub in the global economy, is showing signs of slowing down. The Chinese economy in the fourth quarter of 2013 grew at an annual pace of 7.7%. In the third quarter, this growth rate was 7.8%. (Source: “China’s Expansion Loses Momentum in Fourth Quarter,” Bloomberg, January 20, 2014.) Although this growth rate may sound very impressive when compared to … Read More
If you listen to the Wall Street analysts, January consumer confidence numbers weren’t really all that bad. The preliminary University of Michigan Consumer Confidence index came in at 80.4 versus a forecast of 83.4—and down from 82.5 in December. (Source: “Tale of two consumers continues as US consumer sentiment slips,” CNBC, January 17, 2014.)
Some attributed the blip to the polar vortex that swept through most of North America earlier in the month. The warmer winds of February are expected to pick up the disappointing slack in U.S. consumer confidence levels next month.
But I’m not so sure. Friday’s consumer confidence numbers missed expectations by the widest margin in eight years. It also marks the seventh miss in the last eight months. Throughout 2013, consumer confidence numbers only beat projected forecasts three times, which (surprise!) means Wall Street doesn’t really have its finger on the pulse of Main Street America.
What isn’t surprising is that upper-income households have increased consumer confidence, having benefited the most from strong gains in income levels, the stock market, and housing values. On the other hand, low- and middle-income households that are not heavily invested in the stock market are being weighed down by stagnant wages and embarrassingly high unemployment.
And, since there are more middle- and low-income earners than high-income earners in the U.S., and 70% of our gross domestic product (GDP) comes from consumer spending, it’s fair to say that both consumer confidence levels and the economic outlook for the majority of Americans is bleak.
It’s not as if the disappointing consumer confidence levels have come out of a vacuum. A raft of … Read More
We expect American consumers to do a lot in this country; not least of which is to be the nation’s economic engine, after all, 70% of our gross domestic product (GDP) comes from consumer spending.
After years of strong stock market gains, America is still being bogged down with stagnant wages, high unemployment, and near-record-high food stamp usage—not the best formula for a nation that relies on consumers to spend, spend, spend. However, it is also contingent upon us being able to continually pay our bills. It’s the ebb and flow of consumerism.
But that flow is becoming more and more constricted. While banks are more than willing to increase high-interest credit card and loan limits to maxed-out consumers, they’re beginning to fear that this money might never be paid back.
According to the latest quarterly survey, American and Canadian bank managers’ expectations for delinquencies on auto sales loans have hit their highest level since the end of 2012; expectations for delinquencies on credit cards reached a two-year high; and 34% of respondents expect auto sales loan delinquencies to climb in the next six months, while 28% expect delinquencies on credit cards to rise.
Despite these findings, the report also found that consumer borrowing (and spending) shows no signs of slowing down! In fact, 58% of bankers said they expect the average credit card balance to increase over the next six months—only six percent expect balances to go down. On top of that, 44% of polled bankers say they expect the amount of credit extended to consumers to increase—only 14% think it will decrease.
These findings run in step with … Read More
Depending on who you ask, sales in the retail sector may be either brisk or failing to gain traction. Like most things in the stock market, when it comes to the retail sector, it’s all about perspective.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, December retail sector sales advanced 0.2% month-over-month, beating analyst forecasts that expected a one-percent increase. Auto sales fell 1.8%, pulling total retail sales numbers down. Not surprisingly, the weak December auto sales numbers are considered more of a reflection of the bad weather than a weak economy. (Source: “U.S. Census Bureau News: Advanced Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services December 2013,” United States Census Bureau web site, January 14, 2014.) Excluding auto sales, December retail sector sales climbed 0.7% after a 0.2% increase in November.
Are these retail sector sales numbers the latest indication that the economy is getting stronger as we begin 2014?
Well, that depends on how you look at it. Month-over-month, the retail sector sales data looks encouraging. But if you step back a bit and look at the last few months—or even year-over-year numbers—the retail sector and, by extension, the U.S. economy don’t look so bright.
Overall sales of furniture, sporting goods, building materials, garden equipment, electronics, and appliances fell month-over-month. Electronics and appliance stores, two key gift-buying outlets during the holiday season, tripped in November and December. Year-over-year, electronics sales were up a paltry 0.7%.
Department store revenues were essentially flat in November compared to October and were down slightly in December. Overall 2013 department store sales were down 4.7% from 2012.
So now I ask you, will the good … Read More
Our neighbor to the north is facing some headwinds. In Canada, there are troubles developing that may drive the country toward an economic slowdown. In 2008, the ripple effects from the U.S. economy into the global economy caused an economic slowdown in many countries. The Canadian economy was one of the few nations that didn’t suffer a major hit; it was able to stand strong.
Now, Canada may not be able to stay on such strong footing, as it faces a possibly severe economic slowdown due to a few phenomena that are starting to line up to create a perfect storm.
First of all, the housing market in the Canadian economy is becoming much overvalued. According to Deutsche Bank, the Canadian housing market is the most overvalued housing market in the global economy. Looking at the value of the Canadian housing market as a ratio of home prices and rent, this market is overvalued by 88%. (Source: Babad, M., “Canada’s housing market most overvalued in the world, Deutsche Bank says,” The Globe and Mail, December 11, 2013.)
As we move through the beginning of 2014, the Canadian housing market is showing signs of a slowdown. Building permits, one of the early indicators of which direction the housing market is headed, saw a 6.7% decline month-over-month in November. (Source: “Building permits, November 2013,” Statistics Canada web site, last accessed January 9, 2014.) If the housing market soon faces troubles and prices decline, a major economic slowdown could follow.
Secondly, the employment situation in Canada, another indicator of an economic slowdown, is becoming dismal. In December, Canada’s unemployment rate increased by 0.3% … Read More
Trading for 2014 has begun. In 2013, we saw massive moves on the key stock indices—something we have only seen a few times. For example, the S&P 500 moved up by almost 30%, and the NASDAQ Composite increased by more than 35%. Those who were long saw their portfolio grow, and those who went against the key stock indices probably had to question their strategy and re-allocate the capital.
You can see for yourself in the chart below: key stock indices such as the S&P 500 maintained an upward trajectory throughout the year—and without any major hiccups.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
The average return on the S&P 500 between 1970 and 2012 was 8.2%; on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, it was 7.9%; and on the NASDAQ Composite, it was just slightly more than 13%. (Source: “Historical Price Data,” StockCharts.com, last accessed January 2, 2013.)
Sadly, these numbers only indicate past performance. With the beginning of the new year, investors have one main question in mind: where are the key stock indices going to go in 2014? Will we see a decline or are we in for another stellar year?
The year 2014, I believe, is going to be an interesting year for stock investors. The rally in the key stock indices that started in 2009 continues to march forward. As this is happening, the fundamentals that act as fuel for the stock market rally are becoming anemic. This should be noted, because without fundamentals becoming stronger, key stock indices can only go so far.
For instance, on the surface, the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) looks better than before, … Read More
The central bank of Japan has taken center stage when it comes to using extraordinary measures to revive growth in an economy. In an effort to boost the Japanese economy, the central bank has resorted to quantitative easing. And unlike the U.S. Federal Reserve, Japan is also involved in buying exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and real estate investment trusts (REITs), not just government bonds and mortgage securities.
Unfortunately, the central bank is outright failing. One of the main goals of the Bank of Japan is to inject inflation into the Japanese economy through money printing, aiming for an inflation rate of two percent. Sadly, this isn’t happening; inflation in the Japanese economy is running far below the targeted level, and there may not even be light at the end of the tunnel.
“A 1 percent inflation rate may be possible, but that’s different to the Bank of Japan target,” said Takahiro Mitani, manager of the Government Pension Investment Fund of Japan (GPIF), the world’s largest pension fund. “We haven’t seen real demand to pull prices up yet. Whether inflation will be stable is questionable.” (Source: Winkler, M., “World’s Biggest Pension Fund Sees Japan Fail on 2% Inflation,” Bloomberg web site, December 4, 2013.)
Consumption is one of the factors that can help bring inflation into an economy. Sadly, the Japanese economy is seeing hardships here as well, as consumer confidence, one of the best indicators of where consumer spending will go, is declining. Between September and November, consumer confidence in the Japanese economy declined more than eight percent. The index tracking consumer confidence stood at 45.7 in September and 41.9 in … Read More
Consumer confidence in the U.S. economy is bleak, and if it doesn’t pick up, the economic growth in the U.S. economy will be in jeopardy, and those who are highly affected by it—companies in the consumer discretionary sector—will face troubles.
What many forget is that consumer confidence and consumer spending have a direct relationship; if consumer confidence declines, we generally see consumer spending decline as well. As consumers become worried about their jobs, financial conditions, and/or general economic conditions, they tend to pull back on their spending. Would you go buy a luxury car or big household items if you knew that your job was in jeopardy, or you had no or very little savings?
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, an index that tracks the sentiment of consumers in the U.S. economy, continued its slide in November after sharply declining in October. In November, it sat at 70.4, 2.8% lower from the previous month, when it was 72.4. (Source: “Consumer Confidence Declines Again in November,” The Conference Board web site, November 26, 2013.)
This isn’t all for consumer confidence. One of the clearest examples of bleak consumer confidence was just last week, at the Black Friday sales. We saw consumers become very cost-savvy, which resulted in retailers opening stores early and providing very deep discounts. Early indicators from the National Retail Federation state that consumers spent an average of $407.02 from Thursday through Sunday, down about four percent from what they spent last year. (Source: National Retail Federation press release, December 1, 2013.)
What does it mean for investors?
Investors have to keep a few important factors in mind … Read More
Despite the retail sector’s every attempt to generate sales this Thanksgiving, from sharp discounts to being open earlier than ever, their efforts fell flat. It’s further evidence that the U.S. economic recovery is not as entrenched as many think it is, and once again shows the economic disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street.
In spite of high unemployment, stagnant wages, consumer confidence at a seven-month low, and a smaller number of people forecast to hit the shops over the Thanksgiving weekend, the National Retail Federation still predicted sales to grow 3.9% from last year. (Source: Banjo, S., “Holiday Sales Sag Despite Blitz of Deals,” Yahoo.com, December 2, 2013.)
Over the Black Friday weekend in 2012, U.S. shoppers spent roughly $60.0 billion in the retail sector, but this year, it was a different story altogether. While the final numbers have yet to be tallied, early indicators show that total U.S. retail sector spending over the Thanksgiving weekend fell to $57.4 billion. It’s also the first time that retail sector spending over the Thanksgiving weekend has dipped in at least four years.
Even during the worst of the recession and the beginning of the so-called economic recovery, U.S. shoppers were willing to spend, buoyed by optimism. Five years into the so-called economic recovery, and shoppers are tightening their belts, weighed down by pessimism.
But it didn’t start out that way; in fact, most U.S. retail sector stocks were initially quite enthusiastic about their prospects. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE/WMT) had originally planned to open its doors at 8:00 p.m. Thursday night, but instead opened its doors at 6:00 p.m. Target Corporation (NYSE/TGT) … Read More
While many retailers in the United States might be having visions of sugar plums, a lot will be left holding a chunk of coal. And in spite of the economic pressures facing American retail stocks, this piece of coal will not turn into a diamond.
Even though the U.S. economy is reportedly on stronger footing, you wouldn’t be able to tell by the number of people out shopping. Traffic to U.S. retail stores is expected to slip 1.4% this November and December. In the last two months of 2012, traffic increased by 2.5% after falling 3.1% in 2011. (Source: Wohl, J., “U.S. holiday sales expected to rise less than last year: Reuters web site,” September 17, 2013.)
This cannot help but translate into weaker-than-expected sales. In fact, sales at U.S. stores are projected to rise just 2.4% in November and December, compared to three percent for the same period in 2012, four percent in 2011, and 3.8% in 2010.
Granted, these miserly 2013 holiday sales projections came out ahead of recent economic data that showed the U.S. added more jobs than expected in October. However, even that observation is missing the bigger picture; after all, shoppers need money to shop.
In 2012, the country’s supplemental poverty rate was 16%; despite the great strides made on Wall Street over the last two years, the supplemental poverty rate remained unchanged from 2011. The 2012 official poverty rate in the U.S. was 15%, unchanged from 2011. (Source: “Supplemental Measure of Poverty Remains Unchanged,” U.S. Census Bureau web site, November 6, 2013.)
The supplemental poverty measure accounts for the impact of different benefits and … Read More
Love them or hate them, fast food restaurants are an American institution. That’s not a huge surprise when you consider the hamburger was first created here around 1900 and the first fast food restaurant, A&W, opened its doors in 1919. For almost 100 years, our taste buds have been both regaled and assaulted by any number of fast food restaurants, now affectionately called “quick service.”
From its humble beginnings, the restaurant industry has become an economic juggernaut, generating around $1.8 billion in daily sales. In 2013 alone, restaurant industry sales are expected to generate $660.5 billion; that’s equal to roughly four percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. (Source: “2013 Restaurant Industry Pocket Factbook,” Restaurant.org, last accessed November 8, 2013.)
While the U.S. restaurant and quick service industry took a hit immediately following the Great Recession, the industry has bounced back. During the second quarter, trips to quick service restaurants—which account for 78% of industry traffic—were up by one percent, while consumer spending increased by three percent. (Source: “U.S. Restaurant Traffic Increases Modestly and Average Check Growth Drives Spending Gains in Q2, Reports NPD,” NPD Group web site, September 17, 2013.)
More specifically, traffic to fast casual restaurants, which is included under the quick service banner, increased by eight percent in the second quarter. After several consecutive quarters of decline, casual dining held steady. Things were not so good for midscale/family dining restaurants, however, which experienced a two-percent decline in traffic.
Even though the U.S. retail and food services sales results for the third quarter have not been released yet, the U.S. Census Bureau announced recently that advance estimates of … Read More
Consumer spending is very critical to the U.S. economy, as it makes up a significant portion of the gross domestic product (GDP). If consumer spending declines, then U.S. GDP growth becomes very questionable; when it increases, it can provide an idea about where the U.S. economy is heading.
I look at consumer confidence as one of the indicators of consumer spending. The logic behind this is that if consumers are confident, they will most likely spend more, compared to when they are pessimistic.
Sadly, the consumer confidence in the U.S. economy seems to be deteriorating these days. This is definitely not a good sign if we want the U.S. economy to improve going forward.
Look at the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, for example; in October, it witnessed a slide of more than 11%, having stood at 71.2 in October from 80.2 in September. The Consumer Expectations Index declined 15.5% in the same period. (Source: “Consumer Confidence Decreases Sharply in October,” The Conference Board web site, October 29, 2013.)
Some will blame the decline in consumer confidence on the U.S. government shutdown. This may not be completely true, however, as we have been seeing continuous deterioration in consumer confidence. Please look at the chart of the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index below.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index stands at the lowest level of 2013 in October. It has been declining since July.
Currently, we are seeing too much attention being paid to the key stock indices making new highs each day, but not to the underlying factors that affect them.
Consumer confidence declining … Read More
Each day, there’s growing evidence that suggests the American economy isn’t experiencing any economic growth. Unequal job creation is just one of the main topics discussed in the mainstream, but sadly, there are many other facts and figures that show a gruesome image of the U.S. economy as well.
Consider this: since the financial crisis struck in the U.S. economy, the number of people using food stamps has been increasing. In 2007, there were 26.3 million Americans who were using food stamps; fast-forward to July 2013, and that number had enlarged to 47.6 million, an increase of almost 81% at the rate of roughly 13.5% per year. (Source: “Program Data,” United States Department of Agriculture web site, last accessed October 21, 2013.)
Food stamp use in the U.S. economy is a key indicator of economic growth, showing how Americans are relying on the government to help them with even food, the most basic of needs. This is very contradictory to economic growth; if there was growth in the U.S. economy, then we would see this number decline.
Unfortunately, the horror story that is the U.S. economy just doesn’t end there.
Consumers in the U.S. economy aren’t happy. According to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index preliminary results, consumer confidence in the U.S. economy declined to a nine-month low in October. The index, which gauges how consumers feel in the U.S. economy, collapsed to 75.2 in October, from 77.5 in September. (Source: Leong, R., “Washington drives U.S. consumer sentiment to nine-month low,” Reuters web site, October 11, 2013.)
Consumer confidence is another key indicator of economic growth in the … Read More
The odds of a slowdown in the U.S. economy are stacking higher each day. Investors need to be very cautious and tread the waters carefully, as a slowdown in the U.S. economy will mean more misery to come—and what we see now may become worse.
In the midst of the U.S. government shutdown and the approaching debt ceiling issue, a lot has changed in the background. The major financial news channels are fixated on issues where past occurrences were eventually resolved. We have seen politicians come to a decision about the debt ceiling before, most recently in 2011, and this isn’t the first U.S. government shutdown; the government was able to come to a consensus before, and this time will be no different.
Moving away from all the current noise, when I look at the numbers, I see a rough road ahead for the U.S. economy.
Yes, I understand that we saw the U.S. economy increase at an annual rate of 2.5% in the second quarter of this year, but I have to ask if the third or fourth quarter is going to be the same.
In its September projections, the Federal Reserve expected the U.S. economy to grow between two percent and 2.3%. These predictions were revised lower from the previous projections in June, when it anticipated the U.S. economy would grow by 2.3% to 2.6%. Note that the lower bound projections in June have become the upper bound. (Source: “Economic Projections of Federal Reserve Board Members and Federal Reserve Bank Presidents, September 2013,” Federal Reserve web site, September 18, 2013.)
We also see companies in the U.S. economy … Read More
It’s not a hidden fact that the biggest force that drives the U.S. economy is consumer spending. If it declines, you can say the odds of a slowdown in the U.S. economy are increasing. Consumer spending roughly makes up 70% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), so you can imagine how a small change can make a huge difference.
Well, this is exactly what the U.S. economy is going through. Consumer spending is at stake, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that economic growth is on the line.
One of the key indicators of consumer spending is consumer confidence. The logic is very simple: if consumers feel good, they will go out and spend. When paranoid or afraid of change, they will do the opposite and step back, reducing their spending.
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, a key indicator of where consumer spending is headed, declined in September, dragging down almost 2.5%, from 81.8% in August to 79.7% now. (Source: “The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index Falls Slightly,” Conference Board web site, September 24, 2013.)
Unfortunately, we are already starting to see early indications of deteriorating consumer spending.
In August, new orders for durable goods in the U.S. economy, excluding transportation, declined 0.1%. At the same time, the inventory levels at the manufacturers of durable goods continue to increase. In August, they increased $0.3 billion, or 0.1 %, to $379.1 billion; this was the highest level since this data was first published. You don’t want to see this combination of declining orders and increasing inventory when you are hoping for economic growth. (Source: “Advance Report on Durable Goods Manufacturers’ … Read More
It’s a simple scientific principle: what goes up must come down. Well, the same principle applies to the stock market. As we know, the stock markets have kept near their record highs for most of this fiscal year. However, the Conference Board announced on Tuesday that its consumer confidence index slipped to 79.7 in September, down from a revised 81.8 in August and below the 80.0 estimate. Tuesday’s consumer confidence numbers also represent the weakest reading since May.
The consumer confidence numbers shouldn’t be a total surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to U.S economic data. Even though the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 7.3% in August from 7.4% in July, most of those jobs were in low-paying industries. Also, more and more Americans left the workforce because they were tired of looking for work.
Stubbornly high unemployment means consumers are increasingly pessimistic about finding work. Coupled with stagnant wages, weaker consumer confidence means Americans will probably cut back on spending as we head into the all-important holiday season. It’s not the best fuel for the world’s largest economy, especially one in which consumer spending makes up about 70% of all gross domestic product (GDP).
But again, this can’t be a surprise to Wall Street, either. Thanks to weakening consumer confidence numbers, S&P 500 companies have been warning investors all year long that they can’t meet projections. During the first quarter of 2013, 78% of S&P 500 companies issued negative earnings-per-share (EPS) guidance, while 81% issued negative guidance during the second quarter.
Ahead of the third quarter, 88 companies (82%) have issued negative EPS guidance. This worsening trend … Read More
The housing market is one of the biggest challenges currently faced by the U.S. economy. When it improves, or when we see an increase in activity, then it can be assumed that there will be some economic growth.
For example, if there’s activity in the housing market, meaning that home buyers are buying homes, those home buyers are going to need things that are necessary to run households. This phenomenon has long-lasting effects: it increases consumer spending in the U.S. economy and creates jobs.
When the housing market in the U.S. economy improved in 2012, we saw the gains; but going forward, we are seeing a significant amount of trouble.
First of all, the U.S. economy is in jeopardy, on the brink of a monetary policy shift—the primary concern being quantitative easing. We are hearing the Federal Reserve will start to slow its asset purchases in September and end the quantitative easing by next year. This monetary policy by the Federal Reserve kept the mortgage rates in the U.S. economy low. This was great, as it gave Americans incentive to buy homes; as a result, we saw the housing market improve. Now, with the speculations on quantitative easing ending, the mortgage rates in the U.S. economy are increasing.
Consider the 30-year conventional mortgage rate tracked by Freddie Mac. In August, this rate stood at 4.46%; in the same period a year ago, it was at 3.60%, meaning it has increased almost 24% in the matter of a year. (Source: “30-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgages Since 1971,” Freddie Mac web site, last accessed September 11, 2013.)
While some will argue that these mortgage … Read More
As consumers, we don’t always do what we say we do. Consumer confidence is, by all accounts, down, but spending in some areas is up. According to the Michigan Index, U.S. consumer confidence slipped in August from a six-year high. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, meanwhile, plummeted for four straight weeks to its lowest reading since April.
Yet interestingly, August auto sales were the strongest in over six years—proof, on some level, that low consumer confidence and optimism don’t portend weak consumer spending. But that doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily spending smartly—after all, lots of people spend money when they’re depressed—and with wages stagnant, high unemployment, and a record number of Americans on food stamps, we have plenty of reason to spend.
According to some, consumer confidence is unrelated to spending and is more closely aligned to our political affiliation. In fact, self-proclaimed Democrats and Republicans are showing the weakest correlation on the direction of the economy since 1990. (Source: Jamrisko, M., “Confidence Measures Show It’s the Politics, Stupid,” Bloomberg web site, September 10, 2013.)
Where zero indicates no trend and one shows them moving in step, the correlation between the confidence of Republicans and Democrats is 0.25 since Obama started his first term. During George W. Bush’s two terms, it was 0.55, and Americans of every political persuasion were in virtual agreement on the direction of the U.S. economy during the Clinton era at 0.95.
Up until the beginning of September, Democratic voters had been more confident overall than Republicans for 75 straight weeks. Their rose-colored glasses, on the other hand, couldn’t find the same disciplined focus when it … Read More
When it comes to the stock market, September is supposed to be the cruelest month. However, it might be hard-pressed to beat this past August. After starting the month on a record-high note, the S&P 500 closed out August down roughly four percent, recording its steepest drop since May 2012.
Whether it had to do with uncertainties in Syria, the long weekend, threats of tapering quantitative easing, or weak consumer spending numbers is anyone’s guess. Will tomorrow’s U.S. unemployment rate figures add to the despair? For risk-averse investors unsure about the future direction of the stock market, consumer defensive exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and money market funds may be two of the best options out there.
August started out promisingly. On August 2, the United States Department of Labor announced that the U.S. unemployment rate improved slightly to 7.4%, the lowest level in more than four years. Unfortunately, the bulk of the jobs (retail trade, food services, and drinking places) were mainly in low-paying areas. Still, news that the U.S. unemployment rate came in at 7.4 % and not 7.5% was enough to lift the S&P 500 to a record high of 1,709.67.
But not for long. Against the backdrop of so-called “encouraging” U.S. unemployment rate numbers, the markets cratered on August 15, suffering their biggest loss in almost two months, after Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE/WMT) reported lower-than-expected second-quarter results. That same day, Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ/CSCO) reported disappointing earnings and, citing difficult economic conditions, said it plans to slash 4,000 jobs.
The markets slid further on August 27, as tensions over a possible U.S. strike on Syria rattled global markets. … Read More
Investors need to be careful, as the risks on key stock indices are continuously piling up. They need to keep a close eye on their portfolio, and maybe should consider taking some profits off the table.
Since the beginning of the year, key stock indices, like the S&P 500, have been constantly increasing in value and making new highs. Recently, we witnessed the S&P 500 reach above 1,700, and other key stock indices, like the Dow Jones Industrial Average, entering uncharted territory as well.
With these increases, investors are now asking: how high can the key stock indices really go?
Looking at the broader picture, the U.S. economy isn’t performing as well as the key stock indices are suggesting. In times of high economic activity, the stock market tends to perform well. This is not the case for the U.S. economy as it stands, as the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) only increased at an annual pace of 1.7% in the second quarter of this year. (Source: “Gross Domestic Product, second quarter 2013 (advance estimate),” Bureau of Economic Analysis, July 31, 2013.)
On top of this, the unemployment situation is still bleak in the U.S. economy, risking deterioration in consumer spending. The average American Joe is still facing many problems: look at food stamp usage and the amount of homes under negative equity, for instance.
Adding to the worries, the global economy is also showing signs of deep stress, with countries across the map showing concerns. For example, China is expected to show a significantly lower growth rate compared to its historical average this year, and the eurozone remains troubled … Read More
As consumer spending in the U.S. economy improves, investors may be able to profit from exchange-traded funds (ETFs) like the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca/ XLY) and consumer discretionary companies.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, consumer spending in the U.S. economy stalled. The reasons behind it were obvious: there was a surge in foreclosures and rampant job cuts.
But consumers in the U.S. economy seem to be spending once again.
In June, retail and food services sales increased 0.4% over May to $422.8 billion. While this may sound minute, it makes the big picture clearer: consumer spending on retail and food services has increased 4.6% in the second quarter of this year compared to last year, and is up 5.7% from June of 2012. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, July 15, 2013.)
Consumers are also buying cars again. In June, 1.4 million cars and light trucks were sold in the U.S. economy. At an annual pace of 15.96 million vehicles, June was the best month for car sales since November of 2007. Auto sales in the U.S. economy have increased nine percent from a year ago. (Source: Klayman, B. and Woodall, B., “U.S. auto industry posts best sales month since 2007,” The Globe and Mail, July 2, 2013.)
Consumer confidence is also increasing in the U.S. economy. Consider the chart below of The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index. In June, consumer sentiment registered at 84.1—one of the best levels since late 2008.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
Consumer confidence is one of the best indicators of consumer spending. Once the consumer feels confident, they think the economy is … Read More
Sometimes, smaller companies are better equipped to take advantage of an economy in flux, in part because they can develop strategies and adapt more quickly than larger firms.
That’s what’s happening in the U.S. toys and games industry, as one small company has been showing solid growth while the big boys are faltering.
Traditionally, the toys and games industry is an important contributor to the U.S. economy. In 2012, it is estimated that the U.S. toys and games industry employed 31,000 people and generated around $20.0 billion per year in retail sales. With a 26.3% share of the annual global market, the U.S. is the top retail market for toys. (Sources: “Annual Sales Data,” Toy Association web site, last accessed July 17, 2013; “Toy Markets in the World Annual 2010,” Toy Association web site, October 17, 2011, last accessed July 18, 2013.)
Unfortunately, the weak economy, lower earnings, and changing attitudes are having an impact on some of America’s biggest toy manufacturers. On Wednesday, Mattel, Inc. (NASDAQ/MAT), the world’s largest toymaker, announced its second-quarter corporate earnings.
The company reported that earnings fell 24%, as kids continue to turn their back on its iconic product, “Barbie.” (Source: “Mattel Reports Second Quarter 2013 Financial Results — Declares Third Quarter Dividend and Increases Share Repurchase Program,” Mattel, Inc. web site, July 17, 2013.) Second-quarter worldwide sales of Barbies fell 12% year-over-year, which represents the fourth straight month of declines for Mattel’s flagship product.
By late Wednesday afternoon, investors responded to Mattel’s weak earnings results by sending its share price down more than seven percent.
Investors spooked by Mattel’s earnings also sent Hasbro, Inc.’s … Read More
Restaurants are one stock market sector that’s worth paying attention to.
If people feel more confident and have more disposable cash, they spend money in restaurants.
Earnings in the group have been all over the map, but this is representative not of weakness in terms of consumer spending within the group, but of the success and weakness of individual chains.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE/CMG) surprised Wall Street by reporting excellent first-quarter earnings results. The company jumped 11.5% on the stock market after the news.
The company’s 2013 first-quarter revenues grew 13.4% to $726.8 million on 48 new restaurant openings. Earnings grew a substantial 22% to $76.6 million and earnings per share grew 24% to $2.45. Comparable store sales grew only one percent.
On the stock market, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. (NASDAQ/CBRL) has been on a tear.
The company’s revenues for the fiscal second quarter of 2013, ended February 1, grew 4.4% to $702.7 million. Comparable store sales increased 3.3%, while earnings grew an impressive 37% to $35.2 million. Cracker Barrel recently increased its quarterly dividend by 25%.
Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE/DRI), which includes Red Lobster and Olive Garden, has been a laggard within the group.
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc. (NASDAQ/RRGB) has been doing extremely well on the stock market. The position is not up to its all-time stock market high set in 2005, but it’s working its way back.
And Burger King Worldwide, Inc. (NYSE/BKW), which expects a small decline in its comparable store sales for the first quarter of 2013, recently forecast adjusted earnings growth of about 25%.
On balance, the restaurant group is looking … Read More
When an investor is planning to grow their portfolio over time, they must realize that any economy—be it the U.S., Canada, Germany, or any other country in the world—goes through many business cycles. Some terms associated with these business cycles include “recession,” “recovery,” and “peak.”
In each stage of a business cycle, markets behave differently. Investors need to make sure they adjust their portfolio accordingly to minimize their risk. What may be good during times of economic prosperity may not be the best option during economic misery.
Recession simply refers to a period in a business cycle when a country experiences a downturn in its economy. Some characteristics of a recession include slowing industrial production, rising unemployment, and declining sales. A country is said to be in a recession when its gross domestic product (GDP)—what the economy produces—contracts for two consecutive quarters.
In a recession, businesses do poorly, so as a result, stock markets aren’t usually a great place to be. Think of it this way: if people don’t have jobs, will they go out and buy? Not likely. Companies’ profit margins get squeezed, and the stock market falls.
During a recession, investors need to look for safety—their losses in the stock market can add up. They may want to consider high-grade government bonds and companies with good fundamentals. Investors might also want to look at financial “safe havens,” such as gold, to protect their assets.
Recovery, or expansion, is a stage in the business cycle when things are getting better for the economy. Consumer confidence improves, businesses hire, and individuals find jobs. Consider the U.S. economy, for … Read More