If you think you can judge a book by its cover, then you must believe the U.S. economy is doing really, really well. After all, consumer confidence is up and misery is down. However, looking past the cover, the pages of underlying economic indicators suggest the average American investor should be a little concerned.
But first, the good news! The U.S. Misery Index has fallen to a four-year low. The Misery Index is calculated by adding a country’s unemployment rate to the inflation rate, the logic being that we understand what stubbornly high unemployment mixed with the soaring price of goods translates into—misery.
The higher the score, the more miserable we are. For example, in August 2008, when the U.S. stock markets started to tank, the Misery Index stood at 11.47; when President Obama came to office in January 2009, it registered at 7.83; during the debt ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011, the index topped 12.87. Over the last three consecutive months, it’s been on the decline. In July, it came in at 9.36 and in October, it was 8.3. (Source: “Misery Index by Month,” United States Misery Index web site, last accessed December 13, 2013.)
According to the widely followed Thomas Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary December consumer confidence index, consumer confidence rose to 82.5—the strongest reading since July. In November, consumer confidence was 75.1, according to the index; economists were predicting a reading of 76.0.
Why the increased optimism? American consumer confidence levels are improving thanks to the better-than-expected drop in November unemployment, improved non-farm employment numbers, and strong preliminary gross domestic product (GDP) results. Stronger-than-expected consumer … Read More
Despite Congress miraculously pulling the U.S. back from the brink of destruction by temporarily raising the debt ceiling and ending the U.S. government shutdown, Americans continue to be a pessimistic bunch. But can you blame us?
According to Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index, consumer sentiment remains in negative territory. After falling to -39 during the recent standoff in Washington, U.S. economic confidence has improved to -36. To use the term “improved” is being generous; in late May, the index was at -3. (Source: “U.S. Economic Confidence Index [Weekly],” Gallup web site, October 14, 2013.)
While the brinksmanship in Washington is (temporarily) over, our pessimism isn’t. According to another poll, 71% said economic conditions right now are poor, while just 29% said economic conditions are good—the lowest level of the year. Now granted, it takes time for economic confidence to return; following the debt negotiations in 2011, it took economic confidence five months to recover. (Source: Steinhauser, P., “CNN Poll: After shutdown, America is less optimistic about economy,” CNN web site, October 22, 2013.)
Unfortunately, it could be worse this time, thanks in large part to high unemployment and stagnant income and wages. And there’s also the fact that Washington only agreed to fund the government through to January 15, 2014 and extend the debt ceiling through February 7, 2014. Americans can’t get too optimistic about the economy knowing the government is just taking time to reload.
Fortunately, there are economic lands where optimism is blooming in light of real economic change. Economic optimism in the eurozone improved for the fifth straight month and hit a two-year high in September. The … Read More
Bad news on Main Street is good news for Wall Street. Illogical heads prevailed on Tuesday after the U.S. government announced that the unemployment rate dipped to an ever-so-modest 7.2% in September, from 7.3% in August. The U.S. added just 148,000 new jobs in September—far short of the forecasted gain of 180,000 jobs for the month. (Source: “The Employment Situation – September 2013,” Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, October 22, 2013.)
The number of long-term unemployed (those without a job for at least 27 weeks) remains stubbornly high at 4.1 million, and the underemployment rate is at an eye-watering 13.6%, up a sliver from 13.4% in August.
Weak jobs numbers means the Federal Reserve will continue its $85.0-billion-per-month quantitative easing policy into 2014. Those who do not read these pages were apparently surprised last month when the Federal Reserve did what it said it was going to do—namely, keep its stimulus package intact until the economy improves to a 6.5% unemployment rate and a 2.5% inflation rate.
It clearly hasn’t, isn’t, and won’t for the foreseeable future.
Those bad jobs numbers sent the S&P 500 into record intra-day territory. In the week since Congress ended the U.S. government shutdown, raised the debt ceiling, and reported stubbornly high unemployment, the S&P 500 climbed more than three percent. Year-to-date, the S&P 500 is up more than 22%.
That increase is in sharp contrast to anything approaching reality on Wall Street. During the first quarter of 2013, 78% of S&P 500 companies issued negative earnings-per-share (EPS) guidance, 81% during the second quarter, and a record 83% for the third quarter. (Source: “Earnings … Read More
There’s always something investors are worried about. Recently, we heard about the U.S. government reaching the debt limit, shutting down, and inching close to defaulting on its debt. Investors reacted, and the key stock indices started to slide lower due to concern over what could happen.
Now, with a deal being struck to extend the debt ceiling and budget deadlines, those worries are over, meaning U.S. creditors will get their interest payments and the government will go on operating as usual.
This all brings one very critical question to mind: how can investors save their portfolio from situations like these?
In situations where investors are unsure about what will happen to their portfolio, they can follow these three simple investment strategies. These strategies can help investors not only rationally decide on what to do with their portfolio; but they may even find an investment opportunity as a result.
1. Assess the Situation
Take the recent debt ceiling issue, for example. There were concerns that Congress wouldn’t come to a consensus and the U.S. government would have to tell its creditors that they can’t pay them, causing bond prices to decline and portfolios heavy on bonds to suffer massive losses. But what a lot of investors forgot was that the U.S. economy has gone through similar acts many times before, having passed the debt ceiling 78 times.
The lesson here is that investors need to see whether or not the event/situation they are worried about is going to affect their portfolio in the long run. If it doesn’t—and historically, it hasn’t made much of an impact—they should just wait and see … Read More
If you listen to mainstream media, the power struggle in Washington is over. The left and right came together valiantly, raising the debt ceiling and ending the U.S. government shutdown. At least, they temporarily did; they basically just put a glow-in-the-dark “SpongeBob SquarePants” band-aid on a compound fracture.
Washington voted to temporarily fund the government through January 15, 2014, and extend the $16.7-trillion debt ceiling through February 7. Then it starts all over again—and if it’s a repeat of the last three weeks, it isn’t going to be pretty.
The self-inflicted U.S. government shutdown, according to one estimate, took at least $24.0 billion out of the U.S. economy; this is after the Federal Reserve reported modest growth in September. (Source: Johnson, L., “Government Shutdown Cost $24 Billion, Standard & Poor’s Says,” Huffington Post web site, October 16, 2013.)
How the January/February deadlines will impact the U.S. and global economy is anyone’s guess in 2014. Or rather, it depends on who you ask; according to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), the global economy is expected to turn a corner in 2014, thanks to economic improvements in the U.S. and Europe. World growth could accelerate more than four percent in 2014, while U.S. growth will climb to 3.2% in 2014 from 1.5% this year. (Source: Quinn, G., “Global economy set to ‘turn a corner’ in 2014, CIBC’s Shenfeld says,” Financial Post web site, October 17, 2013.)
This, of course, is in sharp contrast to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which said that, as a result of the U.S. government shutdown and slow international expansion, the global economy will grow at … Read More
The best time to look at certain sectors and stocks is when investors are running for the exits. Unfortunately, the U.S. government shutdown and looming debt ceiling deadline have sent investors scurrying in every direction. Still, one area that will be negatively impacted should the U.S. government shutdown continue and the debt ceiling limit not be raised is the slowly rebounding U.S. housing market.
That doesn’t mean investors should shun the U.S. housing market and homebuilder stocks altogether; if anything, the current lull is the perfect time to take a closer look at this sector. Both the shutdown and debt ceiling will eventually be in the rearview mirror and the wheels of economic progress will sputter back to life.
According to the latest S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, U.S. house prices rose 12.4% for the 12 months ended July 31, the biggest annual increase since February 2006. Home prices, which have climbed 16% since the beginning of 2012, are still roughly 22% below their 2006 pre-recession highs, meaning, there is still plenty of room to run before the U.S. housing market can say it has fully recovered.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government shutdown and fears about the debt ceiling are coming just as construction and new housing sales are beginning to show signs of life. Residential starts in August were up slightly (0.9%), with an annual pace of 891,000—a marked improvement over the April 2009 low of 478,000 starts.
There are a number of ways a long-term government shutdown would exacerbate growth in the U.S. housing market. Because federal employees are furloughed, there is no one to approve mortgages; those in the … Read More
We’re less than a week away from the perfect economic storm in the U.S., and, based on what others are predicting, just a few short months away from a major 15% stock market correction.
At the beginning of October, almost a million federal employees were furloughed after the U.S. government shut down because it failed to ratify its annual budget. Should the government fail to raise the debt ceiling and therefore default on its loans, that issue will be exacerbated when the debt ceiling deadline arrives.
Failing to raise the debt ceiling will just add to America’s economic woes and put a major dent in the global economy while also undermining America’s credibility on the world stage. While some think a short-term default on the debt ceiling will not cause a major ripple, history is not on their side.
In 1979, the U.S. breached the debt ceiling on about $122 million in bills, but that was blamed on a technical issue related to a new-fangled word processing failure. The glitch caused yields to increase by half a percentage point, where they stayed elevated for months. A default on the debt ceiling this time around couldn’t be blamed on a technical difficulty due to new technology (having a disproportionate ego, however, could be a valid excuse).
Even after the U.S. government shutdown is resolved and the debt ceiling is raised, the U.S. will have suffered a major blow to its credibility. After that, it could go from bad to worse.
According to French banking giant Societe Generale, the S&P 500 will go through a tumultuous correction, even after the debt ceiling … 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