Gasoline prices are finally headed lower at the pumps, but it’s happening slowly. It always seems prices at the pumps rise much faster when oil prices increase, but they move much slower when oil prices decline. I guess that’s big oil for you.
The average price of regular gas across the nation is around $3.55 a gallon. That’s down from the more than $4.00 a gallon we witnessed in July 2008 and again in May 2011.
Lower gas prices translate into more money in your wallet to spend on other goods and services. This is good for the country’s economic growth.
As a consumer, while we are experiencing lower gas prices at this juncture, I’d suggest you enjoy it while you can, as oil companies will look for any excuse to drive oil prices higher—and gas prices will follow.
As an investor, however, you need to pay attention to the bigger picture.
Oil prices have been steadily declining to around $91.00 a barrel from the more than $100.00 a barrel witnessed not long ago.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
Some calm to the situation in Gaza and Israel, along with a current truce to the fighting in Ukraine has contributed to the decline in oil prices. Geopolitical events can have a huge impact on the price of oil.
The problem that I see here is that the situation in either region could boil over at any moment, possibly launching gasoline and oil prices sky-high. But my biggest concern is not the events happening in Ukraine or Gaza; rather, the biggest question mark lies in the volatile regions of Syria and Iraq, … 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
Simply put, if Russia is held accountable, the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight ML17 in eastern Ukraine could destabilize the situation in the region and filter into the eurozone and Europe. That’s bad news.
When the conflict first surfaced regarding the possible annexation of the Crimea region and the influence of Russia, there were concerns after economic sanctions were levied on Russia. The following vote in Crimea that indicated a desire to leave Ukraine has further raised the geopolitical stakes in the volatile area and intensified the fighting between the pro-Russian rebels and Ukraine.
It’s a mess, and the shooting down of ML17 made the situation much worse. We are seeing increased economic sanctions on Russia, and this will likely impact the eurozone and Eastern Europe. There is also news of a Russian steel company selling some properties in the United States.
Of course, we are also hearing that the rich Russians who count on business in Russia and the global economy are also feeling the economic pinch and are not happy. The problem is that they won’t say anything towards the situation, assumedly due to their fear of President Putin and the Kremlin.
And while Europe is intensifying the pressure on Russia to do something, there’s also a need for the flow of oil and natural gas to continue into the eurozone and Europe, which gets about 40% of its energy needs from Russia.
While the impact on the Russian embargo has yet to be fully felt by the eurozone and Europe, it could worsen if the Ukraine conflict intensifies. In the first quarter, gross domestic product (GDP) growth … Read More
In the late 1990s, the demand and market for initial public offerings (IPOs) was sizzling with the promise of staggering one-day gains for those lucky enough to get in on the ground floor with share subscriptions. We saw millions made in one day for the chosen ones—the rich.
But that was then. The IPO market, while still quite popular, is nowhere near where it was back then. Investors are now pickier on the issue.
Recall King Digital Entertainment plc (NYSE/KING), the maker of Candy Crush Saga. In my view, this has to be one of the most hyped-up IPOs in recent times. Debuting at $20.50 on March 26, the stock is currently trading at $17.00, but even at this price, I think the valuation is crazy, with a market cap of $5.42 billion. This company doesn’t even make money and it’s vulnerable to weakness for those looking for an aggressive short selling opportunity.
In the social media space, the biggest and most highly anticipated IPO following the debut of Facebook, Inc. (NASDAQ/FB) was social media play Twitter, Inc. (NYSE//TWTR). Yet unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t currently have any major revenue streams and is still looking for ways to make money. While Twitter is way down from its high of $74.00, I still wouldn’t be a buyer at the current $39.00. The company doesn’t deserve its market cap of $23.0 billion. Until Twitter can provide a valid revenue model instead of its annoying ads placed in the middle of tweets, I would not buy. A decline to below $30.00, however, could provide an aggressive trade.
What’s going to be hot this year … 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
We are a few weeks away from the second-quarter earnings season and again, there’s a lot of hope and optimism that corporate America will be able to deliver the goods. But we also said that for the first-quarter earnings season—and prior to that, we said the same for the fourth-quarter earnings season.
Before, what we saw instead was sluggish revenue growth along with companies having an easier time on the earnings front, as Wall Street does what it usually does—lowering earnings estimates to meet the changing situation, making it easier for companies to meet expectations. In the first-quarter earnings season, it was about the strain placed on companies by the bitter winter. That’s fair, but there really are no more excuses for this quarter.
The nation’s jobs numbers are looking better after the country managed to recover all of the 8.7 million or so jobs lost since the start of the Great Recession. If the economy can continue to generate jobs growth at more than 200,000 new jobs monthly, then we would expect consumer spending and confidence levels to improve. Yet having said this, there’s clearly still some trepidation out there, especially with the decline in wealth levels of the middle class and below.
The rich are getting richer, but even as a group, they cannot spend the economy to stronger growth without the help of the middle class. We need to see income levels expand across middle-class America in order for companies to have any hope of expanding their revenues better than what we are seeing now. This makes sense to me: spread the wealth and the economic renewal … Read More
In April, the unemployment rate dropped to 6.3%—its lowest level since 2008. While Wall Street and Capitol Hill might be giving each other high-fives, there is still plenty left to lament.
At 12.3%, the U.S. underemployment rate is still eye-wateringly high. (Source: “Alternative measures of labor underutilization,” Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, May 2, 2014.) Sure, it’s down from 13.9% in April 2013, but it’s still at an unacceptable level. And it’s not exactly an encouraging statistic for those entering, already in, or recently graduated from a post-secondary school—or those still struggling to pay off their student debt.
In this economic climate, graduates can either stay unemployed or take lower-paying jobs. Sadly, this could take a serious toll on the so-called economic recovery.
For starters, student debt is the fastest-growing category of debt. At the end of the first quarter of 2014, student debt had soared $125 billion year-over-year to $1.11 trillion. And right now, 11% of all loan debt is either in default or delinquent by 90-plus days. (Source: “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York web site, May 2014.)
Second, it’s going to get worse. With an average graduating debt of $33,000, the class of 2014 is the most indebted ever. They’re also finding it more and more difficult to pay off that debt. Between 2005 and 2012, the average student debt, adjusted for inflation, has climbed 35%. The median salary, on the other hand, has dropped 2.2%. This doesn’t bode well for the graduating class of 2015.
Granted, not all college degrees are created equally. Healthcare and education grads have … Read More
When I’m looking at the screens each day, I notice there’s some selling capitulation occurring that makes me think back to 2000, when the technology stocks imploded.
Now, while I doubt we are seeing a repeat of 14 years ago, you have to wonder about the mad dash to the exits for many of the high-momentum technology stocks along with small-cap stocks. The small-caps are under threat, with the Russell 2000 down nearly eight percent in 2014 so far and close to five percent in April alone. Watch as the index is just above its 200-day moving average (MA).
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
As I said last week, the fact that the NASDAQ and Russell 2000 have failed to recover their respective 50-day MAs is a red flag, based on my technical analysis. Moreover, the presence of a possible bearish head-and-shoulders formation on the NASDAQ chart is concerning for technology stocks.
The lack of any leadership from technology stocks now, which was so prevalent in 2013, has also hurt the broader stock market.
On the charts, only the S&P 500 is positive in 2014, with a slight advance. All of the key stock indices were negative in April—a month that has historically been positive.
To make matters worse, we are heading into traditionally the worst six-month period for the stock market, from May to October, so it’s not going to get easier anytime soon.
The fact that numerous technology stocks have produced some strong earnings results is encouraging, but the lack of strong follow-through buying is a concern and suggests some exhaustion towards technology stocks.
We also have the uncertainty … Read More
While I continue to favor the stock market as the top investment vehicle long-term, I am concerned about the pending rise in interest rates and bond yields; of course, higher bond yields translate into a viable option for investors to stash their capital aside from the stock market.
The Federal Reserve has begun the process that will reduce the easy money it has been injecting into the stock market and economy. So far, $30.0 billion in bond purchases each month has been cut, and I expect the remaining $55.0 billion to be eliminated by the year-end.
The end result will be a steady rise in bond yields along the way, which will cause some rotation of capital from the equities market to bonds. We have already seen a big jump in the 10-year bond yield, from about 1.7% in May 2013 to 2.8% as of April 2014. The yields will continue to rise as the Fed reduces its quantitative easing over the year. A move to above the three-percent threshold level will clearly trigger some anxiety among stock investors
The consensus on the Street is for bond yields to rise. The recent auction of $29.0 billion of seven-year notes by the U.S. Department of the Treasury last Thursday yielded 7.317%.
Simply look at the chart below of the 10-Year US Treasury Yield Index from 1990 to 2014.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
The first thing you should notice is the rising yields. The chart from 2012 onward reflects the rise in interest rates measured by the bellwether 10-year U.S. Treasury that is surging higher. The yields on U.S. Treasuries have almost … Read More
After a miserable winter of weak economic indicators (which were mostly blamed on the weather), the warmer spring weather will be a godsend for Wall Street. Unless, of course, there’s more holding the U.S. economy back than cold winds and snow.
That riddle will be answered in the coming weeks, but the long-term prognosis for the U.S. economy is a little murkier. While the S&P 500 is trading at record-highs, there is mounting evidence to suggest the U.S. economy could slow down, putting the brakes on the bull market.
Naturally, it depends on who you ask and what their time frame is. Despite mounting risks, such as ongoing troubles in Ukraine, slower growth in China, and the threat of increasing rates, some predict the S&P 500 will hit 2,075 by the end of the summer. That would represent an 11.5% gain from where it currently trades and a 12.5% gain for the first half of the year. (Source: Levisohn, B., “Don’t Call It a Comeback: Dow Jones Industrials Gain 120 Points, More to Come?” Barron’s, January 7, 2014.)
The double-digit growth is expected to come as a result of increased investor sentiment in the U.S. economy. For starters, investors have experienced a relatively easy ride over the last year. And over the last two years, any corrections on the S&P 500 have been shallow, short, and sweet. It’s the perfect recipe for ongoing enthusiasm and confidence for investors to pour more equity into the S&P 500.
It doesn’t matter if the S&P 500 is overvalued, some investors only care that it keeps going up. And should first-quarter earnings of S&P … 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
Key stock indices were going through a rough patch from the beginning of the year until early February. Now, they seem to have some momentum to the upside. With this, investors are asking what kind of upside potential is possible. Will the key stock indices continue to increase and break above their previous highs, or are we due for another sell-off like the one we saw earlier, and only then will we see some good buying points?
Let me begin by saying what I have said many times in these pages before: 2013 was a stellar year for key stock indices, but now they need to breathe a little. The key stock indices may go above their all-time highs made at the end of last year, but the move isn’t going to be as robust. You might see a slow, dreadful move to the upside.
If this scenario does play out—key stock indices moving slowly and breaking above their all-time highs—the fundamentals are suggesting it won’t be a significant move.
Companies on the key stock indices are warning about their corporate earnings. For example, 66 companies on the S&P 500 have issued negative guidance about their corporate earnings in the first quarter of this year. (Source: “Slightly larger cuts to earnings estimates than average at mid-point of Q1 2014,” FactSet, February 14, 2014.) Corporate earnings estimates by analysts are also being slashed. Mind you, we are just in the second month of the quarter.
Major names on the key stock indices are reporting horrible sales. Consider Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE/CAT), a major industrial goods manufacturer, for example. The company reported its … Read More
Just like any other commodity, natural gas prices are affected by supply and demand metrics. If demand increases and supply remains the same (or declines), you have a perfect recipe for higher prices. Since the beginning of the year, this commodity’s prices are up more than 40%!
Before you start judging where the prices will go next, you have to see what kind of factors can affect the demand or supply. Consider gold prices, for example. If the demand for gold increases and, at the same time, there’s a discovery of a major mine—the prices may not move as much as anticipated if the mine wasn’t discovered. The reason behind this is simple: there’s supply to meet the demand.
A few factors that affect the natural gas demand and supply are playing out in favor of those who are bullish on it. For example, the commodity is highly affected by weather.
In extremely cold weather, natural gas is used to heat up homes—cold weather disrupts the short-term supply due to increased demand and causes prices to soar. In extremely hot weather, we see a similar situation occur in the commodity’s prices. Power plants use more natural gas to make electricity to meet the increased use of air conditioning units in homes and buildings. This phenomenon, again, causes a disruption in the short-term supply because power plants consume more. This results in higher prices as well.
What’s happening in natural gas prices these days is the very same problem; the short-term supply is being tormented by extreme weather—in this case, extremely cold weather. We have seen some extreme winter storms and … 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
I was reading an article that suggested investors are underestimating the extent that U.S. corporate profits could grow in 2014. And that the only reason the U.S. economy reported disappointing retail sales and weak jobs numbers and manufacturing data was because of the harsh winter weather. (Source: Shmuel, J., “Are EPS estimates currently too low?” Financial Post, February 18, 2014.)
Fortunately, so the story goes, the economy is so red-hot that once the snow thaws, investors will be rewarded with solid quarter-over-quarter corporate earnings growth. This suggests the weather has not just blinded investors to the fact that the economy has recovered (which it hasn’t), but that we are also so short-sighted that we can’t see the great gains waiting for us just around the corner—because if there’s one thing investors lack, it’s a desire to make money on the stock market…
I think investors are losing faith in Wall Street’s earnings potential because the corporations that go into making up the S&P 500 continue to warn us that their earnings are not going to be as great as they had hoped. And it’s not as if this is a new phenomenon.
Throughout 2013, as the S&P 500 marched steadily higher, an increasingly larger number of companies revised their earnings guidance lower each quarter. During the first quarter of 2013, 78% of S&P 500 companies that provided preannouncements issued negative earnings guidance; the second quarter came in at 81%; a record 83% of S&P 500 companies issued negative earnings guidance in the third quarter; and another record 88% did so in the fourth quarter.
For a country that is supposedly … 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
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
By Sasha Cekerevac for Daily Gains Letter | Feb 7, 2014
Well, that didn’t take long! Just a few weeks ago, I wrote an article stating that investors should begin to worry about the lofty level of the stock market. Since that time, the S&P 500 has dropped by more than five percent in less than two weeks.
This market correction won’t be a surprise to my readers, as I have been suggesting investment strategies that can help prepare your portfolio for a large downswing in the market for some time now.
When I wrote the article in late January, the S&P 500 was surging, even though the preliminary Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment dropped month-over-month. Since then, we have seen additional data coming from China showing that its economy is beginning to slow.
The Markit/HSBC China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for January was 49.6, much weaker than expected. (A PMI data point below 50 denotes a contraction in activity.) While many analysts have been expecting China to begin accelerating, this recent data is a dose of reality, as manufacturing jobs in China dropped for the third consecutive month. (Source: “HSBC China Manufacturing PMI,” Markit Economics, January 30, 2014.)
I know what you’re thinking; “Why should investors in the S&P 500 care about what happens in China?” A market correction doesn’t occur based on a single event. When you’re trying to develop investment strategies, especially if you are considering the potential for a market correction in a large index, such as the S&P 500, you have to take many factors into account, as if you’re working on a jigsaw puzzle.
First ask yourself, what are the positive … 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
When troubles first started in the eurozone years ago, they stemmed from the credit market. The amount of bad loans increased and as a result, banks needed to be bailed out. Greece and Ireland were the first in the eurozone to come under scrutiny, followed by Spain and Portugal; concerns later grew over whether Italy needed a bailout, as well. In 2012 and 2013, we saw a little calm in the eurozone. One of the main factors behind this was the European Central Bank (ECB). It said it will do whatever it takes to save the eurozone. This sent a wave of optimism through the global economy.
Now, we are starting to hear the problems—bad loans—remain in the common currency region…and they’re increasing.
The Bank of Spain’s data showed that bad loans in the country grew to a record-high in November. They stood at 13.08% then, compared to 12.99% just a month earlier. Month-over-month, bad loans in the fourth-biggest eurozone economy grew by 1.5 billion euros. (Source: “CORRECTED-Spain’s bad loans ratio reaches new record high at 13.08 pct in Nov,” Reuters, January 17, 2014.)
This isn’t all for Spain. Recently, after posting a loss in its fourth quarter, the Banco Popular S.A.—the biggest bank in Spain—said that at the end of 2013, 6.8% of all loans at the bank were 90 days overdue. In 2012, this rate was 5.1%. (Source: Neumann, J., “Spanish Banks Still Battling Bad Loans,” Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2014.)
Banks in Italy—the third-biggest economy in the eurozone—are going through something similar. Standard & Poor’s expects bad loans at the Italian banks to increase to 310 … Read More
There are many indicators that can give us an idea about where key stock indices may be headed. It may seem obvious, but always remember that nothing is certain until it happens. As I say quite often in these pages, trying to predict the exact top and bottom on key stock indices can significantly damage your portfolio in the case that the markets move in the opposite direction.
When I am trying to figure out what the next move will be by the key stock indices, I look at investor sentiment; I look at where investors are placing their money and what kind of assets they are buying. For example, when investors think the risks on key stock indices are increasing, they go towards safer stocks—big-cap companies may be one example. On the other hand, if investors think the key stock indices are moving to the up side, they move into stocks that provide better-than-market returns.
One indicator of investor sentiment that I look at is the relationship between the Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca/XLU) exchange-traded fund (ETF) and the Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index. The XLU tracks utilities companies that are considered safer by investors because their products or services are needed regardless of economic conditions, like electricity providers, for example. On the flipside, the Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index tracks cyclical stocks, which are the stocks that move with the markets and are considered riskier assets, like furniture retailers, for example—they are dependent on how the economy is doing overall.
With this in mind, please take a look at the chart below. It shows the movement in the XLU and … Read More
Back in December, Bernanke decided the U.S. economy was on solid footing and initiated the first round of quantitative easing cutbacks to begin in January. Instead of dumping $85.0 billion into the U.S. economy, the Fed added just $75.0 billion.
Last Wednesday, in his final hurray as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke initiated the second round of tapering. Citing growing strength in the broader U.S. economy, Bernanke slashed the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program to $65.0 billion a month starting in February.
At this pace, the Federal Reserve will be out of the bond buying business by Labor Day. As for interest rates, Bernanke reiterated the Federal Reserve’s guidance; short-term interest rates will remain near zero until the jobless rate hits 6.5%. But not even that is an automatic trigger. When unemployment does hit 6.5%, it will take inflation, the state of the labor market, and the state of the financial markets into consideration.
In light of the current U.S. economic environment, I’m not so sure I’d hang my hat on the so-called “growing strength in the broader economy.”
For starters, U.S. unemployment remains high. It dropped unexpectedly to 6.7% in December, but that number was skewed by a large number of long-term unemployed workers abandoning their search for new jobs. Of those who did find jobs, most were in the retail industry.
Those working in low-salary jobs don’t have much to look forward to. Wages are stagnant. In fact, workers’ wages and salaries are growing at the lowest rate relative to corporate profits in U.S. history.
Furthermore, for the first time ever, working-age people make up the … Read More
Troubles in the global economy look to be strengthening, suggesting an economic slowdown may be following. Not only are the major economic hubs of the global economy showing signs of stress—something I have mentioned in these pages many times before—but we see demand slowing down as well.
The Baltic Dry Index (BDI) gives us a general idea about how the demand in the global economy looks. At the very core, this index tracks the shipping price of raw materials. If the shipping prices increase, it suggests there’s increased demand in the global economy. If they decline, it’s not really a good sign. Please look at the chart of the BDI below.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
The BDI is outright collapsing. Since the beginning of the year, the BDI has declined more than 42%. This shouldn’t be taken lightly because it suggests demand in the global economy is slowing down very quickly. Looking at the average change in the BDI in January since 2003, this decline in 2014 is the second-biggest on record—in 2012, the BDI collapsed 58% in January.
Another indicator of demand in the global economy I look at is the Chinese economy. It has been known as the manufacturing hub of the world, and the country exports a significant amount of its goods to the world. If we see manufacturing activity in that country slow down, it gives us a hint that a global economic slowdown may be following.
Consider this: In January, the HSBC Flash China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI)—an indicator of manufacturing activity in China—plunged to a six-month low. It was registered at 49.6 in … Read More
By Sasha Cekerevac for Daily Gains Letter | Jan 29, 2014
Just the other day, I was talking to a friend of mine who seemed extremely cheerful. I asked why, and he said that his investments have performed well over the past few months and he saw no reasons to worry.
This is a common problem with investor sentiment; people tend to become complacent and only look to the recent past as an indication of what tomorrow will bring.
This is quite dangerous. Investor sentiment is often wrong and can be used as a contrary indicator, buying when others are dumping their stocks and taking profits when others are blissfully unaware of the changing landscape around them.
Americans need to be careful of becoming too complacent in their bullish investor sentiment, because the U.S. is not isolated from the rest of the world.
When the real estate bust and financial crash occurred here in America several years ago, the effects spread to many nations around the world, including the emerging markets.
With the Federal Reserve pushing the gas pedal on money printing here in the U.S., it has created a shock absorber to some extent, temporarily keeping global pressures at bay, especially in relation to the emerging markets.
However, investors do need to be aware that there is much uncertainty around the world. Investor sentiment for global institutions has been aware of these potential issues and is now running for the exits.
Last week this began in Asia, as economic growth appears to be slowing and reports of a financial crisis in China are beginning to grow. With the Chinese shadow-banking sector showing signs of cracking, this is creating negative investor … Read More
The U.S. housing market is facing issues that must be addressed. The reality of the matter is that home buyers are still missing from the market—these are the people looking to buy a home and stay in it for a long time. If home buyers don’t come back to the housing market, hopes for the increase we saw in home prices in 2012 and 2013 will diminish very quickly.
Existing-home sales data confirmed this: home buyers are just not excited to buy. According to the National Association of Realtors, in December, first-time home buyers accounted for only 27% of all existing-home transactions in the U.S. housing market. This number had declined from 30% in December of 2012. (Source: “December Existing-Home Sales Rise, 2013 Strongest in Seven Years,” National Association of Realtors, January 23, 2014.)
But that isn’t all. Indicators that suggest home buyers will or may come to the housing market in full-steam aren’t in favor, either. Affordability is the main concern for home buyers; they buy homes when they can afford to. Sadly, we are seeing a rise in mortgage rates. As these rates increase, homes become less affordable for first-time home buyers, who will have to pay higher mortgage payments.
How much have mortgage rates increased? In December of 2012, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate tracked by Freddie Mac was 3.35%. In December of 2013, it increased to 4.26%—or an increase of more than 27%.
This is all too dangerous for the housing market. You want to see a continuous flow of first-time home buyers in the market. Instead, they have been shying away for some time. Investors … Read More
By Sasha Cekerevac for Daily Gains Letter | Jan 24, 2014
Every day it seems as though the S&P 500 makes a new high. This strong performance over the past year is creating complacency, as more retail investors are piling into the market.
However, I would certainly urge caution, especially for any new capital being put to work at these lofty levels. With earnings season upon us, we’ve already seen several sectors in the S&P 500 get hit significantly, especially retail stocks.
We keep hearing about resilience among Americans, but consumer sentiment is not as strong as many analysts believe. This is why I wasn’t surprised when retailers disappointed.
One of the common arguments I hear about the S&P 500 is that the market is not expensive historically. I disagree with this argument, and add that the underlying fundamental strength of the U.S. economy, built on consumer sentiment, is far weaker than most people believe.
Regarding the valuation level of the overall stock market, best represented by the S&P 500, an interesting data point comes from Professor Robert Shiller of Yale University, whose research shows that U.S. stocks currently trade at a 25.4 multiple of the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio—far above the historical average. (Source: The Economist, January 4, 2014.)
Now, it would make sense for investors to pay a premium for S&P 500 companies if the economy and consumer sentiment were accelerating, But this is not the case.
Profit growth by the S&P 500 companies is decelerating. For the third quarter, total profits by corporations in America were $39.2 billion, down from a $66.8-billion increase in corporate profits during the second quarter. (Source: Ibid.)
Not only are companies within the … 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
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