The stock market appears anxious to move higher to new record highs.
In the past week, the Federal Reserve released its Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting minutes that suggested it wanted to see stronger, sustained growth before deciding on when to raise interest rates. This includes both economic growth and jobs creation.
On Thursday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) will report the second reading of the second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP), which came in at a surprising annualized four percent for the advance reading.
The consensus is that the second reading will show the GDP growth holding at the same four-percent level. If it does, it would be excellent for the economy but at the same time, ironically, it would make investors and the stock market nervous about the status of interest rates.
The issue is that the Fed wants to see controlled and steady economic growth and a four-percent reading could raise red flags, pointing to inflation—which means higher interest rates. The inflation rate is benign at this time as consumers continue to hold back on spending.
The stock market will get anxious if the reading remains the same, but we would want to wait to see how the economy fares in the third and fourth quarters of the year before making any drastic moves.
Of course, the stock market is all about expectations going forward and clearly, a strong second reading of the 2Q14 GDP will send some to the exits.
The Fed also wants to see the jobs market continue to expand at its previous trend of generating an average of more than 200,000 monthly … Read More
On one hand, it’s great the economic growth is showing renewed progress as the advance reading of the second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) growth came in at an annualized four percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis web site, July 30, 2014.)
Now I realize this is only the advance reading and things can change over the next few weeks as more credible estimates come into play, but I’m sure the Federal Reserve is keeping close tabs on the numbers. Investors are also likely quite nervous.
It appears that the weak showing in the first-quarter GDP was an aberration, driven by the extreme winter conditions. But the reality is that if the GDP continues to expand at this pace, we could see the Federal Reserve begin to increase interest rates quicker than expected in 2015.
The GDP reading saw gains across the board in consumption, investment, exports, imports, and government spending, which will catch the eye of the Federal Reserve.
We know the Federal Reserve doesn’t want to slow the economic renewal, but at the same time, it also wants to make sure inflation doesn’t rise too fast.
The report from the BEA pointed to the fact that the price index for gross domestic purchases used as a measure of inflation increased an annualized 1.9% in the second quarter, well above the 1.4% in the first quarter. Even when you take out the volatile food and energy components, the reading increased 1.7%, versus 1.3% in the first quarter.
And given that the jobs numbers continue to show progress with the unemployment rate standing at … 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
The retail sector is clearly undergoing some duress early on in 2014 as there is a worrisome feeling that the country’s economic growth may be stalling.
The first quarter’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth was muted. Retail sales were also soft in April. The core reading showed spending contracted by 0.1% in April after 1.3% growth in March. Of course, economists are not concerned, suggesting the first-quarter retail sales will rise.
The winter weather may have wreaked havoc with consumer spending in the retail sector, but it’s now show time; the retailers need to begin to deliver as the weather warms up.
My top rates in the retail sector continue to be the discounters and, oddly enough, the high-end luxury-brand stocks, given the amount of wealth created among the top one percent.
In the luxury area, vying for the “Best in Breed” are Michael Kors Holdings Limited (NYSE/KORS) and Tiffany & Co. (NYSE/TIF). I also like Coach, Inc. (NYSE/COH) as a contrarian pick in the retail sector.
In the discount segment, Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ/COST) is one of the top stocks. I also like discount stocks Family Dollar Stores, Inc. (NYSE/FDO) and Dollar General Corporation (NYSE/DG). The discount area has also been impacted by the weather, but it remains a top area in the retail sector.
If you are looking at the department stores, the top stock is Macy’s, Inc. (NYSE/M), which is probably the best-managed and top-performing company among the department stores in the retail sector.
Macy’s just reported a first quarter in which it beat on earnings per share but fell short on sales. The results show the … Read More
The retail sector can return some amazing gains as we have witnessed since the recession ended—but it can also provide periods of anxiety.
How the retail sector performs is dependent on many variables, including the economy, jobs, housing, consumer confidence, interest rates, and even the weather, as we witnessed this winter.
There is no tried-and-tested rule on what areas of the retail sector do well. For instance, if you think discount and big-box stores always fare the best, while high-end luxury-brand stocks underperform during times of economic uncertainty, then you are likely off the mark.
The reality is that the past years of massive wealth creation in the stock market and a rebounding housing market have helped to create wealth, and with this comes the desire to spend. There have been some 300,000 new millionaires created in the country in 2013, and that means a propensity to want to spend specifically on higher-end goods and services.
The rationale supports why luxury stocks, such as Michael Kors Holdings Limited (NYSE/KORS) and Tiffany & Co. (NYSE/TIF), have done so well over the past few years. In the luxury retail sector space, Michael Kors continues to be one of my favorite retail sector stocks.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
Meanwhile, the bottom end of the retail sector, which includes the discount and big-box stores, has provided mixed results; albeit, these stocks have made investors a lot of money.
One of my favorite discount stocks in the retail sector is Family Dollar Stores, Inc. (NYSE/FDO). But the company recently reported a soft fiscal second quarter, in which same-store sales fell 3.8% in the quarter; year-over-year, … Read More
The situation in Crimea should be closely monitored as it pertains to Europe and the eurozone. Russia is a major trading partner with the eurozone as well, supplying about 40% of the energy requirements in the area. That is why an escalation in Crimea could devastate the region, especially at a time when the economy is finally growing in the eurozone.
I’m carefully watching the stand-off in Crimea and, more importantly, what Russia is doing. Whether it’s simply geopolitical posturing or a plan to enter into Crimea is unclear. The Russians really don’t want a conflict, as it would likely push the country into a recession.
And a recession in Russia would also impact Europe and could drive the region’s economies down. Now, Russia is currently setting up meetings with the United States and United Nations (UN), so there’s some optimism that a peaceful resolution could emerge from the crisis.
The reality is that a healthy Russia also means better times for Eastern Europe, including some of the area’s strongest economic regions, such as Poland.
I view Europe and the eurozone as a potential investment opportunity if the Russia-Ukraine situation is resolved.
The market in Europe and the eurozone is massive and includes more than 800 million people who demand goods and services.
The eurozone’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanded at a rate of 0.3% in the fourth quarter, according to Eurostat. The eurozone is estimated to report GDP growth of 1.2% this year and 1.5% in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Of course, these numbers could decline if a conflict surfaces in Ukraine.
A look at … 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
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
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
There’s a significant amount of pessimism towards the Chinese economy these days, and the reasons behind this are very understandable. The economic data suggests the country is headed toward an economic slowdown.
In 2013, China’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 7.7%—barely better than the previous year and the estimates that were calling for the lowest growth rate since 1999. (Source: Yao, K. and Wang, A., “China’s 2013 economic growth dodges 14-year low but further slowing seen,” Reuters, January 20, 2014.) Keep in mind that despite beating the estimates, this GDP growth rate is much lower than the country’s historical average.
This isn’t all. A credit crunch is also in the making. We are now hearing how companies in China will have troubles paying their interest on the bonds they have issued. So far, we have seen one default on payment by Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology Co. This solar company, based in China, defaulted on a $14.7-million interest payment on bonds it issued two years ago. (Source: Wei, L., McMahon, D. and Ma, W., “Chinese Firm’s Bond Default May Not Be the Last,” The Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2014.)
Before this default, there was a slight hope that the government would come in and bail out the troubled companies—something that happened in the U.S. economy during the financial crisis in 2008. Now, with this default, there are speculations that we will see more of the same.
Furthermore, there are concerns that property values in the Chinese economy are going to see a correction. Over the past few years, there has been the mass development of ghost … 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
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
I hate to harp on the U.S. housing market so much, but it is a major indicator of the health of the U.S. economy. Following previous recessions, investment in the U.S. housing market increased early on and helped drive the recovery. In fact, the U.S. housing market was a major factor that helped lift the U.S. economy out of past recessions in 1981, 1990, and 2001. But it isn’t happening this time around.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the U.S. housing market contributes to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in two ways: private residential investment and consumption spending on housing services. Historically, residential investment, which includes construction of new single-family and multi-family structures, residential remodeling, the production of manufactured homes, and brokers’ fees, has averaged around five percent of U.S. GDP. (Source: “Housing’s Contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” National Association of Home Builders web site, last accessed March 3, 2014.)
Housing services, which includes gross rent, utility payments, and imputed rent (an estimate of how much it would cost to rent owner-occupied units), averages between 12% and 13%. That leads to a combined total of 17%–18%.
But the U.S. housing market has been falling short as an engine of economic growth. In 2005, residential investment accounted for 6.1% of U.S. GDP. In 2012, it accounted for just 2.8%, and it has averaged just three percent since then—meaning that two percent of the national GDP is missing from private residential investment.
More broadly, since the U.S. housing market collapsed in 2008, the industry has made less than half its normal contribution to U.S. economic growth. According … 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
While the U.S. economy is hardly on solid footing, the fact remains that as the world’s biggest and most influential economy, the U.S. doesn’t have to be running optimally to keep the global economy chugging along. Though, it would be nice if the U.S. economy would gain sustainable traction. Until then, we will have to be content with its glacial pace of recovery.
And it is slow. In 2012, gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 2.8% and in 2013, it slowed to just 1.9%. Things are expected to get better over the next two years. U.S. GDP growth is forecast to hit 2.8% in 2014 and an even three percent in 2015.
The rest of the world will be playing catch-up. Well, save for the Chinese economy, which has a 2014 growth forecast of 7.5%. GDP growth in the eurozone picked up 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2013—the third quarter of growth since the end of an 18-month recession. (Source: “Eurozone GDP growth gathers speed,” BBC News web site, February 14, 2014.)
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that India’s GDP growth will hit 4.6% this year and climb to 5.4% in 2015. Brazil recently revised its 2014 GDP growth rate from 3.8% to 2.5%—which is still higher than analysts’ GDP growth forecasts of 1.79%. (Sources: Mishra, A.R., “IMF says India needs more rate hikes to bring inflation down,” Livemint.com, The Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2014; “Brazil cuts 2014 budget, GDP estimate,” Buenos Aires Herald web site, February 21, 2014.)
For investors who have been waiting for a broadly based global recovery, these are encouraging signs. It also … 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
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
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
The theme since 2010 has been very simple: the U.S. economy is witnessing economic growth. As a result of this, the stock market increased and broke above its previous highs made in 2007. Investor optimism soared, and those who were bearish saw their stock portfolio disappear.
As the new year, 2014, began, the theme became a little more complex: the U.S. economy is going through a period of economic growth, but it’s becoming questionable. The question asked by investors these days: is the U.S. economy headed for economic slowdown, and is the stock market—which has provided investors with great returns—about to see another downturn?
The economic data that suggested the U.S. economy is growing has started to suggest this may not be the case anymore. For example, after the financial crisis, the unemployment rate in the U.S. economy declined. It meant more people were getting jobs and they had money to spend—the kind of jobs created and if they made any impact is still up for debate. In December, we heard that only 75,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy, and in January, this number was only 113,000. (Source: “The Employment Situation,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 7, 2014.) The number of jobs added to the U.S. economy has missed the market estimate by a huge margin for two months in a row, and the growth compared to the early part of 2013 isn’t very impressive.
The gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of the U.S. economy doesn’t look so impressive, either. We have created a table to show how it has been declining. Look below:… 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
Another day and another 300-point decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average—that seems to be the norm right now. But despite my assurances that things will inevitably get better, I continue to see extreme nervousness out there.
Now it’s probably time for more hand-holding as we move along during this mini crisis in the markets.
Look, the world isn’t going to blow apart. We are simply hoping through a stock market correction that should have occurred in 2013 but didn’t, largely due to the Federal Reserve’s easy money policy. That’s coming to an end as the tapering continues, but so what?
Based on the morning trading activity on Tuesday, the stock market, while edging higher, wasn’t exactly showing that it was firmly behind the buying; hence, it will likely be prone to more downside moves. My thinking is that we could receive another five-percent hit and then slowly rally.
The concern is that we could see more selling capitulation emerging on higher volume, so investors should be very careful.
The failure of the Dow to hold at its 200-day moving average (MA) is concerning.
Small-cap stocks were down nearly 10% at the close of Monday, nearing what would be an official stock market correction. Just watch how the Russell 2000 behaves going forward, focusing on whether it can hold and rally from here.
My assessment is that the stock market could likely move lower prior to staging a rally.
Of course, the release of a softer-than-expected ISM Index hurt and suggested the economy may not be as strong as the gross domestic product (GDP) growth would indicate.
The thing is … 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
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
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
On the surface, the data suggest there’s economic growth in the U.S. economy. We hear that the unemployment rate is declining. Incomes in the U.S. economy are increasing. Consumers are buying more and more goods—as a result, we are going to see higher U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Growth is intact…right?
Sadly, when I examine the details, I really question if this is all a mirage. Is there really economic growth in the U.S. economy?
You see, economic growth is when the general standard of living improves. It’s just that simple. If people are getting jobs that pay them well, you have economic growth. If average Joe American is able to buy the goods he wants, you have economic growth.
There are troubling developments in the U.S. economy that can derail all the talks of economic growth. Unfortunately, they are not very often mentioned in the mainstream media.
First of all, I see a disparity happening between the rich and those who are not so fortunate in the U.S. economy. This is something to be mindful of, because it can have massive side effects. An example of this I witnessed was in the 2013 auto sales for the U.S. economy. The sales of automakers that make affordable and family-oriented cars like General Motors Company (NYSE/GM) and Ford Motor Company (NYSE/F) witnessed subdued growth. On the other hand, luxury car makers saw massive increases. For example, sales of the “Maserati” increased by 74.7%. On the other end of the spectrum, sales of cars and light vehicles at General Motors only increased by 7.3%. (Source: Motor Intelligence, “U.S. Market Light Vehicle Deliveries … 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
As many of you already know, the gross domestic product (GDP) estimate for the third quarter came in above estimates at 3.6%, with most of the increase coming from higher inventory levels.
But I would like to look at something slightly different than the inventory buildup. I think we are all aware of what happens when inventory builds and consumers don’t buy—corporate profits get hit. However, looking at the data a bit closer, there are more worrisome signs aside from excess inventory that are also pointing to tough times ahead for corporate profits.
The S&P 500 has had a stellar run since its bottom in 2009. Part of the reason for this is that corporate profits have expanded tremendously as firms cut costs through massive layoffs, as well as lower financing payments through the cheap money provided by depressed interest rates. But this might be coming to a close, as corporate profits for S&P 500 companies appear to be peaking.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, third-quarter corporate profits on an after-tax basis were a record 11.1% as a share of GDP. (Source: “National Income and Product Account, GDP 3rd Quarter 2013,” U.S. Department of Commerce, December 5, 2013.)
What this means is that the S&P 500 companies are generating extremely high profit margins. Obviously, this alone is not bad; however, business is always cyclical. We will always move from peaks to troughs, and corporate profits and margins are no exception.
Wall Street analysts continue to tell people that the S&P 500 is a buy, because they are taking the data from the past couple … Read More
The U.S. stock market rally has been on a solid run this year, thanks in large part to the Federal Reserve’s $85.0-billion-per-month quantitative easing policy—well, that and some solid economic indicators. But the question remains: will the momentum continue into 2014?
It all depends on whether or not the U.S. stock market rally follows the laws of physics. For example, when it comes to momentum, an object will continue unless force is applied against it, either a huge amount of force all at once or an applied force over a given period of time. On the other hand, the more momentum something has, the harder it is to stop.
The fuel that has helped propel the U.S. stock market rally over the last number of years could be flickering out. Thanks to better-than-expected employment and retail numbers and strong preliminary gross domestic product (GDP) numbers, many think the Federal Reserve will start to taper its quantitative easing strategy sooner than later.
The end of easy money, some think, could put a cramp in the stock market’s four-year-plus rally—or at least make it run a little more slowly in 2014 than it did in 2013. Whereas the S&P 500 is up roughly 25% year-to-date, analysts think it will grow by as little as six percent and as much as 11% in 2014. This means that the S&P 500 will experience another year of record-highs in 2014, but not quite as bullish as 2013. (Source: “Here’s What 14 Top Wall Street Strategists Are Saying About The Stock Market In 2014,” Business Insider web site, December 13, 2013.)
Those looking to outpace the … Read More
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
A raft of positive economic news came in last week, suggesting that the U.S. economy may actually be getting stronger. On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate fell from 7.3% to seven percent in November, the non-farm employment numbers improved by 203,000, and unemployment claims fell to 298,000. In addition, preliminary gross domestic product (GDP) growth climbed from 2.8% in October to 3.6%, soaring past the three percent forecast.
Normally, this kind of news would help shore up the stock market and send it rallying higher. But that’s not what happens in a Federal Reserve-fuelled market; in fact, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and NASDAQ all responded with a losing streak.
Why the fear? Two words: quantitative easing. Since implementing the first round of quantitative easing in 2009, the Federal Reserve has flooded the market with over $3.0 trillion. Quantitative easing has translated into artificially low interest rates. The low-interest-rate environment has also been the primary fuel behind the stock markets’ unprecedented rally.
The Federal Reserve has said it will begin to taper (not discontinue) its quantitative easing strategy when the markets improve, which many believe means an unemployment rate of 6.5% and inflation at 2.5%.
Not surprisingly, the sharp decrease in unemployment has made the markets jittery. Tapering quantitative easing bond purchases means interest rates will increase, which could put a wet blanket on the U.S. economy. Back in May, the Federal Reserve hinted it was thinking about tapering quantitative easing; Wall Street responded by sending the markets lower, and banks responded by sending mortgage rates higher.
So you can see why … Read More
The global economy looks to be in trouble, as there may be an economic contraction on the horizon. If all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, companies on key stock indices might face issues in delivering corporate earnings.
Major economic hubs in the global economy are witnessing an economic slowdown. Those economies aren’t marching ahead, and their growth rates seem to be stagnant. If this continues, then it wouldn’t be a surprise to eventually see the global economy cave in, resulting in a global economic slowdown.
The eurozone, one of the biggest economic hubs in the global economy, remains under severe scrutiny. In the third quarter, the gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate for the common currency region declined to 0.1%, while in the second quarter, the GDP growth rate was 0.3%. (Source: “Second estimate for the third quarter of 2013,” Eurostat web site, December 4, 2013.)
The troubled countries in the eurozone, including Greece, Spain, and Portugal, are stuck in depression-like conditions, but major countries in the region also face economic pressures. For example, Germany’s third-quarter GDP growth rate came in at 0.3% compared to the second quarter, which saw 0.7% GDP growth from the previous quarter. (Source: Ibid.)
Australia, another major economic hub in the global economy, is facing headwinds as well. In the third quarter, the Australian economy grew by only 0.6% from the previous quarter. The annual GDP growth rate of Australia registered at 2.3%. In the second quarter, the Australian economy grew 0.7% and the annual growth rate was 2.4%. (Source: Kewk, G., “Australia’s economic growth falling short,” The Sydney Morning Herald web … 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
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
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
For the last five years, the U.S. has relied on quantitative easing, one of the most unconventional monetary policies, to kick-start its economy. By printing off trillions of dollars and increasing the money supply on the back of artificially low interest rates, the government is hoping financial institutions will increase lending and liquidity.
Will it work? Not if history is any indication.
On December 29, 1989, during the heyday of the Japanese asset price bubble, the Nikkei Index hit an intraday high of 38,957.44, capping off a decade in which the index soared more than 500%. Despite those dizzying heights, no one could see what the next 25-plus years would bring.
Over the ensuing decade, the Nikkei continued to slide. To shore up the economy, the Bank of Japan held interest rates near zero and had, for many years, claimed quantitative easing was an ineffective measure.
In March 2001, the Bank of Japan unveiled its first round of quantitative easing. It didn’t take, and since then, Japan has initiated 11 rounds of quantitative easing, dumping trillions of dollars into the markets. Instead of stimulating the economy, it has been saddled with a negative real gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate and record-low interest rates.
By late October 2008, the Nikkei hit an intraday low of 7,141—an 80% loss from its 1989 highs. While it rebounded in 2013 and is currently sitting near 14,170, it’s still down more than 63% since the halcyon days of the late 1980s.
After a quarter century, quantitative easing and record-low interest rates are a regular part of Japan’s economic diet. Thanks to uncertainty in the … 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 discussions about emerging markets being the “next big thing” are becoming prominent as we are marching ahead. Not too long ago, the emerging markets received a lot of notice; now, they’re the center of attention. With this shift comes one question: is it a good time to buy emerging market stocks?
Investors who are investing for the long term have to keep the following three facts in mind before adding emerging market securities to their portfolios.
If It Has Gone Down, That Doesn’t Mean There’s Value
This isn’t specific to any one emerging market economy, but investors have to keep in mind that if something has declined, it doesn’t mean it has become undervalued. There are different measures investors need to look at before they can find fair value, and companies in emerging markets shouldn’t be judged differently.
We saw something similar happen back in 2008 with the key stock indices here in the U.S. economy. In October of that year, indices like the S&P 500 declined significantly. Following that, we had much speculation about if the bottom was in place, and I remember some saying there’s good value around those levels.
Turns out that the key stock indices increased a bit from there, but in 2009, they declined even further, shedding all the gains—only then did the market bottom. Emerging market economies could end up in a very similar situation.
Emerging Markets Rely on Developed Economies
This fact is very critical. Emerging market economies rely on what happens in the developed nations, mainly because they export their goods to them. If the developed nations start to suffer, you … Read More
While the S&P 500 continues to perform well, the markets have been skittish since May 22, when the Federal Reserve hinted it might consider tapering its $85.0-billion-per-month bond-buying program. If Ben Bernanke begins to curtail Wall Street’s monthly allowance, there are fears the markets will not be able to stand on their own economic merit.
Granted, many don’t think the Fed will begin tapering in 2013; this may account for the S&P 500’s solid, yet volatile run. The same can’t be said for emerging markets.
Investors have pulled over $22.0 billion from emerging-market bond funds since the end of April. This has lifted emerging-market bond yields by 1.4 percentage points, almost the most in five years.
Borrowing costs have been on the rise from record lows as speculation swirls around when the Federal Reserve will begin to cut back its quantitative easing measures—this also means the end of artificially low interest rates. This matters to emerging markets, because it signals the end of cheap money that’s been propping up asset prices in countries like India, China, and Indonesia.
Those investors who diversified their retirement fund with emerging-market exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have been in for a rough ride. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index (NYSE/EEM) is down eight percent year-to-date.
One of the few places where the Federal Reserve’s sphere of quantitative easing influence is muted is in the world of frontier markets. Frontier markets refer to countries such as Argentina, Kenya, Qatar, and Vietnam—those markets that are in the early stages of development. Frontier markets are an attractive opportunity for investors, because they represent a long-term economic growth possibility. And there … Read More