June 26 was a big day in U.S. soccer. Not just because we faced the Germans in a World Cup match that determined (in a roundabout way) whether or not we made it to the knockout round, but because Jurgen Klinsmann, the head coach of the U.S. men’s national team, gave every single employed American permission to take the day off work!
Klinsmann shared a “get-out-of-work” note initially distributed through the official U.S. Soccer Twitter feed.1 It told employers to “excuse (insert your name here) from work on Thursday, June 26th.” Yes, he acknowledged that their absence would hurt productivity, but it was for the greater good: to support the nation!
Klinsmann’s generosity didn’t end there; he also suggested managers “should act like a good leader and take the day off as well.”
His pleas did not go unheard! New York State governor Andrew Cuomo sent out his own tweet, approving an extra hour of lunch for every single New York State public employee. “The State of New York stands strongly behind Team USA. Therefore, I am approving an extra hour of extended lunch…so they can root Team USA onto victory.”2
For starters, what would it look like if every American handed in that signed note, took the day off, and cheered on Team USA from the comfort of home? Quiet, empty streets patrolled by stray dogs?
The loss in productivity would put a significant dent in the U.S. economy, for starters. And it certainly wouldn’t help the U.S. claw any of the -2.9% hit the economy took in the first quarter—the 17th-worst GDP quarterly performance in U.S. history.
What … Read More
Judging by all the headlines alone, you’d conclude that the U.S. housing market is in full recovery mode (it isn’t) and that the U.S. economy is heading in the right direction (it’s not).
In response to existing-home sales data, USA Today’s headline read “Existing home sales up 4.9%; best gain since ’11;” CNBC’s headline declares “US existing home sales, inventory surge in May;” and The Wall Street Journal opines “Existing Home Sales Rise Strongly in May.”
Is the hype justified? Not if you dig below the headlines. First, the (so-called) good news. According to the National Association of Realtors, existing-home sales in May climbed 4.9% month-over-month to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.89 million, up from 4.66 million in April. This marks the second monthly gain in a row. It’s also the fastest pace since October, the last time annualized sales surpassed the five million units mark! (Source: “Existing-Home Sales Heat Up in May, Inventory Levels Continue to Improve,” National Association of Realtors web site, June 23, 2014.)
All good? Not quite. There’s more to May’s existing-home sales data than the numbers at the top of the press release.
First-time homebuyers, a benchmark for how well the economy is doing, accounted for just 27% of all activity, down from 29% in April. The annual decline is even worse. In May 2013, first-time homebuyers accounted for 28% of sales; in May 2012 it was 34%; and in May 2011 it was 36%. Why is this a concern? The 30-year average for first-time homebuyers—and a number economists consider ideal—is 40%! (Source: Schmit, J., “First-time buyers losing out as home sales rise,” USA … 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
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
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
Remember what happened in the U.S. economy when the financial system was about to collapse? The banks weren’t lending to each other, businesses, or even consumers. The U.S. economy was in a deep economic slowdown. Investment banks like the Lehman Brothers had already collapsed and more would follow. Something had to be done or else it would be a disaster situation.
When all of this was happening, the Federal Reserve stepped in to save the U.S. economy. It started to use a monetary policy tool called quantitative easing. The idea was simple: print money out of thin air and then buy back bad debt from the banks. As a result of this, the banks would have liquidity, which would eventually create more lending, moving the U.S. economy towards the path of economic growth.
You can look at Japan as another example of this. In order to fight the economic slowdown in that country, the Bank of Japan took similar actions to those of the Federal Reserve—I must say, the central bank of Japan has been involved with quantitative easing for a while.
The central bank of Japan wanted economic growth, which was what the Federal Reserve had hoped for in the U.S. economy. Japan’s central bank believed that by introducing quantitative easing, the value of the currency would go down and exports from the country would increase. The Bank of Japan also hoped that the quantitative easing would take the country away from the deflationary period it has been experiencing for some time.
With this in mind, you will come across various arguments. Some will say that quantitative easing has … Read More
For months and months now we’ve been pointing to seemingly obvious economic data to prove that the U.S. housing market is in trouble because of the weak U.S. economy. Those in the “know”—economists and the real estate board—have been waxing eloquence on how the weather is the main culprit behind the disappointing U.S. housing market numbers.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) said existing-home sales in December were adversely affected by bad weather in many areas. Sales of existing homes in January were down 5.1%, reaching their lowest levels in 18 months. At the time, the NAR echoed it’s sentiment from the previous month and said the prolonged winter weather was playing a role and positive housing market activity would be delayed until spring.
Well, spring has sprung, and it looks like blaming the weather is getting a little old. Existing-home sales in February fell 0.4% month-over-month and 7.1% year-over-year to their lowest level since July 2012. (Source: “February Existing-Home Sales Remain Subdued,” National Association of Realtors web site, March 20, 2014.)
First-time homebuyers, the litmus test for how well the economy is doing, accounted for 28% of purchases in February—that’s up from 26% in January (which was the lowest market share since the NAR first started compiling monthly data). In February 2013, first-time homebuyers accounted for 30% of sales. The 30-year average for first-time homebuyers is 40%—a number both real estate professionals and economists consider ideal.
As per usual, the U.S. housing market is being propped up by those with lots of money. All-cash sales made up 35% of sales in February—up from 33% in January and 32% in … Read More
The U.S. economy is weak. Everyone knows it. We just don’t know where to lay the blame. Businesses on the S&P 500 have been using the weather as an economic scapegoat. And not a small number, either.
Between January 1 and March 12, 2014, 195 companies on the S&P 500 used the term “weather” at least once in their conference calls. This represents an 81% increase over the 108 companies that mentioned the weather in their conference calls in the same period last year. (Source: “How many S&P 500 companies have commented on the weather?” FactSet, March 14, 2014.)
And if you want to not-so-subtly warn investors things aren’t looking too good, just blame the weather. The estimated earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 this week is an anemic 0.3%. That’s down slightly from a growth rate for the S&P 500 stocks of 0.4% last week, but it’s like night and day when compared to the December 31, 2013 Q1 earnings growth rate forecast of 4.4%.
Not a big surprise when you consider 84% of all companies on the S&P 500 that have issued earnings-per-share (EPS) guidance have revised it lower. That’s well above the five-year average of 64%. And, for comparison’s sake, during the first quarter of 2013, 78% of companies on the S&P 500 did so.
Weather aside, it’s quite possible S&P 500 companies aren’t doing that well because the U.S. economy just isn’t gaining traction. Unemployment remains high, wages are stagnant, consumer confidence levels are down, personal debt levels are up, and housing and auto sales have been disappointing.
Even though February retail sales were up … Read More
The verdict is in…
The Federal Reserve will taper further. In its statement, the Federal Reserve said, “Beginning in April, the Committee will add to its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $25 billion per month rather than $30 billion per month, and will add to its holdings of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $30 billion per month rather than $35 billion per month.” (Source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System web site, March 19, 2014.) The Federal Reserve has been tapering quantitative easing since January by $10.0 billion each month, coming down from $85.0 billion a month in December.
To us, it will not to be a surprise to see the Federal Reserve taper further. If this becomes the case, then in just five months, there will be no quantitative easing. The printing presses will stop.
This doesn’t bother me. It’s all too known and expected.
With this taper announcement, the central bank also provided its projections on where the federal funds rate—the rate at which the Federal Reserve lends to the banks—will go. It said the rate can increase to one percent by 2015. By 2016, this rate can go up to two percent. Mind you, the federal funds rate has been sitting at 0.25% for some time now—since the U.S. economy was in the midst of the financial crisis.
What happens next?
Economics 101 tells us that when interest rates increase, bond prices decline and bond yields increase.
Quantitative easing and low interest rates have caused more harm than good. These two phenomena caused the bond prices to rise and … Read More
As the investing adage of the day goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get eating, smoking, and drinking.” And there’s plenty of tough economic data out there to send people into the arms of their favorite vices and sin stocks.
In a nutshell, U.S. unemployment has improved year-over-year to 6.7%, but the improved numbers are the result of an increase in low-wage-paying part-time retail jobs. The underemployment rate remains high near 13%, as does the long-term unemployed at 2.3%. And despite the soaring S&P 500, wages haven’t really budged in years.
In January, new orders for manufactured durable goods fell one percent, or $2.2 billion, to $225 billion—the third decrease in the last four months. Not surprisingly, retail sales, which account for about 30% of consumer spending, rose just 0.2% in February after two straight months of declines.
March consumer sentiment data missed forecasts, falling from 81.6 in February to 79.9—the lowest level in four months and the eighth miss in the last 10 months. This trickled down to February auto sales, which flat-lined year-over-year to 1.19 million and sat on the low end of annualized auto sales estimates of 15.34 million. Even January housing data were weak.
I realize most economists are blaming the weak U.S. economy on the bad winter weather, but I’m not so sure. And I’m certainly not alone. Even Stephen Poloz, the governor of the Bank of Canada, says it’s hard to believe that the recent economic slowdown is all due to the weather. (Source: “Loonie falls on Stephen Poloz’s gloomy forecast for growth,” The Canadian Press, March 18, 2014.)
The tough economic … Read More
Another month of cold weather is being blamed for the most recent weak consumer confidence numbers. Consumer confidence levels for the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index fell from 81.6 in February to 79.9 in March—the lowest level in four months. (Source: Lange, J., “U.S. consumer sentiment slips; bad weather eyed,” Reuters, March 14, 2014.)
Economists had forecast March consumer confidence levels to climb to 82. Instead of celebrating a barely there increase, economists are waxing eloquence on the two-percent decline and two-point gulf between expectations and reality.
In spite of living in North America and having to deal with the cold winter weather that affects most of us, analysts still expected consumer confidence to improve in March…and they seem surprised that it didn’t.
Analysts basically think consumers are too depressed by the weather to shop. This would, of course, bolster their opinion that the U.S. economy is only temporarily stuck and sunnier skies will prevail.
But who can say, really? March’s weak consumer confidence numbers mark the eighth miss in the last 10 months. In all of 2013, consumer confidence numbers beat forecasts only three times.
Maybe the weather can’t take all the blame. In spite of the winter storms, the average U.S. temperature for January was normal, with the warmer West Coast weather offsetting the cooler East Coast weather. The average was 30.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which is only 1/10 of a degree below normal for the month. Things weren’t much different in February and consumer confidence levels actually increased to 81.2 from a projected 80.6. (Source: “National US temperature for January normal despite winter storms,” The Guardian, February … Read More
Since the beginning of the year, we have been seeing economic data that suggests consumer spending in the U.S. economy is in trouble—we have seen menial growth, if not negative growth. If this trend continues, it could be very dangerous, since consumer spending is an important factor for calculating the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).
We recently heard from the United States Census Bureau that retail sales in the U.S. economy increased by 0.3% in February compared to January, and they were up by 1.5% from the same period a year ago. (Source: “Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services for February,” U.S. Census Bureau web site, March 13, 2014.)
This number sent a wave of optimism through the U.S. economy, since retail sales numbers are an indicator of consumer spending and they were in a decline for three months.
Sadly, it appears not many are looking at the long-term picture of consumer spending and how it’s behaving. The month-to-month changes in retail sales shouldn’t be taken very seriously—these data usually get revised. For instance, we originally heard that retail sales in January declined by 0.4%; that was later revised lower to 0.6%.
If you look at the year-over-year change in retail sales, it will start to show you the poor image of consumer spending in the U.S. economy. Please take a look at the table below; it summarizes the year-over-year change in retail sales in February from 2008 to 2014. (Note: the period date identifies the change from the year prior to that specified date; so for example, February 2008 represents the year-over-year change from February 2007 to … Read More
Thanks to a number of different factors, airline sector stocks have been on a tear. And thanks to an inverse relationship with the price of oil, strengthening consumer sentiment, the expected increase in business travel, and the (eventual) arrival of spring and summer, the airline sector looks poised for further gains.
Oil prices experienced sharp gains between 2007 and mid-2008, subsequently tanking in step with the stock market and bottoming in early 2009. Since 2010, oil prices have risen in the shadows of the sputtering U.S. economy—neither soaring nor really pulling back.
That said, oil futures slid last week immediately after weekly data came out that showed U.S. crude oil supplies were up more than forecast. Analysts had expected crude oil inventories to climb from 1.4 million barrels in the last week of February to 2.1 million barrels for the week ended March 7. Instead, oil inventories surged to 6.2 million barrels. (Source: “Summary of Weekly Petroleum Data for the Week Ending March 7, 2014,” U.S. Energy Information Administration web site, March 12, 2014.)
Oil prices are also down after the U.S. said it would hold its first test sale of crude oil from its emergency stockpile since 1990. While the government insists its modest offering of 5.0 million barrels of crude is a result of the dramatic increase in domestic crude oil production…others think it might be a subtle nod to Russia. The markets don’t seem to care either way. Oil prices are down 6.5% since the beginning of March, trading near $98.00 per barrel.
Now granted, the price of crude oil will rebound. That said, the airline sector … Read More
The winter storm that recently tore across the northeastern United States will, no doubt, take the blame for the continuing weak economic news and data that have been coming out of Wall Street. Having been the economic scapegoat since December, there’s no reason to change tactics.
But the raft of ongoing disappointing economic news and data suggests there’s more to the nation’s weak economic news than cold weather. After all, it’s not as if the U.S. economy had been red-hot and then suddenly hit a brick wall in December. If there’s one thing the U.S. economy has been—it’s consistently weak.
For example, while the S&P 500 and other stock indices have been enjoying prolonged bull runs, the U.S. economy has been stalling. Since the magical bull market began in 2008, the U.S. unemployment numbers have remained stubbornly high and the underemployment numbers eye-wateringly high. At the same time, wages are stagnant and, not surprisingly, retail sales have disappointed. More and more Americans are saddled with out-of-control debt and a record 20% of American households (one in five) were on food stamps in 2013.
Speaking of 2013, while the S&P 500 notched up a 30% annual gain, each quarter, an increasingly larger percentage of companies revised their earnings guidance lower. Saving the best for last, during the fourth quarter of 2013, a record 88% of S&P 500 companies that provided preannouncements issued negative earnings guidance.
But 2014 didn’t start out that well, either. For the first quarter of 2014 so far, 80% of the S&P 500 companies that have issued guidance revised their earnings lower; this compares to the 78% of … 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
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
Income inequality plays an important role in whether or not an economy experiences economic growth. If a small number of people earn the majority of the wages in a country, that sets the country up for a disastrous situation. What this essentially does is create a significant disparity. You can expect to see certain businesses do really well while others struggle severely, which is the result of those who are earning fewer wages spending less and those who are earning a significant portion spending more.
Sadly, this is what we see in the U.S. economy. Income inequality is increasing. It suggests economic growth is a farfetched idea.
According to a study by the Paris School of Economics, in the U.S. economy, the richest 0.1% earns nine percent of the national income. The bottom 90% of Americans—the majority of the population—only earn 50% of the national income. (Source: Arends, B., “Inequality worse now than on ‘Downton Abbey,’” MarketWatch, February 27, 2014.)
Former Federal Reserve chairman Allan Greenspan said, “I consider income inequality the most dangerous part of what’s going on in the United States.” (Source: Well, D., “Greenspan: Income Inequality ‘Most Dangerous’ Trend in US,” Moneynews, February 25, 2014.)
Income inequality in the U.S. economy is very evident, no matter where you look.
As I mentioned earlier, when there is income inequality in a country, you can expect certain businesses to do poorly. For example, consider Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE/WMT)—one of the biggest retailers in the U.S. economy known for its low prices. Due to the U.S. government pulling back on its food stamp programs, the company is worried. The executive … Read More
It doesn’t take much to get the bulls excited when it comes to the U.S. housing market. Solid new-home sales data seems to have erased everyone’s memory of the raft of negative housing market numbers that have been flowing in for months.
But first, the good news! The U.S. Department of Commerce announced Wednesday that sales of new U.S. single-family homes soared 9.6% month-over-month in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 468,000, the highest level since July 2008. January’s numbers are also 2.2% ahead of January 2013 estimates of 458,000. (Source: “New Residential Sales in January 2014,” United States Census Bureau, February 26, 2014.)
While Wall Street is busy blaming the cold weather for weak earnings, the winter winds have not held back new-home sales. In fact, in sharp contrast to Wall Street’s cold weather blame game, regions hardest hit by unusually cold temperatures experienced solid growth, easing concerns of a sharp slowdown in the U.S. housing market.
Sales in the Northeast soared 73.7% to a seven-month high, sales in the south climbed 10.5% to a more than five-year high, and sales in the west climbed 11%. The only region to experience a drop in new-home sales was the Midwest, where new-home sales retraced 17%.
If new-home sales were the foundation of the U.S. housing market’s health, everything would be looking up. Unfortunately, they’re not. That’s because new-home sales represent a small segment of the U.S. housing market—just 9.2%.
New-home sales figures, because they are measured when contracts are signed, are considered to be more sensitive to weather than existing-home sales, which are tallied when contracts close. So … Read More
Consumer spending is highly correlated with consumer sentiment. It makes sense that when consumers believe their jobs are in trouble or they won’t have enough money going forward, they pull back on their spending and only buy what they need. On the contrary, if they believe all is well—they expect a raise at work and have savings—they will go out and buy things they want. This phenomenon increases consumer spending.
As it stands, consumer confidence in the U.S. economy is decreasing, which suggests consumer spending will be in trouble.
Let me explain…
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index tracks how consumers are feeling in the U.S. economy. The Board asks individuals how they currently feel about the current state of the U.S. economy, their jobs, and so on and if they believe things will change in the next little while.
In February, we found that the index declined 1.6% from the previous month. The Consumer Confidence Index sits at 78.1 this month compared to 79.4 in January. (Source: “The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index Declines Moderately,” The Conference Board web site, February 25, 2014.)
The Conference Board Expectations Index, which tracks what consumers think will happen in the next six months, also dropped significantly. This index stood at 75.7 this month, down 6.3% from 80.8 in January.
These aren’t the only indicators that suggest consumer confidence in the U.S. economy is declining. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index suggests the same. This weekly index is based on how consumers feel about the U.S. economy, their personal finances, and their buying plans.
In its latest results, the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index stood … Read More
Echoing the overall sentiments of the U.S. economy, U.S. retail sector sales fell (apparently) unexpectedly in January by the most since June 2012, as initial claims for jobless benefits rose more than forecast.
The United States Census Bureau announced that advance estimates of U.S. retail sector and food services sales for January decreased 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.)
Not surprisingly, analysts everywhere were blaming the cold weather for the weaker-than-expected results, noting that components that depend on foot traffic—including auto dealers, department stores, and restaurants—were hindered by the unusually cold weather. But on closer inspection, I think our energy would be better spent blaming the economy for the poor numbers rather than the weather.
For starters, the U.S. Census Bureau considers retail sector sales at 13 different kinds of businesses, including motor vehicle and parts dealers, furniture and home furnishing stores, electronics and appliance stores, food and beverage stores (which includes grocery store stocks), and clothing and clothing accessories stores. Of the 13 different sectors, nine reported month-over-month declines.
The biggest declines in the retail sector were from motor vehicle and parts dealers (-2.1%); sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores (-1.5%); department stores (-1.5%); and clothing and clothing accessories stores (-0.9%). These four industries are more representative of discretionary spending than essential services, like food.
Having said that, at the other end of the spectrum, essential retail sector services, like food and beverage stores (which include grocery store … 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
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
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
If the state of the U.S. housing market is a key indicator on the health of the U.S. economy, things aren’t looking great. Against a backdrop of an obviously weak U.S. economy, U.S. housing prices have been rising steadily higher, beyond the reach of affordability for the average American.
According to a CoreLogic report, national housing prices are expected to climb 10.2% year-over-year. In 2012, U.S. housing prices increased 11%. While these are solid numbers, it’s important to remember that U.S. housing prices are still roughly 20% below their 2007 pre-recession highs. (Source: Gruszecki, D., “HOUSING: CoreLogic report, Inland home prices up 22% in January,” The Press-Enterprise web site, February 4, 2014.)
In spite of this divergence, fewer homebuyers are able to actually take advantage of the near-record-low interest rate environment and get into the market. That’s because first-time homebuyers—the fuel of the U.S. housing market—are being shut out by investors.
First-time homebuyers account for just 27% of all U.S. housing purchases in December—a huge spread over the 30-year average of 40%. But in spite of U.S. housing prices still being depressed compared to 2007, December existing-home sales rose just one percent month-over-month, which was less than expected.
Granted, some will say that first-time homebuyers tend to purchase lower-priced homes and are not necessarily a true reflection of the U.S. housing market. New homes are, as that theory goes, more geared toward those looking to climb up the property ladder. Well, for those who recall, December new-home sales fell more than expected—seven percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 414,000. At the time, we were told not to worry, … Read More
We see there’s a significant amount of economic news mounting against the argument that key stock indices will go higher this year. We see major companies on the key stock indices reporting corporate earnings that are dismal to say the very least. We see indicators of prosperity suggesting the opposite is likely going to be true for the U.S. economy. Lastly, we also see troubles developing very quickly in the global economy.
First on the line are the corporate earnings of companies on the key stock indices—which is hands down one of the main factors that drive these indices higher. We see companies showing signs of stress. Consider General Motors Company (NYSE/GM), for example; the company’s corporate earnings declined 22% in 2013 from the previous year. (Source: “GM reports lower-than-expected 4Q earnings,” Yahoo! Finance, February 6, 2014.)
Some might call this a story of the past; we need to look at what the future looks like instead. Sadly, going forward, companies on the key stock indices and analysts look worried as well. Consider this: so far, 57 S&P 500 companies have issued negative corporate earnings guidance, while only 14 have issued positive guidance. At the same time, analysts’ expectations are coming down as well. On December 31, the consensus estimate expected S&P 500 earnings to grow by 4.3%; now, these expectations have come down to 1.5%. (Source: “S&P 500 Earnings Insight,” FactSet, February 7, 2014.)
Looking at the broader U.S. economy, it’s not moving in favor of the key stock indices, either—the economic data isn’t looking very promising.
Industrial production in the U.S. economy declined in January from the previous … Read More
For an economy that relies on consumer spending to fuel the vast majority of its economic growth, ongoing weak retail sector sales and increased jobless claims cannot be part of the equation. But they are. And have been.
In January, U.S. retail sector sales fell by 0.4%—the most since June 2012. Economists had predicted that January’s retail sector sales would be unchanged in January after falling by a revised 0.1% in December. (Source: “Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services January 2014,” U.S. Census Bureau, web site, February 13, 2014.)
January retail sector sales, excluding automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants, showed the worst year-over-year growth since 2009. And with the harsh winter weather, January’s sales reflect the sometimes unpredictable, cyclical nature of our spending, from discretionary (e.g., cars) to non-discretionary (e.g., heating).
At the same time, more Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits for the week ended February 8. Jobless claims climbed by 8,000 to 339,000; the four-week moving average for new claims increased to 336,750 from 333,250. Many economists continue to blame the cold weather for both weak retail sector sales and increased jobless claims. (Source: “Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report,” United States Department of Labor web site, February 13, 2014.)
Fortunately, there is a silver lining to all of this. They suggest we’ll start to see an acceleration in hiring and retail sector sales in the spring and summer seasons—meaning they have written off the entire first quarter of the year, a quarter most economists initially predicted would be bullish. Myself and the financial editors here at Daily Gains Letter, on the other hand, have been warning … Read More
Consumer spending is critical when it comes to growth of the U.S. economy. It makes up a significant portion of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP)—about 70%. So, if consumer spending declines even by a little, it can really impact the trajectory of the U.S. economy.
Since late last year, there’s growing evidence that suggests consumer spending is in jeopardy. The economic data that tells the level of enthusiasm among American consumers is flashing warning signs. Investors who own retail stocks need to be very careful.
For example, retail sales in the U.S. economy declined 0.4% in January from the previous month. But this isn’t the only troubling news. The previous reported number—the change in retail sales from November to December—was revised lower from 0.2% to negative 0.1%. (Source: “Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services January 2014,” U.S. Census Bureau web site, February 13, 2014.)
The U.S. Census Bureau looks at retail sales of about 13 different kinds of businesses. In January, nine of those kinds of businesses—including furniture stores, health care and personal care stores, clothing stores, and sporting goods stores—reported a decline in their sales from the previous month.
Sadly, retail sales aren’t the only indicator that suggests consumer spending in the U.S. economy is grim. Other indicators like the U.S. manufacturer and trade inventories say the very same; they increased to $1.7 trillion in December, up 0.5% from November 2013 and 4.4% from the same period a year ago. (Source: “Manufacturing and Trade Inventories and Sales December 2013,” U.S. Census Bureau web site, February 13, 2014.)
When inventories increase, it means consumers aren’t buying as … Read More
The price of light crude oil recently broke through the $100.00-per-barrel mark for the first time this year. Oil prices had been on the decline since early September 2013 when they touched a high of $110.00 per barrel. By early January, oil prices had dropped more than 17%, hovering around $92.00 per barrel.
Thanks to the frigid weather blanketing much of the U.S. and improvements in the country’s oil infrastructure, oil prices have since climbed more than nine percent.
In late January, a new oil pipeline opened that connects Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast refineries and export terminals. The pipeline is made up of a combination of the original Keystone pipeline running from Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma, where it then connects with the new Keystone XL South pipeline, which carries on to Texas. (Source: Philbin, B., “Oil Pipeline Opens, Prices Surge,” Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2014.)
Cushing is the pricing point for the New York Mercantile Exchange’s West Texas Intermediate (WTI) contract, North America’s benchmark oil price. It is also America’s biggest oil storage hub. The southern extension of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline is expected to help eliminate the glut of oil in Cushing that has artificially skewed U.S. oil prices for three years, keeping it trading well below crude oil prices based on the European Brent benchmark.
Interestingly, the abundance of oil and increased flow of crude oil from Cushing to the Gulf Coast does not translate into a drop in oil prices. That’s because some of the so-called “extra” oil making its way to the Gulf Coast is being processed into fuels and shipped to … Read More
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has confirmed what most already knew. The recovery in the U.S. jobs market is far from complete. Yellen noted that the unemployment rate has improved since the Federal Reserve initiated its last round of quantitative easing in late 2012, falling from 8.1% to 6.6%. Curiously, in 2013, the U.S. economy grew just two percent.
That said, against the backdrop of a so-called improving U.S. economy, the numbers of the long-term unemployed and part-time workers are far too high. In fact, 3.6 million Americans, or 35.8% of the country’s unemployed, fall under the “long-term unemployed” umbrella—that is, those who have been out of work for more than 27 weeks. The underemployment rate (which includes those who have part-time jobs but want full-time jobs and those who have given up looking for work) remains stubbornly high at 12.7%.
The improving unemployment numbers come on the heels of two straight months of weak jobs numbers. In January, economists were expecting the U.S. to add 180,000 new jobs to the U.S. economy; instead, just 113,000 new jobs were added. In December, economists were projecting 200,000 new jobs would be added—instead, the number was an anemic 74,000.
For the head of the Federal Reserve, this translates into more money being dumped into the bond market ($65.0 billion per month) and a continuation of artificially low interest rates.
Once again, bad news for Main Street is good news for Wall Street. After Yellen’s speech, the S&P 500, NYSE, and NASDAQ responded by surging higher. Again, the Federal Reserve’s ongoing bond buying program and open-ended artificially low interest rate environment is great … Read More
While most astute investors would point to a weak U.S. economy as the reason for the recent lackluster U.S. employment data, economists, in their infinite wisdom, point to Mother Nature. She seems to shoulder a lot of the economic blame in this country.
In January, the U.S. economy added just 113,000 new jobs, far fewer than the expected 180,000 jobs. Freezing winter weather is being blamed for the weak U.S. unemployment data. This is the second straight month of disappointing jobs data from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Last month, the U.S. economy added just 74,000 jobs—far, far below the forecasted 200,000 jobs. The back-to-back weak employment numbers continue to fuel fears that the so-called U.S. economic recovery might be stalling…if one could ever really say the U.S. economy took off.
The new unemployment data shows that 10.2 million Americans in the U.S. economy have work. While the number of people who have been out of work for more than 27 weeks declined by more than 200,000, the number was probably impacted by the 1.7 million Americans who lost their extended federal unemployment benefits at the end of December.
Last Thursday, attempts to revive a program aimed at extending unemployment benefits by three months for the long-term unemployed failed, being supported by just 59 of the 60 senators needed to pass the motion. At the end of the day, in this U.S. economy, 3.6 million Americans, or 35.8% of the unemployed, are stuck in long-term unemployment limbo.
And they might be stuck there for a long time. A recent experiment conducted by a visiting scholar at the Boston Fed found … 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 $17.0-trillion government debt load. (Source: Cox, J., “It’s back with a vengeance: Private debt,” CNBC, October 12, 2013.)
During the last quarter of 2013, the U.S. economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.2%. During the third quarter, … Read More
Since the beginning of the year, key stock indices have fallen, and this is making investors nervous. They are asking what will happen next. The first month of the year is usually good for the stock market, but that wasn’t the case this year. The S&P 500 fell more than three percent and other key stock indices showed the same, if not worse, returns.
Will there be a sell-off in February as well?
Looking at historical returns, February is usually calmer on the stock market than January. For example, observing monthly returns from 1970 to 2013, the average return on the S&P 500 in January has been 1.23%; the average return on the S&P 500 in February in the same period has been 0.19%.
Will the S&P 500 rise in February after declining in January?
Between 1970 and 2013, the S&P 500 has declined in January 17 times. Eleven of those 17 times, the returns on the S&P 500 in February were also negative. The average return in those periods—when the S&P 500 declined in February after a decline in January—was 3.26%. If we take out the outlier—February of 2009 when the S&P 500 declined by more than 10%—this average becomes -2.52%. A simple probability calculation would show there’s almost a 65% chance the S&P 500 can go down in February. (Source: “$SPX Past Data,” StockCharts.com, last accessed February 5, 2014.)
Dear reader, remember that this information is from the past; market returns today can be completely different. You shouldn’t rely on historical facts alone when creating an investment strategy. You have to keep in mind that the stock market … 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
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
By Sasha Cekerevac for Daily Gains Letter | Jan 31, 2014
One of the more common themes that I keep reading about these days is the strength of U.S. economic growth. It’s important to get at least some understanding of the potential for economic growth, as this will impact your investment strategy.
Recent data is definitely making me ask the question: just how strong is the level of economic growth in America?
We all know that this holiday season was much weaker than expected for retail companies. Considering that consumer spending fuels the majority of economic growth in America, this is certainly not a positive environment for that sector—but that shouldn’t be a real surprise to my readers, as I have recommended an investment strategy that has avoided retail stocks for months.
If economic growth is weak in retailing, are there any bright spots for larger goods?
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the latest advance report on durable goods was quite disappointing. New orders for durable goods during the month of December dropped 4.3%, core durable goods orders during December dropped 1.6%, and excluding defense, new orders were down 3.7%. (Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, January 28, 2014.)
Another worrisome data point in the report showed that the inventory level of manufactured goods in December was up 0.8%, the highest total amount since this data series was published and also the eighth monthly increase over the last nine months.
How should you formulate an investment strategy with this information in mind?
Economic growth depends on a continued increase in consumption and production. We saw consumers pull back over the holiday season, which is clearly not a positive sign for … Read More
After years of easy money and a failure to secure a well-executed exit plan, it looks as though the emerging markets are getting a taste of the Federal Reserve’s economic tapering. Over the last five years, the emerging markets have benefited from low interest rates and listless growth in developed countries.
But, with the U.S., Japan, and Europe—the three biggest economies globally—all expanding for the first time in four years, the tables are turning and the sheen is beginning to wear on the emerging markets.
In an effort to help kick start the U.S. economy after the financial crisis in 2008, the Federal Reserve enacted it’s overly generous bond buying program (quantitative easing). All told, the Federal Reserve dumped more than $3.0 trillion (and counting) into the markets and has kept interest rates artificially low.
The ultra-low interest rates might have been great for home buyers, but income-starved investors had to look elsewhere to pad their retirement portfolio. Many retail and institutional investors went to the emerging markets, where the interest rates were higher and there was a real opportunity for growth.
In December, the Federal Reserve said it was going to begin tapering its $85.0-billion-per-month quantitative easing strategy to $75.0 billion a month in January. Just yesterday, the Fed announced it will be reducing that number to $65.0 billion a month in February. While the amount is negligible, it signals the eventual end of artificially low interest rates. The cheap money that propped up asset prices in emerging markets, like India, China, and Indonesia, is beginning to crumble.
The Argentinean peso, Indian rupee, South African rand, and Turkish lira … Read More
Not too long ago, I wrote about an economic slowdown in the Canadian economy and how it could take the value of the Canadian dollar even lower. (Read “How American Investors Can Profit from the Canadian Economy’s Demise.”) By no surprise, the Canadian dollar (also referred to as the “loonie”) looks to be in a freefall. Take a look at the following chart.
The Canadian dollar is currently trading at its lowest level since September of 2009. Since the beginning of the year, the loonie has declined more than four percent compared to other major global currencies.
Considering all that is currently happening, can the Canadian dollar go down any further?
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
Simply put, yes, the Canadian dollar may still see some more downside. After the U.S. economy showed a significant amount of stress during the financial crisis, investors flocked to buy the Canadian currency. This may not be the case anymore.
Since the last time I wrote on this topic, some more information on how the Canadian economy is doing has been released. This new information reaffirms my suspicions. It seems the economic slowdown in the Canadian economy is gaining some momentum; even the central bank of Canada looks slightly worried. This could be very bearish for the Canadian dollar.
First of all, wholesale sales in Canada in the month of November remained unchanged from the previous month. Out of the 10 provinces in the country, only four reported an increase in their wholesale sales. (Source: “Wholesale trade, November 2013,” Statistics Canada web site, January 21, 2014.) Wholesale sales can provide an idea about the retail … Read More
The first raft of first-quarter earnings reports are in…and they’re not a total surprise. Against the backdrop of a weak U.S. economy and waning consumer confidence, some big go-to stocks are beginning to show signs of distress—few more (right now) than makers of personal computers (PC makers).
Two research companies tracking PC makers delivered their reports for the just-completed fourth quarter—they’re not encouraging. Gartner pegged fourth-quarter PC shipments at 82.6 million, a 6.9% year-over-year decrease. For all of 2013, it said sales fell 10%—capping off the worst decline in PC market history. (Source: Hardy, Q., “For PC Makers, the Good News on 2013 Is That It Is Over,” The New York Times web site, January 9, 2014.)
Numbers from International Data Corporation (IDC) were slightly better (or less bad). It said PC shipments fell 5.6% year-over-year to 82.2 million units. For all of 2013, IDC reported that 314.5 million PCs were shipped—which reaffirms Gartner’s reported 10% drop from 2012. (Source: Ibid.)
But that’s where the similarities ended. When it came to the future of PC makers, Gartner said the PC market could improve in 2014; meanwhile, IDC said there was no reason to believe the market would stabilize. Why? Because PCs are giving way to mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones.
Going forward, PC makers will have to ask themselves if younger, on-the-go consumers, who use their mobile devices as a first computer, will ever want to invest in a fixed device like a PC.
IDC also said sales of PCs fell to 108 million units in the Asia Pacific (outside Japan) region—marking the first annual double-digit decline for … Read More
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
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