In 2013, when it was announced that the eurozone had emerged from its double-dip recession, the European stock market was optimistic and drove stocks higher.
Yet there was a sense the route to higher gross domestic product (GDP) growth was not clear due to the massive debt still on the books of many of the eurozone’s weakest members, widely known as the PIIGS nations (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain). Yes, the countries have shown some recovery, but they continue to be plagued by massive debt and abnormally high unemployment.
Unemployment across the region continues to run in the low double-digits, around 12%. For the youth under the age of 25, it’s much worse, with the unemployment rate around 40% in some of the PIIGS countries.
The problem is that a weak jobs market in the eurozone doesn’t reflect positively for the economies.
We are now seeing growth issues with the two pillars of the Eurozone, Germany and France, which are widely credited with helping to save the eurozone from a financial Armageddon.
The effects of the economic sanctions placed on Russia for its involvement in the Ukraine crisis appear to finally be filtering their way through to the eurozone and Europe, specifically Germany. One of Russia’s biggest trading partners, Germany saw a 5.8% decline in its exports in September alone.
The reality is that a weaker Germany doesn’t bode well for the eurozone.
In addition, with more than 800 million inhabitants in Europe, the market is significant. Slowing in this market will surely have an impact on growth in China and the United States, as well as the global … Read More
The Federal Reserve has spoken and to no one’s surprise, there was really nothing new from Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who did as was expected after shaving off another $10.0 billion in monthly bond purchases. The Federal Reserve will cut the remaining $15.0 billion in October, bringing its third round of quantitative easing (QE3) to an end.
What the stock market here and around the world also heard was that the Federal Reserve will likely maintain its near-zero interest rate policy for a “considerable time” after the QE3 cuts.
The problem is that the stock market is focusing so much on when interest rates may begin to ratchet higher.
The consensus is calling for rates to move higher by mid-2015, but some feel it will not happen until 2016 if the economic growth stalls. The downward revisions in gross domestic product (GDP) growth around the world could extend the time before the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates.
In the eurozone, the European Central Bank (ECB) is adding more monetary stimulus to jump-start the economy that is faltering due, in part, to the mess in Ukraine.
The news release from the Federal Reserve says the economic growth is moderate but also warns the labor market still has work ahead of it, which appears to be the main focal point.
“To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy remains appropriate,” read the press release by the Federal Reserve. “In determining how long to maintain the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal … 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
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
According to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) last Friday, the unemployment rate stood at 6.7% in March, which is similar to the unemployment rate in February. A total of 192,000 jobs were added, of which food and drinking places added more than 30,000 and “temporary” help services in the professional and business industry added more than 29,000 jobs. The labor market fell slightly short of expectations as analysts had forecasted the unemployment rate to be 6.6% for March. (Source: “The Employment Situation — March 2014,” Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, April 4, 2014.)
The Fed announced it would start to scale back its monetary stimulus last December, after jobs numbers started to show signs of a recovering economy. The unemployment rate initially dropped, only to settle at levels that have remained unchanged for the greater part of the winter season. Simultaneously, initial jobless claims increased by 5.16% during the week ended March 28, 2014, raising eyebrows toward the ability of the Fed’s policies to carry the string of economic recovery further. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site, last accessed April 7, 2014.)
While most economic challenges faced by the Fed for the last four months have been blamed on cold weather, a rigid unemployment rate and increasing jobless claims point towards a weaker-than-expected recovery. Amidst this, the Fed chair, Janet Yellen, while speaking at a press conference on March 19, confirmed that the Fed plans to go ahead with the tapering program in its bid to elevate interest rates up from their near-zero levels. (Source: Risen, T., “Janet Yellen Continues Tapering … Read More
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen confirmed what we’ve been espousing in these pages for the last couple of years—that the so-called recovery feels an awful lot like a recession for most Americans.
Addressing a crowd in Chicago, the head of the Federal Reserve said the U.S. jobs market is still underperforming and will continue to need the help of an artificially low interest rate environment “for some time.”
Investors were, as you can imagine, afraid the Federal Reserve was going to raise short-term rates. A rate hike would elevate borrowing costs and pull the rug out from under stock prices.
But instead, the Federal Reserve said it was committed to keeping interest rates low in an effort to stimulate borrowing, spending, and economic growth. The artificially low interest rate environment is a welcome sign for Wall Street—which essentially ended the first quarter of the year where it began.
By committing to keeping interest rates low, the Federal Reserve is ensuring a steady flow of money into the stock market…which cannot help but raise the already-bloated indices higher. The S&P 500 continues to trade near record-highs, as does the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Even the NASDAQ’s all-time high is, all things considered, within striking distance.
With the current bull market now in its fifth year—all is well in the U.S.A.! That is, if you’re one of the fortunate few to even realize we’re in a bull market. There are far too many weak underlying indicators to suggest we’re on a stable—let alone sustainable—economic footing.
For instance, the U.S. unemployment rate has improved from 10% in 2009 to 6.7% today. On the … Read More
Spring is finally here, but that certainly doesn’t mean corporate America will cease to use the cold weather as an excuse for abysmal corporate earnings. Throw a dart at any sector, and you’ll find CEOs blaming the weather in some capacity—well, save for the utilities companies.
One sector that might be able to (on some level) justifiably blame the weather for a weak start to the year is the auto sector. Overall, U.S. auto sales were up eight percent year-over-year, while Canadian auto sales were up four percent. (Source: Isidore, C., “Car sales make a strong comeback in 2013,” CNN Money web site, January 3, 2014.)
In 2013, U.S. auto sales topped 15 million for the first time since 2007. While auto sales of 15.6 million were below the 16.0 million forecast by analysts, it was still an encouraging sign for the auto industry. Ford Motor Company’s U.S. sales were up 11%, while Chrysler Group LLC saw its sales climb by nine percent, and General Motors Company reported a 7.3% increase.
The 2013 auto sales data is encouraging in light of the disappointing December sales numbers; this also happened to coincide with the start of the dastardly winter of 2014. The weak end-of-the-year auto sales sentiment skidded over into 2014. Auto sales missed both their January and February expectations.
So far, 2014 has been good for global auto sales. Global sales hit record territory in February, climbing seven percent year-over-year. Auto sales in China climbed 22%, while car sales in Western Europe climbed year-over-year for the sixth consecutive month. Spain led the way with an 18% jump in auto sales. … 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
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
It seems major economic hubs in the global economy are facing hardships, and they are moving towards an economic slowdown. But during discussions about where the next trading opportunity will be, some countries never get mentioned. For example, there is significant talk about an economic slowdown in the Chinese economy and the Japanese economy and how investors can profit. However, the Australian economy goes unnoticed even though it’s facing an economic slowdown as well, and it looks like conditions in the country are getting worse.
Unemployment in the Australian economy is increasing. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that in December, the country’s unemployment rate increased to 5.8%—0.1% higher from the previous month. The number of those employed full-time declined by 31,600. Part-time workers increased in the month, and the unemployed increased by 8,000 in December, reaching 722,000. (Source: “Australia’s unemployment rate increased slightly to 5.8 per cent in December 2013,” Australian Bureau of Statistics web site, January 16, 2014.)
The demand for work in the Australian economy is also very slow—a classic situation during an economic slowdown. Job advertisements in the country declined 0.7% in December after declining 0.8% in November. For the year, job advertisements in Australia have declined by nine percent. (Source: Kwek, G., “Job ads: signs of stabilisation,” Sydney Morning Herald, January 13, 2014.)
Another indicator of an economic slowdown, manufacturing activity is not so great in the Australian economy either. The Australian Industry Group Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index (PMI)—an indicator of manufacturing in the Australian economy—contracted for the second consecutive month. The index sat at 47.6 in December. (Source: “Manufacturing Remains in Contraction,” Markit … 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
Our neighbor to the north is facing some headwinds. In Canada, there are troubles developing that may drive the country toward an economic slowdown. In 2008, the ripple effects from the U.S. economy into the global economy caused an economic slowdown in many countries. The Canadian economy was one of the few nations that didn’t suffer a major hit; it was able to stand strong.
Now, Canada may not be able to stay on such strong footing, as it faces a possibly severe economic slowdown due to a few phenomena that are starting to line up to create a perfect storm.
First of all, the housing market in the Canadian economy is becoming much overvalued. According to Deutsche Bank, the Canadian housing market is the most overvalued housing market in the global economy. Looking at the value of the Canadian housing market as a ratio of home prices and rent, this market is overvalued by 88%. (Source: Babad, M., “Canada’s housing market most overvalued in the world, Deutsche Bank says,” The Globe and Mail, December 11, 2013.)
As we move through the beginning of 2014, the Canadian housing market is showing signs of a slowdown. Building permits, one of the early indicators of which direction the housing market is headed, saw a 6.7% decline month-over-month in November. (Source: “Building permits, November 2013,” Statistics Canada web site, last accessed January 9, 2014.) If the housing market soon faces troubles and prices decline, a major economic slowdown could follow.
Secondly, the employment situation in Canada, another indicator of an economic slowdown, is becoming dismal. In December, Canada’s unemployment rate increased by 0.3% … Read More
The merriment, mirth, and cheer on Wall Street over the holiday season may have been a bit premature; in fact, the optimism about the U.S. economy that ushered in the New Year may have already come to a screeching halt.
In mid-December, the Federal Reserve surprised investors when it announced it was going to start tapering it’s generous $85.0-billion-per-month easy money policy in January to just $75.0 billion per month. The pullback was a surprise, because the Federal Reserve initially hinted it wouldn’t ease its monetary policy until the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 6.5% and inflation rose to 2.5%. At the time of the announcement, U.S. unemployment stood at seven percent and inflation was hovering around historic lows below one percent.
The Federal Reserve moved sooner than expected with its tapering because of a (so-called) stronger U.S. economy and jobs growth. And, going forward, it said that U.S. unemployment figures will improve faster than expected. But, a raft of new economic numbers is calling that optimistic forward guidance into question.
In December, the U.S. economy created just 74,000 jobs, the slowest pace in three years, with the majority of the jobs (55,000) coming from the retail industry. Despite the weak jobs growth, the U.S. unemployment rate managed to fall from seven percent to 6.7%—the lowest rate since October 2008. But numbers are deceiving—the big drop in the unemployment rate was primarily a result of 347,000 people dropping out of the labor force.
Throughout 2013, the U.S. economy created 2.18 million jobs; in 2012, the U.S. economy created 2.19 million jobs. Looking at this from another angle, in 2013, the … 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
If the stock market is an indicator of U.S. economic health, then 2013 was a stellar year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed out 2013 with a 26% gain. The S&P 500 was up 29%, while the NASDAQ Composite was up 34%.
Despite a stellar 2013, the crystal ball for the U.S. economy and Wall Street in 2014 remains murky. That’s because investors might have to actually consider the health of the U.S. economy this year. Now granted, the U.S. economy kicked into high gear last January after the federal government avoided the dreaded fiscal cliff. Thanks to some recent economic indicators, the start of 2014 has been more subdued.
Factory activity in China hit a three-month low in December. While Germany and Italy reported healthy manufacturing numbers, British manufacturing growth eased and France hit a seven-month low of 47.0 (scores below 50 indicate contraction). Here at home, the U.S. economy got a boost after it was announced that manufacturing hit an 11-month high in December of 55.0, up from 54.4 in November. (Source: Weisenthal, J., “This Manufacturing Report From France Is Just Plain Ugly,” Business Insider, January 2, 2014.)
To show it believes the U.S. economy is improving, the Federal Reserve recently announced that it will begin to taper its quantitative easing efforts this month. Instead of pumping $85.0 billion per month into the U.S. economy, it is going to purchase just $75.0 billion in bonds.
And to quell investors’ fears, the Federal Reserve said it will continue to keep interest rates artificially low until the unemployment rate hits 6.5% or lower—a target that probably won’t be reached until … Read More
Now that New Year’s has come and gone, as we look forward into 2014, the big question will be how the stock market performs this year, especially following an impressive advance in 2013 that was beyond my estimates.
The past year was seen as the year of the Fed-induced market rally that resulted in some strong gains across the board from blue chips to technology and growth stocks. It was one of the best years to make money on the stock market in recent history.
At this stage, the economy is looking better and will need to strengthen in order for the stock market to advance higher toward more record gains. A strong January would be positive and would suggest an up year for the stock market.
My early view is that the stock market will head higher in 2014, but not at the same rate as we saw in 2013, which was out of whack.
The key will be how fast the Federal Reserve, under Janet Yellen, decides to taper its bond buying. A slower taper is supportive for the stock market. However, the flow of money will depend on the rate of economic renewal and, more specifically, the jobs market and whether job creation continues to move along at a steady pace. If we see growth and more jobs created, the Fed will continue to cut its bond buying, though it has said that it will keep interest rates near record lows until the unemployment rate falls to 6.5% or lower, which could happen sometime in mid- to late 2014.
I see another up year for the stock … Read More
Is it an early Christmas present or a really early April Fools’ Day trick?
In a somewhat surprise move, the Federal Reserve decided the U.S. economy was doing well enough that it could start to cut back on its generous $85.0-billion-per-month quantitative easing (QE) strategy.
I say “surprise” because the Federal Reserve initially said it wouldn’t consider tapering until the U.S. economy was on solid, sustainable economic ground, which meant an unemployment rate of 6.5% and inflation of 2.5%. Today, unemployment sits at seven percent and inflation is near historic lows at below one percent.
Against a weak economic backdrop, the Federal Reserve made a brave and daring decision to slash its monthly QE policy by a paltry $10.0 billion. That means that instead of pumping more than $1.0 trillion into the U.S. economy next year, it is only going to inject $900 billion. In other words, the U.S. national debt is going to increase by $900 billion. (Source: Press release, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System web site, December 18, 2013.)
If the U.S. economy really was on solid footing, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke would have made a bigger dent in his monthly bond-buying program. Instead, he made a token gesture as he gets ready to hand the baton to Janet Yellen early next year.
Yup, after injecting $4.0 trillion into the U.S. economy, the country is little (or no) better off than it was before the Fed initiated quantitative easing. U.S. unemployment is down from its Great Recession high of 10% in October 2009, but it has yet to break the seven-percent level. Meanwhile, the underemployment … Read More
“Just give up being so negative; there’s economic growth in the U.S. economy.”
These were the exact words of my good old friend, Mr. Speculator. Over the weekend, when I received a call from him, he added, “You see the average American is better off than before. There are jobs; and no matter where you look, you won’t find much negativity. Look at the stock markets; they probably will show a 30% increase for 2013.”
Sadly, Mr. Speculator has become a victim of the false assumptions that seem to prevail in the markets these days. He’s basing his conclusion on just a few indicators that he looked at from just the surface, not looking much into the details. For example, the stock market doesn’t really portray the real image of the U.S. economy, but it’s used as one of the indicators.
Here’s what is really happening in the U.S. economy that keeps me skeptical.
First of all, jobs growth in the U.S. economy has been center stage for some time. I agree that the unemployment rate has gone down, but I ask where the jobs were created. In November, for example, we saw the unemployment rate in the U.S. economy reach seven percent, and it sent a wave of optimism across the mainstream. Sadly, a major portion of the jobs created for that month were in the low-wage-paying industries. Mind you; this has been the trend for some time now. (Source: “Employment Situation Summary,” Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, December 6, 2013.) In periods of real economic growth, you want equal jobs creation, which we are clearly missing in … Read More
There’s an investment opportunity in the making at one of the eurozone nations for U.S. investors, and it’s becoming more compelling each passing day.
We know the eurozone still burns. The economic slowdown in the common currency region still prevails. We have heard from the European Central Bank (ECB) that it’s still trying to work very hard to break the strength of the economic slowdown. The central bank has lowered the benchmark interest rate and hinted that it might go ahead with a form of quantitative easing. In the past, we also heard the ECB say it will do whatever it takes to save the eurozone.
Sadly, it’s failing.
You see, when the eurozone crisis began, the problems were contained to a limited number of countries, but now we see the economic slowdown spreading through the region; now, the stronger eurozone nations are falling prey to it.
The opportunity? France.
France is the second-biggest economic hub in the eurozone. The economic slowdown in the French economy continues to gain strength. We heard that in the third quarter, the French economy contracted by 0.1%. In the second quarter, it showed growth of 0.5%. (Source: “French economy contracts 0.1 pct in third quarter,” Reuters, November 14, 2013.)
Unemployment in the French economy is also on the rise. In September, the unemployment rate in France reached 11.1%—that’s 3.26 million individuals who were out of work. In October, it declined to 10.9%, but that’s still higher than it was during the same period a year ago. In October of 2012, the unemployment rate in the second-biggest eurozone nation was 10.5%. (Source: “Euro area unemployment … 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
Good news is not always what it seems. On the surface, October’s new U.S. housing market sales numbers came in well above the forecast. But dig a little into the foundation of the report, and you’ll find more than a few reasons to be skeptical.
But before we dig deeper, let’s first take a look at the overall numbers. In October, sales of new single-family houses came in at a seasonally adjusted rate of 444,000, a whopping 25.4% increase month-over-month above the revised September rate of 354,000 and a 21.6% increase year-over-year. (Source: “New Residential Sales in October 2013,” United State Census Bureau web site, December 4, 2013.)
Those are pretty solid numbers—at least, until you factor in the 20% margin of error on the numbers provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development.
On top of that, sales for June, July, August, and September were all revised lower. Sales were revised downward by 0.9% in June, 4.4% in July, 10% in August, and 6.6% in September.
It’s also all about perspective. On one hand, you could champion the U.S. housing market recovery by noting that the 25.4% increase from September was the biggest one-month gain in more than 30 years! On the other hand, October’s new U.S. housing market home starts number is tempered a little when you consider the September 2013 rate of 354,000 was the weakest reading since April 2012.
Still, you can’t ignore the fact that new starts in the U.S. housing market are up month-over-month—but what’s fueling the growth? It can’t be a result of sustained jobs growth, as the … Read More
Major economic hubs in the global economy are in outright trouble, and each passing day there’s more economic data suggesting the slowdown is holding its own. Investors need to be wary about what’s happening, because it can affect their portfolio significantly.
The eurozone crisis, which sent ripple effects into the global economy, is rising again. In the early days of the eurozone crisis, we heard how the economies of such nations like Greece, Spain, and Portugal were suffering. Now, the bigger nations in the euro region are showing signs of stress. Consider France, the second-biggest economy in the eurozone, for example. This major economic hub in the global economy witnessed contraction in the third quarter. On top of this, France’s unemployment rate continues to increase.
Germany, the biggest economy in the eurozone and the fourth-biggest economic hub in the global economy, slowed in the third quarter. The gross domestic product (GDP) of the country increased just 0.3% in the third quarter. In the second quarter, Germany’s GDP increased by 0.7%. (Source: “Gross domestic product up 0.3% in 3rd quarter of 2013,” Destatis, November 14, 2013.)
Similarly, Japan, the third-biggest nation in the global economy, continues to struggle, despite the extraordinary measures the central bank and Japanese government have taken to boost the economy. In the third quarter, the growth rate of the Japanese economy slowed down. The GDP grew 0.5% from the previous quarter. The annual GDP growth rate of the Japanese economy was 1.9% in the third quarter. (Source: “Gross Domestic Product: Third Quarter 2013,” Cabinet Office, Government of Japan web site, November 14, 2013.)
Adding more to the … Read More
The Federal Reserve has been very accommodative. Its goals are very simple: it wants economic growth in the U.S. economy. As a result, the Federal Reserve is taking extraordinary measures, printing $85.0 billion a month and using it to buy U.S. bonds and mortgage-backed securities (MBS). The hope is that the money will go to the banks, which will lend it to consumers who then spend it, leading to economic growth.
Sadly, the problems continue to persist in the U.S. economy, leaving economic growth still far from sight. The techniques used by the Federal Reserve aren’t working: the unemployment rate continues to be staggeringly high, troubling trends have formed, and the inflation continues to be low—threats of deflation loom.
Given all this, one would assume there might be something else that the Federal Reserve can do. Unfortunately, instead of using different measures to fight the problems in the U.S. economy, the Federal Reserve is planning to keep on doing what it has been doing for years now. I believe the techniques used by the Fed will continue on for some time.
Here’s my reasoning: in a testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, the newly nominated chairman of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, said, “We have made good progress, but we have farther to go to regain the ground lost in the crisis and the recession. Unemployment is down from a peak of 10 percent, but at 7.3 percent in October, it is still too high, reflecting a labor market and economy performing far short of their potential. At the same time, inflation has been … Read More
Maybe I’m reading into the economy too much, but the current state of the U.S. economy and Wall Street isn’t adding up. The vast majority of people don’t think we’re in a bubble, including Federal Reserve chair nominee Janet Yellen. Granted, you can only really point to a bubble in retrospect, but still, it certainly looks and feels like we are in one.
Talking before the Senate Banking Committee during her first public appearance as Federal Reserve chair nominee, Janet Yellen said she plans to keep printing $85.0 billion a month and set no timetable for when the Fed will begin to taper.
Truth be told, the Federal Reserve has been, for the most part, pretty straightforward about when it will taper its quantitative easing policy: when the U.S. economy improves. For most, that means an unemployment rate of 6.5% and inflation at 2.5%.
At the same time, other scenarios have been floated about, including no tapering until the unemployment rate hits 5.5%, or better yet, the Federal Reserve begins to taper in early 2014, but continues to keep interest rates artificially low until, by some estimates, 2020. Really, what’s the rush?
And why should they? Since early 2009, the S&P 500 has climbed more than 160% and is up more than 25% year-to-date. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, on the other hand, is up 132% since early 2009 and is up 21.5% year-to-date. And it looks like the good times are going to continue to roll, because, in the words of Janet Yellen, “It could be costly to fail to provide accommodation [to the market].”
Take a few steps … Read More
While many retailers in the United States might be having visions of sugar plums, a lot will be left holding a chunk of coal. And in spite of the economic pressures facing American retail stocks, this piece of coal will not turn into a diamond.
Even though the U.S. economy is reportedly on stronger footing, you wouldn’t be able to tell by the number of people out shopping. Traffic to U.S. retail stores is expected to slip 1.4% this November and December. In the last two months of 2012, traffic increased by 2.5% after falling 3.1% in 2011. (Source: Wohl, J., “U.S. holiday sales expected to rise less than last year: Reuters web site,” September 17, 2013.)
This cannot help but translate into weaker-than-expected sales. In fact, sales at U.S. stores are projected to rise just 2.4% in November and December, compared to three percent for the same period in 2012, four percent in 2011, and 3.8% in 2010.
Granted, these miserly 2013 holiday sales projections came out ahead of recent economic data that showed the U.S. added more jobs than expected in October. However, even that observation is missing the bigger picture; after all, shoppers need money to shop.
In 2012, the country’s supplemental poverty rate was 16%; despite the great strides made on Wall Street over the last two years, the supplemental poverty rate remained unchanged from 2011. The 2012 official poverty rate in the U.S. was 15%, unchanged from 2011. (Source: “Supplemental Measure of Poverty Remains Unchanged,” U.S. Census Bureau web site, November 6, 2013.)
The supplemental poverty measure accounts for the impact of different benefits and … Read More
Are the recent U.S. job numbers a tale of two economies? The Labor Department announced last Friday that U.S. employers added 204,000 jobs in October, beating even the most optimistic estimates.
The U.S. unemployment rate, which is based on a separate survey and counted furloughed federal employees as out of work, rose from 7.2% in September to 7.3% in October.
In a world where good news is bad for investors, stocks fell after the opening bell. Why? Because investors are afraid that better job numbers will prompt the Federal Reserve to start tapering its $85.0-billion-per-month quantitative easing (QE) policy sooner than expected.
But that pessimism may be short-lived. The Federal Reserve has been pretty open about what it will take to start raising interest rates: a strong economy, namely a U.S. unemployment rate near 6.5% and inflation at 2.5%.
There’s no arguing that adding more than 200,000 jobs to the U.S. economy is good news; however, a U.S. unemployment rate of 7.3% is nothing to cheer about, regardless of whether the U.S. unemployment numbers were skewed by the U.S. government shutdown or not. The fact of the matter is that U.S. unemployment needs to drop a lot further before the Federal Reserve reins in its easy money policy and congratulates itself.
Mind you, if the Federal Reserve listens to its own economists, any attempts to taper QE could still be a few years away. While the general opinion is a 6.5% U.S. unemployment rate, at least six Federal Reserve economists think a more realistic U.S. unemployment rate goal should be as low as 5.5%.
With a current unemployment rate of … Read More
Whether you’re in Pamplona, Spain or on Wall Street, when it comes to running with the bulls, the object is to stay ahead of the pack. This means not getting gouged physically or financially. However, there are an increasingly large number of investors out there right now who think they’ve got a handle on the bull market.
Why? The Federal Reserve says it won’t taper its generous $85.0-billion-per-month quantitative easing policy until the U.S. economy improves. And by that, it means—for now at least—an unemployment rate of 6.5% and an inflation rate of 2.5%.
As a result, the Federal Reserve’s easy money and artificially deflated near-record low interest rates have put the stock market front and center for income-starved investors looking for capital appreciation. As long as the Fed keeps its printing presses in overdrive, there’s no reason to think that the bull market will take a breather.
Case in point: in spite of a year marred with revised lower earnings in the first, second, and third quarters and a record 83.5% of companies issuing negative guidance for the fourth quarter, investors have been flocking with reckless abandon to the S&P 500, which continues to trade near record levels. (Source: “Earnings Insight,” FactSet web site, October 6, 2013.)
For the last week of October, 45% of investors were bullish on the market, down from 49.2% for the week ended October 24—the highest level since February 2011. Month-over-month, the number of market bulls climbed 25%. Over the same period of time, the S&P 500 climbed 4.8%. In the last week of June, just 30.28% of Americans were bullish, representing a four-month … Read More
As the U.S. government shutdown was prolonged, not only was there noise about getting away from the U.S. dollar, but also about what happens to the U.S. economy next. On one hand, there was a consensus that the U.S. government shutdown was actually a good thing, serving as a cost-cutting measure that allowed the government to save money. On the other hand, there were those who said it was impacting the U.S. economy’s recovery process and would wipe a certain percentage off the U.S. economy’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Both sides had a solid argument to prove their point about the impact of the U.S. government shutdown on the U.S. economy, but my stance differs from that of both groups. Before going into the details, be aware that we don’t know the exact impact of the shutdown just yet, because the economic data has not been released, but time will eventually draw a better picture.
So what’s my take on the U.S. government shutdown that happened for 16 days? Forget the shutdown; it didn’t matter. What I am concerned about is the other dismal trends that continue to remain in the U.S. economy. If they are not fixed or their direction doesn’t change, then economic growth in the U.S. economy becomes very doubtful.
One of the trends I have been closely following is the unemployment in the U.S. economy. I agree that the number on the surface, the unemployment rate, looks much better than what it was during the financial crisis. However, when I assess and analyze the details, it’s not looking very good.
What you want to see are … Read More
Are the long-term retirement plans of working Americans being held hostage by the Federal Reserve?
If the point of quantitative easing was to stave off a recession and spur jobs growth, I think it’s fair to say the Federal Reserve’s $85.0-billion-per-month money-printing scheme has been a failure. At the very least, I’m not so sure the money was well spent, and that the end does not justify the means.
I enter as evidence almost $4.0 trillion that the Federal Reserve has dumped into the U.S. economy since 2009. To put that into perspective, the average unemployment rate that same year was around 8.5%; that translates into roughly 13.1 million Americans being out of work in 2009. Fast-forward to today, and the unemployment rate stands at an unacceptable 7.2%, or 11.3 million Americans. (Sources: “Civilian Labor Force (CLF16OV),” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Economic Research web site, last accessed October 24, 2013; “The Employment Situation – September 2013,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, October 22, 2013.)
It could be argued that over the last four years, the Federal Reserve has printed off $4.0 trillion to create 1.8 million jobs.
But at what expense? Since the stock market crash in 2008, the Federal Reserve, through its use of quantitative easing, has sent U.S. interest rates towards near-record lows. In fact, the Federal Reserve has kept the federal funds rate target between zero and 0.25% for almost five years.
That’s terrible news for anyone looking to save money, and near-record-low interest rates make it virtually impossible for people to save money to meet their retirement needs. Sadly, for those nearing … Read More
Despite Congress miraculously pulling the U.S. back from the brink of destruction by temporarily raising the debt ceiling and ending the U.S. government shutdown, Americans continue to be a pessimistic bunch. But can you blame us?
According to Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index, consumer sentiment remains in negative territory. After falling to -39 during the recent standoff in Washington, U.S. economic confidence has improved to -36. To use the term “improved” is being generous; in late May, the index was at -3. (Source: “U.S. Economic Confidence Index [Weekly],” Gallup web site, October 14, 2013.)
While the brinksmanship in Washington is (temporarily) over, our pessimism isn’t. According to another poll, 71% said economic conditions right now are poor, while just 29% said economic conditions are good—the lowest level of the year. Now granted, it takes time for economic confidence to return; following the debt negotiations in 2011, it took economic confidence five months to recover. (Source: Steinhauser, P., “CNN Poll: After shutdown, America is less optimistic about economy,” CNN web site, October 22, 2013.)
Unfortunately, it could be worse this time, thanks in large part to high unemployment and stagnant income and wages. And there’s also the fact that Washington only agreed to fund the government through to January 15, 2014 and extend the debt ceiling through February 7, 2014. Americans can’t get too optimistic about the economy knowing the government is just taking time to reload.
Fortunately, there are economic lands where optimism is blooming in light of real economic change. Economic optimism in the eurozone improved for the fifth straight month and hit a two-year high in September. The … Read More
Bad news on Main Street is good news for Wall Street. Illogical heads prevailed on Tuesday after the U.S. government announced that the unemployment rate dipped to an ever-so-modest 7.2% in September, from 7.3% in August. The U.S. added just 148,000 new jobs in September—far short of the forecasted gain of 180,000 jobs for the month. (Source: “The Employment Situation – September 2013,” Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, October 22, 2013.)
The number of long-term unemployed (those without a job for at least 27 weeks) remains stubbornly high at 4.1 million, and the underemployment rate is at an eye-watering 13.6%, up a sliver from 13.4% in August.
Weak jobs numbers means the Federal Reserve will continue its $85.0-billion-per-month quantitative easing policy into 2014. Those who do not read these pages were apparently surprised last month when the Federal Reserve did what it said it was going to do—namely, keep its stimulus package intact until the economy improves to a 6.5% unemployment rate and a 2.5% inflation rate.
It clearly hasn’t, isn’t, and won’t for the foreseeable future.
Those bad jobs numbers sent the S&P 500 into record intra-day territory. In the week since Congress ended the U.S. government shutdown, raised the debt ceiling, and reported stubbornly high unemployment, the S&P 500 climbed more than three percent. Year-to-date, the S&P 500 is up more than 22%.
That increase is in sharp contrast to anything approaching reality on Wall Street. During the first quarter of 2013, 78% of S&P 500 companies issued negative earnings-per-share (EPS) guidance, 81% during the second quarter, and a record 83% for the third quarter. (Source: “Earnings … Read More
The odds of a slowdown in the U.S. economy are stacking higher each day. Investors need to be very cautious and tread the waters carefully, as a slowdown in the U.S. economy will mean more misery to come—and what we see now may become worse.
In the midst of the U.S. government shutdown and the approaching debt ceiling issue, a lot has changed in the background. The major financial news channels are fixated on issues where past occurrences were eventually resolved. We have seen politicians come to a decision about the debt ceiling before, most recently in 2011, and this isn’t the first U.S. government shutdown; the government was able to come to a consensus before, and this time will be no different.
Moving away from all the current noise, when I look at the numbers, I see a rough road ahead for the U.S. economy.
Yes, I understand that we saw the U.S. economy increase at an annual rate of 2.5% in the second quarter of this year, but I have to ask if the third or fourth quarter is going to be the same.
In its September projections, the Federal Reserve expected the U.S. economy to grow between two percent and 2.3%. These predictions were revised lower from the previous projections in June, when it anticipated the U.S. economy would grow by 2.3% to 2.6%. Note that the lower bound projections in June have become the upper bound. (Source: “Economic Projections of Federal Reserve Board Members and Federal Reserve Bank Presidents, September 2013,” Federal Reserve web site, September 18, 2013.)
We also see companies in the U.S. economy … Read More
Two lines from the song “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield pretty much sum up what we are seeing on the key stock indices here in the U.S. economy: “There’s something’ happening’ here/What it is ain’t exactly clear.” There is too much noise out there: some are saying key stock indices are going to head lower, while others are saying they have much more room to the upside.
In the summer, the bears said key stock indices would start to decline in the fall due to markets rallying on low volume. The bulls, on the other hand, insisted that earnings are good and consumers are buying, so a higher stock market is ahead.
From a technical point of view, there’s a particular formation that can be seen on this chart that’s not really talked about in the mainstream—a pattern called the “rising wedge.” According to technical analysts, this is considered a reversal pattern, meaning that it suggests the prices will turn in the opposite direction, heading lower from their current higher standing.
Some of the indications that the rising wedge pattern is in the making are the slowing rate of increase (gains and losses are smaller over time), the ideal three resistances on the upper trend line, at least two supports on the lower trend line, and the volume declining as the pattern emerges.
Please look at the chart of the S&P 500 below.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
But this is all too technical. In a nutshell, the fundamentals of key stock indices aren’t getting any rosier. Companies are warning about their earnings, the economy is growing slowly, the … Read More
Key stock indices are showing robust performance—especially following the Federal Reserve’s announcement that it will not be tapering its bond buying program at this time. The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average reached new record highs last Wednesday; that means the U.S. economy is doing great, right? I mean, just look at the chart below; everything seems to be heading smoothly upward in what is supposed to be the most volatile month of the year, according to The Stock Trader’s Almanac. It’s a fact: the key stock indices like the S&P 500 continue to make successive highs!
Sadly, this seems to be the only notion going around these days, and I completely disagree with this blind optimism and faulty logic. You can’t look at the key stock indices and conclude that there’s economic growth in the U.S. economy; you need to look at other indicators as well.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
As it stands, there seems to be a significant amount of disparity.
Looking at the unemployment rate, the situation is dismal. In the August jobs report of the U.S. economy, we found that there were jobs created and that the unemployment rate actually declined slightly. That’s great, but these jobs were created in the low-wage-paying sectors. On top of that, the jobs added in June and July were revised significantly lower; mind you, the unemployment rate remains very high in the U.S. economy compared to the pre-financial crisis period.
In the U.S. economy, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to increase in the war on the middle class. The income gap among the rich and … Read More
At 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank would, in the eternal quest for job creation and economic growth, continue to buy $85.0 billion a month in bonds. In other words, its third round of quantitative easing (QE III) is charging ahead unabated.
A few minutes later, The New York Times declared, “In Surprise, Fed Decides Not to Curtail Stimulus Effort.” USA Today proclaimed, “Fed delays taper, surprising markets,” while The Guardian said, “Federal Reserve maintains bond-buying stimulus in surprise move.”
Are economic analysts looking at different data than the rest of us? Back on August 29, I predicted the Federal Reserve wouldn’t begin to taper its quantitative easing until early 2014 at the earliest. That was because all of the economic indicators steering the data dependent on quantitative easing policies were nowhere close to being achieved.
For starters, the Federal Reserve said the unemployment rate “remains elevated.” For the Federal Reserve to begin tapering its QE policy, unemployment would have to fall to 6.5%. In August, the unemployment rate held stubbornly high at 7.3%.
The Federal Reserve also wants the U.S. rate of inflation to rise to two percent; after eight months, it’s stuck at one percent. For the Fed to consider tapering, the rate needs to at least double in just a few months—which isn’t going to happen, especially when you look at stagnant wages. Lastly, a new Federal Reserve chairman will be taking the helm in early 2014; Bernanke isn’t going to want to tarnish his reputation or disrupt the U.S. economy before then.
If the Federal Reserve is as good … Read More
There’s more to the recent jobs numbers and durable goods statistics than meets the eye. While recent economic data isn’t anything to celebrate, it does still open up a number of interesting opportunities for both short- and long-term investors.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said last Friday that 169,000 non-farm payroll jobs were added in August. As a result, the unemployment rate dropped from 7.4% in July to 7.3% in August, the lowest rate since December 2008. Good news! But not really. (Source: “The Employment Situation – August 2013,” Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, September 6, 2013.)
At face value, August’s jobs numbers don’t tell the whole story. The vast majority of those jobs (71%) were created in retail, business services, hospitality, and health care; interestingly, only 19,000 jobs (11.1%), or 400 per state, were in manufacturing. In fact, the real reason the jobs numbers looked so encouraging is because more and more Americans have stopped looking for work—and no longer count as being unemployed.
July’s projected jobs numbers growth was revised downward from 162,000 to an anemic 104,000; June’s numbers were also revised lower. Add them up, and July’s revised jobs numbers means the U.S. has created 74,000 fewer jobs than previously believed.
The day before, the Census Bureau announced that new manufactured goods orders in July fell 2.4% month-over-month, the largest decline in half a year; in June, orders were up 1.6%. July’s slide came on the heels of weak demand for heavy machinery and commercial aircraft. (Source: “Full Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories and Orders July 2013,” U.S. Census Bureau web site, September 5, 2013.)
Since … Read More
Consumers like to purchase stuff, whether they need it or not. In the United States, this tendency to buy is our economic engine, driving 70% of all U.S. economic growth. In 2012, $11.119 trillion of the $15.685 trillion produced in the U.S. went towards household purchases. (Source: Amadeo, K., “What Are the Components of GDP?” About.com, April 25, 2013.)
With that much at stake, it’s easy to see why consumer confidence levels are one of the best economic indicators we have. If consumers are optimistic, they’ll spend more, and the economy expands; if they’re pessimistic, they rein in their discretionary spending, and the economy grinds down.
While Wall Street may be riding high, most of Main Street isn’t, and you can see that reflected in the consumer confidence numbers. High unemployment, high debt levels, and the idea of higher interest rates and slower economic growth have put a damper on America’s desire to spend the country out of its recession.
U.S. consumer confidence levels fell in August, just one month after reporting a six-year high. According to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s preliminary reading, consumer sentiment slipped to 80.0 from 85.1 in July, the highest since July 2007. Wall Street economists, who clearly have their pulse on the heartbeat of the average American, were expecting August consumer confidence levels to actually increase to 85.5. (Source: “U.S. consumer sentiment weakens in August,” Reuters web site, August 16, 2013.)
It was a different story in the eurozone: consumer confidence levels there rose in August to their highest level in more than two years. During the second quarter, it was reported that the … Read More
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 162,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in July. The unemployment rate registered at 7.4%; in June, it was 7.6%. (Source: “Employment Situation Summary,” Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, last accessed August 2013.)
Looking at this, one must ask the question: is this a good sign for growth ahead in the U.S. economy?
On the surface, the picture does look rosy. The unemployment rate decreasing is actually a good sign, but sadly, there are some fundamental issues with the jobs market in the U.S. economy that need to be fixed before economic growth can fully take place.
First of all, the rate of decline in unemployment isn’t as impressive, having been above seven percent since December of 2008. Prior to the financial crisis in the earlier part of 2007, the unemployment rate in the U.S. economy was below five percent. There are still 11.5 million individuals unemployed in the U.S. economy, while 8.2 million Americans are working part-time because they are unable to find a full-time position. (Source: “Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject,” Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, last accessed August 2, 2013.)
The second and most critical problem is that low-wage-paying sectors are witnessing robust jobs growth in the U.S. economy; for others, not so much. Jobs that pay better wages and provide employees with benefits are few in number.
In July, we experienced the same problem, as 47,000 jobs were added in the retail trade sector—this includes places like general merchandise stores, personal care stores, and building and garden supply stores. Meanwhile, 38,000 jobs were added … Read More
America’s favorite sugar daddy, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, has once again come to Wall Street’s rescue. The U.S. Federal Reserve said that while the economy continues to recover, it is still in need of support. As a result, it will continue its $85.0 billion-per-month bond-buying program unabated. (Source: “Federal Reserve Issues FOMC Statement,” Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System web site, July 31, 2013.)
Before the markets opened Wednesday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that second-quarter U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) expanded at a faster-than-expected pace of 1.7%; that’s up from a revised 1.1% in the first quarter. (Source: “National Income and Product Accounts Gross Domestic Product, second quarter 2013 (advance estimate),” Bureau of Economic Analysis web site, July 31, 2013.)
Despite the better-than-expected results, the Federal Reserve said that the U.S. economy expanded at a modest pace during the first six months of the year, and that the overall economic picture remains lackluster.
To help quell nervous investors, the Federal Reserve also revised the unemployment rate at which it would consider raising interest rates to six percent; previously, the Federal Reserve had said it would raise interest rates once the jobless rate hit 6.5%. Needless to say, with unemployment sitting at 7.6%, the U.S. economy has a long way to go.
Lower long-term interest rates are supposed to encourage consumers and businesses to take out loans for homes, new equipment, etc. At the same time, banks have been reluctant to lend to those who need it the most, which is reflected on Wall Street. Thanks to the Federal Reserve’s $85.0-billion-per-month quantitative easing policy, the S&P … Read More
Companies like ManpowerGroup Inc. (NYSE/MAN) and others in the staffing and outsourcing industry are set to earn big profits as the emerging trend of temporary workers continues to grow in the U.S. economy.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, a significant number of people in the U.S. economy were let go from their jobs. The reason was simply because companies didn’t have customer orders to fill, so they had no other options than to reduce their labor force to cut expenses. The unemployment rate in the U.S. economy reached 10%, and there were worries that it wouldn’t ever get back to its historical normal range.
But now we are seeing the jobs market in the U.S. economy slightly improve. The unemployment rate has come down a little—though it’s still high—to 7.6% in June.
In the midst of all this, a new phenomenon has emerged: the rise of temporary jobs. And it has not really been discussed in the mainstream media.
Consider that in June, there were 2.68 million individuals in the U.S. economy working in the temporary help services sector. You may know temporary help services by their more common names: placement agencies, employment agencies, or temp agencies. (Source: “Professional and Business Services: Temporary Help Services,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site, July 5, 2013, last accessed July 10, 2013.)
The number of individuals in the U.S. economy working through a temp agency has been increasing, and in June it reached its highest level since 1990. In the first half of this year alone, the number of Americans working for temp agencies has increased almost four percent, … Read More
It was just a week ago that the Federal Reserve, pointing to an improving economy, said it would continue its quantitative easing program—at least until America’s job market improves substantially. We weren’t, however, told what “substantially” looks like.
Many think that means an unemployment rate of 6.5%. And to get there, the U.S. would have to create somewhere in the neighborhood of two million jobs. That’s assuming all things remain equal—but, of course, they never do.
The Federal Reserve also said that, thanks to the economic rebound, it would consider tapering its monthly $85.0-billion purchase of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities by the end of the year.
On top of that, the Federal Reserve said it could end its quantitative easing policies altogether in 2014.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s celebratory remarks may have been a little premature.
The Department of Commerce reported on June 26 that gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter of 2013 grew 1.8% over the fourth quarter of 2012. Previously, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) forecast first-quarter 2013 GDP growth of 2.4%. (Source: “National Income and Product Accounts Gross Domestic Product, 1st quarter 2013 [third estimate]; Corporate Profits, 1st quarter 2013 [revised estimate],” Bureau of Economic Analysis web site, June 26, 2013.)
Aside from home construction and government, the final 2013 first-quarter GDP report from the Commerce Department showed downward revisions. For example, consumer spending—which accounts for almost 70% of U.S. economic activity—increased by just 2.6%, much less than the forecasted 3.4%. That may not sound like much, but it means spending was 23% below forecast.
Granted, the numbers reflect the U.S. economy as … Read More
The economic slowdown in the eurozone continues to take a toll on the global economy. It’s causing major economies like China to suffer severely due to anemic demand. Sadly, looking ahead, there’s really no light at the end of the tunnel. Despite the bailouts and the European Central Bank (ECB) taking a tougher stance, countries at the epicenter of the crisis continue to suffer and show dismal economic data, and others are starting to follow their lead towards economic scrutiny.
The Bank of Spain, the central bank of the fourth-biggest economy in the eurozone, reported that the total amount of bad loans in the country had increased to 167.1 billion euros in April from 162.3 billion euros in March. Month-over-month, the amount of bad loans in the Spanish economy has increased by 2.9%. (Source: “Spain’s mortgage crisis lingers on as bad loans soar,” Deutsche Welle, June 18, 2013.)
The ratio of bad loans to all the credit in the country increased to 10.87% from 10.47%. This means that out of every 100 loans in Spain, almost 11 were considered “bad” or default loans.
The situation in Italy, the third-biggest economic hub in the eurozone, is very similar. The Italian Banking Association reported that bad loans in the country increased by 2.3 billion euros to 133 billion euros from March to April. Year-over-year, the bad loans in this eurozone country have grown 22%, making up 3.5% of the total loans. (Source: “Bad loans at Italian banks still growing in April,” Reuters, June 18, 2013.)
What’s even more troubling is that industrial production in the eurozone is declining. It decreased by 0.6% … Read More
For much of last week, the global markets were taking a beating on growing concerns that the central banks will start easing their economic stimulus. Before the markets opened Friday morning, Reuters boldly announced that the rout was over, and U.S. markets opened trading up. (Source: Jones, M., “GLOBAL MARKETS-Shares pick up, dollar steady after bruising selloff,” Reuters, June 14 2013.)
Two hours later, though, Wall Street was singing a different tune. The U.S. markets slipped after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced it cut its 2014 growth outlook for the U.S to 2.7% from three percent. The unemployment rate for 2014 is projected to decrease slightly (on average) to 7.2 %. (Source: “Concluding Statement of the 2013 Article IV Mission to The United States of America,” International Monetary Fund web site, June 14 2013.)
Time will tell if these projections will come true. After initially predicting U.S. 2013 growth of 2.2%, the IMF revised it downward to 1.9%; the IMF continues to maintain that lowered projection. This tepid growth is expected to keep unemployment hovering around 7.5% for the remainder of 2013.
The IMF noted that the Federal Reserve needs to carefully plan its exit strategy to avoid hurting financial markets. The best way to do this, it maintains, is to continue its $85.0 billion a month bond-buying program until at least the end of 2013.
In addition to continued economic stimulus, the IMF also said Washington wasn’t doing enough to cut long-term budget deficits—though it would seem that higher deficits go hand-in-hand with money printing—and that Washington needs to cut entitlement spending and generate higher revenues.
What this … Read More
In just a matter of a few months, the S&P 500 is up more than 14%. To say the very least, these gains are nothing short of amazing—much better than what investors can get with the long-term U.S. bonds that currently yield less than 3.5%.
Consider this: on average, in the first five months of this year, the S&P 500 went up by about 2.8% per month (14% divided by five months). Assuming the stock market keeps the same pace, the S&P 500 will gain way more than 30% this year (12 times 2.8%).
Now, one must ask the question: is this sustainable? Can the S&P 500 keep going at this pace?
Since at least 1968, the S&P 500 has gone up more than 30% only three times: in 1975, when it increased by 31.55%; in 1995, when it climbed 34.11%; and in 1997, when it climbed 31.01%. (Source: “History of The S&P 500 Index,” The Standard, last accessed June 11, 2013.) Even with a massive turnaround in the stock market in 2009, the S&P 500 only increased return to 28.04%. (Source: “SPDR S&P 500,” Morning Star, last accessed June 11, 2013.)
Just looking at the economic performance of the U.S. economy when the S&P 500 increased more than 30% in the past, it was exuberant. For example, between 1975 and 1976, the gross domestic product of the U.S. economy grew 5.3%. (Source: “Real Gross Domestic Product, 1 Decimal,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site, last accessed June 11, 2013.)
Looking at the economic conditions now, they are not as great. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the … Read More