To some people in the mainstream media, last week’s advance estimate on U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) growth was seen as a positive surprise.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the advance estimate on U.S. GDP growth for the third quarter of 2013 was an annual rate of 2.8%. In the second quarter, real GDP growth was 2.5%. (Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, November 7, 2013.)
Reading just the headline, it would be easy to assume that GDP growth was accelerating on a solid footing. However, had they looked just a bit deeper, they’d find that the truth is the GDP growth estimate that was reported was actually much worse than the headline number.
The fundamental strength underpinning this increase in GDP growth was temporary, and it could lead to a much weaker fourth quarter. If investor sentiment were propelled higher due to this blip in GDP growth, it would be a mistake.
The big increase in GDP growth was due to a build-up of inventory, a reduction of imports, and an increase in spending by state and local governments.
What happened to consumer spending, which makes up three-quarters of our economy? Personal consumption increased by 1.5% in the third quarter versus an increase of 1.8% in the second quarter. People began to reduce their spending versus the first half of the year.
Inventory increased by $86.0 billion in the third quarter, versus a $56.6 billion increase in the second quarter and a $42.2 billion increase in the first quarter.
Just the increase in inventory alone added 0.83% to the GDP growth figure. If investor sentiment is increasing based … Read More
I had an interesting conversation the other day with a friend of mine who asked a very compelling question: with margin debt in the equities market hitting a new all-time high—$401 billion on the NYSE in September—is this a sign of a market top?
To find out what this really means, we have to dig a little deeper into how this can affect the equities market.
An increase in margin debt is really a story of investor sentiment. As the equities market moves up, this gives people more confidence and therefore increases investor sentiment. Many investors then borrow money to invest in the seemingly bullish market—this creates margin debt.
Now, this all sounds great on the way up, but in the end, the problem with higher levels of margin debt is twofold.
First, the very fact margin debt is increasing can be looked at from various angles. One is the obvious point of view that investor sentiment is becoming increasingly bullish on the equities market, so people are borrowing to get in on the action.
Another way to look at higher levels of margin debt is that while borrowing money to put into the equities market is bullish, as more money is chasing the same number of shares, at some point, if everyone is in the market, who’s left to buy?
Second, the real problem with high levels of margin debt is not on the way up, but when the equities market begins to turn. While investor sentiment can shift rapidly, the problem with investing on borrowed money is that it becomes far more painful on the way down.
This … Read More