All of the talk about the negative impact of the sequestration on consumer spending appears to have some validity.
While the rich consumers are continuing to spend on luxury items, those who are making less money and are influenced by the fragile jobs market and flat income levels continue to worry, which could likely impact consumer spending going forward. The effects of this, along with the widening gaps between the rich and the poor and the middle class are affecting consumer spending by Americans. In fact, we are seeing a widening income gap in many countries around the world, so it’s not just an American phenomenon—its impact on consumer spending is global.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE/WMT) is a good barometer on the state of consumer spending around the world, especially with the lower- to middle-class consumers.
The company reported its results last Thursday, and it seems like Wal-Mart is facing some hesitation in consumer spending.
In the fiscal first quarter, the company’s net sales grew a mere one percent year-over-year to $113.4 billion, which was below the Thomson Financial consensus estimate of $116.4 billion. The sales reading was also shy of the low range of the estimate of $114.6 billion.
The low-cost retailer blamed the decline in consumer spending on a delay in tax refunds, adverse weather, and the rise in payroll taxes. The key comparable U.S. store sales fell 1.4% for the 13 weeks ended April 26, 2013, which represents the first contraction in this key metric in many quarters.
My concern is that Wal-Mart is facing sales pressure at a time when money is cheap. What will happen … Read More
When interest rates are as low as they are and consumers begin to hold back on their spending, you have to wonder about the prospects for the retail sector going forward.
With the higher taxes on those earning over $400,000 and other tax increases as a result of the sequestration, we may be seeing some evidence of reduced spending.
The U.S. Department of Commerce said retail sales in March contracted by 0.4% on both a headline and an ex-auto basis, which was below the Briefing.com estimates of flat sales and 0.3%, respectively. This was the second decline in retail sales in the last three months.
While it may be premature to assume a new downtrend for retail sales, I wonder if the decline in take-home pay for some Americans has resulted in less consumer spending.
Or, it may be the softness of the jobs market that is making consumers nervous. With only 88,000 new jobs created in March, the jobs numbers must have had some impact on consumers and the retail sector.
Even consumer sentiment appears to be fading a bit as evidenced by the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index reading of 72.3 in April. This reading represented the worst reading since July 2012, and it’s well below the 76.0 estimate by Briefing.com and the 78.6 reading in February.
According to my estimate, the retail sector continues to be full of opportunities, but you also need to be careful on what retail stocks you buy.
You would have been sideswiped if you bought J. C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE/JCP), as the company posted horrible results and subsequently fired … Read More
With the financial reporting season underway, one of the most important considerations is not the most recent quarter’s earnings results, but the earnings outlook companies are giving for the remainder of the year.
One market sector that I like to watch is the retail area that sells to the average American, as this helps give a clear picture of the underlying fundamentals of the U.S. economy.
Family Dollar Stores, Inc. (NYSE/FDO) just released its earnings outlook for the remainder of the year, and it was far below what analysts had expected. In January of this year, Family Dollar offered an expected earnings outlook for fiscal 2013 of approximately $4.20 per share; this has now been reduced to $3.93 a share. (Source: Burritt, C., “Family Dollar Cuts Profit Forecast as Shoppers Cut Back,” Bloomberg, April 10, 2013.)
During the second quarter, Family Dollar reported that same-store sales increased by 2.9%, for stores open longer than 13 months, also coming in below estimates. This company is interesting, as the lower-income market sector is showing continued weakness.
The significant decline for the earnings outlook of each company tells me that all of this quantitative stimulus is doing little to help the average American, as this market sector is not showing any signs of improving.
The lack of job creation and the increase in the number of people pulling out of the jobs market are now having a direct impact on the market sector that caters to millions of people. With continued economic weakness, there is little hope that the earnings outlook will improve anytime soon.
It is actually quite shocking, considering the trillions … Read More
The stock market finally did the right thing last Friday after the disastrous non-farm jobs market reading. Now there are some who suggest the extremely poor jobs market reading forces the Federal Reserve to maintain its controversial bond-buying program and maintain record-low interest rates, driving the flow of easy money—but the jobs market numbers were horrendous. I sure wouldn’t be buying jobs-related stocks at this time.
A mere 88,000 new jobs were created in March, according to the United States Department of Labor. (Source: “Economic News Release: Employment Situation Summary,” Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, April 5, 2013.) Briefing.com had estimated the country would generate 185,000 new jobs in March, so we were short by nearly 100,000 jobs.
This is not something to push aside. In February, an upwardly revised 268,000 jobs were created, some 180,000 more than in March. You don’t have to be an economist to figure out something is wrong with the jobs market picture, but then you would realize this, as I have been bearish towards America’s jobs market despite the optimism that was surfacing.
The 88,000 new jobs were so bad that it was well below the monthly average of 169,000 over the past 12 months, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The unemployment rate edged lower to 7.6%—but you can ignore this, as more workers decided to stop looking for work, which was the reason for the decline.
The Department of Labor says there are 11.7 million unemployed, but readers of Investment Contrarians know that this number is not realistic, but erroneous. In reality, there are likely over 20 million … Read More
In President Obama’s election debates and his State of the Union address, a key part of the talk focused on getting Americans back to work. Despite what you are sometimes hearing about the improving jobs market, the reality is that jobs remain somewhat scarce.
By the time you read this, you will know what the non-farm payrolls reading is and, by all accounts, it will not be that good for the jobs market. Briefing.com estimates the creation of 185,000 new jobs in March, which would be well below the 236,000 created in February. This is not what we want to see in the jobs market. The unemployment rate is predicted by Briefing.com to nudge up to 7.8%, from the current 7.7%. Again, not great.
In my estimate, the jobs market is moving along, but not at a rate that will lower the unemployment numbers anytime soon.
The private Automatic Data Processing (ADP) Employment Change reading reported on Wednesday foreshadowed America’s fragile jobs market, as a mere 158,000 new jobs were created in March, well below the Briefing.com estimate of 200,000 and the upward revised 237,000 new jobs in February. The interesting fact was that 74,000 of the new jobs were generated by small businesses with under 50 employees, while a mere 47,000 new jobs were created by large companies with over 500 employees, according to ADP. (Source: “National Employment Trends,” Automatic Data Processing, Inc. web site, last accessed April 4, 2013.)
The March ADP reading was the lowest since 148,000 in October 2012. In fact, since March 2012, there have only been three months with over 200,000 new jobs created. … Read More
The Federal Reserve is intent on keeping this Fed-induced stock market rally intact for perhaps another few years.
At the Federal Reserve monthly meeting this past Wednesday, the Federal Reserve reconfirmed its program of maintaining near-zero interest rates and its $85.0 billion monthly bond-buying strategy. As I recently discussed, the environment of low rates will offer little choice for investors who have to weigh low-yielding fixed-income investments against stocks. In other words, the equities market will continue to be driven, at least in part, by the cheap money. This will be great for the people who have the funds, but it will be horrific for those with lower income and who may be dependent on income from their investments. But for the government it’s great news, especially when it’s carrying so much debt—well, the government can thank the Federal Reserve.
Faced with the uncertainties in the jobs market and job creation, the Federal Reserve suggested it would maintain its record-low interest rates until the country’s unemployment rate falls to 6.5%. The problem is that the Federal Reserve predicts this will not occur until sometime in 2015, so that’s another two years of easy money and the building up of massive national debt. Remember what I said about the sequestration cuts and how they are well below the interest paid on the debt? Imagine the payments when interest rates ratchet higher! It’s not going to be pretty. The Federal Reserve has created this situation, which could inevitably blow up.
In reality, achieving an unemployment rate of 6.5% may not happen until after 2015, based on current job generation. According to the … Read More
Just like he did in 2011, President Barack Obama is taking another stab at increasing the federal minimum wage in order to help the lowest income earners in America. With the President’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour by 2015 from the current $7.25, in theory, the move upward shift should help, as it translates into roughly $3,640 extra annually. The proposal also links the level of the minimum wage to the inflation rate after 2015.
The rationale behind the President’s thinking makes sense, and I truly wish it could work; but my view is that the impact of higher jobs market wages on the lower level service and manufacturing jobs across America could likely drive prices on goods and services higher for the consumer, which means greater inflationary pressure. If this becomes the case, you will need to start investing in gold.
For instance, higher jobs market wages for service jobs, such as restaurants, will likely not be absorbed; rather, the higher wage costs will mean higher food costs at all levels from fast-food to high-end restaurants. The impact will be especially hard on the low income earners who, in general, may be more inclined to eat fast foods. The same goes for other goods and services, which means that while the lower income earners would earn more money with a rise in the minimum wage, they’ll end up paying more for goods and services.
But something needs to be done due to the widening income gap between the rich and the middle class and the poor in America. In America, the rich are getting … Read More
The recession is over, and the U.S. economy is showing some encouraging signs of economic renewal.
Shoppers are hitting the malls and stores, helping to drive up retail sales. I’d stick with the top department stores, like Macys, Inc. (NYSE/M), or discounters, such as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE/WMT), which will continue to rebound.
The housing sector has been sizzling since the recession, with a superlative rise in housing starts, building permits, and home prices. Homebuilder stocks, including the developers of residential real estate, are sizzling on the charts—Toll Brothers, Inc. (NYSE/TOL) and Hovnanian Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE/HOV), especially.
Since the recession, the jobs market is showing some growth, with the unemployment rate holding just below eight percent. As the jobs market recovers, look to some of the staffing companies, such as Robert Half International Inc. (NYSE/RHI), Manpower Inc. (NYSE/MAN), and Kelly Services, Inc. (NASDAQ/KELYA), to deliver.
So, America appears to be headed in the right direction since the recession hit; but underneath all of the economic jargon and positive media headlines about the “Great Recovery” in America’s economic engine, there’s still a sense that many people are still trapped in economic despair, feeling the impact of the recession.
After scanning through “Diminished Lives and Futures: A Portrait of America in the Great-Recession Era,” I can see that uneasiness and worry remains a real issue in the minds of Americans. (Source: Szeltner, S., et al., Worktrends February 2013, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey web site, last accessed February 12, 2013.)
Some of the key findings of the research were as follows:
• About 90% of the respondents remained worried about … Read More
The Federal Reserve is busy looking at what to do next to try to keep the economic renewal on track, as the central bank meets for the last time this year. The Fed also understands its impact will be hindered by the ongoing battle in Congress regarding the pending fiscal cliff.
The Federal Reserve is speculated to continue its third quantitative easing (QE3) program of buying mortgage bonds each month. The effect will see the Fed increase its holdings of mortgage bonds to nearly $4.0 trillion, according to a Bloomberg survey. (Source: “Fed Seen Pumping Up Assets to $4 Trillion in New Buying,” Yahoo! Finance via Bloomberg, December 11, 2012.)
The bond buying has helped to ease financing rates and drive the housing market higher.
The Fed has spent $40.0 billion a month to buy mortgage-backed securities and, in theory, lower the financing rates. The yield on the 10-year Treasury stands at 1.6% versus 1.8% prior to the establishment of QE3—so it’s working.
For the Fed, as the QE3 works its way through the system, job creation is expected to be a major benefactor.
The Federal Reserve recognizes that the jobs market continues to be problematic and needs to be addressed, despite the unemployment rate falling to 7.7% in November. There are still over 21 million Americans looking for work.
To date, the super-low interest rates at between zero and a quarter of a percent have helped to prevent the country from falling into the abyss. If not for the low rates, the carrying cost of the $16.0 trillion in national debt would be suffocating and making the situation worse, … Read More
There were extremely difficult times for homeowners following the subprime mortgage implosion that helped to drag down the global economy in 2008. I recall at that time how easy it was to get a mortgage without even having to provide an income or work history to the lenders. When an entry level worker at McDonalds Corporation (NYSE/MCD) could get a mortgage with no questions asked, you had to wonder how long it would be before a housing bubble would surface.
Luckily, after several years of the housing market being dragged through the mud, the current situation has vastly improved to the point where housing stocks are hot.
The declining mortgage rates have helped. The $40.0 billion in mortgage-buying each month by the Federal Reserve has driven down the cost of interest rates to record lows.
There are more people working, and with the jobs picture improving, albeit at a slow pace, I expect the housing market will continue to strengthen.
Wherever you live, it’s clear that the housing market is displaying much-improved industry metrics. We just saw another strong reading for housing starts and building permits.
In October, there were an impressive 894,000 starts, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which is above the Briefing.com estimate of 815,000 in October and the 863,000 starts in September.
Also lending support to the housing market recovery was a strong building permits reading of 866,000 in October, albeit short of the Briefing.com estimate of 900,000 and the 890,000 reading in September. The strong reading indicates that builders are expecting a good flow of buying in the housing market, and this could only bode … Read More
The election is finally here. We are all excited to see who will be the 45th President of the United States.
President Obama wants to stay at the White House, while challenger Mitt Romney wants to evict him. Whoever is the winner, there will be a slew of challenges for him to deal with. It may not be as bad as four years ago when the newly minted President Obama faced a massive subprime financial crisis, government bailouts of the big banks and auto sector, and a great recession, but there are still major obstacles to deal with.
If Obama holds on, you can expect a push to remedy the healthcare system and make it more efficient and cost-effective under the program coined “Obamacare.” Healthcare cost control is important as a means to control the mounting national debt and avoid a financial crisis. Over $752.0 billion is spent annually on Medicare/Medicaid, which is the second-biggest area of spending for the government following Social Security. (Source: U.S. Debt Clock, last accessed November 2, 2012.) Failure to rein in costs could create a financial crisis.
The $16.0-trillion national debt could grow to a whopping $22.7 trillion by the end of the next President’s term in 2016 if nothing is done, based on the current pace. (Source: U.S. Debt Clock, last accessed November 2, 2012.) This could lead to a financial crisis. By 2016, annual spending on Medicare/Medicaid could reach over $940.0 trillion if costs continue to rise and drive a financial crisis in health care. Social security in 2016 could surpass $1.1 trillion annually, and this is not sustainable. Those who are … Read More
October was ghoulish for stocks, with technology and small-cap companies facing the brunt of the market selling as investors sold and avoided higher-risk growth stocks, based on my stock market analysis.
The first quarter was excellent for stocks, but since it ended, the trading action has been mixed, with the S&P 500 moving lower in four months and higher in three months. The DOW, NASDAQ, and Russell 2000 have been negative since the end of March.
My stock market analysis shows me that we are currently at a standstill and waiting for a fresh catalyst to attract buyers. With Black Friday and the key holiday shopping season around the corner, things will likely pick up.
If you are into historical tendencies, we are entering the best six months of the year for investment gains, according to the Stock Trader’s Almanac. Based on historical records, investing during the six months from November to May has produced the best returns for stocks versus the June to October period. But things could be different this time around given the abundant risk, including the financial crisis in the eurozone, fears of more stalling in China, tension in the Middle East, the U.S. presidential election, and the upcoming fiscal cliff.
The near-term technical picture shows difficult chart resistance. The NASDAQ, S&P 500, and Dow Jones Industrials are stuck at below their respective 50-day moving averages (MAs) and looking for support at their 200-day MAs amid a lack of trading interest, according to my stock market analysis.
My stock market analysis of the S&P 500 shows a multi-year upward move. There’s some near-term topping action and … Read More
Technology and small-cap stocks have the best potential but are also more vulnerable when the overall market moves lower. The tech-laden NASDAQ is tops with a 14.8% advance this year, but it is now leading the losers, with declines of four percent in October and 3.3% since the end of the first quarter. The small-cap Russell 2000 is down 2.5% in October and 1.7% since the end of the first quarter.
In 2011, small-caps underperformed. You would have done better investing in a Treasury Bill versus small-cap stocks, which were negative in 2011 after advancing 25.3% in 2010. Yet the encouraging signs of the economy’s recovery from the 2008 Great Recession in manufacturing, the housing market, and the jobs market are helping to attract buying to small-cap stocks, which generally perform better as the economy recovers from a recession.
I continue to favor small-cap stocks, as the valuations are more attractive and may be worth a look for aggressive long-term investors.
And while I view the holding of large-cap stocks as an integral part of your portfolio, for added overall portfolio returns, I like small-cap stocks. These stocks add to the risk component of your portfolio, but you are compensated by a higher overall expected return from your investments. You can increase the expected return of a portfolio by simply adding more risk. This is the advantage of adding small-cap stocks.
A standard and simple measure of stock risk versus the market is a beta—a quantitative measure of systematic or market risk that cannot be diversified away and generally moves in relation to the S&P 500 or another market/benchmark.
A … Read More
Three strikes and you’re out! Too bad the Federal Reserve doesn’t follow this; otherwise, Chairman Ben Bernanke would be on the phone with Wall Street looking for another job.
The key stock indices surged to their highest levels in years after the Federal Reserve launched a third round of quantitative easing (QE3) at the September meeting; yet the follow-through has been non-existent, as stocks are back where they were prior to the announcement.
All quotations and figures in this article are from a Federal Reserve press release regarding the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in September 2012, dated September 13, 2012 (http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/press/monetary/20120913a.htm).
At that meeting, the Fed said, “Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) met in August suggests that economic activity has continued to expand at a moderate pace in recent months. Growth in employment has been slow, and the unemployment rate remains elevated.”
The Fed is spending $40.0 billion a month to buy mortgage-backed securities and, in theory, to lower the financing rates. This is the theory, but the yield on the 10-year Treasury stands at 1.76% versus 1.84% prior to the establishment of QE3. Something isn’t working.
But maybe it’s still too early to judge the success of QE3. Give it a few months to filter through the system and we’ll see. Jobs creation is expected to be a major benefactor of QE3.
The Federal Reserve recognizes that the jobs market continues to be problematic and needs to be addressed despite the unemployment rate falling to 7.8% in September. We still have over 22 million Americans looking for work.
“The Committee seeks to foster maximum … Read More
You can still buy cheap homes in America if you don’t mind living in cities like Detroit, Pittsburg, Rochester, Memphis, or Cleveland. Unbelievably, in Detroit, you can even buy a home for under $100.00 if you don’t mind living in an area that is extremely depressed.
On the other end of the housing spectrum, there’s New York City, but to live there, you would need to dip deep into your pocketbook, as the median home price was $1.1 million for the period between July and September 2012, according to Trulia.com (source: www.Trulia.com, October 18, 2012).
Wherever you live, it’s clear the housing market is displaying much-improved industry metrics. We just saw a blow-out in housing starts and building permits on Wednesday.
In September, there were an impressive 872,000 starts, 13.5% above the 768,000 estimate and the upwardly revised 758,000 in August. Also lending support to the housing market recovery was an equally strong building permits reading of 894,000 in September, well above the 815,000 estimate and the revised 801,000 in August. (Source: Yahoo! Finance with data supplied by Briefing.com.) In my view, the strong readings indicate that builders are expecting a good flow of buying in the housing market.
Moreover, representing another key piece of the housing market, home prices are edging higher, with the S&P/Case-Shiller index, comprising of the 20 largest U.S. metropolitan cities, increasing a better-than-expected 1.2% in July; this represented the sixth straight month of increases.
The improvement in the housing market is also showing in the results of numerous homebuilder stocks.
Homebuilders are continuing to deliver better results. Toll Brothers, Inc. (NYSE/TOLL) blew away the consensus … Read More
Watching the presidential debate on Tuesday, one thing was clear: both President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney were focusing on the jobs market. This was not a surprise.
Wall Street is not hiring, technology companies are firing, and the manufacturing sector is losing jobs to cheap overseas plants in China and Mexico, where wages are dirt cheap.
We are seeing more college graduates work at low-level jobs just to pay the bills, never mind their massive student loans. The reality is that given the dire situation in the jobs market, it will likely take years to resolve, and the mounting student loans will take decades to pay off.
Whether you sided with Obama or Romney, there is one common enemy, and that is the lack of strong and sustained jobs growth in America’s jobs market.
Obama is telling us about the surprise decline in the unemployment rate to 7.8% in September; while encouraging, the rate is well below that of the previous year.
Let’s take a closer look at the unemployment rate, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The reading was the lowest since a 7.3% unemployment rate in December 2008, but the number remains well below the four percent level we saw during 2006 and 2007. The unemployment rate has improved from the recession high of 10.0% in October 2009, which was the highest level since the 10.8% in the December 1982 recession.
The trend of the unemployment rate, as you can see in the graph below, shows the improvement since August 2011, when over nine percent of Americans were officially unemployed in the jobs market. … Read More
I can guarantee you that a key point of discussion in the build-up to the presidential election will be the jobs market.
In my view, despite all the fuss about the July job numbers, job creation is dead.
Just ask the 12.7 million or so Americans searching for work or the over 23 million or so who are unofficially unemployed. These are real people looking for appropriate work in the jobs market. Moreover, there are also the millions working part-time or underemployed.
Wall Street is not hiring, technology companies are firing, and manufacturing is losing jobs to cheap overseas plants, where workers are willing to work for dirt-cheap wages.
We are seeing more college graduates working at low-level jobs just to pay the bills. And the reality is that given the dire situation in the jobs market, it could take years to resolve. There are also the mounting student loans that will take decades to pay, but then that’s another story.
The media pointed to the July jobs market numbers showing the creation of 163,000 new jobs, but the unemployment rate edged higher to 8.3%. The chart shows the inconsistency and the fact there needs to be a steady rise in jobs to cut into the unemployment rate.
Chart copyright Lombardi Publishing Corporation,
2012; Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
The jobs market is even worse when you consider that the consensus among economists is that the country would need to add 500,000 jobs monthly to make a dent in the unemployment rate and get it moving towards full employment at around six percent.
President Barack Obama has … Read More
The U.S. economy was once the envy of the world and a model many countries attempted to emulate.
While many other socialist countries were seen as having rigid labor forces that did not move and take chances, the U.S. jobs market was seen as vibrant and dynamic.
Families picked up and moved to other states if they felt there was an opportunity to better themselves. Employees quit the jobs market to attempt their own businesses. If the businesses failed, the jobs market welcomed them back with open arms, because it always had room for the type of employee that helps make a company better.
That model of the jobs market has changed dramatically since the financial crisis. Because there are fewer jobs available and with the unemployment rate remaining stubbornly high for years, those people who want to quit within the jobs market because they dislike their jobs are staying put.
Those employees who want to quit to start their own businesses are rightfully scared at trying to sell goods and/or services in a weak economy that refuses to pick up steam since the financial crisis.
This creative job destruction that made the U.S. jobs market so famous is now imitating the socialist countries since the financial crisis, which means it’s more rigid.
Worse still is that, over the last two years, over 60% of the jobs created within the jobs market have been low-paying jobs. Americans are getting older, which means personal-care and home-health aides are in greater demand. Although these are admirable positions within the jobs market, they don’t pay very well.
The good-paying manufacturing jobs have been … Read More