The latest meeting by the Federal Reserve was quite significant regarding its monetary policy program, and many economists will now need to revise their analyses.
The key sentence in the Fed’s statement was, “The Committee is prepared to increase or reduce the pace of its purchases to maintain appropriate policy accommodation as the outlook for the labor market or inflation changes.” (Source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System web site, May 1, 2013, last accessed May 2, 2013.)
Why is this so significant? For the past few months, many economists and analysts have been expecting that the Federal Reserve would begin to discuss when it would be appropriate to begin reducing its aggressive monetary policy program, specifically the monthly $85.0 billion bond-buying level.
Many were thinking that at this meeting the Federal Reserve would indicate that at some point in the future it would begin reducing its aggressive monetary policy stance. While the Fed did indicate that it might be prepared to reduce bond buying and lower monetary policy measures, this is the first mention in its press releases that an increase is possible.
In my opinion, this indicates that the Federal Reserve now believes that additional monetary policy might be necessary, whereas we all had been hoping that the U.S. economy would begin to improve. Clearly, the recent data has shown otherwise.
Job creation remains very weak, and various sectors, such as manufacturing, do not indicate that they will increase their level of production anytime soon. Internationally, we are also seeing continued weakness in many countries, which can only put downward pressure on our own economy.
With … Read More
Small business is the backbone of America’s economy. While large multinational companies tend to get all of the attention, it’s the small companies that are critical to the country’s economy.
From your local “mom and pop” shop to the independent watering hole around the corner to the small manufacturing company making widgets, small companies are critical to the economy.
These are the companies that tend to fare better than other companies when coming out of a recession or a slowdown, due to their ability to make quick decisions in response to rapidly changing business variables.
While large companies could take months to adapt to a changing business environment, small companies could take only days or weeks to adjust, which is why their activity should be monitored.
An interesting measure on how well small companies may be doing can be linked to the amount of loans taken out. The thinking is: the higher the loans, the more the business is growing.
The Small Business Lending Index (SBLI), developed by Thomson Reuters and PayNet, is a good benchmark on small business lending. The SBLI is based on the volume of new commercial loan and lease originations from the major lenders in the U.S. given to small companies.
In March, the index fell to 98.5 from 105.4 in February.
The SBLI chart shows the pattern of the loans from 2005. You will notice the dip in loans when the recession surfaced, followed by the steady rise in loans to small companies up until the present time. Also note the recent big dip in loans to small companies.
This recent decline may prove to … Read More
George Soros knows a thing or two about making money from big bets. In 1992, Soros made a $10.00 short wager on the British pound and walked away with a billion dollars in profits.
Soros is now convinced Germany needs to rethink its strategy toward the sustainability of the eurozone and, in a draconian manner, believes the country should leave the euro.
Of course, should this happen, the 17-country eurozone would collapse, triggering a massive economic Armageddon and financial crisis in Europe that would ultimately generate chaos for the global economy.
Now, I doubt Germany or France—the two pillars integral to the eurozone—will exit the euro, but the reality is that the situation in the economic zone remains in a financial crisis with little hope of revival.
The problem is that the eurozone is firmly in a financial crisis and recession, trying to find its way out.
Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy are a drag on the ability of the eurozone to get out of its financial crisis. The unemployment rate in Greece and Spain is over 25% and worsening.
Italy just formed a new government, but there’s tons of work left for that debt-ridden country before it can exit its own financial crisis that has been building for years.
With all of this bad news, it’s not surprising to see people in the eurozone feeling the despair. According to the European Commission, economic morale in the eurozone remains weak after declining in March and April. (Source: Emmot, R., “Economic mood in euro zone sours again in April,” Reuters, April 29, 2013.)
And it appears that the solution will again … Read More
With the market hitting all-time highs, many investors are wondering how investor sentiment can be so positive when job creation is still not as strong as it should be. This divergence between the financial markets and the real economy cannot last forever.
Investor sentiment has been propped up by the Federal Reserve, which is trying to prime and ignite the U.S. economy. While job creation is certainly better now than it was a few years ago, there is still much more work that needs to be accomplished.
One very visible sign that the economy is not running at 100% capacity was the recently released retail sales data. For March, retail sales decreased by 0.4%, although this did follow a very strong February that showed a one-percent gain. A survey of 85 economists by Bloomberg had a median forecast of zero (unchanged) from March. (Source: Kowalski, A., “Retail Sales in U.S. Declined by Most in Nine Months,” Bloomberg, April 12, 2013.)
Job creation obviously plays a very important role when it comes to retail sales. And remember that like most developed nations, a vast majority of the U.S. economy is based on consumer spending.
In this case, investor sentiment might have become too bullish on retail-oriented stocks. If job creation does not accelerate, we could see a further impact on discretionary spending, which would break down investor sentiment throughout this year.
However, this recent retail sales data might have been a blip, as the trend is still fairly strong. Remember that one data point does not make a trend. Following stronger-than-expected data earlier in the year, a pullback was expected due … Read More
For many years, people from all over the world have been envious of the economic growth in the Chinese economy. Since leaders of that nation have transformed the Chinese economy from purely state-controlled to more capitalistic, China’s growth has been astounding.
Looking back, it is easy today to think of the Chinese economy in terms of the allocation of funds for long-term investing—hindsight is always 20/20. However, the trick is to look forward over the next decade and determine the most likely scenario for long-term investing possibilities.
A common complaint by outsiders regarding the Chinese economy has been the use of cheap wages to increase its competitiveness. It is true that the Chinese economy has benefited greatly from much lower wages than many other nations around the world. Additionally, the size of the working population is huge.
However, it appears that the demographics and costs are now beginning to shift against the Chinese economy, and those interested in long-term investing might be able to create a portfolio that will benefit from this change.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) recently noted that wages adjusted for inflation have more than tripled over the past decade in the Chinese economy. Additionally, new labor laws have increased costs for businesses to hire and fire people. (Source: “China surging wages threaten economy’s competitiveness, ADB says,” Bloomberg, April 9, 2013.)
Additionally, ADB reports that wages are being pushed higher, as the pool of working-age people shrinks. Because the one child policy has been in place for so many years, China is entering a troubling demographic scenario, as there will be far less people available to work … 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 S&P 500 continues to remain at extremely elevated levels, with many professional and retail investors looking for a market sell-off. What is surprising is that the S&P 500 has risen in spite of general market sentiment that hasn’t become overly bullish.
New data from Bloomberg show that the S&P 500 has moved up towards analysts’ estimates to such a level that the market is approximately five percent away from the mean forecast. This is the closest the S&P 500 has gotten to Wall Street estimates in the last seven years, with the historical difference normally around 14%. (Source: Rupp, L. and Gammeltoft, N., “U.S. stocks fall as American manufacturing index slips,” Bloomberg, April 1, 2013.)
What this means is that the S&P 500 has exceeded the current market sentiment and has continued to rise. At this point, either the S&P 500 has gotten far ahead of the underlying fundamentals, or market sentiment will turn even more bullish, as analysts begin to increase their expectations for this year.
Not only are the pros lagging the market, most retail investors are also underinvested in the market. While there has been a definite shift from cash and money market funds to the S&P 500, the vast majority of investors have not enjoyed the S&P 500’s massive upward move.
Two things will occur: either retail investors will look to buy into the S&P 500 on a correction, or the future pullback will indicate a far greater sell-off, as market sentiment shifts into negative territory.
Fundamentally, recent data continue to show conflicting evidence for the U.S. economy. The Institute for Supply Management’s factory index … Read More
One of the most dangerous situations is when an investor attains a false sense of confidence. With the Federal Reserve enacting such an aggressive monetary policy stance, this has led to reduced levels of volatility and an uncanny calm in the financial markets.
Because the Federal Reserve has stepped into the financial markets with such a large level of support through their monetary policy program, this has led to bond prices that remain elevated and yields that are at very low levels. Not much has occurred over the past few years in terms of shocks to the system.
The danger occurs when investors believe this situation will remain in place forever. Nothing lasts forever and one should always prepare for the future.
So far, the net result from the monetary policy action by the Federal Reserve has been higher home prices, an increase in car sales, higher asset prices in general, such as stocks, and a general calm in the financial system.
What happens when the Federal Reserve starts to reduce its monetary policy stance? I think it will hit many sectors, but it will especially affect the bond market.
The President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, William Dudley, recently stated that the accommodative monetary policy stance needs to remain for the time being, due to continued weakness in employment growth. However, he did add that the Federal Reserve should begin adjusting monetary policy as the economy improves. (Source: Zumbrun, J., “Dudley Sees ‘Very Accommodative’ Policy on Weak Job Market,” Bloomberg, March 25, 2013.)
The U.S. economy still has not employed all those who lost their jobs … Read More
This won’t be the first time I’ve stated my opinion that the current Federal Reserve monetary policy is not only becoming greatly ineffective, but also dangerous to your investments.
And now, there are growing voices joining this cautious call. The surprising fact is that even the members of the Federal Reserve are now voicing concerns of the dangers inherent in the central bank’s current monetary policy program.
Charles Plosser, the current Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President, stated in a speech that the Federal Reserve’s asset repurchase program needs to be reduced and eliminated by the end of 2013. His reasoning, like mine, is that the costs outweigh the benefits.
The most interesting statement by Fed President Plosser was, “…monetary policy is posing risks to the economy in terms of financial stability, market functioning and price stability.” (Source: Kearns, J. and Gage, C.S., “Plosser says Fed should taper QE as costs exceed benefits,” Bloomberg, March 6, 2013.)
When I think of the massive amount of money that the Federal Reserve has pumped into the U.S. economy, it is shocking that the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet is in excess of $3.0 trillion and yet the U.S. economy grew just 0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2012.
While cuts in the defense budget certainly explain a huge portion of the weak quarter, it is clear that the monetary policy program by the Federal Reserve has become ineffective. While there may be marginal improvements in certain sectors, the costs that I’ve been discussing previously, and which Plosser is now elucidating, will be very severe.
The scariest part of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy … Read More
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified in front of Congress and faced a barrage of questions and criticisms regarding the central bank’s monetary policy initiative.
There are a growing number of critics voicing their concerns over the current monetary policy path set forth by the Federal Reserve. These critics aren’t only independent analysts such as myself, (I have been writing articles on the topic for some time now, including the article “Current Monetary Policy Unsustainable”), but economists who have worked closely with the Federal Reserve in the past.
The Federal Reserve chairman stated in his testimony to Congress, “Keeping long-term interest rates low has helped spark a recovery in the housing market and has led to increased sales and production of automobiles and other durable goods.” (Source: “Bernanke Affirms Bond Buying,” Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2013.)
Is he correct? Over the short term, the answer is yes, since the Federal Reserve has begun its aggressive monetary policy plan, home prices have gone up and car sales are strong once again. The real question is: what are the costs of accumulating $2.8 trillion of Treasury debt and mortgage-backed securities?
The real issue I have is the belief in fixing a burst bubble with yet another inflated stimulus plan. The previous high level of home prices was artificial and not sustainable. The resulting housing crash was inevitable, as all of the factors that went into creating the bubble were not structurally sound.
With the Federal Reserve pumping out monetary policy at full throttle, home prices are sure to move upward over the short term, but the long-term implications can be quite … Read More
The current Federal Reserve monetary policy initiative is truly historic in proportion. Not only has the Federal Reserve held interest rates at extremely low levels for an extended period of time, it has also embarked on an asset-purchasing program in the amount of $85.0 billion per month.
Clearly, this type of monetary policy program is unsustainable. While many people have been warning of the dangers, an interesting paper that will be presented at the upcoming U.S. Monetary Policy Forum will state similar concerns; however, what’s fascinating is who the authors are.
Amongst the four economists, one is a former Federal Reserve governor, Fredric Mishkin; two are former Federal Reserve economists, David Greenlaw and Peter Hooper; and the fourth author is James Hamilton, an economics professor at the University of California whose work has been used by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to justify certain monetary policy initiatives. (Source: Zumbrun, J., “Economists Warn Fed Risks Losing Control Amid Budget Deficits,” Bloomberg, February 22, 2013.)
These economists certainly have the kind of background, knowledge, and experience that can’t be ignored. Their assertion is that the explosion in the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, in addition to the unsustainable fiscal policies, could result in a loss of control over the monetary policy system.
With the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimating at current projections for revenues and expenses, the government will run budget deficits of approximately $700 billion for the next 10 years. This type of irresponsible management of fiscal policy by Washington is inexcusable.
While the Federal Reserve is attempting to reduce the unemployment rate through monetary policy, Washington’s inability to get its fiscal … Read More
The major bank stocks all closed off 2012 near their respective 52-week highs; and they’ve started 2013 with a bang. Driven by an improving banking industry that is assuming less risky businesses while shoring up their balance sheets and producing stronger units, the KBW Bank Index is up eight percent, outperforming both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones.
The subprime credit crisis that surfaced in 2008 and drove the U.S. and the global economy into a recession was not what we wanted to see; but in some sort of twisted way, the events have led to an industry that has restructured the way banks do business—more specifically, the amount of risk that is assumed by a bank via sophisticated strategies. So far, this shift in structure, coined the “Volcker Rule” because it was set in place by economist and ex-Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, appears to be capping the number of speculative trades made by the banks, which is good.
Banks have altered the way they do business, and they’ve shown positive strides along the way.
In my view, the operating results have been fairly good, and this indicates that the banks will be able to grow their business volume across the board during the U.S. economic recovery.
Moreover, with the housing market and the U.S. economy continuing to improve, I feel bank stocks will also see some gains.
Most of the big banks have paid back part or all of their government loans. Overall, bank stocks are showing promise and delivering better results.
While risk surrounding the bank stocks has declined, there are still issues that could hamper … Read More
With the outlook for the U.S. and global economies looking more encouraging, we have seen a corresponding upward push by oil prices on the chart.
An issue for us is that oil prices continue to be largely dictated by the folks in the Middle East, namely the 11-member oil cartel Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC). At this time, OPEC feels oil prices of $100.00 a barrel are reasonable, and $80.00 is viewed as the low point that is acceptable for oil prices. This might be fine with OPEC, as it adds to their rich coffers; but with the average price of gasoline at $3.54 a gallon, consumers aren’t happy with these high oil prices. (Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration web site, last accessed February 8, 2013.)
But unless we see a massive flow of new oil from the controversial tar sands in Alberta, Canada, and a move back to offshore drilling in the post-BP era, oil prices will continue to be dictated by OPEC. I think it’s wrong to be held hostage by a group of oil-rich countries.
The U.S. has agreed to allow oil from the tar sands to be delivered to refineries in Texas, but the process to retrieve the oil from the tar sands is not considered environmentally friendly. Europe, at this time, is looking at placing the tar oil on the “no-go” list.
The government must continue to look at ways to reduce the country’s insatiable appetite for oil and reduce the impact of high oil prices on the U.S. economy.
Oil magnate T. Boone Pickens continues to push his view to cut the … Read More
When it comes to developing and creating a long-term investment strategy for your portfolio, one of the more difficult aspects is maintaining a focus on the horizon. What this means is that sometimes one needs to look past the short-term aberrations and focus on where the economy and stocks will be in the future.
The topic of mining stocks has come up quite often lately. Initially, when one talks about mining stocks, many people automatically gravitate toward gold and silver companies.
I would suggest that there are data showing that other commodity mining stocks might offer strong long-term potential capital appreciation.
Professionals know that the market price of a stock offers far more information than any one data point. If the price of a stock or commodity is moving, this is certainly an indication of where people are placing their funds through their own investment strategy.
While some might have an investment strategy primarily in mining stocks, I would urge diversifying away from any one commodity in this sector, creating a more diversified portfolio in general.
Getting ahead of the curve over the retail public is a difficult but attainable investment strategy. I would suggest that, in addition to looking at economic data in forming one’s own analysis, one should look to the price charts and see what’s happening on the ground.
Recently, we’ve seen a recent breakout in one commodity that might surprise a lot of people: copper.
“Doctor Copper,” as the commodity is often called due to its ability to predict economic growth, has just broken out of its downtrend. While many are focusing on the recent negative … Read More
One of the most frustrating things for economists around the world has been the lack of economic growth and job creation. The real estate bust in America has had a cascading effect on the economy. The real estate crash and many market sectors were interrelated, causing economic growth to not only stall, but also decline significantly, leading to massive layoffs.
While there have been some positive signs that the housing and automotive sectors are starting to rebound, job creation has only been moderate. Economic growth needs to accelerate for a substantial amount of job creation to develop.
Some of the latest data regarding manufacturing certainly are not a positive step toward economic growth or job creation.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently issued its general economic index, which fell to -7.8 in January, down from a revised -7.3 in December. This is the sixth month of contraction in the New York area. Not only was this number set lower than the previous month, but it also missed expectations substantially. Fifty-four economists surveyed by Bloomberg had a median estimate of zero. (Source: Woellert, W., “Manufacturing in New York Region Contracts for Sixth Month,” Bloomberg, January 15, 2013.)
While manufacturing accounts for only 12% of the U.S. economy, it is still a substantial component of economic growth and job creation.
These data were followed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s January 2013 Business Outlook Survey. The survey of manufacturing conditions declined to -5.8 in January from 4.6 in December. New orders declined to -4.3 from a December reading of 4.9. Labor conditions further deteriorated to an index of -5.2 … Read More
Recently, we have heard and seen some data stating that the Chinese economy is beginning to rebound. Many analysts have started to raise their economic forecast for the Chinese economy in 2013.
One of the difficult aspects when calculating an economic forecast for the Chinese economy is that much of the official data from China are questionable.
While recent data have shown that the Chinese economy has begun re-accelerating during the fourth quarter 2012, new information raises some questions.
The China Beige Book (CBB) International states that, in its analysis of the fourth quarter, it sees a significant decline in corporate loans. As the CBB states, its editors were “shocked” that new loans accounted for less than 20% of the total lending. (Source: Harjani, A., “The China Beige Book Has Some ‘Shocking’ Data,” CNBC, January 16, 2013.)
The CBB interviews over 2,000 business executives across the country to come up with its survey results. Another worrying sign in the report for the Chinese economy that will certainly cloud any economic forecast is that the percentage of surveyed companies borrowing money continues to decline, even though interest rates have been cut by the People’s Bank of China.
While the Chinese economy is trying to become more consumer-oriented and domestic, exports still play a very large role. With the buildup in their inventory, manufacturing firms appear to be anticipating growth worldwide for 2013.
If this doesn’t occur, the Chinese economy could be vulnerable to a significant pullback. The difficulty in all of this analysis when trying to calculate an economic forecast is that so many variables and so much questionable data make … Read More
Sometimes it is interesting to get a different perspective by looking at other nations around the world and how they are dealing with their economies.
The U.S. economy is certainly not booming, although the latest data have shown some contradictory indications. On the one hand, job creation is not occurring at an extremely fast pace; however, there are signs of an economic recovery in certain sectors, including housing, vehicle sales, and energy.
Germany, on the other hand, has had a lot of success, even though its neighbors have been embroiled in a large amount of economic stress due to their financial crisis. The economic recovery of Germany goes back many years, with structural reforms, made over a decade ago, that have prepared its economy to be extremely competitive internationally. The decrease in the euro has only helped the country’s economic recovery.
According to the German Federal Statistics Office, exports for the first 11 months during 2012 grew 4.3% to $1.3 trillion. This includes a 10.4% increase in exports to non-European Union (EU) countries. In another report, conducted by the Federation of German Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Services, export growth is expected to increase by five percent in 2013. (Source: “Booming Sales Beyond Europe German Exports Seen Hitting New Record in 2012,” Der Spiegel, January 8 2013.)
These are record levels of exports for Germany. Clearly, that nation has been able to engineer a decent economic recovery in spite of its weaker European partners. Job creation throughout the financial crisis has been quite strong, as Germany currently employees over 41 million citizens, the highest level ever recorded.
Much of the problem … Read More
At the end of 2008, the financial crisis in America was so severe that the Federal Reserve began a historically significant and unprecedented monetary policy program, which has continued to this day, dramatically altering the financial and economic landscape.
Considering the extent and breadth of this huge monetary policy program by the Federal Reserve, two questions linger: why hasn’t the economy recovered as many economists had expected, and what is the downside?
Monetary policy is an extremely complicated initiative, with the end result not easily quantified or predictable. One of the most common complaints has been the lack of income from savers due to the lowered interest rates.
There is some validity that a massive amount of income has been foregone from savers because of these lower rates, due to easy monetary policy by the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world.
According to The Economist, personal interest income has declined at an annual rate of $432 billion since 2008, more than four percent disposable income. This was interest income that was not generated and, ultimately, not spent in the economy. (Source: “Savers’ Lament,” The Economist, December 1, 2012, last accessed January 7, 2013.)
However, the situation is far more complex, as there are two sides to every coin. The lowered interest rates due to easy monetary policy by the Federal Reserve have also decreased the costs of borrowing.
The Bank of England conducted a study showing that between 2008 and 2012, the lowered interest rates ended up costing savers 70 billion pounds in lost income, but households saved 100 billion pounds in interest expense. (Source: The Economist, … Read More
When it comes to looking for a long-term investment opportunity, sometimes it pays to look at a market sector that might not initially seem bullish. While I have pointed out several structural impediments to economic growth in America, there are a few areas that do provide a long-term investment opportunity.
One of the strengths in America is the growth in resurgence of the energy market sector. This is clearly not the result of any government initiative; rather it is due to private enterprises realizing the long-term investment opportunity in the energy market sector by creating revolutionary technologies in extracting natural gas.
New techniques for hydraulic fracturing have enabled the American energy market sector to become a global leader. This has sent prices plummeting when compared to not only domestic but also global history.
The investment opportunity for many firms is to use this abundance and cheap input for production, attracting numerous firms to set up facilities in America. While the U.S. economy is still sluggish, many might seem surprised to find such a strong investment opportunity that’s attracting firms worldwide to our shores.
There are copious areas of the economy that benefit from low natural gas prices, including the chemical market sector, the steel market sector, and the fertilizer market sector, just to name a few.
Companies see a long-term investment opportunity in building multi-million-dollar facilities to benefit from the comparative advantage of a low-priced input. As an example, Nucor Corporation (NYSE/NUE), a U.S.-based steelmaker, is about to construct a $750-million facility in America. Voestalpine AG, a steelmaker based in Austria, stated that it is looking at building a $661-million … Read More
When it comes to making an economic forecast for the U.S. economy in 2013, a huge stumbling block was the uncertainty prior to the deal to avert the fiscal cliff. The just-announced new deal to avert the fiscal cliff is absolutely pathetic and will not accomplish what many were hoping for; a comprehensive long-term deal to lower the U.S. budget deficit and create an environment that will foster long-term gross domestic product (GDP) growth.
The level of uncertainty has recently started to impact consumers. The impact on consumer confidence was noted during the latest Conference Board Index in which consumer confidence fell six percent to 65.1 in December from November, the lowest since August 2012. (Source: “The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index® Declines,” The Conference Board, December 27, 2012.)
GDP growth is heavily dependent on consumer confidence. Since the majority of the U.S. GDP growth is based on consumer spending, any pullback in consumer confidence is a worrying sign, with its potential for lowering an economic forecast for 2013.
An interesting dynamic was that consumers assessed that current conditions improved in December from the previous month. Business conditions rose to 17.1% from 14.6% the previous month; however, expectations for business conditions over the next six months declined to 17.6% from 21.3%.
This might seem contradictory, but it really shows that while the current economy is somewhat improving, the political grandstanding and ineptitude to avert the fiscal cliff have been increasing concerns for the future GDP growth of the American economy. This type of uncertainty will certainly put a damper on any economic forecast.
This new compromised deal has plenty of … Read More
One of the most important sectors of the economy is the housing market. The housing market is crucial for several reasons. First, the housing market employs a lot of people, both directly and indirectly. This includes the direct employment of people in the housing industry, such as tradesmen and homebuilders, and the indirect employment of people in related industries, such as the automakers that build pickup trucks to be used by tradesmen and homebuilders.
Another crucial factor is the direction of home prices. We’ve now seen continued strength in home prices, which is a positive for the homeowner. Considering a house is the largest property many citizens own, to see its value continually decline is mentally and emotionally difficult. However, with month after month of steady gains, this will help alleviate some concerns about the future.
According to the latest report from research and analytics firm CoreLogic, Inc. (NYSE/CLGX), in October 2012, home prices, including distressed sales, jumped up 6.3% nationwide. This is the largest increase for home prices since June 2006. This was not a one-time jump for the housing market, but the eighth consecutive month of year-over-year nationwide increases in home prices. (Source: “CoreLogic Home Price Index Marks Eighth Consecutive Month of Year-Over-Year Gains,” CoreLogic, Inc., December 4, 2012.)
In regards to homebuilder sentiment for the housing market, which is correlated with home prices, confidence continues to rise. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), confidence by homebuilders in December rose for the eighth consecutive month. This is the highest level of confidence by homebuilders since April of 2006. (Source: “Builder Confidence Continues Improving in December,” … Read More
We’re two weeks away from surviving the Mayan Doomsday and three weeks away from stepping over the fiscal cliff. But the unabated student loan debt is just getting warmed up. Instead of dealing with the problem, Washington’s policies continue to stoke the fire. And that economic strain spells continued misery for America’s ongoing credit crisis woes.
Outstanding student loan debt has surged 165% in just seven years, from $360 billion to $956 billion. Furthermore, the average loan balance for U.S. college students has increased more than 68% since 2005 to $27,000. (Source: “Student Loan Debt History,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York web site, last accessed December 11, 2012.)
On a more granular level, student loan debt jumped $42.0 billion, or 4.6%, over the previous quarter to $956 billion. During the same period, car loan balances increased for the sixth consecutive quarter to $768 billion. U.S. credit card debt held firm at approximately $601 billion.
Eleven percent of all student loan balances are 90 or more days delinquent, surpassing all other forms of debt. Credit cards, car loans, and mortgages are all in better shape than student loans, with 90-day delinquency rates of 10.0%, 4.3%, and 5.9%, respectively.
According to the Federal Reserve, student loan debt is the only form of consumer debt that has grown since the peak of consumer debt in 2008, and it is the largest form of consumer debt outside of mortgages. What’s more is that unlike credit card debt, student debt is not forgivable in bankruptcy.
And that is creating a nightmare scenario for graduates young and old. In fact, every age group is experiencing … Read More
America is fast approaching the $16.4-trillion limit in national debt that is legally allowed under the current debt ceiling. With the current debt at $16.24 trillion, time is running out, which is why we need to either resolve the fiscal cliff or, as the President wants, hike up the national debt ceiling in order to allow the government more flexibility in its spending. Failure to raise the national debt limit would mean that the government would need to access emergency funds to avoid a default and initiate the fiscal cliff cuts and tax increases in some form.
So far, the talks between House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama have resolved little. Just last week, Boehner offered up a new 10-year, $2.2-trillion strategy that entailed adjustments to Medicare and Social Security benefits but also avoided a return to higher taxes for the nation’s top income earners. In response, the President is willing to look at reviewing the highest tax rate for the rich, but at the same time, he wants to cut loopholes.
With just over three weeks left in the year, something will need to be done. In the event that a resolution is not achieved, the government will have to access emergency funds until a deal is agreed upon. This is the dilemma that we are at now; but something has to be done, or America could be leaving a much worse financial mess for the generations ahead, including a possible recession and massive national debt.
Moody’s Investors Service warned it may cut the U.S. triple-A debt rating for a second time in 2013, should the government not … Read More
The Federal Reserve has embarked on a path that is historically unprecedented in monetary policy initiatives, in the hope of reviving the U.S. economy from the depths of the most recent recession. Since 2008, the Federal Reserve has bought $1.0 trillion in long-term treasuries and approximately $900 billion in mortgage-backed securities, all in the hope of stimulating the American economy.
Everyone should know, at least by now, that there are definite limits to what monetary policy can do. It’s unfortunate that so much of the burden in reviving the American economy has been left to the shoulders of the Federal Reserve. A large amount of the blame for the current economic circumstances has to be placed on politicians in Washington. With the current fiscal cliff fiasco, once again, we are witnessing the ineptitude of our elected officials in their ability to resolve structural issues that are fundamentally crucial to the long-term economic stability and vitality of America.
Having said that, the Federal Reserve does have a dual mandate that must be met, and it is enacting monetary policy in a way in which it considers appropriate, considering the lack of action from Washington.
The next Federal Reserve meeting will be held December 11–12, and it will be extremely important. At this meeting, the monetary policy program called “Operation Twist” will end. This monetary policy initiative involved selling short-term treasuries to fund purchases of long-term treasury securities at a rate of $45.0 billion per month.
For the Federal Reserve, one issue with an extension of this monetary policy program is that the amount of short-term treasuries left to sell will soon … Read More
The results of PNC Wealth Management’s annual Christmas Price Index were recently released, and it’s not looking good for consumers. If you want to financially re-create “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” in which a rich lover goes to town on a shopping spree, you’ll have to shell out a little bit more this year.
According to the 29th annual survey, it will cost $25,431.18 to purchase one set of each of the gifts given in the song. That represents a 4.8% increase from last year, a 3.5% increase in 2011, and a 9.2% increase in 2010. This year also represents a 101% increase over the $12,623.10 price tag from the original 1984 survey results.
Now granted, the Christmas Price Index is not a serious economic indicator, and the average consumer is not going to throw down cash for eight maids-a-milking, five golden rings, or a partridge in a pear tree…but it does go to show the disconnect between the inflation rate and what consumers are really paying.
Considering the modest economic growth we’ve had, the increase is a little unexpected. The Christmas Price Index would have been even higher in 2012, except that minimum wage hasn’t increased.
At 4.8%, the 2012 Christmas index significantly outpaced the government-tracked Consumer Price Index (CPI), which rose 2.2% in October from the year-earlier period. (Source: News release, “Consumer Price Index – October 2012,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, last accessed November 30, 2012.)
Digging a little deeper, month-over-month, the shelter index increased 0.3%, its largest increase since March 2008; the food index increased 0.2% in October, with the index for food-at-home rising 0.3%, its largest … Read More
The only people crying “Y2K” back in 1999 were information technology (IT) professionals looking for job security. Even without their help, disaster was averted, the rising sun greeted the world on January 1, 2000, and life was good.
Fast-forward to 2012, and the doomsayers are at it again. Except this time, it’s the members of the U.S. government wailing about an “economic Armageddon” if the fiscal cliff isn’t averted come January 1, 2013. Unlike Y2K, the fiscal cliff is a real issue that needs to be addressed; but the end result will be the same: at the last second, disaster will be averted.
Unfortunately, as we make our way to the end of the calendar year, indecisiveness and political jockeying are spooking the global investing community and wreaking havoc on the markets. At a time when the international community needs the U.S., the world’s largest economy, to show confidence, it’s the political infighting capturing the spotlight.
In spite of all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the fiscal cliff will be avoided and life as we know it will continue. And that’s when the real problems begin. With the centric fiscal cliff stealing all the limelight, it’s been tough for investors to focus on the fact that America’s economic rebound is contingent on a financially strong international community. Domestic economic growth cannot be stimulated in isolation.
In January 2013, investors will see that the real underlying factor affecting the stock market is the global economy and its impact on corporate earnings.
On November 15, it was announced that the collective economies of the eurozone fell by 0.1% between July and … Read More
There is no question that the level of job creation currently in America is quite poor. While we have seen some improvement from the depths of the great recession, much more work needs to be done, not only for job creation, but also for a fundamental restructuring of the U.S. economy.
One point that every American, including the politicians, needs to be aware of is that the U.S. is part of the global economy. We cannot have job creation in isolation; we need to understand how America and its businesses fit into the global economy first.
The CEO of Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ/CSCO), John Chambers, has been quite vocal for the business community in terms of how tax policy is impacting domestic job creation. During Cisco’s current earnings quarter, in which the company did report solid numbers that beat expectations, what was interesting to me were his comments regarding job creation and how the company sees the global economy.
To begin with, 82% of Cisco’s large cash pile, which is approximately $45.0 billion, is not in America. The extremely high corporate tax rates are preventing this firm from being able to bring these funds into America to help job creation domestically. As Chambers states in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on CNBC, the company is looking around the world for the most attractive areas to conduct business. He specifically points out that Cisco will be spending its money in Canada, because that country has better corporate tax rates and is generally an easier place to conduct business. (Source: “Cisco’s Chambers: If No US Compromise We Will Invest Overseas,” video interview, … Read More
The U.S. Treasury Department recently released the budget deficit numbers for October, reporting a massive $120 billion deficit. This compares to a budget deficit in October 2011 of “only” $98.0 billion. While the U.S. economy is not growing at a rapid rate, it’s certainly not shrinking. So in the span of one year, with some growth in the U.S. economy, albeit slow growth, we’ve seen an approximate $20.0-billion monthly year-over-year increase in the budget deficit. I think this shows the true ineptitude of our political leaders.
One sign that the U.S. economy has shown some improvement is that receipts increased to $184 billion, compared to $163 billion this time last year. However, expenditures increased at a much faster rate. The monthly expenditures for October 2012 were $304 billion, a huge jump from approximately $262 billion in October 2011, which caused the rise in the budget deficit. Does anyone know where this money went?
While President Obama can talk about increasing taxes to generate more revenue, the truth is that receipts to the government are increasing. The government is taking in higher levels of revenue, as the U.S. economy has slightly improved. However, the spending side is growing at a far greater rate. I don’t believe Obama’s tax hikes can pay for the massive increases in expenditures. More likely, raising taxes to try and reduce the budget deficit will kill what little growth the U.S. economy is experiencing.
October is the first month of the fiscal 2013 year. The fiscal 2012 year has ended with another budget deficit in excess of $1.0 trillion. One trillion dollars is larger than the entire … Read More
Those on the edge of retirement may be forced to take a step back. By taking “income” out of “fixed income,” the Federal Reserve has made retirement a pipe dream for many. And you can send all your letters of thanks to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
By investing in bonds and treasuries, those who are heading toward retirement can find comfort in fixed-income returns. These provide holders with a stable income, as the investors know what their annual returns will be and can budget and spend accordingly.
For many Americans, those days of certainty could be coming, or have already come, to an end.
When we entered the new millennium, 30-year Treasury bonds yielded more than 6.6% annually. Fast-forward to November 2012, and 30-year Treasury bonds have fallen to a paltry annual rate of 2.9%. That 56.5% drop dwarfs the declines that were experienced in the 90s. (Source: “30 year Treasury Rate,” multpl web site, last accessed November 2, 2012.)
Let’s put that into perspective. Back in 2000, you would have made $6.00 a year on your $100.00. In 2012, thanks to the helping hand of the Federal Reserve’s Bernanke, to get that same fixed annual income, you would need to have $200.00 in savings.
In 2012, Americans need to more than double their wealth just to get to the same starting block in 2000. Unlike the banks, however, you can’t rely on Bernanke to print money and bail you out. You’re on your own—in more ways than one.
The late-1990s dot-com boom on Wall Street was a windfall for many retail investors. The so-called easy returns also drew … Read More
With investor confidence still relatively weak, many are looking for any signs of a rebound in the global economy. One area many are looking to is the Chinese economy. Not only has the Chinese economy become a greater force within the world economically, but many U.S.-based companies are generating a significant amount of earnings from that nation. Investor confidence is partially being predicated on the hope that the Chinese economy can offer some glimmer of optimism, as opposed to the still anemic gross domestic product (GDP) growth levels in America.
Recent data from China offers a bit of a mixed picture. Exports in October rose at the fastest pace in five months, coming in 11.6% higher than the previous year. This compares to 9.9% year-over-year growth for September. That is certainly a good sign for the Chinese economy, and some investor confidence might be rallied off such figures. (Source: “China Exports Exceed Estimates in Sign of Global Pickup,” Bloomberg, November 10, 2012.) However, the sky is not all clear yet.
The head of the National Development and Reform Commission, Zhang Ping, stated that he believes the Chinese economy must be prepared for increased turmoil from various nations around the world. In addition, domestic issues still are quite serious. (Source: “China Exports Exceed Estimates in Sign of Global Pickup,” Bloomberg, November 10, 2012.)
This is a difficult way to build up investor confidence. On the one hand, there are some signs the Chinese economy and the global economy might be moving upward off the floor. However, there are still numerous indicators pointing to the fact that things could quickly unravel and … 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
Nothing motivates like fear. Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential election on November 4, 2008, and gun sales surged. For the week of November 3, 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received more than 374,000 requests for background checks on gun purchasers, a 49.0% increase over the same period in 2007. (Source: “Gun sales surge after Obama’s election,” CNN, November 11, 2008.)
The surge was attributed to fears that a Democratic president and Democratic-controlled Congress would restrict firearm ownership. Similar surges accompanied the election of Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president.
Fast-forward to 2012 and it’s déjà vu. In August, firearm sales checks were up 27.8% year-over-year to 1.04 million. (Source: “August sees 27.8% increase in firearms sales checks,” Buckeye Firearms Association, September 6, 2012.) In September, they were up 14.7% to 1.07 million. This marks the 28th straight month that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) figures have increased year-over-year. (Source: “September 2012 NSSF-Adjusted NICS Background Checks Up 14.7 Percent,” National Shooting Sports Foundation, last accessed October 26, 2012.)
In fact, gun ownership is near a 20-year high, generating $4.0 billion in commercial gun and ammunition sales. With an estimated 300 million guns, America is the most heavily armed nation in the world. (Source: “Behind America’s Gun Boom: Inside the Comeback At Sturm, Ruger,” Forbes October 17, 2012.)
Is there any truth to support a Second-Amendment crisis under Obama?
Since 2008, the few times Obama has done anything related to guns, it has been to expand the rights of gun owners. He signed a law that allows people to bring their guns into national parks (source: … Read More
Elections are important, maybe even the cornerstone of a democracy; but sometimes voters are just too busy to listen to everything being said by the Obama or Romney camps. Thank heaven sound bites can sum up everything we think we need to know.
Here are some recent tidbits from Capitol Hill:
The U.S. Department of Labor recently said that unemployment plummeted in September to 7.8%—the first time the rate dropped below eight percent since February 2009. (Source: “Employment Situation Summary,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 5, 2012.)
Auto sales rose in September by 13% from a year earlier to nearly 1.2 million. (Source: “September 2012 Auto Sales,” Automobile Magazine, October 9, 2012.) U.S. home sales jumped to their highest level in two years, and builder confidence has reached its highest level in more than six years. (Source: WRAPUP 2-U.S. new home sales dip, but prices scale 5-year high,” Reuters, September 26, 2012.) Consumer confidence jumped in September. (Source: “Consumer Comfort in U.S. Stayed Near Three-Month High Last Week,” Bloomberg, October 11, 2012.)
Yup, everything is rosy. The U.S. economy is picking up steam, the housing market is turning around, and the U.S. is creating jobs. The economic turnaround is in full swing, and Americans are happy.
But if you believe the economy is getting better, you must truly be the world’s greatest contrarian, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
I think it’s all about perspective.
The so-called “encouraging” news reminds me of that scene near the end of Titanic, where a deckhand fires off a rescue flare into the night; people onboard the sinking ship or in the lifeboats … Read More
With the U.S. economy still in a quagmire, many people are looking for solutions to help kick-start the economic recovery. We have seen trillions of dollars thrown at the U.S. economy by the Federal Reserve. Yet with this amount of stimulus, the economic recovery still appears to be quite a long way away. We should be looking at alternative measures to reinvigorate the U.S. economy, and all measures should be open for discussion.
We’re constantly hearing about the upcoming fiscal cliff that will severely hinder any possibility of an economic recovery over the short term. Naturally, with the U.S. economy in such a poor state, many people are asking themselves, who is going to pay the bill? An alternative measure that wouldn’t cost taxpayers any money would be to ease restrictions for the trillions of dollars held by American corporations overseas.
I am of the opinion that regardless of one’s political viewpoint, any initiative that helps the U.S. economy should be considered especially if taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill.
Corporations currently hold trillions of dollars of funds outside of the U.S. economy, because they are not taxed as long as the money resides overseas.
Basically, what this means is that trillions of dollars are available to be brought back into the U.S. economy by corporations if the environment gave them an incentive to do so. Not only have trillions of dollars been accumulating overseas, untaxed and unable to have any impact within the U.S. economy, but corporations have also made record amounts of profits over the last couple of years. This means that the cash pile overseas, sitting … Read More
With the U.S. economy slowing down, many investors are looking to the Chinese economy to help pull the world back out of stall speed. Growth needs to emerge somewhere in the world, and with the economic data coming from the U.S. being quite weak, the hope is that the Chinese economy can forestall a global recession.
The authorities in China have seen their data and are now aware that the slowdown might be accelerating. This appears evident as the government is looking to increase state spending to kick-start the Chinese economy, and avoid a global recession. Since so many nations are now interlinked and most of the large superpowers are on the brink of an accelerated economic decline, any significant pullback in one economy might bring about a global recession.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao just announced that the Chinese government will do what it can to promote investment and increase internal consumption. The Chinese economy has been primarily export-oriented, but the authorities there are trying to generate a more consumer-based economy.
To promote growth and arrest a decline in the Chinese economy, the government is increasing construction projects in various sectors. This does raise some concern as to the long-term viability of such projects, particularly production plants. While it might help in the short term to give the Chinese economy a boost, certain sectors that are set to increase production, like steel and solar power, already have overcapacity issues. Once new plants are built, will they just sit empty? That doesn’t bode well for the Chinese economy down the road, but at least in the meantime it provides jobs for … Read More
Recent news that the Chinese Investment Corporation has announced that it will be moving some of its invested funds out of the U.S. and into emerging markets is a decision that sends an important signal about investor sentiment. This is an interesting move by China regarding its view for the future of the U.S. economy. The U.S. economy has obviously encountered significant setbacks over the last few years, but these are only the beginning of our problems if investor sentiment such as this takes hold. Once nations like China decide that the future is less bright when looking at the U.S. economy compared to other nations, that’s when we’ll have serious issues.
The sustainability of the U.S. economy is built on positive investor sentiment built with foreign investments, fresh money coming into the nation and continuing its growth path. Once we lose foreign investor sentiment to other nations, the U.S. economy will lose its edge. Attracting capital and people to join the U.S. economy in creating wealth is the foundation of American success. The U.S. economy has become the largest in the world because foreign capital and people have developed new technologies and innovations. Once investor sentiment shifts, the country that gets this new attention will also get the result, which is a much stronger economy.
The China Investment Corporation stated that part of the reason was increased scrutiny from regulators, as many are worried that the organization is backed by the Chinese government. While everyone should be aware of keeping our best companies within the U.S. economy, shutting the door to foreign investment is not the answer.
The sovereign … Read More
Recently, news broke that the Chinese Investment Corporation has announced that it will be moving some of its invested funds out of the U.S. and into emerging markets. This is an interesting move by China regarding its viewpoint of the future for the U.S. economy. The U.S. economy has obviously encountered significant setbacks over the last few years, but it appears this is only the beginning. Once nations like China decide that the future is less bright when looking at the U.S. economy compared to other nations, that’s when we have real issues.
The sustainability of the U.S. economy is built on foreign investments; fresh money coming into the nation continuing its growth path. Once we lose the interest of other nations in investing in the U.S. economy, we lose our edge. The U.S. economy has become the largest in the world out because of our ability to attract capital and people to come to this country to develop new technologies and innovations. This is yet another sign by a major country—China—that foreign investors are losing faith in the ability of the U.S. economy to deliver strong growth over the long term. This is a not a positive sign for our children who will inherit a U.S. economy that appears to be slipping back when compared to the rest of the world.
The China Investment Corporation stated that part of the reason was increased scrutiny from regulators, as many are worried that, as the organization is backed by the Chinese government. While everyone should be aware of keeping our best companies within the U.S. economy, shutting the door to foreign … Read More