Labor Day is probably the best time to take stock of the American worker and, for them, it's rarely been better. The unemployment rate is near the lowest level since the 1960s, job growth remains robust, and wage growth is in a general accelerating trend.
Analysts were very quick to pin the blame for weakness in stocks late last week on the trade war with China. We agree that uncertainty regarding the future of US-China trade relations was a drag on equities, but think it was far from the only reason for weakness. In fact, it wasn't even the most negative news of the week.
Those Crazy Negative Interest Rates
More than five years ago the European Central Bank adopted negative interest rates as a policy tool to address economic weakness in the Eurozone. Starting at -0.1%, eventually the target short-term rate fell to -0.4%.
The Flailing Fed
The Fed is flailing. For the past several years, under the leadership of both Jerome Powell and, before that, Janet Yellen, the Fed claimed it was "data dependent." But the decision last week to reduce short-term rates by 25 basis points tore that narrative to shreds.
Drip Drip Drip
The Fed cut short-term interest rates by 25 basis points today, moving the range for the federal funds rate down to 2.00 - 2.25%. It also announced it will stop reducing its balance sheet in August, two months earlier than previously planned.
Solid GDP Report
A cottage industry has sprung up in the past decade with the sole focus of discrediting any good news on the economy. When President Obama was in office, the attacks mostly came from the right. With President Trump in Office, the attacks mostly come from the left.
Temporary Tepid Growth for Q2
This Friday, the government will release its initial estimate of real GDP growth in the second quarter, and the headline is likely to look soft. At present, we're projecting an initial report of growth at a 1.8% annual rate.
The Longest Expansion
As of today, the current economic expansion is the longest in US history. Ten years and a day. But just because it's the longest doesn't mean it's the best. The expansions of the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s, all beat it out both in terms of the pace of growth as well as the total growth during the cycle...
This Crazy Rate Cut
The narrative that the U.S. economy is in trouble – some say teetering on the edge of recession - has become so powerful and persuasive that few investors give it a second thought. So of course, they believe, the Fed should cut interest rates.
The Plow Horse Returns?
We haven't been worried about a trade conflict with China, which has a long track record of pirating intellectual property and is a potential military rival in the (not too distant) future. The US has enormous leverage with China, given our trade deficit with the country and the ability of firms to shift supply chains toward alternatives, like Vietnam, Mexico, and India.
Foreign Slowness Not an Obstacle
One consistent theme we've heard lately among pessimistic analysts and investors is that slower growth abroad is a headwind for economic growth in the US. Softness in Europe or China, they say, bodes poorly for the continuation of US expansion. The standard theory, the conventional wisdom, is that slower growth abroad means slower growth in US exports.
Trade War Hysterics
Since hitting new all-time highs two weeks ago, the S&P 500 has fallen about 2.2% as trade negotiations with China hit a snag. Last week, the US announced new tariffs on Chinese imports. This morning, China announced new tariffs on some US goods. Many fear a widening trade war.
The Big Picture and the Fed
If you take a long hike up a mountain, there's plenty to appreciate along the way. But, sometimes, you just have to stop and enjoy the view. With that in mind, let's forget about the April employment report – which saw a combination of very fast payroll growth and moderate wage growth – and think about where the labor market stands in general.
It wasn't that long ago that some economists and investors were seriously concerned about US growth going negative for the first quarter. Now, based on our calculations, which we discuss below, it looks like real GDP grew at a respectable 2.6% annual rate in Q1, meaning that US real output was 3.1% larger than Q1-2018.
New Highs, Still a Buy
The Dow Jones Industrials Average and S&P 500 are breathing down the neck of record highs set last Fall. Some take that as a sign to sell, time to shift out of equities and realize gains. We think that would be a mistake.
Economy on Very Solid Ground
Last month many economists had pushed down their estimates for first quarter economic growth to near zero. The Atlanta Fed's "GDP Now" model was projecting real GDP growth at a 0.2% annual rate in Q1, which would have been the slowest growth since the weather-related negative reading in the first quarter of 2014. But this time it was seen as a new trend leading us toward a recession.
The Fed Emphasizes Patience
The Federal Reserve just made their most dovish shift in outlook since the aftermath of the financial crisis. The FOMC statement, economic projections, and "dot plot" (the expected path of rate hikes) all tilted dovish. In addition, the Fed has decided to maintain a significant portion of the bloated balance sheet it gathered during and after the crisis. In other words, their stated path of "renormalization" will leave the balance sheet well above normal levels.
Ten Years Ago
It's March 8, 2009. The market's down 56% from its all-time high, unemployment is over 8% and hurtling toward 10%, it's just been reported that real GDP dropped at a 6.2% annual rate in Q4 of 2008, and it feels like the world is coming to an end.
Don't Fear a "Hard Brexit"
The clock is winding down, and the United Kingdom has some major decisions to make. Should it stay in the European Union or should it go? If it goes, under what terms? Some analysts and investors are concerned about a "Hard Brexit,"...
Where's the Recession?
Whatever happened to the recession calls? Seems like just a few weeks ago that the correction in the stock market, as well as the partial government shutdown, had convinced many analysts and investors the US was about to enter a recession.
2008 Myth and Reality
We've written about it over and over, and while many advisors seem to understand, the media, politicians, and many analysts don't...or won't. So, we thought we'd try again to explain why so many people don't understand the nearly ten-year long bull market in U.S. equity values.
The Doves won the day at the Federal Reserve, which noted continued solid economic performance but removed longstanding language that further gradual increases will be warranted, and instead highlighted global developments – both economic and financial - and a moderation in inflation as reasons the Fed will be "patient" in determining the pace of future rate hikes.
Don't Obsess About the Fed
When it comes to monetary policy, one thing looks certain for 2019 - journalists, pundits, investors, and analysts will pay it way more attention than it deserves. The spotlight is currently on Wednesday, when the Federal Reserve will issue their first statement of the new year. The consensus expects no changes in rates, and we agree.
Solid Growth to Finish 2018
Normally, the end of January sees the government's first estimate of real GDP growth for the fourth quarter. But with no end in sight for the shutdown, which has already seen numerous other data releases postponed – including figures on retail sales, international trade, inventories, construction, and durable goods - it's very unlikely the GDP report will arrive on time.
The Endless Debt Fret
For the more than three decades we have been involved in analysis of the economy, one nagging constant has been pessimistic prognostications over the U.S. debt. Now once again, debt is the news de jour. Consumer, business, and government debt are all at record highs, and, therefore, the theory goes, the economy is tempting fate.
Dow 28750, S&P 500 3100
Early in 2018 we said the US economy has gone from being a Plow Horse to Kevlar. Nothing that has been thrown at the economy since – neither trade conflicts nor tweets, not higher short-term interest rates nor the correction in stocks – is likely to pierce that armor.
No Housing Bubble
Last week in the New York Times, Yale economist Robert Shiller wrote we are "experiencing one of the greatest housing booms in United States history." Given what happened in the aftermath of the last boom – a financial panic and the Great Recession – this will add to investors' fears about another recession lurking around the corner.
The Long-Term Yield Conundrum
Last Friday, the 10-year Treasury Note closed at a yield of 2.85%. That's up from 2.41% at the end of 2017, but down from the peak of 3.24% on November 8th, and well below where fundamentals suggest yields should be.
New Narrative Alert: Fed Chief Jerome Powell is to blame for the volatility in stocks. Back on October 3rd, with stock markets near their record highs, Powell said "we're a long way from neutral." That was not long after the Fed had moved the federal funds rate to a range of 2.00% to 2.25%...
Consumers Stay Strong
It's that time of the year again. Holiday sales data show surging online sales while foot traffic at brick and mortar stores remains tepid. If you have a sense of déjà vu, it's because you heard the same stories last year.
Fading Fiscal Stimulus; Really?
Fed Chair Jerome Powell and others have started a new narrative about economic "headwinds." They think past rate hikes, slower foreign growth, and "fading fiscal stimulus" should slow the Fed's rate hikes. But is fiscal stimulus really fading?
Politics and economics are interwoven. Government grants licenses, enforces contracts and the rule of law, provides fire and police protection, a national defense, and can call on resources to recover from crisis. Without these institutions, activity would slow. No one is building billion-dollar hotels in Syria, Libya, or Iraq; stability and certainty support investment.
Stay the Course
No fireworks in today's FOMC statement, as Chairman Powell and company held rates steady while reinforcing their outlook. Unemployment remains low, household spending remains strong, and inflation is running in-line with their 2% inflation target. In other words, today's near unanimously expected pause looks almost certain to be followed by a rate hike at the December meeting.
The Plentiful Job Market
Growth is determined by a perpetual tug-of-war between entrepreneurship and government redistribution. When President Obama was in office, we believed incredible technological innovation would allow for economic growth in spite of Obamacare, greater redistribution, higher taxes and increased regulatory burdens. We thought it would be a Plow Horse Economy, and that things would get better if we did not grow government so much.