Weekly Market Snapshot
The spread between the 10-year Treasury note yield and the 2-year yield briefly dipped below 0. An inverted yield curve signals a strong likelihood of entering a recession within the next 12 months, but the odds of a recession had already been rising as the yield curve has flattened.
The Fed, Tariffs, and Employment
Readers should be aware that tariffs are a misguided way to deal with bilateral trade deficits and misbehavior on the part of certain trading partners. Tariffs are a tax on U.S. consumers and businesses. Tariffs raise costs, invite retaliation, disrupt supply chains, and dampen business fixed investment.
Real (inflation-adjusted) GDP growth rose at a 2.1% annual rate in the advance estimate for 2Q19, a bit better than the median forecast (+1.8%), but growth was concentrated in just two components, consumer spending and government. Everything else was down.
Economy and Policy
Retail sales results for June were stronger than expected, consistent with a pickup in consumer spending growth in 2Q19 (although that follows a weak 1Q19). Industrial production was flat, but manufacturing output picked up a bit in June (still in an overall downtrend in 2019).
A Clearer Signal From the Fed
We often talk about how difficult predicting can be, even for the financial industry experts. Today’s markets have many influencing variables from the traditional economic releases and transforming population dynamics to the more recent global influences. Perhaps one of the greatest modern day market influences are the world’s central banks.
When You Come to the Fork in the Road, Take It
Senior Fed officials were divided on whether it will be appropriate to lower short-term interest rates by the end of the year, although even those expecting no change felt that the case for easier policy had strengthened.
Two Weeks in June, 1944
After my father, a Pearl Harbor survivor, died in 2011, we found a shoebox. It contained items that belonged to my Uncle Bill (my mother’s brother), who had also served in WWII. There was Bill’s birth certificate and baptism record, an address book, and some pages that looked like they were torn out of a diary.
Tariffs and the Fed
The partial government shutdown, poor weather, and the late Easter appeared to dampen the underlying pace of growth in the first quarter. However, April data on retail sales, industrial production, and durable goods orders suggest the softness will be longer lasting.
The Economic Consequences of Trump’s Trade Policies
Tariffs have had a negative impact on the U.S. economy, but a relatively limited one to date. Pain is obviously felt more in some areas than others, but the cumulative impact is growing and a continued escalation in trade tensions would further dampen growth.
Employment, Inflation, and the Fed
The April Employment Report was not as strong as it seems, but still consistent with moderate growth in the overall economy, tighter job market conditions, and moderate wage growth. Wage growth is likely being offset by faster productivity growth (although results will vary by firm and industry), restraining inflation pressures from the labor market.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The advance GDP report was a mixed bag. The headline figure was stronger than expected, but boosted by faster inventory growth and a narrower trade deficit, both of which are likely to reverse in the second quarter. Consumer spending and business fixed investment slowed, while residential fixed investment fell for the fifth consecutive quarter.
The March Employment Report
Nonfarm payrolls rose a bit more than expected in the initial estimate for March. While the monthly data are subject to statistical noise and seasonal adjustment difficulties, the underlying trend in job growth is likely moderating. That shouldn’t be a surprise.
The GDP Arithmetic
As anticipated, the estimate of fourth quarter GDP growth was revised lower (to 2.2%, vs. +2.6% in the “initial” estimate). All major components grew a bit less than in the previous estimate. Recent figures have generally been consistent with a lackluster pace of growth in 1Q19.
Downbeat and Fed Up
As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee left short-term interest rates unchanged and provided some details on the unwinding of the balance sheet. The revised dot plot showed that a majority of senior Fed officials expect no change in rates in 2019 (but a majority also anticipate one or more hikes in 2020).
Jay Walking It Back
Fed Chairman Jerome “Jay” Powell will deliver his semiannual monetary policy testimony to Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. In past decades, this testimony was a huge deal for the financial markets. These days, not so much. The Fed is a lot more forthcoming.
In The Mix
Data delayed due to the government shutdown have begun to arrive, filling in the picture for 4Q18, and we’re also getting fresher data on the economy in early 2019. The figures have been mixed, and often surprising, which allows one to make about any kind of argument one wants.
The Opposite of Pump Priming?
During an economic slowdown, the government often employs fiscal stimulus to “prime the pump.” In such cases a burst in aggregate demand boosts income, which adds to consumer spending, which adds to income, and so on. This process can work in reverse.
Hope and Fear
For investors, the year began in fear. The global economic slowdown, the yield curve, Fed policy, trade policy, and the partial government shutdown generated risk. Last week, the news was mixed. There is no sign that the budget stalemate in Washington will end soon. There were renewed reports that President Trump is considering imposing tariffs on all imported motor vehicles.
In the last couple of years, Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller has championed the idea of economic narratives. Economic data describe “the fundamentals,” but stories are often the key drivers of activity. Investors are currently faced with two competing narratives.
Nothing Recedes Like Recession
Financial market volatility remained elevated in the first few days of 2019, but it’s much more palatable when it is to the upside. Market participants remained concerned about a number of issues (global growth, trade policy, dysfunction in Washington), and fear remains a key factor in the outlook. Whether that fear abates or intensifies will tell the tale.
The Fed Is More Optimistic Than The Market
The Federal Open Market Committee raise short-term interest rates for the fourth time in 2018 and signaled more to come in 2019, albeit most likely at a slower pace. Market participants overly focus on what the Fed will do instead of why the Fed will do what it does.
The November Employment Report
Nonfarm payrolls rose less than expected in November. The three-month average remained relatively strong, although below the pace of the first half of the year. That's not surprising. As the job market tightens, the number of available workers decreases.
The key phrase in Fed Chairman Powell’s speech to the Economic Club of New York was widely misinterpreted by thefinancial press and, in turn, the markets. That’s not unusual. The markets don’t do nuance. Stock market participants were likelylooking for an excuse to rally.
Employment, Wages, and the Fed
The year-over-year increase in average hourly earnings was a bit exaggerated in the October employment report, but the underlying trend is higher. Growth in nonfarm payrolls rebounded from the effects of Hurricane Florence, while Hurricane Michael “had no discernible effect,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Advance GDP Estimate
Real GDP rose at a 3.5% annual rate in the advance estimate for 3Q18, about as expected. However, there were a few surprises in the details. Consumer spending growth was even stronger than anticipated. However, business fixed investment was unexpectedly weak.
Odds and Ends
Periods of low market volatility (or complacency) are often followed by turbulent readjustments, including sharp intraday moves lower and higher. There has been a long list of concerns in the last few months: the November 6 election, tighter Fed policy, higher long-term interest rates, trade policy disruptions, risks to the global economy, labor market constraints, and so on.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Why did the stock market fall? No reason, and every reason. There doesn’t need to be a catalyst. Sometimes the market is simply going to do whatever the market is going to do, but the list of worries was already there.
NAFTA 0.8, Employment, & the Fed
The United Stated Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), which must still be approved by Congress, is mostly the same as the old agreement, but don’t call it NAFTA 2.0. The agreement should not have much of an impact on overall economic growth or inflation, but it is a hurdle cleared.
Has the U.S. Economy Peaked?
Judging by incoming calls and emails, investors are becoming more concerned about the possibility of recession. The flatter yield curve may be partly to blame, but there are growing concerns about the impact of the president’s trade wars and Fed rate increases have created some anxieties.
The Economic Impact of the Trade War
There is currently little doubt that the U.S. and China are in a trade war, where retaliation begets retaliation. Conflicts with Mexico, Canada, and the European Union are effectively in a temporary ceasefire, but remain unresolved.
Ten Years After
For financial market participants, the ten-year anniversary of the financial crisis will bring back a lot of bad memories, chiefly among them is the failure of Lehman Brothers (Sept. 15, 2008). In the weeks ahead, we’ll see retrospectives on the events that led to the crisis, the failure to predict how bad things would get, and how we should prevent a similar setback.
Fed Policy Outlook: Certainly Uncertain
The minutes of the July 31-August 1 Fed policy meeting and Chairman Powell’s Jackson Hole speech reinforce the view that the central bank will raise short-term interest rates again on September 26. The pace of monetary tightening beyond that is unclear, reflecting a number of uncertainties.
Powell at Fed Camp
The Kansas City Fed’s annual monetary policy symposium begins later this week in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Around 120 people attend the conference, including central bankers from around the world. In the past, the Fed chair’s speech has often been a big deal for the financial markets.
The July Employment Report
Nonfarm payrolls rose less than anticipated in the initial estimate for July, but figures for May and June were revised higher. The unemployment rate edged down, but the trend has been relatively flat this year – at odds with the strong trend in nonfarm payrolls.