QE and Its Apologists
On March 9, 2018, the bull market in U.S. stocks will celebrate its ninth anniversary. And, what we find most amazing is how few people truly understand it. To this day, in spite of massive increases in corporate earnings, many still think the market is one big "sugar high" – a bubble built on a sea of Quantitative Easing and government spending.
Snatching Slow Growth from the Jaws of Fast Growth
The U.S. economy continues to be lifted by an incredible wave of new technology. Fracking, 3-D printing, smartphones, apps, and the cloud have boosted productivity and profits. Yet taxes, regulation and spending all increased markedly in the past decade, raising the burden of government and dragging down the real GDP growth rate to a modest 2.2% from mid-2009 to early 2017.
This is Just a Correction...
Last year US stock markets experienced the least volatile year on record, hitting new highs seemingly every day. Then came the tax reform bill to end 2017, and a huge January with the S&P 500 rising 5.6%. Investors, especially individuals who finally became convinced that the rally would go on, piled in.
New Policies, New Path
Back in the 1970s, supporters of the status quo said there was nothing to be done about stagflation (high inflation and slow growth). It was a "fact of life" that Americans had to accept after experiencing faster growth and lower inflation during the decades immediately following World War II.
Little Change as Yellen Exits
In Janet Yellen's swan song as Chair of the Federal Reserve, she exited on a quiet note. The Federal Reserve did what just about everyone expected earlier today, keeping short-term interest rates unchanged while providing forward guidance that economic growth remains on track for further hikes in 2018.
No More Plow Horse
We've called the slow, plodding economic recovery from mid-2009 through early 2017 a Plow Horse. It wasn't a thoroughbred, but it wasn't going to keel over and die either. Growth trudged along at a sluggish – but steady - 2.1% average annual rate.
Don't Time a Correction
The stock market is on a tear. The S&P 500 rose 19.4% in 2017 excluding dividends, and is already up over 4% in 2018. It's not a bubble or a sugar high. Our capitalized profits model, says the broad U.S. stock market, is, and was, undervalued.
Greedy Innkeeper or Generous Capitalist?
The Bible story of the virgin birth is at the center of much of the holiday cheer this time of year. The book of Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus decreed a census should be taken. Mary gave birth after arriving in Bethlehem and placed baby Jesus in a manger because there was "no room for them in the inn."
2018: Dow 28,500, S&P 3100
Last December we wrote "we finally have more than just hope to believe that this year, 2017, is the year the Plow Horse Economy finally gets a spring in its step." We expected real GDP growth to accelerate from 2.0% in 2016 to "about 2.6%" in 2017.
Fed Stays on Right Hiking Path
The Federal Reserve did what just about everyone expected earlier today and raised short-term interest rates by 0.25 percentage points. The federal funds rate is now in a range from 1.25 - 1.50% and the Fed is now paying banks 1.50% on their reserve balances.
Don't Fear Higher Interest Rates
The Federal Reserve has a problem. At 4.1%, the jobless rate is already well below the 4.6% it thinks unemployment would/could/should average over the long run. We think the unemployment rate should get to 3.5% by the end of 2019 and wouldn't be shocked if it got that low in 2018, either.
Consumer Fundamentals Are Strong
Now that Black Friday has come and gone and Cyber Monday is upon us, you're going to hear a blizzard of numbers and reports about the US consumer. So far, these numbers show blowout on-line sales and a mild decline in foot traffic at brick-and-mortar stores.
The Economy is Accelerating
We've called it a "Plow Horse" economy, which was our metaphor invented to counter forecasters who said slow growth meant a recession was on its way. A Plow Horse is always slow, but that slowness hides underlying strength – it was never going to slip and fall. Now, the economy is accelerating.
Clearing a Path for Tax Reform
Washington D.C. used to complain that Ronald Reagan employed a strategy of "starving the beast" – cutting taxes so that new spending was tough to legislate. Now, D.C. seems to employ the strategy of "gorging the beast" – spending so much that tax cuts are hard to pass.
Fed Resists the Doves
The after effects of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have done little to sway the opinion of Federal Reserve members that the economy is ready for further rate hikes. While leaving rates unchanged at today's meeting - as expected - they set the table for December.
"Continuity" At Fed, Not Best For Long-Term
The short-short list for new Fed Chair includes Janet Yellen, Fed Governor Jerome Powell and Stanford economist John Taylor, the author of the "Taylor Rule." Right now Jerome Powell – a former Wall Street executive at Dillon Reed – is the runaway favorite. Taylor and Yellen are a very distant second and third.
Tax Cuts Matter, Spending Cuts Matter More
While tax cuts grab the headlines, the bigger issue for long-term economic growth is government spending. Tax receipts are above their long-term average as a share of GDP, but the government is still spending over $650 billion more than it takes in. And this government spending crowds out private sector growth.
Can We Afford a Tax Cut?
Congress took a big step last week toward enacting some sort of tax cuts and tax reform. That big step was the US Senate passing a budget resolution creating the room for ten years of tax cuts totaling $1.5 trillion with a simple majority vote. This procedure means there is no need to break a filibuster by getting to 60 votes.
Fed Resists the Doves
The big news today wasn't the Federal Reserve's decision to start gradually reducing its balance sheet in October. Almost everyone expected that. Instead, the big news was that twelve of the sixteen members of the Fed's interest-rate setting body – the Federal Open Market Committee – think the Fed will be raising interest rates by at least 25 basis points later this year.
No one expects the Federal Reserve to raise rates at the meeting this week. A rate change of any kind, either up or down, would be a complete stunner. Instead, the big news on monetary policy this week is very likely to be the Federal Reserve announcing it will begin gradually trimming its balance sheet at the start of October.
Time To Drain The Fed Swamp
The Panic of 2008 was damaging in more ways than people think. Yes, there were dramatic losses for investors and homeowners, but these markets have recovered. What hasn't gone back to normal is the size and scope of Washington DC, especially the Federal Reserve. It's time for that to change.
Don't Fret DC Debt Drama
Think that title sounds familiar? It is. We've been here before. And, as before, the "debt ceiling" is a gold mine for some politicians, journalists and analysts. A possible government shutdown, or reaching a "hard" debt ceiling, are both fun for pessimists to talk about.
Let the Private Sector Take the Reins on Infrastructure
The Trump administration took its first steps to address infrastructure Tuesday, with the president signing an executive order aiming to expedite environmental review and permitting processes. Some will decry the fact that these actions weren't accompanied by a multi trillion-dollar spending bill.
Consumers Are Doing Fine
It's hard to read the business pages or watch the business news without seeing a story about the death of the consumer. In particular, the business press continues to be obsessed by relative weakness among traditional brick and mortar stores.
"Shiller P-E" Still Wrong Signal
For many years now a relatively large contingent of analysts, investors and journalists has been convinced the stock market was in a bubble because the "Shiller P-E" ratio was just too high. Back on 8/12/2013, in our Monday Morning Outlook, we made our case that the Shiller model was too pessimistic. Now that looks like a pretty good call.
The Road to Normal Starts in September
The Federal Reserve made no changes to interest rates today and made almost no changes to the text of its statement. However, the wording changes it did make strongly support our view the Fed will announce the start of balance sheet reductions at the end of its next meeting on September 20.
Moderate Growth for Q2
Since the start of the economic recovery in mid-2009, real GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 2.1%. The second quarter of this year doesn't look much different. Our calculations suggest real GDP grew at a 2.5% annual rate in Q2, exactly the same as the consensus forecast.
Hey Government: It's Time to Get Serious!
At eight years, the current economic recovery is the third longest on record. Personal income, consumer spending, household assets, and net worth, are all at record highs. Stock markets are at record highs. Corporate profits are within striking distance of their all-time highs. Federal tax receipts are at record highs.
QE Didn't Work
Last week the Federal Reserve hiked the federal funds rate by ¼ of a percentage point for the fourth time since December 2015. The funds rate is still below the rate of inflation, which means the Fed is still a long way from becoming tight.
When the Federal Reserve raises rates by another quarter percentage point on Wednesday, you're going to see many stories about monetary policy getting tight and the potential threat that poses for the economy in general and the bull market in stocks in particular.
We Don't See No Stinkin' Bubbles!
Now that we're eight years into a bull market, some investors just assume something has to go wrong. As a result, we see lots of stories and get lots of questions about "bubbles," as in "what market or sector is in a bubble already?"
Reasons to be Bullish
We wish we had a dollar for every time we've heard that the bull market in equities is only due to loose money. We have consistently disagreed, arguing that although the Federal Reserve is loose, the bull market is primarily a function of the rebound in profits after the disaster in 2008-09.