An economic slowdown is a contraction in the economy. This can be viewed by using several indicators, including lower gross domestic product (GDP), higher unemployment, lower industrial production, lower business investment, a decline in retail sales, and a decrease in corporate profits. Not all of these factors need to be declining for an economic slowdown, but these are some of the main indications to watch for regarding the overall health of the economy. Some consider a recession to be occurring when there are two consecutive down quarters of gross domestic product (GDP). According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, a recession is “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real money, employment, industrial production and wholesale retail sales.”
It’s widely expected that at the end of this month, the Federal Reserve will end its third round of quantitative easing (that began in September of 2012). This is QE3, where the Federal Reserve was printing $85.0 billion of new money every month and using it to buy U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS). In the beginning of 2014, the Fed started reducing the amount of money it was printing each month.
Is there another round of quantitative easing (more commonly known as QE) coming?
Here’s why I ask…
First, U.S. long-term bond yields are collapsing. Back in 2013, when the Federal Reserve hinted that it might move away from quantitative easing, we saw U.S. bond yields soar. Between May and December of 2013, yields on the U.S. 10-year notes almost doubled. But since then the unexpected happened.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
Since the beginning of 2014, the yields on the same bonds have plunged 30%. Despite the Federal Reserve telling us it expects to raise interest rates in 2015 and 2016 (which would be catastrophic for bonds), bond prices are rising… Odd, to say the least.
Second, I hear hints about QE4 from key members of the Federal Reserve. In an interview with Reuters, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco said, “If we really get a sustained, disinflationary forecast…then I think moving back to additional asset purchases in a situation like that should be something we should seriously consider.” (Source: “Exclusive: Fed’s Williams downplays global risks, eyes U.S. inflation,” Reuters, October 14, 2014.)
In other words, if inflation in the U.S. economy doesn’t meet the … Read More
Six years ago this month, in the midst of the Great Recession, Lehman Brothers, one of the most well-known investment banks in the U.S. economy, filed for bankruptcy.
At the time, Lehman’s bankruptcy sparked widespread worries…and the U.S. financial system teetered on the verge of collapse. For those of us who remember that time, there was too much uncertainty.
So, the Federal Reserve and the government stepped in to help the crumbling U.S. economy. Loans were made to companies that were “too big to fail,” interest rates fell to historic lows, and trillions of dollars in new money was printed (out of thin air).
Six years later, is the U.S. economy better off now?
Looking at Wall Street today, it looks like things couldn’t be better. The markets are close to all-time highs. The big banks are in better shape; their profits are rising and executives’ incomes and bonuses are big once again.
And speculation is back, big-time. As just one example, Facebook, Inc. (NASDAQ/FB) recently reached a market capitalization of more than $200 billion in hopes that the company will be able to make more money on mobile ads. Facebook is trading at a price-to-earnings multiple of 100!
The luxury market is hot again. Exotic cars are being sold at record prices. Sales of million-dollar-plus mansions are on the rise.
Sadly, on the other side of the coin, there have never been so many poor people in the U.S. economy, and the middle class hasn’t seen a return to the wealth and income they had before the Credit Crisis.
In 2013, 14.5% of the U.S. population was living at … Read More
Getting a sense of where stocks are going to go in the year ahead is always difficult with the major indices at their all-time highs.
The fundamental backdrop is still very favorable for equities. While the Federal Reserve has put off raising interest rates for the near future, the cost of capital, especially for corporations, remains extremely low. And corporate balance sheets remain in excellent condition with strong cash positions and good prospects for rising dividends going forward.
The stock market recovered extremely well from the financial crisis and subsequent crash in 2008/2009. But it wasn’t until early 2013 that I saw the beginning of a new cycle for stocks, or a bull market as it were.
Until then, I viewed the market’s performance purely as a recovery period from the previous cycle, which was the technology bubble.
Many of the technology stocks have only now recovered to their previous highs set in 1999 and 2000. The recovery cycle took a long time to play out and the catalyst for its breakout was, not surprisingly, the Federal Reserve.
Stocks can move significantly higher in a rising interest rate environment, but only from a low base, which is what we have now. And within the context of a new market cycle or bull market, the economy can experience a full-blown recession and stocks can experience meaningful corrections.
The two most important catalysts for the equity market near-term are what corporations actually report about their businesses and the Federal Reserve’s actions.
The surprising weakness in oil prices should be evident in corporate financial results (especially in the fourth quarter). Old economy industries … Read More
A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta has set a new record selling for $38.1 million at an auction in Pebble Beach, California. News of the sale was all over the Internet and made it into major newspapers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times.
But it’s not just old, rare cars that are selling. The high-end luxury car market is also booming. For example, Maserati sold 6,573 cars this past July, compared to only 1,536 cars a year ago. (Source: Motor Intelligence web site, last accessed September 2, 2014.)
The markets for high-end real estate and high-end fashion goods are hot in the U.S. economy, too.
The mainstream is looking at the boom in various luxury markets and calling it economic growth. Truth be told, only a very small fraction of Americans can afford to live a lavish lifestyle and buy expensive cars, homes, and other gadgets.
The other side of the story—the story of the 99%-plus—usually goes untold.
What follows below is a picture (I personally took) of a sign posted in every grocery store I went into in a prominent town very close to New York City. The picture not only shows how the average American is struggling, but it also puts a big dent in the theory of economic growth in the U.S. economy.
Americans are using food stamps and other government assistance programs like never before. The truth is that if the U.S. economy was witnessing economic growth, we wouldn’t have 46.25 million Americans and 22.5 million households using food stamps in the U.S. economy.
Not … Read More
So the S&P 500 has touched the 2,000 mark.
Will the S&P 500 continue to march to new highs?
Well, my opinion towards the stock market hasn’t changed. I remain skeptical for a variety of reasons, many of which I have shared with my readers over the past few months.
But I have a new concern about the stock market, something that hasn’t been touched on by analysts: trading volume is collapsing.
Please look at the table below. It shows the performance of the S&P 500 and its change in trading volume.
|Year||Performance||Change in Volume|
*Until August 25, 2014
Data source: StockCharts.com, last accessed August 25, 2014
Key stock indices like the S&P 500 (it is the same story for the Dow Jones) are rising as volumes are declining, suggesting buyers’ participation in the stock market advance is very low. For a healthy stock market rally, any technical analyst will tell you that you need rising volume, not declining volume.
It’s Economics 101: rising demand pushes prices higher. In the case of the S&P 500, we have declining demand (low trading volume) and rising prices. Something doesn’t make sense here.
Looking at the economic data, it further suggests key stock indices are stretched. We continue to see the factors that are supposed to drive the U.S. economy to deteriorate.
Just look at the housing market. The number of new homes sold continues to decline. In January, the annual rate of new-home sales in the U.S. was 457,000 units. By July, it was down more than 10% … Read More
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