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.”
According to research by UC Berkeley, in 2012, the top one percent of income earners in the U.S. earned 22.5% of all the income. The bottom 90%, on the other hand, earned less than 50% of all the income. (Source: Pew Research Center, January 7, 2014.) Income inequality in the U.S. economy is the highest it has been since 1928. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are seeing their share of income decline.
And according to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2013, 17.5 million households in the U.S. economy were “food insecure.” This means that at some point during the year, they had difficulty putting food on the table for all their family members due to a lack of resources. This number, 17.5 million food insecure households, was unchanged from 2012. (Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, September 2014.)
As I have said many times in these pages, economic growth will occur in the U.S. economy only once the average American Joe sees his standard of living improve. This isn’t happening. In fact, the standard of living is deteriorating despite the Federal Reserve having printed and pumped trillions of new dollars into the financial system.
The problem with income inequality in the U.S. escalated after the Great Recession of 2008. According to the Russell Sage Foundation, at the end of 2013, median family wealth in the U.S. economy was $56,335—a decline of more than 43% from $98,872 in 2007. (Source: “Wealth Levels, Wealth Inequality and the Great Recession,” Russell Sage Foundation, June 2014.)
Dear reader, the fact is the U.S. economy isn’t going through a period of … Read More
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
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