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.”
A healthy housing market is essential to economic growth in the U.S. economy. But despite what we are hearing from the media, the housing market rebound is facing major headwinds.
To start with, home prices in the U.S. housing market are nowhere close to their pre-crash levels. There are millions of homeowners in the U.S. economy whose homes are worth less than what they originally paid for them. From their peak in 2006, home prices in the U.S. housing market are still down roughly 30%. For millions of homeowners to break even on their home investment, home prices will have to go up by at least 40%.
We just learned housing starts plunged 16.5% in April from March. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, May 16, 2013.) This decline in new housing starts was one of the sharpest declines since mid-2011.
The chart below depicts housing starts from 2001 to today. Notice the recent sharp decline in housing starts.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
Housing starts may not be a very exciting number to some, but I follow housing starts to gauge consumer spending. Think of it this way: when a family buys a new home they need to buy things that are needed in the household—new furniture, appliances, lawn mowers, and so on. It is this spending that ultimately results in economic growth for the U.S. economy.
Construction spending in the U.S. economy is also on the decline. It registered an annual rate of $893.6 billion in December of 2012, and by March 2012, construction spending fell to an annual rate of $856.7 billion—a decline of four percent. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank … Read More
Conglomerate General Electric Company (NYSE/GE) said, “We planned for Europe to be similar to 2012, down again, but it was even weaker than we had expected.” (Source: “Earnings Insight,” FactSet, May 17, 2013.) General Electric (GE) reported corporate earnings of $0.34 per share in the first quarter, with sales in its industrial businesses declining 5.7% and profit falling 11%. (Source: MarketWatch, April 19, 2013.)
McDonalds Corporation (NYSE/MCD), in announcing its first-quarter results, stated, “For the quarter, Europe’s results were dampened by ongoing economic uncertainty.” (Source: Ibid.)
When talking about the eurozone, the chief executive of Whirlpool Corporation (NYSE/WHR), Jeff Fettig, said, “…demand is not recovering so far.” He added that Whirlpool’s sales were unchanged this year in Europe, and he warned that if the demand continues to slide, Whirlpool will have to make more changes to cut costs. (Source: “Companies Feel Pinch on Sales in Europe,” Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2013.)
GE, McDonalds, and Whirlpool are not the only companies in the key stock indices suffering from troubles in the eurozone. Big-cap companies like International Business Machines Corporation (NYSE/IBM), United Technologies Corporation (NYSE/UTX), and Xerox Corporation (NYSE/XRX) have also shown concerns in their first-quarter corporate earnings due to bleak demand in the eurozone.
What’s ahead for the eurozone? The strongest nations in the region, such as Germany and France, are struggling to keep up. France is in a recession, while the German economy showed very little change … Read More
The disconnect between the stock market and the U.S.economy continues to grow, as the key stock indices run way ahead of reality.
The fundamental reasons behind the rise in today’s key stock indices are missing. For a real rally to happen, there has to be rising demand in the U.S. economy, consumers must be confident to spend, and businesses should see their sales rising. None of this is taking place.
Industrial production in the U.S. economy decreased 0.5% in April—marking the second decline since the beginning of the year. (Source: Federal Reserve, May 15, 2013.)
Similarly, manufacturing in the U.S. economy is also portraying a bleak picture of demand. Manufacturing output in the U.S. economy declined 0.4% in April after continuing its slump from March, when it decreased by 0.3%.
In the first quarter, a large number of companies on the key stock indices, like the S&P 500, were able to show better-than-expected corporate earnings. But in hindsight, they showed one troubling phenomenon: as the majority of the companies on the S&P 500 have already reported their corporate earnings, only 48% of them were able to beat revenue expectations. (Source: FactSet, May 10, 2013.)
Looking ahead, the picture for the key stock indices in the U.S. economy doesn’t look bright. For example, as of May 10, out of all the companies on the S&P 500 that have issued their corporate earnings guidance, more than 79% of them have issued a negative outlook. The estimated earnings growth rate for companies on the S&P 500 stands at 1.6%, compared to 4.5% near the end of March.
On top of all these troubles … Read More
In the first quarter of 2013, the eurozone continued to witness an economic contraction. The gross domestic product (GDP) of the 17-nation region declined 0.2%. This decrease in the GDP marked the sixth straight quarter of economic contraction in the eurozone and the longest since 1995. (Source: Reuters, May 15, 2013.)
The debt-infested countries in the eurozone, such as Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal, are already experiencing severe economic contraction; and to say the very least, they have a lot of issues to resolve before they even come close to seeing any economic growth.
What concerns me the most is that the stronger nations in the eurozone are starting to show weakness—the economic slowdown is picking up speed. It could make the economic contraction in the entire region much more severe and could send the eurozone into another downward spiral.
Consider the French economy—the second-biggest economic hub in the eurozone. In the first quarter of 2013, France witnessed an economic contraction—GDP declined 0.2% and France entered a recession. (Source: Bloomberg, May 15, 2013.) For the past few quarters, France’s economy has been witnessing severe pressures, and unemployment in the country continues to be a major problem.
Similarly, Germany—the biggest nation in eurozone by GDP—grew at a dismal pace in the first quarter of 2013, below economists’ estimates. The German Federal Statistical office reported that the German economy grew 0.1% in the first quarter, and the revised calculation showed the country experienced an economic contraction in the last quarter of 2012, when its GDP declined by 0.7%. (Source: Destatis, May 15, 2013.) But there are even more troubling … Read More
Economic conditions in the U.S. economy may be improving slightly, but the global economy is on the verge of witnessing an economic slowdown—and a possible recession. Key indicators are flashing red signals and warning of trouble ahead for the global economy.
In these pages, I have written rigorously about how the main economic hubs of the global economy are witnessing an economic slowdown, with the eurozone and Japan in an outright recession. The Chinese economy is slowing down, and emerging market economies are now starting to show concerns, as their troubles are quickly brewing.
This week, the central bank of South Korea cut its interest rates to 2.5% from 2.75%. The main reason for this cut in rates was deteriorating exports. In March, industrial output for the country declined 2.6% from February—the biggest decline in a year.
Similarly, central banks from countries like India, Taiwan, and the Philippines may do the same and cut interest rates to boost their exports and economies.
Emerging market economies export to developed nations in the global economy. If these emerging markets experience an economic slowdown, it will mean that demand is weak in the developed countries.
Other key indicators, like industrial metal prices, are reaffirming the economic slowdown.
Consider the price of aluminum, a metal used in many different technologies. On the London Metal Exchange (LME), aluminum traded for about $2,100 per ton at the beginning of 2013. Fast-forward to today, and the price has declined almost 12% to around $1,850 per ton. (Source: London Metal Exchange web site, last accessed May 9, 2013.)
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