Lombardi: Stock Market Commentary & Forecasts, Financial & Economic Analysis Since 1986

Posts Tagged ‘interest rates’

Why Higher Interest Rates Will Become a Necessity

By for Profit Confidential

A Weak Economy Masked By an Artificial Stock Market RallyLet’s start with the U.S. housing market. Has the recovery for it ended or just stalled?

My answer comes in one sentence: While it’s always a matter of location, only the high-end housing market is doing well, while the general market is weak.

I can see it in the mortgage numbers. People just aren’t taking loans to buy homes in the U.S. economy. In fact, mortgage applications are tumbling.

In the second quarter of 2014, Bank of America Corporation (NYSE/BAC) funded $13.7 billion in residential home loans and home equity loans—down 49% from a year earlier, when it funded $26.8 billion in similar loans. (Source: Bank of America Corporation, July 16, 2014.)

JPMorgan Chase & Co (NYSE/JPM) originated $16.8 billion in mortgages in the second quarter (ended June 30, 2014)—down 66% from a year ago. (Source: JPMorgan Chase & Co., July 15, 2014.)

And Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE/WFC) also reported a massive decline in mortgage originations. In the second quarter of 2014, it originated $47.0 billion in new mortgages—down 62% from the second quarter of 2013. (Source: Wells Fargo & Company, July 11, 2014.)

So even though interest rates continue at a record low, people are not borrowing to buy homes in the U.S. economy.

But it’s not just the housing market that is weak. The entire U.S. economy is soft…masked by an artificial stock market rally and skewed “official” government statistics that don’t give us a true picture of the unemployment situation or inflation.

We’ve all heard by now that Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ/MSFT) is planning job cuts of almost 20,000. (Source: USA Today, July 15, 2014.) … Read More

How Many Warnings Can You Give?

By for Profit Confidential

Why Stocks Will Not End 2014 WellI’ve been writing in these pages for most of 2014 on how the stock market has become one huge bubble. On my short list:

The economy is weak. The U.S. experienced negative growth in the first quarter of 2014. If the same thing happens in the second quarter (we’ll soon know), we will be in a recession again. Revenue growth at big companies is almost non-existent.

Insiders at public companies are selling stocks (in the companies they work for) at a record pace.

The amount of money investors have borrowed to buy stocks is at a record high (a negative for the stock market).

The VIX “Fear” index, which measures the amount of fear investors have about stocks declining, is near a record low (another negative for the stock market).

Bullishness among stock advisors, as measured by Investors Intelligence, is near a record high (again, a negative for the stock market).

The Federal Reserve has issued its economic outlook, and it says interest rates will be much higher at the end of 2015 than they are today and that they will continue moving upward in 2016.

The Federal Reserve has said it will be out of the money printing business by the end of this year. (Who will buy all those T-bills the U.S. government has to issue to keep in business?)

And yesterday, in an unprecedented statement, Janet Yellen, during her usual semi-annual testimony to Congress, said the valuations of tech stocks are “high relative to historical norms.”

How many warnings can you give investors?

Well, the warnings don’t seem to matter. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has … Read More

Taking It Too Far Again…

By for Profit Confidential

Why Interest Rates Will Rise Faster and Sooner Than Most ThinkWhat led to the 2008/2009 stock market and real estate crash and subsequent Great Recession can be attributed to one factor: the sharp rise in interest rates that preceded that period.

In May of 2004, the federal funds rate, the bellwether rate upon which all interest rates in the U.S. are based, was one percent. The Federal Reserve, sensing the economy was getting overheated, started raising interest rates quickly. Three years later, by May 2007, the federal funds rate was 5.3%.

Any way you look at it, the 430% rise in interest rates over a three-year period killed stocks, real estate, and the economy.

My studies show the Federal Reserve has historically taken things too far when setting its monetary policy. It raised interest rates far too quickly in the 2004–2007 period. And I believe it dropped rates far too fast since 2009 and has kept them low (if you call zero “low”) for far too long.

In the same way investors suffered in 2008–2009 as the Fed moved to quickly raise rates, I believe we will soon suffer as the Fed is forced to quickly raise interest rates once more while the economy overheats.

It’s all very simple. The U.S. unemployment rate is getting close to six percent. The real inflation rate is close to five percent per annum, and the stock market is way overheated. The Fed will have no choice but to cool what looks like an overheated economy. But the Fed won’t be able to do it with a quarter-point increase in interest rates here and there. It will need to raise rates by at least … Read More

What Investors Need to Know About the Current Market Cycle

By for Profit Confidential

What These Large-Caps Are Revealing About the Current Stock Market CycleIf there ever was an equity security epitomizing the notion that the stock market is a leading indicator, Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) would fit the bill.

This manufacturer is in slow-growth mode, but it’s been going up on the stock market as institutional investors bet on a global resurgence for the demand of construction and other heavy equipment and engines.

And the betting’s been pretty fierce. Caterpillar was priced at $90.00 a share at the beginning of the year. Now, it’s $110.00, which is a substantial move for such a mature large-cap. (See “Rising Earnings Estimates the New Catalyst for Stocks?”)

The stock actually offers a pretty decent dividend. It’s currently around 2.6%.

While sales and earnings in its upcoming quarter (due out July 24, 2014) are expected to be very flat, Street analysts are putting their focus on 2015. Sales and earnings estimates for next year are accelerating, and it’s fuel for institutional investors with money to invest.

The notion that the stock market leads actual economic performance is very real. Just like there are cycles in the economy, the stock market itself is highly cyclical. And while every secular bull market occurs for different reasons, there are commonalities in the price action.

Caterpillar’s share price is going up on the expectation that its sales and earnings (on a global basis) will accelerate next year.

Transportation stocks, as evidenced by the Dow Jones Transportation Average, are the classic bull market leaders.

Transportation, whether it’s trucking, railroads, airlines, or package delivery services, is as good a call on general economic activity as any. The Dow Jones Transportation Average was … Read More

This Is Odd…

By for Profit Confidential

Demand for Stocks Outweighs Supply at This PointOne of the oddest things to happen with the stock market since it has recovered is that the number of shares trading hands each day has slowly disappeared.

In the table that I have created for you below, I list the trading volume for the S&P 500 for each June since 2009 and the percentage change in volume from the previous June.

Trading volume on the S&P 500 has dropped 60% since 2009!

Trading Volume, S&P 500, June of Each Year, 2009 – 2014

Year Volume (Shares Traded Per Month) Year-Over-Year % Change
June 2009 93,147,496,448
June 2010 91,971,043,328 -1.3%
June 2011 63,674,499,072 -30.8%
June 2012 59,703,365,632 -6.2%
June 2013 51,560,980,480 -13.6%
June 2014 38,765,629,440 -24.8%

Data source: www.StockCharts.com, last accessed July 1, 2014

What’s happening here? How can the stock market rise year after year if trading volume is down?

It’s very simple, but I’ll explain this new phenomenon in a moment. First, look at the chart of the S&P 500 below. Pay close attention to the volume at the bottom of the chart. As volume on the S&P 500 collapsed, the price of the index rose.

S&P 500 Large Cap Index Chart

Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

Volume is collapsing because the number of shares companies have outstanding is being reduced at an accelerated rate. For example, in the first quarter of 2014, S&P 500 companies purchased $154.5 billion worth of their shares back (stock buyback programs). Over the trailing 12 months, S&P 500 companies purchased more than half-a-trillion-dollars worth of their own shares—$535.2 billion to be exact. (Source: FactSet, June 18, 2014.)

Add to the shrinking number of shares outstanding the fact that central … Read More

The Only Sector I See with a Ten-to-One Return Potential

By for Profit Confidential

Shattering the Myth Behind Interest Rates and GoldWe are hearing more and more about interest rates getting ready to rise. The Federal Reserve itself has said it expects the federal funds rate to increase to 1.5% by the end of next year and to 2.25% by the end of 2016.

Before the Fed came out with its forecast, I was writing about how the Fed will have no choice but to raise interest rates because inflation is rising too quickly.

And I have been reading what clueless reporters and analysts are writing about how gold bullion prices don’t perform well in a high interest rates environment. I want to set the record straight for my readers.

Shattering the myth about the high interest rates, today’s rates are still very low compared to the historical average. In the chart below, you will see the changes in the Federal Reserve’s federal funds rate since 1980.

Effective Federal Funds Rate Chart

Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

Over the past five years, the benchmark interest rate set by the Federal Reserve has all but collapsed to zero. Moving rates to 2.25% by 2016 will have a significant impact on the economy. But at 2.25%, over the long-term, it’s still a very low rate. Prior to the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, the federal funds rate stood above five percent.

Bringing it back to gold bullion, if you are old like me and remember the early 1980s when interests were very high, you will also remember gold bullion was trading at a then-record high of more than $800.00 an ounce, or about $2,500 in 2014 dollars.

The higher interest rates went then, the higher gold bullion went. … Read More

Guess Who Is Pushing the Stock Market Higher Now

By for Profit Confidential

So That's Why Stocks Have Been Moving Higher…When I look at the stock market, I ask who in their right mind would buy stocks?

While key stock market indices creep higher, the fundamentals suggest the complete opposite. But despite valuations being stretched, insiders selling, corporate revenue growth being non-existent, and the U.S. economy contracting in the first quarter of this year, the S&P 500 is up seven percent since the beginning of 2014, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is getting closer to the 17,000 level, and the NASDAQ is back above 4,000.

As I have written before, a company can buy back its stock to prop up per-share earnings or cut expenses to improve the bottom line, but if revenue isn’t growing, there is a problem. In the first quarter of 2014, only 54% of S&P 500 companies were able to grow their revenue. (Source: FactSet, June 13, 2014.)

Going forward, things aren’t looking bright either. For the second quarter of 2014, 82 S&P 500 companies have already provided negative guidance for their corporate earnings. I expect this number to climb higher.

And consumer spending, the driver of the U.S. economy, is very weak, as evidenced by negative gross domestic product (GDP) in the U.S. economy in the first quarter of this year.

So if the overall environment is negative for the equities, who is buying stocks and pushing the stock market higher?

The answer (something I suspected some time ago): central banks are buying stocks.

A study done by the Official Monetary and Financial Institution Forum (OMFIF) called Global Public Investors 2014, states that central banks and public institutions around the world have gotten involved … Read More

What Do This Quarter’s Mixed Earnings Results Mean?

By for Profit Confidential

Market May Be Entering a New Cycle—But Don't Buy Just Yet!Oracle Corporation (ORCL) announced a quarterly revenue gain of three percent, but Wall Street was looking for more and the company’s share price retreated on its earnings results.

If it weren’t for the Federal Reserve, we probably would be in a correction, if not a consolidation, which has been the broader market’s go-to trend when it should have retreated further.

It’s such a mixed bag out there both in terms of economic news and corporate reporting.

While I think dividend-paying blue chips have the advantage going into the second-quarter earnings season, if the Federal Reserve wasn’t so extremely sensitive to Wall Street, this market would probably be a lot lower.

Even the Fed’s recent language is assuaging. If this market had to operate on its own (with free market interest rates and liquidity), things would be a lot different.

But this isn’t the environment we live in. Economic history clearly supports the scenario that it doesn’t pay to fight the Fed and that Wall Street will move mountains when it has Fed certainty.

Lots of investors bemoan the quarterly earnings cycle or game, but I don’t. I want to know a public company’s up-to-date financial results as frequently as possible.

While earnings are managed, over time, a business can’t manufacture success unless it’s a fraud (which, sadly, does happen).

Big companies have the operational leverage and the cash to keep boosting their earnings per share. Oracle’s latest financial results were uninspiring, and while recognizing that this is a very mature business with growing competition in the cloud, the position advanced a material 10 points since last June—this seems so overdone…. Read More

Why Gold Went Up $50 Yesterday

By for Profit Confidential

Perfect Inflation Storm BrewingWell surprise, surprise, surprise.

Gold bullion rallied just under $50.00 an ounce yesterday…and nobody expected it. (Okay, maybe just me. In a single day yesterday, my portfolio went up by twice the amount the stock market has risen in all of 2014.)

Going through all the major financial web sites, I read story after story yesterday on why gold was rising so fast. They were all wrong; just reporters grabbing at straws, trying to explain something they know very little about.

As I started writing in these pages in 2014, inflation is becoming a real problem in America. Years ago, I started writing about how all this money the Federal Reserve is creating out of thin air would become inflationary. That’s exactly what is starting to happen now.

Why is the Fed starting to pull back on its money printing operation with the goal of being out of the money printing business by the end of this year? Why is the Fed telling us that after keeping interest rates near zero for years, by the end of next year, the federal funds rate will move up to 1.13% and by the end of the following year, it will move to 2.5%?

In my opinion, we are being told this because the powers that be see inflation in the cards, and they are working on trying to curb rapid inflation before it happens. And if there is something gold thrives on, it is inflation.

Even the manipulated government statistics are now pointing to inflation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports prices in the U.S. economy increased by 0.4% in May after … Read More

As Stocks Brush Off Geopolitical Tensions, Here’s the Catalyst for a Correction

By for Profit Confidential

Where's the Catalyst for Correction in StocksCountless stocks are bouncing off their highs, and in many cases, a lot of these companies are due for share splits.

It’s a peculiar environment for investors in that the main market indices are right at their highs, yet the Main Street economy isn’t performing anywhere near as well.

Stocks are a leading indicator and share prices move in advance of anticipated corporate earnings, but it’s so difficult to be a buyer when most stocks have already gone up like they have. It’s not boom time at all in the real world.

So with this backdrop, I think it’s fair to conclude that an investor has to be extremely careful in the current environment.

I view investment risk in equities as being high because stocks are at their highs and Main Street is stagnant. It’s not a good combination. And with the real possibility of rising interest rates later this year or early 2015, the boom that hasn’t happened could easily turn into a bust.

For an investor looking to buy stocks right now, I would say to wait until second-quarter reporting season begins and we get the latest numbers from corporations before investing.

This market is so badly due for a material price correction, and with the right catalyst, it could happen near-term.

Given the current information, I would view a material price correction as a buying opportunity. A real stock market correction has eluded us for too long since the March of 2009 low.

And while there was a small sell-off at the beginning of this year, stocks have been moving consistently higher for two straight years.

I … Read More

Why I Never Pay for Coffee at Sam’s Bakery

By for Profit Confidential

Grains of coffee and dollarsThere’s a local bakery near my office I try to get to at least once a week. Sam and his wife own the bakery, and Sam is usually the one there serving espressos and cappuccinos to the many small business owners who meet there early in the morning to talk about business and the economy.

My problem is that I never pay for coffee at Sam’s bakery. “Don’t worry Michael, it’s been taken care of” is the standard line Sam usually gives me. Either Sam is giving me free coffee or one person is buying for everyone in the bakery.

But I think my free coffee streak is about to end.

Kraft Foods Group, Inc. (NASDAQ/KRFT) recently raised the prices of its Maxwell House and Yuban coffee brands by 10%. This is after another company called The J.M. Smucker Company increased its prices. (Source: Bloomberg, June 8, 2014.)

But it’s not just coffee prices that are moving up. Even the government itself is now predicting food prices will rise at an accelerated rate this year.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, inflation in food prices in the U.S. economy will be between 2.5% and 3.5% in 2014. This is compared to just a 0.9% increase in prices in 2013. Inflation of meat prices is expected to be much higher. Beef and veal prices are expected to increase 5.5% and 6.0% respectively this year. (Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture web site, last accessed June 10, 2014.)

I believe food prices will rise much faster than what the government is predicting; I’m talking real inflation of five to eight percent per … Read More

Why We Are Closer to a Recession in 2014 Than You Think

By for Profit Confidential

U.S. Economy to Fall into a Recession This QuarterDon’t buy into the notion that there’s economic growth in America!

We’ve already seen U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) “unexpectedly” decline in the first quarter of 2014, and now there are signs of another contraction in the current quarter. (The technical definition of a recession is two negative quarters of GDP—we’re halfway there!)

As you know, consumer spending is the biggest part of our U.S. economy, accounting for about two-thirds of our GDP. And consumers are pulling back.

Consumer spending in the U.S. economy declined 0.26% in April from March. This was the first monthly decline since December of 2013. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site, last accessed June 4, 2014.)

And while consumer spending is one indicator that suggests a recession may soon be coming into play in the U.S. economy, there’s also one very interesting phenomenon occurring that suggests the very same.

The Federal Reserve is serious about pulling back on its quantitative easing program. And in anticipation of the Fed pulling back on money printing (when it first indicated it would start tapering), the yields on bonds shot up.

But since 2014 began, and the Federal Reserve actually started to taper, the yield on the long-term 30-year U.S. bond has declined more than 12%.

 30 Year t Bond Yield Chart

Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

If the Fed is pulling back on printing (it has said it wants to be out of the money printing business by the end of this year), why are bond yields declining?

From a fundamental point of view, it suggests the market anticipates very slow growth for the U.S. economy ahead.

Dear reader, the perfect … Read More

The Downside to Dow 20,0000

By for Profit Confidential

Where the Stock Market Could Head NextWith the Dow Jones hitting 17,000 being pretty likely in the not-too-distant future, from there, it’s only another 18% or so until the Dow hits 20,000, which is pretty incredible.

These numbers seemed so unrealistic just a few years ago but now, it’s not too farfetched. The most amazing thing to me is that stocks still haven’t experienced a material price correction since the financial crisis.

Stocks aren’t necessarily stretched in terms of valuation, especially with corporate earnings outlooks holding up for this year and going into 2015. What is stretched is investor determination with a market at its high.

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is a great company and a worthy long-term investment (see “Three Blue Chips Set to Drive Higher”), but it’s tough to buy stocks at all-time record-highs. In Johnson & Johnson’s case, the position’s up almost 20 points since the beginning of February, and this is on top of a previous 20-point gain in 2013.

One of these days, stocks are going to get walloped. But there’s got to be some sort of catalyst for it to happen.

The Federal Reserve can be a catalyst if it decides to suddenly change its outlook for interest rate certainty. The catalyst could also be a geopolitical event or something that comes out of nowhere, like a big derivatives trade gone bad.

In any event, there will have to be a shock that is perceived to have a lasting effect on capital markets.

In the lull between earnings seasons, which we’re currently experiencing, stocks reaccelerated on the back of very modest economic news and that in itself is … Read More

How to Invest in a Market Constructed by Central Banks

By for Profit Confidential

How to Profit in a Fed-Built MarketThe resilience the stock market continues to have is a reflection of what continues to be extreme monetary stimulus. And while the stock market is a leading indicator and a bet on a future stream of earnings and economic activity, throughout history, the underlying goal of central banks has been price inflation.

Seemingly, the capitalist economic system is based on two basic underlying factors: property rights and price inflation. And in modern history, the latter, through central bank intervention, is the most important catalyst for the stock market.

In capital markets, long-run history is a very good guide and an important tool in helping to shape your market view. And most importantly, it’s very helpful in laying the groundwork for separating present-day conjecture from what has actually transpired before.

I’m reminded of J. Anthony Boeckh’s book titled The Great Reflation, which provides a non-political long-run analysis on the U.S. economy and its cycles.

It’s a historical breakdown of interest rates, inflation, and monetary and fiscal policies, and how they have affected the stock market. It is required reading for any serious long-term investor.

Written in 2010, the book breaks down financial crises and looks at the long-run effects of price inflation and the effects on capital markets. Boeckh offers some poignant analysis on all kinds of financial topics, and many of his observations have not only come to fruition, but they are also worth consideration.

Boeckh plainly states that the global financial system is flawed because of fiat paper money. And because we use paper money, price inflation exists and capital markets are subject to bubbles.

Add in … Read More

About That Letter My Dad Got in the Mail Friday

By for Profit Confidential

Pay a Bank to Hold Your MoneyMy father is 87 years old. He’s in great shape, drives on his own, plays cards with the guys each afternoon, and has basically been enjoying retirement since he sold his business when he was 65.

Like all retirees, he and my Mom have been living off their savings for years.

And like millions of Americans, the low interest rates we have been enduring since the Federal Reserve decided back in 2008 that it was best to bring rates down to historically low levels (and keep them there for six years) haven’t been kind to them.

But last week, the letter we got in the mail, well, it was the last straw.

My folks have some of their money in the wealth management division of one of the largest banks in North America. On Friday, we received a letter from them that said the bank would start charging a fee of $500.00 a year if the balance in my parents’ accounts fell below $125,000.

Yes, you got that right. If my parents keep less than $125,000 in their accounts at this (essentially) brokerage arm of the bank, they will be charged $500.00 a year for the bank to keep their money.

Nice. (If you are a small business owner, imagine treating your customers like that!)

The letter ended by saying that if we are not happy with the bank, we can transfer the money to another financial institution by a certain deadline date and the transfer fee will be waived. Nice, again.

Dear reader, I have been writing to you for months that my view is essentially that money is … Read More

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