Posts Tagged ‘quantitative easing’
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has lowered its growth forecast for the global economy. It says the world economy will now grow by 3.6% in 2014 and 3.9% in 2015; it grew at three percent in 2013. (Source: International Monetary Fund, April 8, 2014.)
I see the IMF forecast on global growth as being far too optimistic. In fact, I think we’d be lucky to get three percent growth in the global economy this year. Key indicators I follow suggest demand in the global economy is close to outright collapsing.
Consider the chart below of the Baltic Dry Index (BDI). This index tracks the shipping prices of dry goods in the global economy. If it declines, it suggests global demand is declining. The BDI has plunged more than 48% since the beginning of the year, pointing to slow growth for the global economy ahead.
Manufacturing is another indicator of demand in the global economy that we follow. If manufacturing activity increases, it means demand is increasing and that consumers are buying more. Sadly, global manufacturing is suggesting an economic slowdown is the most likely scenario ahead.
The JPMorgan Global Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index declined to its lowest level in five months in March. (Source: Markit, April 1, 2014.)
Adding to the misery, most economic hubs are telling the same tale.
The eurozone is still in trouble; the European Central Bank is contemplating its own quantitative easing program as Italy just reported its highest unemployment rate ever recorded. China is pumping out weak economic data. Japan’s economic slowdown isn’t taking any break despite the central bank … Read More
In the early days of the 2008 financial crisis, the Federal Reserve said, “Job losses, declining equity and housing wealth and tight credit conditions have weighed on consumer sentiment and spending. Weaker sales prospects and difficulties in obtaining credit have led businesses to cut back on inventories and fixed investment.” (Source: Federal Reserve, March 18, 2008.) As a result of this, the central bank came up with the idea of printing paper money to stimulate the economy; thus, “quantitative easing” was born.
Five years later, the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has grown to $4.2 trillion. We also saw the U.S. government increase spending to stimulate the U.S. economy after the Credit Crisis of 2008. The U.S. national debt skyrocketed from around $9.0 trillion back then to over $17.0 trillion today.
With all this money being created (by the Fed) and borrowed (by the government), the logical assumption is that there’s finally economic growth in the U.S. economy.
Paper money printing by the Federal Reserve and out-of-control spending by the government hasn’t really given much of a boost to the U.S. economy (aside from the stock market bubble it has created). Problems still persist. The amount of paper money that has been printed out of thin air is huge—an unprecedented event in American history.
Now that the Federal Reserve is putting the brakes on quantitative easing (it will print less money each month), will we see businesses pull back on capital spending? Of course we will. When money is tight, businesses pull back on research and development, expansion, and acquisitions.
Consider this: since December of last year to this past … Read More
When news first broke from the Federal Reserve that it would slow down the pace of its quantitative easing program, the consensus was that the U.S. dollar would start to rise in value as the Fed would be printing fewer new dollars and actually eliminating all new paper money printing by the end of 2014.
But the opposite has happened.
Below, I present the chart of the U.S. Dollar Index, an index that compares the value of the dollar to other major world currencies.
As the chart clearly shows, the dollar started on a strong downtrend in July of 2013. When I look at the dollar compared to individual currencies like the euro and British pound, the picture looks even worse.
The common belief since the Credit Crisis of 2008: when there’s uncertainty, investors run towards the safety of the U.S. dollar. But something started to happen in mid-2013. Despite China’s economic slowdown, despite the situation with Russia and Ukraine, and with the Federal Reserve cutting back substantially on its money printing program, one would think the U.S. dollar would rally in value—but the opposite is happening.
Two reasons why the greenback is falling in value so fast:
First, world central banks have been slowly selling the U.S. dollars they keep in their reserves, as the percentage of world central banks that use the dollar as their reserve currency has fallen from more than 70% in the year 2000 to just over 60% today.
Secondly, with the Japanese and Chinese reducing the amount of U.S. Treasuries they buy and with the Federal Reserve reducing the paper … Read More
This is an odd stock market. On one hand, you don’t want to miss out on any of the upward moves, which is why you should continue to ride the gains; on the other hand, you also want to make sure you have an exit plan in place. (See “Time for Investors to Create an Exit Strategy?”)
As we move toward the end of the first quarter, the one thing that is clear is the difference in the market behavior this year versus the same time in 2013, when everything was moving rapidly higher with minimal regard for the underlying market fundamentals.
As I wrote in these pages in January, this will be a more difficult market in which to make money compared to the previous few years.
The move by the Federal Reserve under Janet Yellen to continue to dismantle the quantitative easing that was put into place by former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke a few years ago has continued into 2014 with the third straight month of cuts to the central bank’s monthly bond buying.
The gradual $10.0-billion-per-month reduction in the Fed’s monthly bond buying will likely continue until the program reaches zero early in the fourth quarter, unless, of course, the economic renewal stalls.
What this means for the stock market is that the drying up of easy money from the Fed will continue to put a damper on the money available for speculating on stocks, especially those in the emerging markets. And as bond yields rise, there will be more of a shift to bonds.
We are already seeing the impact on the … Read More
Copper is considered an industrial metal, used in industries across the board. When copper prices fall, it’s usually an indicator of a slowdown in the global economy. On the contrary, gold bullion isn’t much of an industrial metal; rather, it is used as a hedge against uncertainty in the global economy.
When you look at these two metals together, often referred to as the gold-to-copper ratio, they tell us something very important: the ratio of how many pounds of copper it takes to buy one ounce of gold bullion has long been an indicator of sentiment in the global economy.
If the gold-to-copper ratio is in a downtrend, it means investors are betting on the global economy to grow. In contrast, if it is increasing (if the number of pounds of copper it costs to buy an ounce of gold is rising), it tells us investors are concerned about protecting their wealth in a slowing global economy.
Below, you’ll find a chart of the gold-to-copper ratio.
Looking at the chart above, it is clear something happened at the beginning of 2014. Investors became very worried. Since the beginning of the year, the gold-to-copper ratio has increased more than 28%—the steepest increase in more than two years.
And the weekly chart of copper prices looks terrible too:
Copper prices have been trending downward since 2011. In 2013, these prices broke below their 200-day moving average and recently, they broke below a very critical support level at $3.00. While all of this was happening, on the chart, there was also a formation of a … Read More
We have Russia annexing Crimea from Ukraine and interest rates set to float higher sometime in early 2015, but the S&P 500 continued to edge up to another record-high on Friday.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is continuing to pull back on the quantitative easing that the former chair, Ben Bernanke, put in place. By year-end, the bond buying will likely be eliminated as the central bank allows the economy to try to stand on its own two feet. Of course, if everything goes well, Yellen also plans to begin ratcheting up interest rates as soon as early 2015. This could impact the stock market.
The upward move in interest rates and the elimination of quantitative easing means the easy money that had been pumped into the economy by the Federal Reserve will come to an end. This is concerning for the stock market, as the easy money has largely been the key reason why we are in the fifth year of this superlative bull stock market.
While it’s enticing to sit on all of the gains achieved so far, you should also be conscious of the profits made and should look at several risk management strategies.
The most important lesson is to take some money off the table and avoid soaking a possible downdraft in the stock market that could severely reduce your gains.
Making sure you have an exit strategy is paramount at this time.
I fully expect another downside move in the stock market sometime in the upcoming quarters. (Read “Stock Market Setting Up for Its Next ‘Fire Sale’?”)
You can also set a … Read More
The stock market in France has been on a tear! Below, I present a chart of the French CAC 40 Index, the main stock market index in France.
Looking at the chart, we see the French stock market is trading at a five-year high. With such a strong stock market, one would expect France, the second-largest economy in the eurozone, to be doing well. But it’s the exact opposite!
As its stock market rallies, France’s economic slowdown is gaining steam. In January, the unemployment rate in France was unchanged; it has remained close to 11% for a year now. (Source: Eurostat, February 28, 2014.) Consumer spending in the French economy declined 2.1% in January after declining 0.1% in December. (Source: National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, February 28, 2014.) Other key indicators of the French economy are also pointing to an economic slowdown for the country.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
And France isn’t the only place in the eurozone still experiencing a severe economic slowdown. In January, the unemployment rate in Italy, the third-biggest nation in the eurozone, hit a record-high of 12.9%, compared to 11.8% a year ago.
I have not mentioned Greece, Spain, and Portugal because they have been discussed in these pages many times before; as my readers are well aware, they are in a state of outright depression.
Just like how investors have bought into the U.S. stock market again in hopes of U.S. economic growth, the same thing has happened in the eurozone. Investors have put money into France’s stock market in hopes of that economy recovering—but it hasn’t. We are dealing with a … Read More
The chart below is of the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index, an index that tracks home prices in the U.S. housing market. As the chart shows, from their peak in 2007 to their low in late 2011, U.S. homes prices fell by about 30%. Since then, prices in the housing market have improved, but they are still down about 20% compared to 2007. Basically, home prices have recouped only one-third of their losses from the 2007 real estate crash.
Yes, the U.S. housing market has regained some lost ground, but it’s far from being back to where it was in 2007. And I’m very worried about the pace of the housing market recovery; I feel that the recovery is in jeopardy.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
Consider this: the interest rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage tracked by Freddie Mac increased to 4.43% in January of this year from 3.41% in January of 2013. (Source: Freddie Mac web site, last accessed February 26, 2014.) While there hasn’t been much mainstream media coverage on this, mortgage rates have increased by 30% in one year’s time. With the Federal Reserve cutting back on its quantitative easing program, interest rates are expected to continue their path upwards in 2014.
Higher interest rates are pushing would-be homebuyers away from the housing market. The U.S. Mortgage Bankers Association reported last week that its index, which tracks mortgage activity (of both refinanced and new home purchases), fell 8.5% in the week ended February 21. (Source: Reuters, February 26, 2014.)
And new homebuilders are seeing demand from homebuyers decline in the housing market as well. While presenting … Read More
The bond market is in trouble.
As we all know, the Federal Reserve has been the biggest driver of bonds since the financial crisis. The central bank lowered its benchmark interest rate to near zero, then started quantitative easing, all of which resulted in the bond market soaring as yields collapsed to multi-decade lows.
The chart below will show you what’s happened to the U.S. bond market since the mid-1970s.
As you can see from the chart, the declining yields on bonds stopped in the spring of 2013 and have increased sharply since then.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
What’s next for bonds?
The Federal Reserve is slowly taking away the “steroids” that boosted the bond market. The central bank is now printing $65.0 billion of new money a month instead of the $85.0 billion it was printing just a few months back. And now we hear the Federal Reserve will be slowing its purchases by $10.0 billion a month throughout 2014.
Since May of last year alone, when speculation started that the Federal Reserve would cut back on its money printing program, bond yields skyrocketed and bond investors panicked.
According to the Investment Company Institute, investors sold $176 billion worth of long-term bond mutual funds between June and December of last year. (Source: Investment Company Institute web site, last accessed February 26, 2014.) I would not be surprised if withdrawals from bond mutual funds are even bigger this year.
And China is slowly exiting the U.S. bond market, too. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, in December, China sold the biggest amount of U.S. bonds since 2011. In … Read More
Whenever I got stuck solving a problem in elementary school, my teacher would say, “go back and see where you went wrong.” This lesson—“learn from your mistakes”—was taught again in high school, and then throughout my life. It’s very simple: you can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Albert Einstein called it “insanity.”
When I look at the Japanese economy, I see the most basic lesson you learn in business school being ignored. The Bank of Japan, and the government, in an effort to improve the Japanese economy has resorted to money printing (quantitative easing) over and over, failing each time to spur growth. One might call it an act of insanity.
Through quantitative easing, the central bank of Japan wanted to boost the Japanese economy. It hoped that pushing more exports to the global economy from its manufacturers would change the fate of the country. It wanted inflation as well.
The result: after years of quantitative easing, the government and the central bank have outright failed to revive the Japanese economy. In fact, the opposite of their original plan is happening.
In January, the trade deficit in the Japanese economy grew—the country’s imports were more than its exports. Imports amounted to 7.70 trillion yen and exports were only 5.88 trillion yen. The trade deficit was 3.5% greater compared to the previous month. (Source: Japanese Customers web site, last accessed February 20, 2014.) Mind you, January wasn’t the only month when imports were more than exports in the Japanese economy. This is something that has been happening for some time.
Inflation in the … Read More
In the first five weeks of this year, investors bought $22.0 billion worth of long-term stock mutual funds. (Source: Investment Company Institute, February 12, 2014.)
But as investors poured money into the stock market, hoping to ride the 2013 wave of higher stock prices, stocks did the opposite and went down. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down three percent so far this year.
Looking at the bigger picture, corporate earnings and key stock indices valuations are still stretched. The S&P 500’s 12-month forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio stands at 15.1. This ratio is currently overvalued by roughly nine percent when compared to its 10-year average, and 15% compared to its five-year average. (Source: FactSet, February 14, 2014.)
This isn’t the only indicator that says key stock indices have gotten too far ahead of themselves. In the chart below, I have plotted U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) against the S&P 500.
The chart clearly shows a direct relationship between GDP and the S&P 500. When U.S. GDP increases, the S&P 500 follows in the same direction, and vice versa. When we look at the 2008–2009 period (which I’ve circled in the chart above), we see that when GDP plunged, the S&P 500 followed in the same direction.
Going into 2014, we saw production in the U.S. economy decline; consumer spending is pulling back, unemployment is still an issue, and the global economy is slowing. U.S. GDP is far from growing at the rate it did after the Credit Crisis. Take another look at the chart above. In 2011, you’ll see U.S. GDP was very strong; but after … Read More
As I have been pointing out to my readers, the “official” unemployment numbers issued by the government are misleading because they do not include people who have given up looking for work and those people with part-time jobs who want full-time work.
In January, there were 3.6 million individuals in the U.S. economy who were long-term unemployed—out of work for more than six months. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 7, 2014.)
Those who are working part-time in the U.S. economy because they can’t find full-time work stood at 7.3 million people in January.
Add these two numbers into the equation and the real unemployment rate, often called the underemployment rate, is over 12%. Meanwhile, the official unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics sits at 6.6%—that’s the number you will hear politicians most often quote.
But if there’s a group of policymakers that looks past the “official” unemployment numbers, it’s the Federal Reserve.
At her speech before the Committee on Financial Services, U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. last week, Fed Chief Janet Yellen said, “Those out of a job for more than six months continue to make up an unusually large fraction of the unemployed, and the number of people who are working part time but would prefer a full-time job remains very high. These observations underscore the importance of considering more than the unemployment rate when evaluating the condition of the U.S. labor market.” (Source: “Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress,” Federal Reserve, February 11, 2014.)
Like all economists, Yellen knows that when an individual has a part-time job then their income isn’t as … Read More
The single greatest certainty capital markets are looking for is policy stability from the Federal Reserve, and Janet Yellen, the new Chair of the Federal Reserve, delivered the goods for Wall Street.
With certainty in regards to short-term interest rates and the expectation that quantitative easing will continue to be reduced over the coming quarters, the fundamental backdrop for the stock market remains positive.
Many companies sold off after reporting earnings results that basically met consensus. This was well-deserved, especially in a market that has not experienced a meaningful correction for a number of quarters.
Particularly for large-caps, corporate earnings results in the last quarter of 2013 were decent and corporate outlooks for 2014 were also relatively positive, considering the current state of things.
Add in the high likelihood of rising dividends from blue chips in the bottom half of the year, and you have the makings of another decent year for stocks.
Corporate balance sheets are in top-notch condition, and the cost of capital is cheap. From the corporate perspective, this is the perfect backdrop for greater growth, and sales growth translates to the bottom line.
For the last couple of quarters, I’ve been reticent about investors buying this stock market. Long investors benefitted tremendously in 2013, even by owning blue chips. While the expectation has been for a major stock market correction (or collapse), one has yet to transpire. Instead, we are getting meaningful price consolidation, which is happening again.
The lack of a meaningful double-digit price correction in the stock market illustrates the continued underlying fervor that institutional investors have to be buyers. With continued certainty from … Read More
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