Posts Tagged ‘quantitative easing’
The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) surprised even the most optimistic of economists when it reported the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of four percent in the second quarter of 2014.
On the surface, the number—four percent growth—sounds great. But how serious should we take that gross domestic product (GDP) figure?
Firstly, I’d like to start by pointing out that the BEA often revises its GDP numbers downward. We saw this happen in the first quarter. First, we saw the BEA say the U.S. economy grew by 0.1% in the first quarter, then after a couple of revisions, they said the economy actually contracted 2.9% in the quarter.
I obviously expect the BEA to lower its initial second-quarter GDP numbers again.
But here’s what really worries me…
If the GDP data suggests the U.S. economy is growing, why are investors pricing in an economic slowdown?
The chart below is of the 10-year U.S. Treasury, the so-called safe haven. Back in 2007 to 2009, investors ran to U.S. Treasuries as a safe haven. As the U.S. economy improved, the yields on the 10-year U.S. Treasury started to rise as interest rates rose with general optimism towards the economy.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
But since the beginning of this year, yields on the 10-year U.S. notes have declined 18%. This is despite the fact the biggest buyer of these bonds, the Federal Reserve, has stepped away from buying these Treasuries as its quantitative easing program comes to an end.
At the same time, we have the stock market finally starting to give in. So if the stock market is a … Read More
Don’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%.
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
With 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
Yesterday was an amazing day for the markets.
Gold bullion hit a three-month low despite: 1) inflation rising rapidly in North America; and 2) the Chinese buying half of this year’s world gold production.
The stock market was up to a new high despite: 1) corporate insiders selling like mad; 2) corporate earnings growth collapsing; 3) the amount of money investors have borrowed to buy stocks standing at a record high; and 4) the economy stinking.
In the words of Robert Appel, my esteemed colleague, the following best describes what is happening with the markets:
“Time to take those ruby slippers out of the closet because we are definitely on our way to the ‘Wizard of Oz’ show once again. There is a view that the government and its ‘special contractor’ (the Fed) have things under control and we are now at the beginning of the biggest stock bull in history. We don’t buy that theory for a minute but we do acknowledge it exists.
“Those opposing this view—an ever-declining number—suggest that if inflation were defined as it was when the greatest economic minds of our age were still alive—the U.S. economy would be in big trouble. The recent corporate earnings wipeout in the retail sector was one of the most under-reported financial stories of the year.
“Interestingly (this is too bizarre to make up) the only major upside surprise in the retail sector in respect to first quarter earnings reports was Tiffany’s…where they can barely keep up with demand. No surprise for our readers as the ‘gap’ between rich and poor under QE [quantitative easing] has only intensified. QE … Read More
Looking at the current state of the U.S. housing market, one could say, “It’s the perfect time to buy a home.” Mortgage rates are historically low. Home prices are still down significantly from their peaks in 2006. But unfortunately, potential homeowners are not coming into the housing market.
The reality of the U.S. housing market is that it never recovered. It’s still sick at heart. Low mortgage rates and low home prices definitely provided some support; but now, as the Federal Reserve is pulling back on quantitative easing and mortgage rates are rising, we see home buyers running away.
The biggest bump we saw in housing was in 2012, when institutional investors came in and bought billions of dollars worth of empty homes in bulk. This gave the mainstream a hope that there was going to be a recovery in the housing market.
But as I have been writing since last year, investors buying houses to rent them will not create a healthy housing market recovery.
In fact, in the first quarter of 2014, the homeownership rate in the U.S. declined to its lowest levels in almost two decades, falling to 64.8%. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, April 29, 2014.)
New-home sales are declining at a very ridiculous rate, further strengthening my argument that home buyers are just tapped out. The chart below is of new-home sales in the U.S. going back to 2005.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
Back in 2005, the annual rate of new homes sold in the U.S. housing market was about 1.2 million. In March of this year, this rate was just 384,000. And in 2014, … Read More
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
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