1010 B Street,
February 20, 2024
DON’T FIGHT THE FED
The Federal Reserve (Fed) is the central bank of the United States. A longstanding bit of investment wisdom is: Don’t fight the Fed. It means that investors should align their strategies with the Fed’s monetary policy. Economic growth is influenced by Fed policy, and stock markets tend to reflect the economy, rising when it grows and falling when it contracts. As a result, Kent Thune of The Balance reported, when the Fed is:
CHINA IS OUT OF FAVOR WITH INVESTORS
For decades, China was among the fastest-growing economies in the world. Its real gross domestic product, which is the value of all goods and services it produces, grew by about nine percent a year, on average, from 1978 through 2022, according to The World Bank. However, the pace of economic growth in China slowed over the last decade and dropped sharply during the pandemic.
February 5, 2024
WE’VE BEEN HEARING A LOT ABOUT LAYOFFS
Last week, the January 2024 Challenger Report found that employers based in the United States cut more than 82,000 jobs in January. That’s a lot. In December 2023, about 35,000 layoffs were announced. The January job cuts were concentrated in a few industries, and the reasons for the cuts included companies restructuring to lower costs and reorienting toward artificial intelligence.
January 29, 2024
EVEN BETTER THAN EXPECTED!
The United States economy is not performing the way anyone thought it would. Instead of tipping into a recession last year, it crushed expectations. Gross domestic product, which is the value of all goods and services produced in the country, expanded 2.5 percent, after inflation, for the year.
January 22, 2024
ARE YOU FEELING OPTIMISTIC OR PESSIMISTIC?
Consumers are a force to be reckoned with – and we’re all consumers. We buy coats and tweezers, electricity and bread, screens and fishing poles. We download apps and games and educational materials. As consumers, we are vital to the American economy. In fact, consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the U.S. economy when it’s measured using gross domestic product or GDP.
January 16, 2024
IS INFLATION RETREATING?
Last week, we received a lot of information about inflation. Some seemed to support the idea that inflation was sticky, meaning it wasn’t moving lower, while other data suggested inflation was in retreat. Here’s what we learned:
January 8, 2024
AND WE’RE OFF…TO A SLOW START
Last week, investors appeared to suffer from a New Year’s hangover. The culprit was too much optimism.
January 2, 2024
2023 WAS A BIG YEAR FOR U.S. STOCKS
The story of 2023 has its roots in 2022, when the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index lost almost 19.5 percent amid rising inflation and aggressive Federal Reserve rate hikes. As 2022 came to a close, many on Wall Street predicted further pain in the new year. Economists forecasted a 70 percent chance of recession in 2023, and consumer and investor confidence were both low.
December 26, 2023
IF ALL YOU WANTED FOR CHRISTMAS WAS TWO PERCENT INFLATION, YOU’RE IN LUCK!
Barring unforeseen events, it appears the United States Federal Reserve (Fed) is on the cusp of accomplishing a feat many thought impossible – reducing inflation without causing a recession.
December 18, 2023
HAVE RATES PEAKED?
Last week, at its final policy meeting for 2023, the United States Federal Reserve indicated that rates may have peaked. After the meeting, Chair Jerome Powell said:
December 11, 2023
STILL EXCEEDING EXPECTIATIONS
Last week, the United States Treasury market rallied. Yields fell and bond prices rose as some bond market investors enthusiastically embraced the idea that the Federal Reserve will soon change course. Michael Mackenzie and Rich Miller of Bloomberg explained:
December 4, 2023
WE’RE CYCLING ALONG
It’s easy to forget that economic activity tends to move in cycles. A full cycle, known as the business cycle, typically includes four stages:
November 27, 2023
IN NOVEMBER, INVESTORS WERE MORE OPTIMISTIC THAN CONSUMERS
At the start of November, investors were decidedly bearish. During the week of November 1, the AAII Investor Sentiment Survey found that about 50 percent of respondents were pessimistic about the prospects for stocks over the next six months, and about 24 percent were bullish. The current historic averages are 31 percent bearish and 37.5 percent bullish. (The remainder are neutral.)
November 20, 2023
IS IT DONE? (WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT TURKEY)
Last week, investors enthusiastically embraced the idea that the Federal Reserve (Fed) could be done raising rates – and that it might even begin to lower them. As conviction about the possibility of rate cuts increased, stock and bond markets rallied, reported Koh Gui Qing and Dhara Ranasinghe of Reuters.
November 13, 2023
WILL THERE BE A YEAR-END RALLY?
Four times a year, during earnings season, publicly traded companies report how well they performed during the previous quarter. The strength of corporate earnings – also known as bottom-line profits – is one of the economic indicators that investors watch closely.
November 6, 2023
Last week, there was a lot of speculation about whether the United States will see a year-end stock market rally. Some say yes, and some say no.
October 30, 2023
THE MARK TWAIN EFFECT?
Historically, economic theory was based on the idea that financial decisions were grounded in rational thought. In recent years, behavioral economists have recognized that people don’t always behave rationally. In fact, research has found that investors like shortcuts that help simplify decision-making. While rules of thumb can be helpful, it’s important to use common sense. Some investment theories are a bit wacky, such as:
October 23, 2023
MARKETS WERE RESILIENT
Today, investors have a myriad of worries that are creating tremendous uncertainty. A September Investopedia survey found investors are concerned about how their investments may be affected by:
October 16, 2023
Last week, investors had a lot to process – geopolitics, inflation, consumer sentiment, the possibility of government shutdown – and markets were volatile. Toward the end of the week, some investors were reassured when earnings season kicked off with reports showing major banks posted stronger-than-expected profits during the third quarter. Here’s a brief look at what happened during the week:
October 9, 2023
FINANCIAL MARKETS LOST GROUND DURING THE THIRD QUARTER
While year-to-date returns for the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index remain above the historic average, which was 10.24 percent, including dividends, from 1973 to 2022, the rally in U.S. stocks stalled during the third quarter of 2023, reported Lewis Krauskopf, Ankika Biswas and Shashwat Chauhan of Reuters.
October 2, 2023
INFLATION IS SLOWING BUT CONSUMERS AREN’T FEELING IT
In August, for the first time in two years, inflation (excluding volatile food and energy costs) dropped below four percent. Last week, one of the Federal Reserve (Fed)’s favored inflation measures – the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Price Index – indicated that prices rose 3.9 percent, year-over-year, in August 2023. That’s an improvement from January, when prices rose by 4.9 percent, year-over-year, but it remains above the Fed’s target of 2 percent.
September 25, 2023
HOW HIGH WILL THEY GO?
Just as the market anticipated, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) chose not to raise interest rates last week. However, Fed officials made it clear another rate increase might be necessary before the end of 2023 as continued economic strength, higher energy prices, robust consumer spending, and rising wages in a strong labor market have kept upward pressure on inflation.
September 18, 2023
ADDING NEW INGREDIENTS TO THE ECONOMIC BLENDER.
The performance of United States economy in 2023 has been as unexpected as a lentil-avocado-cinnamon smoothie – a tasty surprise. Last week, economic data suggested the Federal Reserve may need to do more to slow the economy. The consumer price index showed inflation edging higher, wholesale inflation was higher than expected (largely due to higher energy prices), and retail sales were healthy.
September 11, 2023
ALL THE WORK, WORK, WORK
2023 has been a remarkable year so far. It has, “confounded economists, humbled forecasters, and rewarded investors. Despite a rapid rise in interest rates, the U.S. economy continues to grow. Inflation has fallen – if not quite to desired levels – and stocks have entered a bull market, with the S&P 500 gaining 17% year to date and the Nasdaq Composite up more than 30%,” reported Nicholas Jasinski of Barron’s.
August 28, 2023
The Chinese government’s zero-COVID policy took the wind from the sails of its economy. When the government finally ended the policy earlier this year, many economists anticipated that pent-up consumer demand would refill China’s economic sails, lifting the global economy, reported Malcolm Scott of Bloomberg. Instead, China’s economy is in an economic doldrum, recovering far more slowly than anyone anticipated. As a result, economists have steadily lowered 2023 growth forecasts for the country, reported Yahoo Finance and Diane King Hall.
August 21, 2023
HIGHER BOND YIELDS MAY BE GOOD FOR INCOME INVESTORS – AND NOT SO GOOD FOR STOCK MARKETS
After more than a decade of near-zero interest rates, the “free money” era – a time when people and businesses could borrow money and repay it with very low (or no) interest – may be over.
August 14, 2023
CONSUMER SENTIMENT IS A LAGGING INDICATOR. IT’S ALSO A CONTRARIAN INDICATOR
After rising sharply in June and July, consumer sentiment leveled off this month. The preliminary August reading for the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index was 71.2. That’s slightly below July’s reading, although it’s up 22.3 percent year-over-year, and up 42 percent from its all-time low of 50 (June 2022). The historic average for the Index is 86.
August 7, 2023
CENTRAL BANK PALOOZA!
Last week, Fitch Ratings startled markets by lowering the credit rating of United States Treasuries from AAA to AA+. It was the second rating agency to downgrade U.S. Treasuries; Standard & Poor’s cut its rating to AA+ in 2011, reported Benjamin Purvis and Simon Kennedy of Bloomberg.
July 31, 2023
While music lovers attended concerts and festivals across the United States, central banks had a lollapalooza of their own. The U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) led things off last Wednesday, followed by the European Central Bank (ECB) on Thursday, and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) on Friday. Here’s what happened:
July 24, 2023
BETTER THAN EXPECTED.
In January of this year, the Bloomberg’s MLIV Pulse survey collected and shared investors’ expectations for stock markets. Survey participants were generally a gloomy group. Seventy percent believed the United States stock market would move lower in 2023, and most indicated the drop would happen in the latter half of the year, according to Jess Menton and Liz Capo McCormick of Bloomberg. The pair reported:
July 17, 2023
DISINFLATION WAS IN THE AIR!
To the great relief of the Federal Reserve, the American economy has been experiencing “disinflation,” which is a slowdown in the rate of inflation. For example, last week we learned that:
Inflation fell to a two year low in June. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed that prices rose just 3 percent from June 2022 through June 2023. That was lowest inflation has been in two years, reported Augusta Saraiva of Bloomberg.
July 10, 2023
MARKETS ARE PLAYING FEDERAL RESERVE (FED) CLUE
Last week, investors parsed the monthly Employment Situation Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for clues about whether the Fed will raise the federal funds rate at its next meeting or leave the rate unchanged, reported Megan Leonhardt of Barron’s. The Fed has been aggressively raising the rate to slow the pace of inflation. Higher rates typically lead to slower economic growth and fewer jobs, so the employment report offers some signals about the Fed’s progress so far and what may come next.
July 3, 2023
SHOWING REMARKABLE RESILIENCE
Throughout the first half of 2023, the U.S. economy and financial markets proved to be resilient – and so did investors. U.S. stock markets moved higher amid enthusiasm for artificial intelligence and expectations that the Federal Reserve’s tightening cycle might be near an end. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index entered a bull market and the Nasdaq Composite Index delivered its best first-half performance in 40 years, gaining more than 30 percent over the period, reported Barron’s.
June 26, 2023
The Artificial Intelligence (Ai) Express Is Traveling Fast
Investors are enthusiastic about AI. Late last year, an AI research lab introduced a chatbot that could answer questions – and people were enthralled. Within two months of its introduction, more than 100 million people had engaged with the technology, reported David Curry of Business of Apps. It wasn’t long before AI platforms that could generate images and audio, and help with coding were released
June 20, 2023
There is one decision all investors should make: how to allocate the money they’re investing. Asset allocation decisions are usually based on a myriad of factors: expected returns, potential volatility, and appetite for risk, among others.
June 12, 2023
Leaping Over The Wall Of Worry
The “wall of worry” is an obstacle – or set of obstacles – that investors face. This year, the wall reached a considerable height as inflation, the War in Ukraine, United States-China tensions, slower earnings growth, the high cost of residential real estate, low demand for commercial real estate, tightening credit conditions, and other issues weighed on investor confidence and consumer sentiment.
June 5, 2023
As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”
Gomer Pyle USMC was a popular American sitcom in the 1960s. It focused on a naïve, do-gooding auto mechanic from Mayberry RFD who joined the military. Gomer Pyle, the much-loved main character, was known for catchphrases such as shazam, golly, and surprise, surprise, surprise.
May 30, 2023
It’s A Three-Ring Circus!
For centuries people have embraced the circus. Enjoying the sticky fluff of cotton candy while elephants, clowns and trapeze artists perform in the spotlights. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the experience as wild, confusing, engrossing and entertaining.
May 22, 2023
Investors Aren’t Happy, But Stocks Are Up
If you ever participated in a fantasy football league, you may have experienced a run on a position during your draft. One person picks a kicker or defense mid-round and, suddenly, almost everyone rushes to follow suit. A similar occurrence may be happening in the United States stock market.
May 15, 2023
Brace yourself! The debt ceiling standoff continues
Consumers aren’t optimistic. The Consumer Sentiment Index fell to a six-month low in May, dropping 9.1 percent month-to-month. Participants in the University of Michigan survey were:
May 8, 2023
The labor market just keeps growing…and growing…
Last week, the April employment report for the United States arrived. It showed that unemployment dropped to the lowest level in more than 50 years – 3.4 percent. Other highlights included:
May 1, 2023
Despite more than a year of aggressive Federal Reserve rate increases, the United States economy is still growing, albeit more slowly. U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) – the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. economy – grew by 5.1 percent over the first quarter.
April 24, 2023
Better than expected
It’s earnings season – the time when publicly traded companies report on how profitable they were during the first quarter of 2023. So far, reports suggest that companies listed on United States stock exchanges did better than many had anticipated. Almost 20 percent of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index have reported and three-out-of-four have exceeded earnings expectations, reported John Butters of FactSet.
April 17, 2023
Last week, there was nothing too surprising in economic and financial news.
Inflation eased, as expected, although it remained above the Federal Reserve (Fed)’s target rate. The Treasury yield curve remained inverted with three-month Treasury bills yielding more than 10-year Treasury notes, as they have been since November 2022. Also, we may be nearing an end to rate hikes around the world. Bloomberg News reported:
April 10, 2023
Some illustrations are optical illusions. When two people view the picture, they may see completely different images. A good example is Rubin’s Vase. One viewer may see a vase, while another sees two faces.
April 3, 2023
Perhaps we should call this a pushmi-pullyu market.
The first quarter of 2023 brought Dr. Dolittle’s pushmi-pullyu – the rarest animal of all – to mind. It is the offspring of goat-antelopes and unicorns, and has a head at each end of its body. The pushmi-pullyu’s unusual anatomy allows it to easily and rapidly change direction, making it difficult to catch.
March 27, 2023
When you think of fun, are you running an Arctic marathon? Biking to your favorite burger place? Gaming with friends online? Each has inherent risk: Polar bears and hypothermia, traffic and flat tires, and viruses and identity theft. Those who enjoy these activities, understand the possible risks and manage them.
March 20, 2023
Early last week, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told Congress the Fed is committed to bringing inflation down to 2 percent. If economic data continues to come in hot, he said, then it’s likely the Fed will raise rates higher than expected and keep them higher for longer.
March 13, 2023
March 6, 2023
Stocks and bonds are two of the better-known asset classes in the family of potential investments. Last week, they were in opposition.
Bond yields have been moving higher in anticipation of the Federal Reserve raising rates again. For a while last week, every maturity of Treasury – from the 1-month Treasury bill to the 30-year Treasury bond – boasted a yield above 4 percent. Some shorter-maturity Treasuries yielded more than 5 percent.
February 27, 2023
The answer depends on your perspective. Last week, we learned that:
Consumer sentiment is at its highest level in more than a year. Consumers are feeling better about current economic conditions and the future. That said, the University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment remains 20 points below its long-term average. Consumer expectations for inflation over the next year increased from 3.9 percent to 4.1 percent and, over the longer term, consumers anticipate inflation will average about 2.9 percent.
February 20, 2023
There were some unwelcome surprises in last week’s economic data that caused markets to reassess expectations for 2023. For example:
Inflation didn’t fall as fast as expected. Last week, the Consumer Price Index showed inflation rose 6.4 percent, year-over-year, in January. That was an improvement over December’s pace and the seventh consecutive month of falling prices, but economists expected price increases to slow more quickly, reported Megan Cassella of Barron’s.
February 13, 2023
This Time May Be Different...Or It May Not Be
There has been a lot of speculation about how the Federal Reserve’s policies will affect the United States economy. Economists have differing opinions about whether the country is headed for:
It’s an important question because recessions often are accompanied by layoffs, rising unemployment rates, dwindling investor confidence, lower consumer spending, and stock market downturns.
Recently, a new theory bubbled up.
February 6, 2023
What Do Samuel Clemens (A.K.A. Mark Twain) And The Current Economic Expansion Have In Common?
Author and humorist Twain was prematurely reported to be dead. It first happened in 1897. Twain was on a speaking tour in London when rumors that he had fallen ill and died began to circulate. Then, about a decade later, The New York Times reported that a yacht Twain was on had sunk.
January 30, 2023
The vicious cycle of inflation.
Last week, we learned that pay increases at central banks in many parts of the world won’t keep pace with inflation. As a result, their employees may not be able to maintain the standards of living they had before inflation began rising. For example, at the United States Federal Reserve (Fed) the maximum pay increase was 5.1 percent for 2022. That’s significantly below inflation which averaged 8 percent last year, reported Jana Randow and Enda Curran of Bloomberg.
January 23, 2023
“It’s hard to be a contrarian for very long these days because the consensus seems to change so quickly,” opined Ed Yardeni via LinkedIn last week.
We’ve certainly seen a shift in investors’ preferences during the first few weeks of this year. Despite widespread expectations that markets would move lower early in 2023, major U.S. stock indices have trended higher. Year-to-date through January 20, 2023:
January 17, 2023
Bullish or bearish?
After last year’s geopolitical turmoil, economic malaise, and tumultuous stock market decline, many financial professionals – from investors to asset managers – have strong opinions about what will happen in 2023.
January 9, 2023
It’s being called the “Goldilocks” report
Last Friday, we learned that demand for workers in the United States remained strong in 2022. The unemployment rate dropped to 3.5 percent in December. (It was 3.7 percent in November.) That brought U.S. unemployment back to where it was before the pandemic – at the lowest level in more than 50 years, reported Megan Cassella of Barron’s.
January 3, 2023
It’s finally over.
2022 was a dismal year for financial markets. Major United States stock indices moved lower, trimming or eliminating the previous year’s gains.
December 27, 2022
What a year!
In some ways, it feels as though we lived through several years in 2022. The onslaught of events included, “The first major European war since the 1990s, unprecedented sanctions, energy-price mayhem, bail-outs, global interest rates rising at their fastest pace in four decades, a faltering Chinese economy, an overheating American one, housing markets looking peaky across the rich world, [and] a crypto blow-up for the ages…,” reported Hamish Birrell in The Economist’s Money Talks newsletter.
December 19, 2022
Bad News Is Bad News, Once Again.
For months, investors have cheered bad economic news. When the United States economy showed signs of weakness, stock markets often reflected investor enthusiasm. The thinking was that bad economic news would persuade the Federal Reserve to slow the pace of rate hikes. Inflation would slide lower, and recession would be avoided.
December 12, 2022
What Comes Next?
The U.S. stock market tends to be a forward-looking vehicle. Investors make decisions today based on what they think may be ahead for the economy, and how economic change may affect the companies they’re considering for investment. Currently, key questions include:
December 5, 2022
What will it take to slow this economy down?
In 2001, railway workers slowed a runaway train in Ohio by latching a second engine to the back of the locomotive and applying the brakes. In all, the train traveled sixty-six miles over two hours, decelerating from a maximum speed of 47 miles per hour to 10 miles per hour before workers regained control of it, according to CNN.
November 28, 2022
There Was A Shift In The Winds Of Monetary Policy.
Last week, it became clear the Federal Reserve (Fed) had softened its hawkish stance. The minutes of the central bank’s November policy meeting indicated the Fed was likely to slow the pace of rate hikes soon. There was a caveat, though. The minutes noted:
November 21, 2022
Thanksgiving And Football Go Together Like Turkey And Stuffing.
For some families, though, this year may be more like a turducken, stuffed with American football and the sport the rest of the world knows as football (soccer). The men’s World Cup, which is played every four years for national glory, the Jules Rimet trophy, and millions of dollars in prize money, began on Sunday and will end on December 18.
November 14, 2022
Last week was remarkable for many reasons.
One reason is that sky watchers around the world had an opportunity to see a total lunar eclipse. The moon, Earth and sun aligned, causing the moon to appear crimson. We won’t see another total lunar eclipse for three years, reported Denise Chow of NBC News.
November 7, 2022
It’s the lag time.
To no one’s surprise, the Federal Reserve continued to battle inflation last week, raising the federal funds rate for the fourth time this year, reported Claire Ballentine of Bloomberg. The Fed is making borrowing more expensive to dampen demand for goods, which should lower inflation – but it’s not a quick fix.
October 31, 2022
Some companies are doing better than others – a lot better.
It’s earnings season; the time when companies share how well they performed during the previous quarter. Earnings reports are important because they provide information about a company’s financial health. Shareholders pay particular attention to earnings, which are company profits after expenses have been subtracted.
October 24, 2022
Markets Turned - Again
Markets continue to be volatile. Last week, stocks headed north. Nicholas Jasinski of Barron’s reported the change of direction reflected investors’ desire for the market to finally hit bottom. He may be right, but corporate earnings suggest we are not there yet, according to Bob Pisani of CNBC.
October 17, 2022
We’re not there yet.
Investors are understandably eager for the stock market to hit bottom. Some hoped it happened last week, but it did not.
October 10, 2022
Last week, OPEC+, which includes the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allied oil producers like Russia, chose to cut production by two million barrels a day. The stated goal is to keep crude oil prices above $90 a barrel. The production cut, which will push gasoline and other prices higher, complicates efforts to fight inflation, reported Salma El Wardany and colleagues at Bloomberg.
October 3, 2022
The Third Quarter Marked A Change In Attitude
So far, 2022 has been a tough year for investing. We’ve experienced an unusual phenomenon – the simultaneous decline of stock and bond markets. Throughout the third quarter, investors’ concerns focused on global instability, rising prices and the possibility that central bank efforts to tame inflation would cause economic growth to falter. The result has been tremendous volatility in stock and bond markets.
September 26, 2022
Central Bank Tightening Sparked Recession Fears
Last week, the Federal Reserve (Fed) raised the federal funds rate for the fifth time this year. During 2022, the Fed has lifted its benchmark rate from near zero to 3.12 percent. Fed policymakers indicated that they expect to raise the rate again this year. That’s going to make borrowing more expensive as rates on credit cards, home mortgages and business loans increase.
September 19, 2022
It’s Open To Interpretation
Jackson Pollock was an action painter. He poured, dropped, and dripped paint onto horizontal canvases. Some people look at his work and wonder why it’s highly valued. Others find deep meaning in the paintings. For instance, Pollock’s Convergence is a collage of splattered colors that has been described as “the embodiment of free speech and freedom of expression…It was everything that America stood for all wrapped up in a messy, but deep package.”
September 12, 2022
Central Banks Are Hawkish. Stocks Popped Higher, Anyway
Last week, despite signs that inflation is slowing, U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) officials emphasized their commitment to tightening monetary policy to lower inflation. Several indicated they anticipate a third consecutive rate hike of 75 basis points, reported Craig Torres and Matthew Boesler of Bloomberg.
September 6, 2022
You May Have Heard This One: Don’t Fight The Fed
The Fed is the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States. Among other things, the Fed influences monetary conditions in pursuit of price stability and full employment. As we’ve seen recently – with unemployment low and inflation high – the Fed’s job isn’t simple or straightforward.