Border Adjustment Tax DOA as Retailers and Traders Celebrate Victory

Republicans have officially given up on trying to pass a border adjustment tax to even the playing field with our trading partners. The Retail Industry Leaders Association celebrated the news and said they are now ready to get on-board with the President’s tax reform.
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Janet Yellen Testimony Economy Strong Enough For Rate Hikes

The US economy is healthy enough to absorb gradual rate increases and the reduction of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, Fed Chair Janet Yellen testimony before Congress on July 12, 2017.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told Congress on Wednesday that the bank hopes to keep raising a key interest rate and also intends to begin this year, the reduction of its bond holdings.

Yellen took note of several factors, such as household wealth and job gains that she said should fuel growth.

In what could be one of her last appearances on Capitol Hill, Yellen portrayed a market that, while growing gradually, continued to add jobs, gained from continuous household consumption and a recent leap in business investment, and was currently being supported too by stronger economic conditions overseas.

She blamed the economic slowdown in the first half of 2017 on inflation. She said Fed officials are watching developments closely to be certain price gains go back toward the 2 percent inflation target of the Fed.

Janet Yellen Testimony Freak Out Over Inflation

Janet Yellen seemed a little freaked out over the big drop in inflation over the last few months.

I take Yellen’s comments on inflation to mean that the economy should not have the CPI plunging in this part of the economic cycle. In fact, just the opposite should be occurring. But she added that it was considered by officials as an anomaly; inflation is predicted by the Fed next year.

Many economists believe the Fed, which has raised rates three times, will increase rates yet another time this year.

The Fed continues to anticipate that the development of the market economy will justify gradual increases in the federal funds rate over time while reductions in the Fed’s holdings of more than $4 trillion in securities will probably start “this year”.

In her prepared testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, Janet Yellen testimony repeated the message she’s been sending: the market has improved enough that it no longer requires the support the central bank began providing in 2008 in the aftermath of a serious financial crisis and the deepest recession since the 1930s.

In light of the continuing expansion, the Fed plans to keep raising its benchmark rate of interest and to lower its investment holdings, Ms. Yellen said in prepared testimony. She did not offer details concerning the time of the next actions of the Fed. Analysts expect the Fed to begin shaving its bond portfolio before the end of 2017.

The economy began the year with a slow growth rate of just 1.4 percent, it has regained momentum in recent months, aided by strong job gains, a revival of business investment and a strengthening of international markets.

Bottom line: the market is at full employment and the Fed is moving rates. As the Fed reinvests some of the bond holdings which mature monthly, they will decrease that reinvestment to reduce their balance sheet which will mark the beginning of QT (quantitative tightening). Many believe that QT began this year when the Fed did a series of rate hikes.

The Fed needs to keep policy accommodative to keep on supporting the recovery, but may hit a “neutral” rate quicker than anticipated. Estimates are that inflation has been dropping so fast that we could be near zero right now. Yellen has said the Fed expects estimates of the inflation rate to grow over time.

Yellen said in her testimony that as it stands rates “might not need to rise all that much farther” to reach neutral.

Yellen said growth remains moderate with business investment and consumer spending picking up, and the US economy is benefiting from growth in other countries too.

A strengthening in economic development abroad has provided significant support for U.S. manufacturing production and exports, Yellen said.

The Fed slashed its key policy rate to near zero to fight the worst economic recession since the 1930s, and kept it there for seven years before nudging it higher in December 2015. It left the rate unchanged before increasing it again in December 2016, March 2017, and June 2017 of this year.

At its June meeting, the Fed indicated that it expected to start decreasing its $4.5 trillion balance sheet after this year, a measure that could put slow upward pressure on longer-term prices for such things as home mortgages.

Yellen said, the market seemed to be in a virtuous loop of hiring, investment and spending which should increase resource usage somewhat further, thereby fostering a quicker rate of wage growth and price increases.

The Janet Yellen testimony was fairly uneventful except for her comments on falling inflation which seemed to baffle the Fed as to why this was happening at this point during the economic cycle.

Low Gas Prices Are Not Good For Consumers or the US Economy

Low gas prices are not good for consumers or the US economy. Remember back in late 2015 and early 2016 when oil prices fell which pushed down the price of gas?

We had headlines in the MSM that lower oil prices were a big boost to consumers and so consumer spending was going to rise. It didn’t happen that way.

Gas Prices and Jobs

Lower gas prices mean lower profits for the energy sector which provides good paying jobs for millions of Americans. It’s not just direct energy sector companies either. Real-estate in and around major oil fields saw a crushing drop and mortgage default rates surged when oil drilling rigs went idol back in 2015 and 2016.

Lower gas prices are a net loss for the US economy because of the loss of jobs that accompanies the price drop. While we fell for the MSM headlines back in 2015 and 2016, let’s not fall for it again. Lower prices at the pump do not result in a meaningful increase in consumer spending.

Gas Prices Pull Down The Stock Market

Lower fuel costs pull down the stock market and not just in the US either but around the world. If oil prices were to average $40 a barrel this year, oil-exporting countries would have to sell upwards of $100 billion in various investments to cover their balance of payments deficits. We know this because it’s exactly what happened in late 2015 and early 2016 when oil fell.

It’s not just oil-exporting countries that would be selling. Oil is the primary holding of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds. Those oil positions extend margin credit to fund managers who use that margin to buy appreciating assets around the world. When oil goes down, it’s like a giant global margin call that goes out and forces fund managers to reduce positions or infuse new money into the fund to meet the margin call.

According to JPMorgan’s estimates, a $40 average Brent price this year would result in the sale of $67 billion in government bonds, $24 billion in equities and another $19 billion in corporate bonds, hedge funds and cash over the course of the year.

Charting margin debt (red line), West Texas Intermediate (brown line), and the S&P 500 (blue line), you can see the effect that oil prices have.

Notice how oil leads both margin debt and by extension the S&P 500.

Not only does the black gold pull down the stock market via the reduction of margin debt, it also results in lower earnings and hence the earnings recession we experienced in 2015. You can see this relationship by charting S&P 500 earnings (green line) over the price of oil and margin debt.

Oil began plunging in 2014 and that drop showed up in earnings about 6 months later. Notice that when oil turned up in February of 2016, earnings again turned up about 6 months later.

Low gas prices are not good for consumers or the US economy. Traders need to watch the price of oil. It’s all about the oil. So goes oil, so goes the US economy.

Economic Growth Up On GDP Revision From Consumer Spending

GDP for Q1 was revised upward to 1.4% on an increase in consumer spending. The US economy enters its ninth year of economic growth in July.

The first GDP estimate for Q1 was originally reported at 0.7%. So Q1 GDP grew at twice the rate as originally thought. That’s great. Obviously 1.4% growth is not great but to have GDP growth at twice the rate than originally thought is awesome.

The idea that the Federal Reserve has hiked rates too far, too fast, and thus was crashing GDP is pushed a little ways off with this Q1 GDP upward revision. Clearly economic growth is not slowing as rapidly as everyone originally thought.

Some economists suspect the Q1 GDP number still underestimates the true rate of increase in the US. Regardless of the upward revision to GDP, President Trump’s stated goal of quickly boosting annual GDP to 3% remains a struggle.

Economic Growth

Analysts estimate that the U.S. market will grow at a 3% rate in the April-to-June interval, although the downturn in equipment orders and shipments reported earlier this week increases the danger that industry investment will supply less of a boost than expected.

A sustained average economic growth rate of 3% hasn’t been achieved in the US since the 1990s. The U.S. economy has grown an average of 2% since 2000.

Initial indications that GDP has accelerated in the next quarter are unlikely in the face of recent data on retail sales and manufacturing production.

Mainstream Media Hyping Gasoline Savings Again

I just can’t get behind the idea that consumers are saving so much money at the pump that it’s going to be a boom for consumer spending. Savings at the pump boosting consumer spending is the same claim that the mainstream financial media has made for the last two years. The Wall Street Journal writes

Regular gasoline averaged $2.15 a gallon on Monday versus $2.72 a year earlier, according to the Energy Information Administration. With gasoline prices persistently lower on the year, American households are set to have poured about $12 billion less into the tank since Memorial Day than over the same period last summer.

The $0.57 a gallon is not going to make any difference in consumer spending and the monthly retail sales report. I use about 10 gallons of gas a month to get to work and back in my 30 MPG car. The $2.72 versus $2.15 a gallon saves me $5.70 a month. No big deal. I use my car almost exclusive to get to work and back. Let’s say that someone drives ten times more than I do, and so they use about 100 gallons of gas a month. That’s a savings of only $57 a month. Folks, $57 a month is not going to make people go out and shop more. Lower gas prices boosting consumer spending is just the same sort of media hype we had in 2014 and 2015.

Remember this CNN article from December of 2014

Every penny that gas prices decline puts about a billion dollars into Americans’ pockets, according to Stephen Stanley, Chief Economist of Amherst Pierpont.

What a bunch of baloney that statistic turned out to be. I remember counting all the pennies oil dropped then multiplying each by $1 billion and thought consumer spending was going to explode higher, LOL. I think what these mainstream financial media publishers do is that they look at the stories people clicked on during August of last year, and they re-write the story and run it again in the current year. Shame on the mainstream media once, shame on me twice. I can’t afford to buy the hype this time around.