FOMC Announcement Pushed US Dollar Down Big Time

The dollar did a big drop today after the FOMC announcement left rates unchanged. The Federal Reserve said the reduction of the balance sheet will begin relatively soon. I think relatively soon means September 2017.

The Fed seemed to indicate that “gradual” policy tightening will continue.
Continue reading “FOMC Announcement Pushed US Dollar Down Big Time”

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.

Jolts Job Openings Down But Hiring Up

The JOLTS Job Openings report showed U.S. companies posted fewer job openings in May but hiring picked up and people are quitting their jobs — both bullish signs for the economy.

New government statistics show American companies have made progress filling their record number of job openings, as hiring rose in May while the amount of job openings in the labor market dipped to just shy of 5.7 million.

JOLTS Job Openings

There were broad increases in professional, retail, and business services. That narrowed the gap between job openings and hiring, which had raised concerns of a skills mismatch in the market.

JOLTS job openings dropped 5 percent in May to 5.7 million, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Meanwhile, hiring rose 8.5 percent to just under 5.5 million.

The hiring rate rose two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.7 percent.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly JOLTS job openings report — an acronym for Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary showed openings in May dropped off to the lowest level since January.

The job openings dip in May shows further evidence that the economy is hitting the wall of maximum employment.

This JOLTS job openings report is a sign the market at 4.4 percent unemployment is nearing full employment when almost all people who need a job have one and the unemployment rate mainly reflects the normal churn of people that are temporarily out of work. Usually when unemployment drops this low, companies have to offer more pay. I think faster wage growth is coming.

As the bull economy ages, there is going to be fewer available jobs out there simply because companies have hired all the workers they need for now.

Hiring, meanwhile, surged north of 5.4 million to the highest level the market has seen since December 2015. Substantial upticks in hiring from business and professional services, and educational services, resulted in 25,000 and 121,000 more employees than the month before.

The JOLTS report is among the data watched by Federal Reserve officials as they track both inflation and the labor market.

Quits are typically regarded among analysts as a sign of optimism that employees feel good about their choices.

The amount of people quitting their jobs has increased 7.1 percent to 3.2 million. People usually quit when they either find a new job, often at higher pay, or are convinced they will be hired elsewhere. Quits gauge workers’ willingness to depart present positions in search of higher wages. Coupled with increased hiring across sectors, the equally broad-based increase in the quit rate bodes well for continued wage gains.

Average hourly earnings have failed to break above 2.5 percent on a year-over-year basis. Economists say a growth rate of between 3 and 3.5 percent in salary is needed to bring inflation near the Fed’s 2 percent target.

Layoffs were also up in May at nearly 1.7 million, tying March for the second-worst month so far this year. That’s still a respectable level at this stage in the economic recovery, but layoff upticks were seen across many different industries such as education and health services. Still, current job growth is more than enough to absorb the uptick in layoffs.

Machines and Computer AI Are Not Going To Take All Our Jobs, Here’s Why

A vigorous debate is going on between economists, stock traders, and investors on if computer A.I. and automation will take all our jobs and destroy the economy. I have been studying this issue for more than a year and I’m ready to give you my final opinion on the subject.

Please take a moment to watch this video of two of my economics teachers debating if machines will take all our jobs and thus destroy the economy. This will give you a good economics foundation on both positions so I can give you my opinion without rehashing the entire argument.

At first, most people will support Tyler Cowen’s position that computer A.I. and automation is bad for the economy. But over time, I think you’ll come to the decision that Alex Tabarrok’s position is the right one.

Let’s take Tyler Cowen’s argument to the extreme. Let’s say that computer automation continues to eliminate good paying jobs and that rich CEOs and business owners make crazy profits while the rest of us go broke without a job. In this scenario, millions of people will be without jobs.

The unemployment rate would rise about 10%, then 15%, then 20% and beyond. What would happened to consumer spending? It would drop as nobody would have any money to buy what these rich CEOs and business owners are producing.

For example, Amazon takes over Whole Foods, eliminates thousands of cashier jobs, and replaces those jobs with automated checkout stands. This lowers the price at which Amazon sells food because of lower labor costs. Now Albertson’s and Walmart, they follow what Amazon does so they too can compete on price. Soon the entire grocery industry becomes mostly automated. Now imagine that this plays out across many sectors beyond just grocery as millions of jobs are replaced by computer automation. If that happens, who is buying what the computer automation is producing? Nobody.

The rich will stop getting richer and the entire economy will implode as the human race destroys civilization through expanded automation and the pursuit of greed at any cost.

Rich people are not stupid. They know that employees are also their customers. Rich corporations and CEOs are not going to advance an agenda that is ultimately going to result in their own destruction. But it’s more than just that, it’s economics.

If computer A.I. and automation caused massive unemployment and poverty, consumer demand would fall through the floor and there would be no demand for the products that computer A.I. and automation creates. Therefore, economics tells us that if there’s no demand, these services and products would cease to exist. Corporations would have no need for automation and so they would stop investing in it and developing it.

Here’s another example. Back in the early 80’s, I was a computer programming prodigy. I learned programming on a Commodore 64 and did things that blew people away. I was going to be a computer programmer when I got out of high-school, or so I thought. By the time I graduated high-school, coders like me with mad skills were obsoleted by “canned software”. Was I out of a job opportunity? Not really. 3D video games used canned 3D engines which allowed games to be produced by a greater number of businesses. Because the engines driving the 3D games were “canned”, it brought down the cost of video games. More people could afford video games at $30 instead of at $90 or more back before canned software. An entire gaming industry rose up and is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

The Internet came soon after and so I started programming websites. I learned Java, HTML, SQL, and PHP. Just when I was getting really good at programming websites, along came the “canned” software again. AOL came out with Rainman in the early 90s and back then, AOL pretty much was the internet for most people. I still got a little bit of work from various businesses but then came out BBS’s which allowed anybody to set up a message forum and put up a dial up website. In the early 2000s came WordPress, another “canned software” that greatly reduced the need for my programming skills. Every business on the planet began putting up a website and shopping cart and the ability to buy things online was born. People began making money selling things online. Was I out of a job? Not really. WordPress lead to millions of people putting up websites and so I finally got smart and realized the money was in content production and selling online and not in computer programming.

If computer automation was something that was so bad for the economy, then why has the internet and automation made the world better for so many people regardless of their income class? If automation (which is what “canned software” essentially is) was something that was bad, economics and the law of supply and demand tells us that its value would eventually go to zero and such automation would stop because their would be no demand for it. But that’s not what has happened. Today, millions of Americans make money online with automated CMS platforms.

I could go on. What about stock trading? Back in the 70s and early 80s, you had to call a broker on the phone and pay $120 a trade or more if you wanted to invest in the stock market. When the internet came out and the discount broker industry sprang up, brokers said it was going to destroy their industry. Did it? Not really. With cheaper trading fees of $10 a trade and lower, millions of Americans began investing in the stock market. Brokers went to work for online discount brokerage firms as more people than ever started investing and stock trading. If the internet and automation was a bad thing, the value of online brokerage firms would eventually drop to zero as demand for their services would eventually come to an end. That’s not what happened. In fact, entire new trading software companies sprang up and even stock trading blogs like GuerillaStockTrading came into being.

Computer automation has created new jobs that no one could even imagine 40 years ago. Automation has increased wealth across all income classes as prices are lowered so consumers are happier and can buy more with their hard earned dollars. The economy becomes deeper and more diverse as life becomes richer with greater opportunities for everyone, even someone who is disabled with Muscular Dystrophy (M.D.) like myself that can’t do a more physically demanding job.

Computer automation has led to so many opportunities that years ago, a disease like Muscular Dystrophy (M.D.) would have doomed me to poverty because physically I’m unable to do a lot of jobs. Today, I can work a day job in an office as a bookkeeper and in IT support, and at night I can stock trade and produce value for others over the internet blogging about the stock market. I’ve never been on government assistance and a burden to tax payers even though I have M.D. thanks to computer automation creating a deep and diverse economy.

For every change there’s always another opportunity of equal or greater value waiting.

Therefore, my final opinion on computer A.I. and automation is that it’s a positive for the economy. I don’t believe that computer A.I. and automation is going to take all of our jobs because of economics and the law of supply and demand. If it did take all of our jobs, it would cease to be. Our goal then is to find emerging opportunities in this space that we can invest in and make a fortune over the coming years.

You may be angry because you lost your job to automation and so you don’t agree with me. That’s fine. I understand this is a highly debated topic even among brilliant economists. This is only my personal opinion based on my own life experiences and observations that I wanted to share with you.

Stock Market at All time Highs! Are We In a Giant BUBBLE?

With the stock market hitting all-time highs, everybody wants to know if we are in a giant bubble.

You can’t trade and make money if you’re not in the market. If the fear that we are in a bubble is keeping you out, then you’re not making money.

The honey badger doesn’t care. The honey badger loves to climb walls of worry.

You can get an early read on which way the market is headed by tracking transports. Fedex is a bellwether stock in the transports industry.

The chart of FedEx just did a breakout above 180 and hit a new high. The rising Twiggs Money Flow shows FedEx is under heavy accumulation.

Remember folks, bull markets don’t die of old age, they are murdered by the Fed.

The chart below shows profit margins [blue] are falling as employee compensation [brown] rises.

Since 2015, employee compensation has started to recover as the labor market tightens and corporate earnings are falling (as a % of Net Value Added).

If you look back to the 1960s, you can see that when the labor market reaches capacity, profits fall as labor costs rise. The Federal Reserve intervenes to battle inflation from rising wages which will cause the next recession. The Fed does not usually intervene in a meaningful way until wages rise above 74% of corporate profits. In other words, we have a long way to go regarding rising wages before the Fed is going to hike rates so high that it causes the next recession.

Financial Education posted this video on if we are in a giant bubble. While I don’t agree with everything he says, he does make some good points IMO.

What The Trump Win Means For Multinational Corporations

I predict that a Trump win means down for the economy at first, then upward as the US consumer strengthens from domestic job growth.

The down first move in the economy will come from inefficiencies caused by forcing multinational corporations to bring domestic production facilities back to the US or face steep tariffs.

Several traders have emailed me asking what stocks are good to short or go long in a Trump Administration.

Here is how a Trump win is likely to impact industries negatively.

IoT Industry

Tesla is the big driver of autonomous vehicles. Tesla is shipping all new Model 3 cars with the hardware for full autonomy. These autonomous cars are also electric cars. Tesla’s new Model 3, after tax credits, was priced for under $30,000. The Trump Administration is likely to be unfriendly towards companies like Tesla that benefited under the Democrats crony capitalism. The Trump Administration will likely offer few proposals for combating climate change. Trump will likely not pursue “green policies,” which means the discontinuation of “green” tax credits like the kind Tesla benefits from. Without these generous tax credits, Tesla automobiles will be more expensive which will slow purchases and slow the spread of the self-driving car.

Industrial IoT trends have been towards automation and replacing human workers with machines and robots. Trump has promised to renegotiate trade deals to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US. If IoT trends are taking away US jobs, it’s a pretty good bet that a Trump administration will advocate against industrial machines and robots that replace human labor.

Payments Industry

Trump has threatened to cut off remittance send from the US to Mexico until Mexico pays for a border wall. Trump is considering forcing Mexico to pay for the wall by invoking the US Patriot Act to cut off portions of the flow of money between the US and Mexico until Mexico makes a one-time $5 billion to $10 billion payment for the wall. Mexico is the largest receive destination for US remittances, cashing an estimated $25 billion in 2015. Western Union recently doubled the size of its retail network in the country, and MoneyGram unveiled a product in partnership with Walmart to make it easier and less expensive to send money from the US to Mexico. Cutting off the flow of money from the US to Mexico, even temporarily, would negatively impact Western Union and MoneyGram.

A Trump Administration will focus on bringing manufacturing back to America, specifically targeting firms like Ford and Apple to build products in the US rather than in Mexico or China. To implement a plan of bringing manufacturing back to the US, a Trump Administration will need to use tariffs and issue tougher manufacturing restrictions. This will likely cause a major decrease in international business spending as more businesses are either unable to make transactions due to restrictions or unwilling to pay the extra fees.

Technology Industry

Net neutrality is the concept that all data transmitted over the internet should be treated equally. Trump has not released official statements about the topic of net neutrality, but he has expressed distaste for President Obama’s approach. A Trump Administration could push to change the FCC’s net neutrality rules which would result in different price points for various data types and enable service providers to throttle data delivery.

In a Trump Administration, technology companies will likely be forced to change encryption policies to provide backdoor access to the US government. Trump supported the court order calling for Apple to facilitate access to an encrypted iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter and asked consumers to boycott the company until it complied. Civil liberties groups are likely to take the Trump Administration to court. Requiring companies to provide backdoor access to the US government would violate consumers’ trust and likely lead to a decline in users of these companies’ products at first. Over time, though, consumers will likely not care.

Policy changes by a Trump Administration would harm tech companies that manufacture overseas, like IBM and Apple. Apple’s iPhone is likely going to become much more expensive for US consumers.

Apple and Google make more of their revenues overseas than within the US. Higher tariffs and protectionist policies could make it more expensive for tech companies to move and sell their products around the world. The broader use of trade tariffs would likely spur more countries to invest in domestic technology sectors within their own countries and to reduce their reliance on US technology providers, which would further hurt US tech multinational corporations.

Large mergers between service providers and digital content companies could face greater scrutiny. Trump said that the $85 billion AT&T and Time Warner merger would not be approved by a Trump administration because “it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” A Trump Administration could lead to a decrease in M&A activity.

The technology sector has been granting more H-1B immigration visas to highly skilled workers with STEM backgrounds.

A Trump Administration will likely include fees that will make it more expensive for companies to hire foreign workers through the H-1B visa program. If such fees are enacted, it would likely drive up wages for highly skilled IT talent even further across the technology sector.

E-Commerce

Protectionist policies and tariffs will increase the cost of goods. Trump wants to tax US companies that choose to manufacture goods overseas. Such a policy would harm retail companies that manufacture their goods overseas. Most retail companies will raise their prices to offset these tax penalties and the added cost of building manufacturing plants in the US.

E-commerce companies are pushing to deliver products to consumers as fast as possible. Think Amazon, and it’s Amazon Prime membership with free two-day delivery as well as its drones for remote area deliveries. This fast delivery involves automation within distribution centers. A Trump Administration will likely move to protect American workers from being displaced by machines thus forcing e-commerce companies to invest in traditional forms of labor over cheaper and faster new ones.

While a Trump Administration will be great for the US economy long term IMO, short term, I think we get a pullback in the economy while corporations adjust to higher costs and lower sales.

Here Comes Supply-Side Economics and the Laffer Curve

Increases in government regulation, taxes, environmental regulations, and ObamaCare on businesses, shifted the aggregate supply (AS) curve inward and thus reduced aggregate demand (AD).
Continue reading “Here Comes Supply-Side Economics and the Laffer Curve”

What Further Evidence the Fed Needs To Hike In December 2016

The Federal Reserve held short-term interest rates steady as traders expected. In the Fed’s postmeeting policy statement, it said it only needed “some further evidence” of economic progress before moving forward with a rate hike.

What exactly is the further evidence that the Fed needs? To answer that, you have to know about what happened last year to the unemployment rate and wages.

After the Fed had raised rates in December of 2015, it said that it would raise rates four times in 2016. I went off the rails. Long time viewers of the weekly Saturday night show remember how angry I was at the absurd proposition that the economy was strong enough to hike rates four times in 2016.

The Fed was ultimately wrong in their four hikes in 2016 statement. What happened? Here’s where the Fed went wrong. The Fed thought that in December of 2015 that wages would begin to accelerate rapidly. For most of 2016, the monthly Employment Situation report showed an average of 220,000 jobs added per month. The unemployment rate had gone to 5% from 5.8%. The Fed thought that the demand for labor would shift to the right as illustrated in this graph.

The Fed thought that the demand curve would shift to the right from D to D1. As demand for employment increased, unemployment would continue to fall, and wages would rise rapidly. The problem is that the Fed assumed that the job market was very tight because of the low unemployment rate. In other words, the Fed assumed that the labor market supply was fairly static so that increased demand for labor would cause wages to rise rapidly.

Last year I was one of many voices yelling out to anyone who would listen that the labor force participation rate was dropping.

What this means is that the supply of labor was not static at all, in fact, it was just the opposite. The labor market continued to generate jobs at an average of 187,000 per month for most of 2016, but the unemployment rate stayed at 5%, and wages barely moved at all. Why? Because, as the labor participation rate was signaling, people came off the sidelines and back into the job market. We know this because the labor participation rate began rising in 2016.

As you remember from our lesson on illegal immigration, a rise in the supply of labor shifts the supply curve down. In other words, it largely offsets the outward shift of the demand curve! In case you don’t understand, let’s track this on a supply and demand graph.

In step 1, the labor demand curve shifts outward from D to D1 as the Fed predicted. A new equilibrium is established at point a. In step 2, suddenly people who gave up looking for work see wages rising, and so they come back into the labor market looking for work. That increase in labor supply shifts the supply curve down from S to S1 as wages fall. A new equilibrium is established at point b, the same original wage rate! We have a greater number of people employed, but the unemployment rate and more importantly wages stay the same.

At the end of 2015, the Fed thought the labor rate was much tighter than it really was because of the low unemployment rate. There was a lot more slack in the labor market (low labor participation rate) that was not being factored into the Fed’s equations. In other words, the Fed made a mistake by miscalculating how many people were on the sidelines and ready to jump back into the job market at the first sign of rising wages. That’s why the Fed said in December of 2015, after hiking rates a quarter point, that they would likely be hiking another four times in 2016. They thought wages were going to move higher really fast. There was much more slack in the labor market than the Fed thought, and there could still be more.

The Fed got fooled once. The Fed will not get fooled twice. This is what I think the Fed means by it only needs “some further evidence” of economic progress before moving forward with a rate hike. The Fed wants a little more evidence before hiking rates that most of the slack in the labor market is gone and that wages are rising from an outward shift in the labor demand curve.

Frictional Unemployment and The Employment Situation Report

As traders, we track the monthly Employment Situation report closely. The market often does a short-term move on the first Friday of every month when the Employment Situation report for the previous month is released. Do you understand what the Employment report is showing? I bet many traders do not. As traders, we have to know a bit of macroeconomics, so we don’t make the wrong decisions with our money. Let’s briefly look at what the Employment Situation report shows.

There are different types of unemployment. When we talk about unemployment, most traders default to what is called cyclical or demand deficient unemployment.

Cyclical unemployment exists when individuals lose their jobs as a result of a downturn in aggregate demand (AD). If the decline in aggregate demand is persistent, and the unemployment long-term, it is called either demand deficient, general, or Keynesian unemployment. Demand deficient unemployment is caused by a lack of aggregate demand, with insufficient demand to generate full employment. Demand deficient unemployment shifts the AD curve left (inward) from AD to AD1.

GDP contracts from Y to Y1 and wages fall from P to P1. If wages “stick” at P rather than fall to the new equilibrium wage of P1 following a shift of demand, the result will be a much greater unemployment equal to Y – Y2.

Frictional unemployment is not caused by a reduction in aggregate demand. Frictional unemployment is due to people being in the process of moving from one job to another. The time, energy and monetary cost of searching for a new job is called friction. Friction is an unavoidable aspect of the job search process. Friction is a natural part of seeking new employment, but friction is typically short-term.

When most traders get the monthly Employment Situation report data of something like 150K jobs created in October, they don’t realize that those are net changes. What actually happened is that there are around 5 million new hires during the month, and 4.85 million new separations (quits or layoffs). The number you hear about each month is the net number or the difference between new hires and new separations. The net number is misleading. The net number hides the vast amount of job change which is happening.

Every month millions of people quit their jobs to get a new job. Some go back to school for more training and some retire. Other people start new jobs after graduating or finding new opportunities. This all leads to frictional unemployment and it’s a healthy part of a dynamic economy.

The Aggregate Supply-Aggregate Demand Model

Looking at the aggregate supply (AS), aggregate demand (AD) model, we can see where the US economy is currently at in the economic cycle. It is critical that traders and investors understand where we are at in the business cycle so as to be in on the right side of the trade. Timing Bull/Bear cycles and sector rotation is a critical skill for traders.
Continue reading “The Aggregate Supply-Aggregate Demand Model”