Broker Check

Weekly Market Commentary

January 10, 2022

Here’s a little story about a group called the Fed…

 In the 1950’s, then Fed Chair William McChesney Martin described the Federal Reserve as “the chaperone who has ordered the punch bowl removed just when the party was really warming up.”

 In 2020, the opposite was true. The Fed, along with fiscal policymakers, filled the stimulus punch bowl to the brim to keep the country from falling into a recession or depression. In November 2021, Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida explained:

 “The COVID-19 pandemic and the mitigation efforts put in place to contain it delivered the most severe blow to the U.S. and global economies since the Great Depression. Gross domestic product (GDP) collapsed at a nearly 33 percent annual rate in the second quarter of 2020. More than 22 million jobs were lost in just the first two months of the crisis, and the unemployment rate rose from a 50-year low of 3.5 percent in February to a postwar peak of almost 15 percent in April 2020…The fiscal and monetary policy response in the United States to the COVID crisis was unprecedented in its scale, scope, and speed.”

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January 3, 2022

 2021 was a fizzing mints-in-soda kind of year.

 Everything seemed to shoot higher – from COVID-19 cases and vaccinations to economic growth and global stock markets. Everything except for optimism. As the year came to an end, a CBS News poll found that 40 percent of Americans felt 2021 was mostly filled with sadness, although almost three out of four people polled said they were hopeful for 2022.

 As we head into the new year, let’s a look back at 2021. 

  • Vaccinations took off. At the start of the year, very few people were vaccinated against COVID-19. Despite issues with vaccine reluctance and availability, by the end of the year more than 58 percent of the world’s population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
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December 27, 2021

Investors were feeling bullish.

Last week, the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index closed at a record high for the 68th time this year. That’s the second-highest number of record closes in a single year. The highest number occurred during 1995, when the S&P 500 had 77 record highs, reported Reuters. That was the year the Dow Jones Industrial Average passed 4,000 for the first time and then rose above 5,000, reported Wayne Duggan of Benzinga.

“The market deserves to celebrate. [COVID] brought death and dislocation, but we tend to pay too little heed to what didn’t happen. If vaccines hadn’t changed the pandemic’s trajectory, the U.S. would have suffered nearly 1.1 million additional deaths and 10 million more hospitalizations – according to an epidemiological model by the Commonwealth Fund cited this past week in the Journal of the American Medical Association,” reported Bill Alpert of Barron’s.

That may be the case, but investors were likely focused on expectations for consumer sentiment, economic growth and corporate earnings.


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December 20, 2021

Stock and bond markets diverged.

Last week, the Bank of England surprised markets with a rate hike, its first in three years, and the Bank of Mexico raised rates more than expected. Both cited persistent inflation as the reason for the increases, reported Carla Mozée of Markets Insider.

In the United States, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which is the group that decides how the U.S. central bank (the Federal Reserve or Fed) will manage monetary policy, met last week and decided to become less accommodating more quickly.

With inflation at high levels and employment at full pandemic capacity, the Fed will take steps “to prevent higher inflation from becoming entrenched,” announced Fed Chair Jerome Powell. FOMC median projections suggest the Fed funds rate will rise from its current range (zero to 0.25 percent) in 2021 to 0.90 percent in 2022, and 2.1 percent by 2024.

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December 13, 2021

Inflation met expectations.

When the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the Consumer Price Index (CPI) last week, it showed that inflation was at levels last seen in 1982. In November, prices were up 0.8 percent month-to-month and 6.8 percent year-to-year.

“It was the blowout, superhot inflation number that everyone was expecting—and it was met with a shrug,” reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s. “The major indexes, for their part, rose a touch on Friday to finish what turned out to be a fantastic week: The S&P 500 gained 3.8% to hit a new high, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 4.0% and the Nasdaq Composite gained 3.6%.”

The bond market’s response to the CPI was unexpected, as well. “Indeed, Treasury inflation-protected securities were saying price pressures in future years will be abating instead of getting worse,” reported Randall W. Forsyth of Barron’s.

Forsyth was referring to the breakeven rate, which is the difference in the yields of Treasuries and the yields of inflation-protected Treasuries with the same maturities. The breakeven rate is a measure of investors’ inflation expectations for the next five years. On Friday, the 5-year Breakeven Inflation Rate was 2.76 percent. That was below its November high of 3.17 percent.

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December 6, 2021

Investors look to the future.

Last week, employment and manufacturing data confirmed that the United States economy continued to strengthen in November, but positive economic news was overshadowed by investors’ concerns about the spread of coronavirus and Federal Reserve policy.

Let’s start with the economic news.

More Americans were working. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that unemployment dropped to 4.2 percent in November – a level the country wasn’t expected to achieve before 2024, according to Eli Rosenberg of The Washington Post. The labor force participation rate improved, too, meaning that more people are returning to work.

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November 29, 2021

COVID-19 strikes again.

Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in Europe, climbing from about 700,000 new cases a week in September to 2.6 million a week in November, reported Richard Pérez-Peña and Jason Horowitz of the New York Times. As Thanksgiving approached, there was concern that travel and togetherness could increase the number of cases in the United States, too, creating stress on already taxed healthcare systems. Jamie Smyth and Caitlin Gilbert of the Financial Times explained:

“…what was expected to be a celebration has become fraught with danger in some Midwestern states, where vaccination rates are low and COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly after a summer lull…Nationally, cases have increased by nearly 30 percent since the beginning of the month…”

Financial markets took the fall surge in stride. They were less sanguine when news broke last week that a new variant of coronavirus, called “omicron,” had been identified in South Africa and was spreading.

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November 22, 2021

Thinking about the possibilities.

The Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index finished last week slightly higher and has gained about 6 percent during the past 25 days; however, investors have curbed their enthusiasm. The S&P 500 hasn’t experienced a move of one percent or more in 25 trading days. That’s the longest period without a move of that size in about two years, according to a source cited by Avi Salzman of Barron’s.

It’s possible investors are taking time to think about the current mix of conditions and how the economy and financial markets may be affected. For example:


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November 15, 2021

Economists like to joke that inflation is just right when no one notices it.

Last week, investors noticed it. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is a measure of inflation, rose 0.9 percent in October and 6.2 percent over the last 12 months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (When volatile food and energy prices were excluded, the CPI was 4.6 percent for the period.)

That’s the highest level for inflation in 30 years, according to The Economist, and well above the United States Federal Reserve’s policy goal of two percent inflation over the longer term.

Uncertainty about the nature of inflation has left the U.S. Federal Reserve wedged in an uncomfortable policy position. The Economist explained: 

“As inflation has accelerated economists and officials have debated whether it is a transitory phenomenon—reflecting overstretched supply chains—or a more persistent problem. It is far more than an academic debate. If inflation is short-lived, the right move for the Federal Reserve would be to look through it, aware that jacking up interest rates may do more harm than good. If, however, inflation is stubbornly high, the central bank is duty-bound to tame it,”

 

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November 8, 2021

The Markets

Feeling bullish…

Investor bullishness ticked higher last week on all four investor sentiment gauges tracked by Barron’s. Investor optimism may have been fanned by positive financial and economic news. For example, last week:

The jobs report was better than expected. Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 531,000 new jobs were added in October, lowering the unemployment rate to 4.6%. In addition, the employment numbers for August and September were better than previously reported. The BLS Employment Diffusion Index measures the breadth of employment gains across the economy. It rose from 63.6 in September to 71.8 in October for private industry, and from 57.3 to 70 in manufacturing. The increase suggests that job gains were spread across diverse industries rather than concentrated in specific ones.

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November 1, 2021

The Markets

The road to recovery is slow and bumpy.

Last week, we learned that economic growth slowed in the third quarter as a new wave of COVID-19 surged across the United States, reported The Bureau of Economic Analysis. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is the value of all goods and services produced in the United States, increased by 2 percent annualized in the third quarter.

Consumer spending dropped sharply during the period. The change may reflect the limited availability of goods due to supply-chain issues, a reluctance to pay higher prices, or a drop in disposable personal income.

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October 25, 2021

The Markets

It’s MESSI!

No, this commentary is not about Lionel Messi, the Argentine soccer phenom who is widely regarded one of the greatest footballers of all time. However, it is about something that economists say may be as rare as Messi’s talent: Moderating Expansion with Sticky Supply-driven Inflation (MESSI).

You can see why we prefer the acronym.

MESSI is a type of inflation that occurs when “strong, but cooling demand is met by constrained, but accelerating supply, leading to transitory, yet sticky inflation.”1 The coronavirus pandemic may have produced just the right circumstances, according to Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics.

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October 18, 2021

Don’t get spooked!

Barron’s Big Money Poll is an exclusive survey of market sentiment among professional investors. Last week, Nicholas Jasinski reported on 2021’s findings:

“America’s money managers are optimistic about the long-term outlook for the economy, the financial markets, and the recovery from the [COVID-19] pandemic. It’s the short-term prognosis that concerns them. Monetary and fiscal policies are in flux. Supply-chain bottlenecks and labor shortages are igniting inflation and threatening corporate profit margins, and the economic recovery from 2020’s recession –so robust until now – is decelerating. Add pricey stock valuations and rising bond yields, and the immediate future suddenly looks more challenging than the recent past.”

Among those surveyed by Barron’s, half are bullish about prospects for the next 12 months, down from 67 percent last spring. Twelve percent are bearish, up from seven percent last spring, and the rest are neutral. Fifty percent said stock markets are fairly valued at current levels, and 80 percent anticipate a stock market correction – a drop of about 10 percent from a recent high – during the next six months.

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October 11, 2021

The word “jouncy” may have started life as a combination of bouncy and jolting – and it’s a pretty good way to describe what happened to stock markets last week.

The week started with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index experiencing daily gains and losses of about one percent. Other major U.S. indices saw sizeable daily swings in value, too. Lu Wang of Bloomberg reported:

“The harrowing reversals reflect a particularly stark divide between bull and bear cases in markets right now. On one side, risk appetites are being constricted by lingering uncertainty over the government debt ceiling, tightening Federal Reserve policy and disrupted supply chains. At the same time, sentiment is being buttressed by improving [COVID-19] trends, an economy that keeps chugging along and forecasts for more double-digit earnings growth from corporate America.”

Considering how volatile things were early in the week, investors were remarkably sanguine about Friday’s less-than-stellar employment report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that less than 200,000 jobs were created in September.3 According to Ben Levisohn of Barron’s, the number was below expectations and provided relatively little insight to economic growth.

“Yes, the U.S. added just 194,000 jobs in September, well below forecasts for 500,000, and that’s the kind of miss that would suggest a slowing economy. The number, though, was close to meaningless, given the seasonal adjustments – which may have skewed it lower – and by comparison to the household survey, which showed more than 500,000 new jobs as the unemployment rate fell to 4.8%. Try making an investment decision off that.”

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October 4, 2021

September strikes again…

If you look back over the last 20 years, September has been the worst performing month for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, according to Nasdaq.

This year, the S&P 500 dropped 4.8 percent in September. That wasn’t enough to wipe out gains from earlier in the third quarter, and the Index finished the quarter slightly higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite Index also tumbled in September. Their losses erased the previous two month’s gains, so the Dow and Nasdaq finished the quarter lower than they started it, reported Caitlin McCabe and Caitlin Ostroff of The Wall Street Journal.

Investors had a lot to consider during September and over the third quarter, including:

  • Resurgence of the coronavirus. On July 1, the seven-day moving average of coronavirus cases in the United States was about 14,500. Early September, the average had rocketed to about 170,000. By the end of September, the average was trending lower, reported the Centers for Disease Control.

One result of COVID-19 is that life expectancy at birth fell from 2019 to 2020. In the United States, life expectancy at birth has fallen by more than one year. Italy, Poland and Spain also have seen life expectancy drop by more than one year, reported The Economist. Lifespan increased in two countries: Denmark and Norway.

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September 27, 2021

Central banks have a lot of influence on investors, markets and economies.

For the last year or so, the Federal Reserve has been purchasing $120 billion of bonds every month to ensure United States markets remained liquid and interest rates remained low during the pandemic. Last Wednesday, the Fed announced that it is ready to begin to buy fewer bonds, a process known as tapering. The Fed’s taper is expected to begin before year-end. The Fed is not expected to push interest rates higher for some time so, overall, monetary policy will continue to support economic growth.

On Thursday, the Bank of England (BoE) said it expects inflation to exceed 4 percent by the end of the year. That’s twice the BoE’s target inflation rate. After the statement was issued, one measure of investors’ expectations priced in “…a 90 percent chance that the BoE would raise rates by February [2022], up from just over 60 percent before – though some economists say this is premature given the challenges to growth,” reported David Milliken and Andy Bruce of Reuters.

Expectations that central bank policies will soon be less accommodative caused yields on 10-year government bonds in the United Kingdom and the United States to rise. “Surging long-term bond yields put an outsized dent into valuations for growth companies because those firms are valued on a relatively long-term basis,” reported Nicholas Jasinski, Jacob Sonenshine and Jack Denton of Barron’s.”

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September 20, 2021

In recent weeks, bullish sentiment has drifted lower like sediment settling after a storm. 

Every month, Bank of America (BofA) surveys global asset managers. The most recent survey, which was conducted in early September, showed that fewer managers remain optimistic about prospects for global economic growth (13 percent) or corporate profitability (12 percent). That’s half the number in the previous survey and the lowest percent since April 2020, reported Katie Martin of Financial Times.

When optimism declines, managers typically retreat to safer harbors and portfolio exposure to stock declines. That hasn’t happened this time. About one-half of the global asset managers surveyed in early September by BofA were overweight stock. Cash allocations were rising slowly and there appeared to be little appetite for government bonds, according to Financial Times.

The BofA survey also reported on the concerns of global asset managers. “Inflation is the biggest tail risk for markets, followed by taper tantrum, and COVID-19 Delta variant,” reported Bloomberg. Tail risk is the chance that a loss will result from an unusual event.

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September 13, 2021

The Markets

The Delta variant could take a toll on economic growth.

There was some good news last week. The 7-day moving average of COVID-19 cases in the United States declined. The bad news was that the rate of infection remained about 99 percent higher than it was one year ago.

As Delta variant infections surged across the United States, expectations for economic growth dropped more sharply than anticipated. Lisa Beilfuss of Barron’s reported on changes to third-quarter forecasts for U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

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September 7, 2021

Stagflation isn’t trending, but it was mentioned in quite a few headlines last week.

Stagflation is a portmanteau of ‘stagnation’ and ‘inflation.’ It occurs when a country experiences slow economic growth along with high inflation and high unemployment. In the United States:

  • Economic growth was strong during the second quarter; 6.5 percent year-over-year, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. However, some forecasts for third quarter’s economic growth have been revised downward. Economists at one large investment bank lowered their estimate from 9 percent to 5.5 percent, reported Lindsay Dunsmuir of Reuters 
  • Inflation is the rise in prices over time. The Federal Reserve prefers to measure the rise by looking at median Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) inflation. Median PCE was up 0.29 percent from June to July 2021, and up 2.2 percent over the past 12 months. The Federal Reserve’s target for inflation is 2 percent.
  • Employment showed a solid increase in August, although the gains were less robust than many expected. Unemployment ticked lower (5.2 percent), the labor force participation rate remained unchanged (61.7 percent), and average hourly earnings ticked higher ($30.73).

The culprit behind slowing growth, rising prices and recent unemployment levels is COVID-19. The spread of the Delta variant created a new wave of parts and labor shortages. Demand for goods is rising as many people appear to be less concerned about the virus. Shortages of goods coupled with high demand for those goods have pushed prices higher.

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August 30, 2021

“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder,” advised the Persian poet Rumi.

Last week, Federal Reserve (Fed) Chair Jerome Powell’s words helped grow the week’s equity market returns. In his speech at the Economic Policy Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Powell confirmed that the United States economy had made substantial progress toward the Fed’s maximum employment and price stability goals. Consequently, the Fed is likely to slow and eventually stop the bond purchases that have been ensuring smooth market functioning during the pandemic.

Powell also offered assurance that the target range for Federal funds rate, which is one of the Fed’s tools for influencing short-term interest rates, will remain unchanged until “…the economy reaches conditions consistent with maximum employment, and inflation has reached 2 percent and is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time.

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August 23, 2021

Markets were shaken last week by a potent cocktail of central bank tapering and economic growth concerns mixed with coronavirus and a splash of the new Chinese privacy law.

On Wednesday, the minutes of the United States Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee Meeting were released. They confirmed the Fed could begin tapering – buying fewer Treasury and U.S. government agency bonds – sooner rather than later, reported Jack Denton and Jacob Sonenshine of Barron’s. While that wasn’t new information, investors startled like cats surprised by cucumbers, triggering a broad sell-off.

In the United States, economic data was mixed. The U.S. Census reported that retail sales declined in July, suggesting weakening consumer demand. Normally, that’s not great news because consumer demand drives U.S. economic growth. However, with inflation at the highest level in more than a decade, lower demand could help relieve upward price pressure.

Lower consumer demand was accompanied by improving supply. Lisa Beilfuss of Barron’s reported, “…business inventories rose in June at the fastest clip since October as wholesalers and manufacturers posted solid increases and retailers saw inventories rise for the first time in three months. From a year earlier, inventories across American businesses rose 6.6%, compared with a 4.6% pace a month earlier.”

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August 16, 2021

What is the most important driver of economic growth in the United States?

The most common way to measure economic output is Gross Domestic Product or GDP. It’s the value of all goods and services produced in our country over a specific period of time. GDP is a combination of the following:

  • Government spending
  • Business investment
  • Consumer spending
  • Net exports (Exports minus imports).

In June, U.S. GDP was almost $23 trillion, reported the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

A trillion is a difficult number to comprehend. Jerry Pacheco of KRWG explained the amount like this, “If you laid one billion dollars side by side like tile, they would cover about four square miles. A trillion dollars laid out the same way would cover approximately 3,992 miles, or 1,000 square miles larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.”

Twenty-three trillion dollars would cover Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, West Virginia and part of South Carolina.

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August 9, 2021

Are we there yet?

For months, investors have wondered when the Federal Reserve (Fed) might begin to “normalize” its policies, a process that will eventually lead to higher interest rates. Last week, a better-than-expected unemployment report – showing a gain of almost a million jobs – sparked speculation about whether we’ve arrived at that point. It’s difficult to know.

When the pandemic arrived, the Fed adopted policies that stimulated growth. It cut short-term interest rates to zero and began buying Treasuries and agency mortgage-backed securities to keep long-term rates low, too. Low rates make borrowing less expensive for businesses and individuals, reported the Brookings Institute. That’s important in economically challenging times.

In late July, the Fed said it would continue to keep rates low and buy bonds until it saw “substantial further progress toward maximum employment and price stability [inflation] goals.”

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August 2, 2021

 The Chinese dragon cast a shadow over free trade and foreign investment last week. 

For decades, investors have recognized the investment potential of China. Since the country opened to foreign trade and investment in 1979, its economy has grown rapidly. Through 2018, its gross domestic product (GDP), which is a measure of economic growth, increased by 9.5% a year, on average, according to the United States Congressional Research Service.

The country’s gradual economic development lifted millions out of poverty. In 2020, about 20 percent of the world’s middle class lived in China. China’s middle class has an appetite for goods and services that rivals that of America’s middle class, creating demand for a wealth of goods and services, reported the Brookings Institute.

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July 26, 2021

The Markets

Shortest ever.

Last week, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) finally announced the official dates for the recession that occurred in 2020. Economic activity peaked in February 2020 and bottomed in April 2020. That makes the pandemic recession the shortest in American history.

According to the NBER, “The recent downturn had different characteristics and dynamics than prior recessions. Nonetheless, the committee concluded that the unprecedented magnitude of the decline in employment and production, and its broad reach across the entire economy, warranted the designation of this episode as a recession, even though the downturn was briefer than earlier contractions.”

Since then, the United States’ economy has accelerated like a sports car on the German Autobahn, leading the developed world in the race toward economic recovery. A gradual slowdown was inevitable. However, three obstacles in the road may result in a sharp deceleration, reported The Economist.

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July 19, 2021

There was a gapers’ block in financial markets last week as equity investors slowed to see what the United States Treasury bond market was up to. 

U.S. Treasury bonds rallied last week. Yields on 10-year Treasuries dropped from 1.43 percent at the start of the week to 1.27 percent on Thursday. The rally was quite a surprise, reported Randall W. Forsyth of Barron’s. “After all, the economy has been booming, accompanied by rising inflation – exactly the opposite of what would be conducive to lower [bond] yields and higher [bond] prices.”

As 10-year Treasury yields reached the lowest level since February, stock investors took time to consider what might have caused yields to retreat. Lower yields often suggest slower growth ahead. There may be potential for global growth to slow if:

A new wave of COVID-19 swamps the global recovery. Twenty-four U.S. states saw the number of COVID-19 cases move higher by 10 percent or more last week, reported Aya Elamroussi of CNN. The Delta variant of the virus accounts for more than one-half of all new cases. Last week, the global death toll reached 4 million and Japan, host of the 2020 Olympic games, declared a state of emergency.

China’s banking system is in trouble. There was another surprise last week. “…China’s central bank announced a half a percentage point cut to banks’ reserve ratio requirements, potentially increasing the profitability of their loans but also stirring concerns about the health of their balance sheets following a debt-fueled property boom,” reported Naomi Rovnick, Thomas Hale, and Francesca Friday of Financial Times.

U.S. economic growth falters as monetary and fiscal stimulus recede. “…the bond market is now adjusting to the prospect of more moderate growth in the second half, with reduced fiscal largess and no $1,400 or $600 stimulus checks. And it’s looking ahead to the eventual prospect of the Federal Reserve throttling back its securities purchases, which currently pump $120 billion a month into the financial system,” reported Barron’s.

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July 12, 2021

There was a gapers’ block in financial markets last week as equity investors slowed to see what the United States Treasury bond market was up to. 

U.S. Treasury bonds rallied last week. Yields on 10-year Treasuries dropped from 1.43 percent at the start of the week to 1.27 percent on Thursday. The rally was quite a surprise, reported Randall W. Forsyth of Barron’s. “After all, the economy has been booming, accompanied by rising inflation – exactly the opposite of what would be conducive to lower [bond] yields and higher [bond] prices.”

As 10-year Treasury yields reached the lowest level since February, stock investors took time to consider what might have caused yields to retreat. Lower yields often suggest slower growth ahead. There may be potential for global growth to slow if:

A new wave of COVID-19 swamps the global recovery. Twenty-four U.S. states saw the number of COVID-19 cases move higher by 10 percent or more last week, reported Aya Elamroussi of CNN. The Delta variant of the virus accounts for more than one-half of all new cases. Last week, the global death toll reached 4 million and Japan, host of the 2020 Olympic games, declared a state of emergency.

 

 

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July 6, 2021

The world is about halfway back to normal.

The Economist developed the Global Normalcy Index (GNI) to measure the post-pandemic return to normal. In March 2020, the GNI was 35 overall, with 100 being the normal pre-pandemic level. At the end of the second quarter, the worldwide GNI was 66, or about halfway back to normal.

Activity in the United States has been recovering faster than in other nations. The U.S. GNI was 72.8 on June 30. However, recovery in the U.S. has been uneven. For instance,

Employment is improving, but more slowly than anticipated. Last week’s jobs report showed a better-than-expected gain of 850,000 jobs in June. However, April and May jobs reports were below economists’ expectations, reported Randall Forsyth of Barron’s. In June, the unemployment rate was 5.9 percent, which is an improvement on the double-digit pandemic unemployment rate, but above the pre-pandemic level of 3.5 percent.

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June 28, 2021

What begins with the letter “I”?

Infrastructure is essential and sometimes taken for granted. Pipes carry drinking water to our homes, offices, and healthcare facilities, and carry away sewage and wastewater. Highways, airports, railroads, waterways, roads, and bridges make efficient transportation of goods and safe travel possible. Energy systems and transmission lines keep the lights on and the stove cooking. Broadband data transmissions systems assure high speed internet access.

On Thursday, President Biden and a bipartisan group of senators announced that progress had been made on the framework for a bipartisan infrastructure plan. Investors were happy to hear it. Randall Forsyth of Barron’s reported:

 

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June 21, 2021

Is that a hawk?

The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) met last week. They get together eight times a year to review current economic and financial conditions, assess risks to price stability and economic growth, and adjust monetary policy accordingly.

When the Federal Reserve raises the fed funds rate to keep inflation and economic growth in check, it is ‘hawkish’. When the Fed lowers the fed funds rate to encourage inflation and economic growth, it is ‘dovish’.

Last week, the FOMC appeared to veer toward a more hawkish policy.

 

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June 14, 2021

It’s transitory. It’s not transitory. It’s transitory. It’s not transitory.

Media analysts were plucking the inflation daisy petals last week. On Thursday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the Consumer Price Index Summary, which showed prices were up 5 percent year-to-year.

“Investors are debating whether the surge in prices at both a producer and consumer level will prove transitory, as the U.S. Federal Reserve believes, or become entrenched. Much of the angst over medium term inflation pressure becoming hotter is fueled by the backdrop of aggressive fiscal and monetary policy. This potentially combustible mix has a policy additive from a Fed prepared to tolerate a higher pace of inflation beyond its target of 2 percent for an unspecified period,” reported Michael Mackenzie of Financial Times.

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June 7, 2021

The Markets

Pulling the economy out of the shed.

If you’ve ever stored tools or machinery in a shed or garage for an extended period of time, you know they often need some care and repair to function properly. The same appears to be true of the pandemic economy.

Economic growth in the United States is on the rebound. The latest report shows real gross domestic product, which is the value of all goods and services produced in our country, was up 6.4 percent annualized during the first quarter of 2021, an improvement from 4.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020. Also, pandemic restrictions have been lifted. Americans have begun to spend more and save less, and there is high demand for goods and services.

The economy appears to be primed for stronger growth, but there are some glitches in the system – namely labor and supply chains.

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June 1, 2021

Are we at a tipping point?

One side effect of the pandemic was a collapse in demand for oil, which led to “the largest revision to the value of the oil industry’s assets in at least a decade,” reported Collin Eaton and Sarah McFarlane of The Wall Street Journal.

Last week brought another reckoning for big oil as a court ruling and shareholder influence made it clear companies need to revisit their strategies for emissions reductions and clean energy. Here’s what happened:

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May 24, 2021

What do markets hate?

They hate uncertainty, and recently there has been plenty of it. Some of the questions plaguing economists and pundits include:

Why aren’t people returning to work? Americans, like people in other parts of the world, have not been rejoining the workforce at the pace many had anticipated. One of the most frequently cited theories was explained by The Economist:

“In America businesspeople, almost to a pinstripe, are convinced that the $300-a-week boost to unemployment insurance explains the shortages. However, pundits do not agree on whether stimulus handouts really lead people to shirk. The evidence is hazy elsewhere, too…Australia ditched its job-protection scheme in March, and shortages have worsened.”

 

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May 17, 2021

Uncle Inflation is here. Will he overstay his welcome?

Ever since the financial crisis, central banks have pursued expansionary monetary policies to encourage reflation and avoid deflation. Well, it’s taken some time, but inflation is finally here.

Last week, major stock indices in the United States moved lower after inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), was four times higher than anticipated, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.

 

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