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Market Commentary

January 14, 2019

People love rules of thumb.

Sometimes, mental shortcuts are helpful. Other times they are not. When it comes to investing, seasonal shortcuts are not uncommon. In fact, January boasts two:

The January Effect explains why U.S. smaller company stocks tend to outperform the market in January. The original theory held that tax-loss harvesting pushed stock prices lower in December, making shares more attractive to investors in January. An article published in International Journal of Financial Research explained the effect could also owe something to the optimism that accompanies a new year, as well as year-end cash windfalls.Click Here to Read More

January 7, 2019

Investors will think of the last quarter of 2018 for years to come, but they won’t remember it fondly. The Economist described it like this,

“After a rotten October and limp November, the S&P 500 tumbled in value by 15 percent between November 30th and December 24th. Despite an astonishing bounce of 5 percent the day after Christmas, the index finished the year 6 percent below where it started...”

Last quarter’s volatility and the slide in share prices owed much to uncertainty about economic growth. Investors were concerned about a variety of issues, including:Click Here to Read More

December 31, 2018

Investing during the month of December was like traversing an icy mountain stream. It delivered a staggering shock to the senses that triggered the instinct to, “Get Out!”

When it comes to investing, that instinct is called loss aversion. For many people avoiding a loss is more important than realizing a gain. Simply put, not losing $100 is more important than gaining $100.

Erica Goode of The New York Times talked with psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky about a series of experiments they had conducted to measure loss aversion. The pair found relatively few people would bet money on a flip of a coin unless they stood to win at least twice as much as they might lose.

The desire to avoid losses is the reason many people sell stocks when the value of the stock market is declining. Unfortunately, it may be a poor choice for a variety of reasons. For example,Click Here to Read More

December 17, 2018

Ouch!

It never feels good when the stock market heads south, and that’s what happened last week. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500), Dow Jones Industrial Average, and Nasdaq Composite all moved into correction territory, which means the indices have fallen 10 percent or more from their previous peaks.

If you look at corporate earnings, the decline in U.S. stock values may seem a bit of a head scratcher. During the third quarter of 2018, almost four-fifths (78 percent) of companies in the S&P 500 were more profitable than analysts expected, according to FactSet Insight. Earnings grew by 25.9 percent – the fastest growth rate since 2010.

When you remember the stock market is a leading indicator, the mystery is resolved. Share prices reflect what investors expect will happen in the future, and third quarter earnings are in the past.

So, what moved the market last week? Investors’ concerns included slowing global economic growth. Dave Shellock of Financial Times reported:Click Here to Read More

December 11, 2018

We’re off to a slow start.

December is usually the best month of the year for the stock market. It has been since 1950, according to Randall Forsyth of Barron’s, but not so far this year.

Two issues made investors particularly uncomfortable last week which helped trigger a sell-off that pushed major U.S. stock indices lower.Click Here to Read More

December 3, 2018

Hold on to your hats!

Recently, stocks have delivered a wild ride. During Thanksgiving week, U.S. stock markets took investor uncertainty on the chin, suffering a 3.8 percent drop, which was the worst performance in eight months. Then, last week, stocks reversed course. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and the Nasdaq Composite delivered their strongest weekly gains in seven years, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.

So, what changed?

Two things appear to have influenced investors last week:Click Here to Read More

November 26, 2018

It was a turkey of a week.

The United States and China continued to spar over trade and other issues. An expert from Moody’s told Frank Tang of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) the United States-China dispute will not be easily resolved:

“Look at the speech Vice President Pence gave in Papua New Guinea at the Apec conference. He didn’t just talk about trade, but also intellectual property, the South China Sea, forced technology transfers. So there’s a whole long list of issues the U.S. administration is now raising…”

Financial Times reported the Organization for Economic Coordination and Development (OECD) anticipates global economic growth could stumble if trade tensions escalate.

SCMP reported investors are hoping for greater clarity around trade issues when President Donald Trump meets with China’s President Xi Jinping at next week’s G-20 Summit.Click Here to Read More

November 19, 2018

Keep your eyes on the horizon.

Motion sickness happens when your body receives conflicting signals from your eyes, ears, and other body parts. One way to manage the anxiety and queasiness that accompany the condition is by keeping your eyes on the horizon.

The motion of the stock markets has been causing some investors to experience similar symptoms. Surprisingly, the remedy is the same: Keep your eyes on the horizon – your financial planning horizon.

A planning horizon is the length of time over which an investor would like to achieve his or her financial goals. For instance, perhaps you want to pay off student loans by age 30, fund a child’s college tuition when they reach age 18, or retire at age 60.Click Here to Read More

November 13, 2018

How are you feeling about financial markets?

Some votes are still being counted but investors appear to be happy with the outcome of mid-term elections. Major U.S. stock indices in the United States moved higher last week, and the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) Sentiment Survey reported:

“Optimism among individual investors about the short-term direction of stock prices is above average for just the second time in nine weeks…Bullish sentiment, expectations that stock prices will rise over the next six months, rose 3.4 percentage points to 41.3 percent. This is a five-week high. The historical average is 38.5 percent.”

Before you get too excited about the rise in optimism, you should know pessimism also remains at historically high levels. According to AAII:Click Here to Read More

November 5, 2018

Stocks recovered some ground last week and then stumbled over unemployment.

Major U.S. stock indices faltered Friday after the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported on a popular ‘lagging’ economic indicator – unemployment. (Remember, lagging indicators describe what has happened in the past.) The BLS reported:

“The unemployment rate remained at 3.7 percent in October, and the number of unemployed persons was little changed at 6.1 million. Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons declined by 0.4 percentage point and 449,000, respectively.”

Reuters reported the number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits was at the lowest level in 45 years. That’s good news, but it’s old news. Again, unemployment is a lagging indicator and the report reflected what happened in October.Click Here to Read More

October 30, 2018

Why did the stock market fall when the economy is doing well?

The answer is that one reflects the past and the other anticipates the future.

Last Friday’s advance estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed the U.S. economy grew 3.5 percent during the third quarter of 2018. Harriet Torry of The Wall Street Journal reported:

“The economy powered ahead in the third quarter, driven by robust consumer and government spending, though Friday’s report included warning signs that the business sector faces turbulence that could hold back the expansion in the months ahead.”

Third quarter’s economic growth was slower than economic growth during the second quarter and stronger than economic growth during the first quarter of 2018.

Economists refer to economic growth as a ‘lagging indicator.’ It is a measure that may help confirm longer-term trends, but offers little information about the future.Click Here to Read More

October 22, 2018

The world remains full of opportunities and challenges.

Although we’ve seen global markets moving in tandem in recent years, Sara Potter of FactSet pointed out, “…we’re starting to see the end of the synchronized global growth that has prevailed over the last two years. While the U.S. economy remains strong, growth in Europe and Japan is moderating, and emerging markets are under increasing economic and financial market pressure.”

Strong economic growth and robust earnings helped U.S. stocks significantly outperform other regions of the world during the third quarter of 2018. In addition, the resolution of some trade tensions, namely the signing of a United States-Korea trade deal and the renegotiation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), helped soothe investor concerns, reported Jeffrey Kleintop of Schwab.

The trade relationship between the United States and China, however, remains an itchy rash marring the outlook for economic growth in both countries. The Economist Intelligence Unit reported:Click Here to Read More

October 15, 2018

Like an unexpected gust of wind that blows the hat off your head or flips your umbrella inside out, last week’s stock market performance startled investors.

Looking back, it’s easy to identify some of the factors that may have contributed to investors’ unease and shaken confidence in the markets. Ben Levisohn of Barron’s offered a brief rundown that included:

The yield on 10-year Treasuries rising to a seven-year high. As interest rates move higher, bonds become more attractive to investors who prefer to take less risk. They move money from stocks into bonds and that can push stock prices lower.
• Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell suggesting the Fed funds target rate could move higher. Investors worry the Federal Reserve is too hawkish and will raise rates too high, too quickly, causing economic growth to stumble.
• A speech by Vice President Mike Pence indicating tensions with China may persist. Companies that export to China or manufacture goods in China are at risk if relations between China and the United States don’t improve. Poor relations could affect profits, share values, and economic growth.
• Earnings reports showing tariffs negatively affecting some companies’ profit margins. FactSet reported, “the term ‘tariff’ has been mentioned during the earnings calls of 12 S&P 500 companies to date, with six of these 12 companies citing a negative impact linked to tariffs.”
• The International Monetary Fund (IMF) lowering its economic growth projections. Concern about the impact of trade tensions on companies around the world led the IMF to lower some of its economic growth estimates for 2018, especially in Asia and emerging markets.Click Here to Read More

October 8, 2018

The stock market tends to be a leading economic indicator.

Last week offered some insight to economics and stock market behavior. The U.S. unemployment rate reached its lowest level since 1969 and wages moved higher, yet major U.S. stock indices lost value.

Why didn’t stock markets move higher?

The answer is stock prices tend to be leading indicators. They reflect investors’ expectations for the future. Last week, investors may have been thinking like this:Click Here to Read More

October 1, 2018

It wasn’t headline news…

But, if newsprint was still popular, last week’s key economic news would have appeared below the fold.

The Federal Reserve raised rates for the third time in 2018, as expected. In addition, the Federal Open Market Committee projects economic growth will continue for three more years, although its median numbers show growth slowing from 3.1 percent in 2018 to 1.8 percent in 2021. (Remember, forecasts, no matter how venerable the source, are best guesses and not bedrock.)

Investors weren’t enthusiastic about the Fed’s actions or its expectations, and the onset of United States-China tariffs didn’t lift their spirits. Ben Levisohn of Barron’s explained:Click Here to Read More

September 24, 2018

Did you hear the news?

A tech company introduced a microwave you can turn on using Wi-Fi – as long as you have one of the company’s voice assistants at home, reported Kaitlyn Tiffany of Vox. Soon, the voice assistants will be built with neural networks that will formulate hunches about whether their owners might like to be reminded to lock the door or turn off a device.

Some people love the idea. Others don’t.

Internet-enabled appliances weren’t the only show in town last week. The strong performance of the U.S. economy earned a standing ovation from investors who pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Index and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to new highs. Many global stock markets moved higher, too. Ben Levisohn of Barron’s reported:Click Here to Read More

September 17, 2018

All investors are consumers, but not all consumers are investors.

The September installment of University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Survey reported Americans are feeling pretty optimistic. Consumer sentiment rose to the second highest level since 2004, and consumer expectations reached the highest level since 2004. Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, wrote:

“Consumers anticipated continued growth in the economy that would produce more jobs and an even lower unemployment rate during the year ahead…The largest problem cited on the economic horizon involved the anticipated negative impact from tariffs. Concerns about the negative impact of tariffs on the domestic economy were spontaneously mentioned by nearly one-third of all consumers in the past three months, up from one-in-five in the prior four months.”

Investors weren’t as optimistic, according to the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII). Last week, the AAII Investor Sentiment Survey reported bullish sentiment dropped more than 10 percentage points. The results were:Click Here to Read More

September 10, 2018

Remember: Volatility is normal.

Major U.S. stock market indices climbed into record territory during August. They gave back some gains last week. Peter Wells of Financial Times explained:

“Speculation about a fresh round of tariffs on Chinese imports from the Trump administration weighed on U.S. stocks, handing the S&P 500 its first four-day losing streak in a month. A strong jobs report only hardened expectations that the Federal Reserve views the U.S. economy as healthy enough to withstand a probable interest rate rise later this month.”

Strong economic growth and rising wages have the potential to push inflation – increases in prices of everyday goods – higher than the Fed’s 2 percent target. The Fed battles inflation and promotes financial stability by raising the Fed funds rate. Usually, higher rates make borrowing more expensive and slow economic growth, reported Katherine Reynolds Lewis at Bankrate.com.Click Here to Read More

September 4, 2018

Where is our country’s biggest export market?

Markets were fired up last week after the United States and Mexico agreed on new trade rules. The Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index reached an all-time high and finished the month of August up about 3 percent, reported Michael Sheetz, Thomas Franck, and Alexandra Gibbs of CNBC.

During the latter half of last week, though, the S&P 500 gave back some gains. A hitch in the giddy-up of trade talks between the United States and Canada caused the index to stumble. Damian Paletta, Jeff Stein, and Heather Long of The Washington Post explained:Click Here to Read More

August 27, 2018

Tick, Tock.

Not everybody loves meetings and even fewer enjoy reading the minutes, but investors make an exception with the Federal Reserve. This week the Fed published the minutes from its August 1 meeting. While no changes were made to interest rates, the minutes did provide insight to how the Fed sees the U.S. economy.

Key Insights:

The economy is strong. The economy is poised for its best annual growth in a decade due to stimulation from tax cuts and federal spending. The current nine-year bull market is about to be the longest bull market in history and the stock market hit a new high last week. Inflation is back to the 2 percent range, after missing for several years, and the already tight labor market continues to tighten, reported The Wall Street Journal.

While the Fed remains concerned about the risks of inflation, it also is concerned about slowness in the housing market. Home building has declined due to a labor shortage and to higher cost in materials from tariffs, according to The New York Times.Click Here to Read More

August 20, 2018

As Maxwell Smart used to say…

Missed it by THAT much! After a rocky start, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index came within 1 percent of an all-time high last week, reported Ben Levisohn for Barron’s. It’s significant because the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has been trading below its January record all year. The article suggested the lack of progress begs the question: Are we still in a bull market?

It’s the old ‘Shrink Global Markets with Corporate Buybacks’ trick. Last week, Robin Wigglesworth of Financial Times reported, “The global equity market is shrinking at the fastest pace in at least two decades, as a wave of corporate share buybacks swamps the overall volume of companies going public, issuing new stock or selling convertible debt.”Click Here to Read More

August 13, 2018

Let’s talk Turkey!

So, how did a country that represents just about 1.4 percent of the world’s economy spark a global selloff?

Turkey was once a rising star. The country’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took office in 2003 and his “conservative, pro-business policies helped pull the country back from an economic crisis,” reported Financial Times.

As Turkey’s economy strengthened, investors saw opportunity. Investments from outside the country averaged about $13 billion a year, according to World Bank figures cited by Financial Times, although investment slowed after terror attacks in 2015.Click Here to Read More

August 6, 2018

Capital gains tax reform comes with a big price tag: $100 billion over 10 years.

A capital gain is any increase in the value of an asset, such as an investment, a home, land, etc., between its purchase and its sale. The amount of a gain is determined by subtracting the purchase price from the sale price.

Last week, the White House proposed capital gains be adjusted or ‘indexed’ for inflation before they are taxed. Princeton Professor Alan Blinder explained the idea in The Wall Street Journal:Click Here to Read More

July 30, 2018

Is it a sugar rush or something more sustainable?

Economic growth in the United States was strong during the second quarter. Gross domestic product (GDP), which is the value of all goods and services produced in the United States, grew by 4.1 percent. That’s the fastest growth in four years, reported the BBC.

The news was received with varying levels of enthusiasm. President Trump said the gain is “an economic turnaround of historic importance” and thinks the economy should continue to grow rapidly, reported Shawn Donnan in Financial Times.

Economists were less certain. They think second quarter’s GDP gains were underpinned by one-time factors. These included high levels of profitability attributable to last year’s corporate tax cuts and an increase in exports as U.S. producers and their buyers abroad tried to avoid upcoming tariffs, reported Financial Times.

Another consideration is the business cycle. The business cycle tracks the rise and fall of a country’s productivity over time. The U.S. appears to be in the latter stages of the current cycle. John Authers of Financial Times explained:Click Here to Read More

July 23, 2018

Last week, there was some good news and some notable news.

Here’s the good news: Corporate earnings have been strong. As of July 20, 17 percent of the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index had reported second quarter results. More than 85 percent of those companies reported positive earnings surprises, according to FactSet, which means they earned more than expected.

“It appears the lower tax rate is more than offsetting the impact of rising costs, resulting in a record-level net profit margin for the index for the second quarter,” explained FactSet.

Here’s the notable news: U.S. stock markets largely ignored a slew of domestic and global issues to finish up a basis point or two last week. (Performance was flat when you round to one place, as we do in the table.) Barron’s reported:Click Here to Read More

July 16, 2018

Investors are becoming more discriminating.

Trade tensions escalated as the U.S. administration expanded tariffs on Chinese goods last week. You wouldn’t have known by watching the performance of benchmark indices, though. Just four of the 25 national stock market indices tracked by Barron’s – Australia, Italy, Spain, and Mexico – moved lower.

However, if you look a little deeper into the performance of various market sectors, you discover an important fact: The market tide wasn’t lifting all stocks.

It has been said a rising tide lifts all boats. When translated into stock-market speak, the saying becomes, ‘A rising market tide lifts all stocks.’ In other words, when the market moves higher, stocks tend to move higher, too. That wasn’t the case last week.

Barron’s reported investors have become more selective:Click Here to Read More


July 9, 2018

What a rollercoaster of a quarter!

When it comes to the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) Sentiment Survey, respondents tend to be more bullish than bearish about U.S. stock markets. The survey’s historical averages are:

• 38.5 percent bullish
• 31.0 percent neutral
• 30.5 percent bearish

As the second quarter of 2018 began, investors were feeling less optimistic than usual. (About 36.6 percent were bearish and 31.9 percent bullish.) Their outlook was informed by a variety of factors, according to an early April article in The New York Times, which said:Click Here to Read More

June 25, 2018

What time is it?

The yield curve may be the pocket watch of economic indicators. It’s been around for a long time and it’s often right, but not always.

The yield curve is the difference between the interest paid on two-year government bonds and 10-year government bonds. In normal circumstances, an investor would expect to earn a higher rate of interest when lending money to a government for 10 years than when lending money for two years because there is more risk associated with lending for a longer period of time.

When the yield curve flattens or inverts, it suggests a shift in investors’ expectations. Financial Times explained:Click Here to Read More

June 18, 2018

Deal or no deal?

Last week opened with heightened trade tensions between the United States and its allies. It closed with the United States imposing new tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese goods. The Chinese declared it was the start of a trade war, reported Financial Times.

U.S. markets largely ignored the potential impact of trade wars on multiple fronts. Barron’s reported the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which includes companies that are vulnerable to tariffs, moved slightly lower. However, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index shrugged off the possibility of trade wars, and the NASDAQ Composite gained more than 1 percent.

While Barron’s has written the largest risk to the U.S. stock market is the possibility of global trade wars, it appears many investors believe tariffs are a negotiating tactic. Barron’s reported:Click Here to Read More

June 11, 2018

G whiz!

Never before could the Group of 7 (G7) Summit have been mistaken for reality TV.

The generally dignified annual meeting of leaders from the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom (along with the heads of the European Commission and European Council) was a lot more contentious than usual, reported Reuters.

Disagreements about trade were the reason for heightened tensions among world leaders. At the end of May, the United States extended tariffs on aluminum and steel imports to U.S. allies. They had previously been exempted. These countries “account for nearly two-thirds of the [United States’] $3.9 trillion annual merchandise trade,” reported The Washington Post.Click Here to Read More

June 4, 2018

If the countries were instruments, last week sounded like a fifth grade garage band.

World markets were buffeted by a clamor of good, bad, and unexpected news last week. Events that captured media and investor attention included:

Taxing America’s allies. Early in the week, investors weren’t the only ones riled by the administration announcement it would impose hefty trade tariffs on American allies. “Brussels’ top trade official vowed to respond to Donald Trump’s new tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from the EU, Canada, and Mexico with measures of its own, and warned that the EU has “closed the door” on trade talks with the U.S.”

Breaking protocol. A strong unemployment report helped settle volatility stirred up by tariff talk. However, a preemptive Presidential tweet introduced controversy. “While not breaking the 8:30 a.m. EDT embargo on the actual numbers, Trump’s tweet appeared to violate a 1985 federal rule barring members of the executive branch from commenting on the employment report until one hour after the release of the report in order to avoid affecting ‘financial and commodity markets,’” reported Barron’s.Click Here to Read More

May 29, 2018

Geopolitical uncertainty didn’t dent U.S. stocks last week.

Geopolitics is the intersection of geography, economics, and politics. Last week, there were some fine examples of the ways geopolitical events can create uncertainty. Barron’s reported:

“President Donald Trump began the week suggesting that a trade war with China was on hold, before later ordering his administration to explore penalties on imported automobiles. The president also canceled talks with North Korea. Italy’s bond market melted down following the emergence of a Euroskeptic government, while Turkey’s lira tumbled over concerns that President Tayyip Erdogan would take control of its central bank, raising concerns about emerging markets.”Click Here to Read More

May 21, 2018

Too much? Too little? Or just right? 

U.S. stock markets were relatively calm, although they finished the week lower. U.S. Treasury yields hit a 7-year high and finished the week above 3 percent. While these were notable, the most remarkable events last week occurred beyond our borders. These include:Click Here to Read More

May 14, 2018

Splash!

How do employers lure staff in a tightening labor market? The curly tail grubs and spinnies of the business world are higher wages and better benefits.

During the past decade, the employment picture in the United States has shifted dramatically. In mid-2009, 15.4 million unemployed Americans were chasing 2.2 million available jobs. At the end of 2017, just 6.6 million Americans were unemployed, and employers were casting eagerly to fill 6.6 million open jobs, reports Barron’s.

Bloomberg offered some colorful examples:Click Here to Read More

May 7, 2018

What in the world?

A lot happened last week. Some of the notable events included: 

Trade talks between the United States and China. The talks were described as “frank, efficient, and constructive,” although significant issues have yet to be resolved.
A Federal Open Market Committee meeting. The Federal Reserve indicated it expects to raise rates during 2018, but did not do so last week.
Low unemployment in the United States. U.S. unemployment fell to 3.9 percent, which is the lowest it has been since 2000. Typically, low employment is a sign of a strong economy.
Sky-high rates in Argentina. In an effort to shore up the nation’s currency, Argentina’s central bank “…hiked rates to 40 percent from 33.25 percent, a day after they were raised from 30.25 percent.”
Katy Perry roasted Warren Buffett. Katy Perry revealed the ‘Left Shark’ – a backup dancer famous for being out of sync during Perry’s 2015 Super Bowl performance – was Warren Buffett.*Click Here to Read More

April 30, 2018

A meeting of the minds.

The Federal Reserve and the U.S. bond market appear to be in agreement about the direction of interest rates. For more years than anyone cares to count, investment professionals have been predicting the end of the bull market in bonds. Bond guru Bill Gross called the end of the bond bull in 2011 – and called it again in 2013. He wasn’t alone. Strategists who participated in Barron’s Outlooks anticipated rising interest rates in 2014 and 2015, too.

The Federal Reserve began encouraging interest rates higher in December 2015 when it increased the Fed funds rate for the first time in a decade. However, the yield on 10-year Treasuries remained stubbornly low. In fact, it fell below 2 percent following the rate hike and stayed there until November 2016.

Since 2015, the Fed has raised rates six times. The latest increase, along with signs of higher inflation, helped push bond rates higher. Higher interest rates could shift investors’ preferences in some significant ways, according to sources cited by Barron’s:Click Here to Read More

April 24, 2018

The world is in debt. 

The April 2018 International Monetary Fund (IMF) Fiscal Monitor reported global debt has reached a historically high level. In 2016, debt peaked at 225 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) (the value of all goods and services produced across the world). Public debt is a significant component of global debt. The IMF wrote:

“For advanced economies, debt-to-GDP ratios have plateaued since 2012 above 105 percent of GDP – levels not seen since World War II – and are expected to fall only marginally over the medium term…In emerging market and middle-income economies, debt-to-GDP ratios in 2017 reached almost 50 percent – a level seen only during the 1980s’ debt crisis – and are expected to continue on an upward trend.”

There are numerous reasons high levels of government debt (the amount a government owes) and significant deficits (the difference between how much a government takes in from taxes and other sources and how much it spends) are a cause for concern: Click Here to Read More

April 16, 2018

What do you think?

• Are you bullish, bearish, or neutral about the U.S. stock market? 
• Are U.S. stocks undervalued, overvalued, or fairly valued?
• What is the biggest threat the U.S. stock market faces this year?

During the first four months of 2018, U.S. stocks have experienced not one, but two, 10 percent declines. These short-term reversals are known as corrections. They occur relatively often, helping to wring out investor exuberance and, sometimes, to create buying opportunities as share prices drop.

The current twinset of corrections appears to have created a fair amount of uncertainty, according to Barron’s bi-annual Big Money Poll of professional investors. The ranks of the bullish have diminished, and the bearish remain relatively unchanged, but the number of those who are ‘neutral’ has swelled:Click Here to Read More

April 9, 2018

You could almost hear the spurs jingling.

Trade tensions ratcheted higher last week as the United States and China staked new positions on the not-so-dusty main street of trade. It was the latest round of posturing in what has the potential to become a trade war between the world’s largest economies. Barron’s explained:

“The trade battle has escalated since President Trump announced steel tariffs in March. China retaliated to those tariffs with its own duties, and the resulting back and forth resulted in announced tariffs on $50 billion worth of goods on both sides. Late on Thursday, Trump also directed the U.S. trade representative to identify $100 billion more in potential tariffs on Chinese goods.”Click Here to Read More

April 2, 2018

In like a lion…

Investors roared into 2018.

During the first week of the first quarter of the New Year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose above 25,000 for the first time ever. Less than two weeks later, it closed above 26,000. The Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index and NASDAQ Composite also reached new all-time highs.

Strong performance was supported by strong fundamentals. In December 2017, Mohamed A. El-Erian wrote in BloombergView economic and policy fundamentals, including synchronized global recovery, progress on U.S. tax reform, improved certainty around Brexit, and orderly acceptance of changing U.S. monetary policy, “…reinforce the prospects for better actual and future growth, thereby increasing the possibility of improved fundamentals validating notably elevated asset prices.” Click Here to Read More

March 26, 2018

Why am I saving and investing?

After a week like last week, it’s an important question. There are many reasons people save and invest, including to:

• Live the life they want today and in the future
• Accumulate resources so they’re prepared for any bumps in the road
• Provide an education for their children• Offer assistance to parents
• Support a young person with a disability
• Do good in the world
• Live comfortably in retirement without anxiety

However, none of these reasons have anything to do with short-term market fluctuations. Click Here to Read More

March 19, 2018

It’s a good time for a gut check. 

Last week, after sliding lower for four days, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index recouped some of its losses on Friday. The reasons behind the week’s poor showing were diverse. Barron’s reported:

“The market is so discombobulated right now that it can’t even decide what it’s afraid of. What do we mean? When the Standard & Poor’s 500 index suffered its first correction since the beginning of 2016 last month, the cause was easily identified – a good old-fashioned inflation scare caused by a larger-than-expected increase in wages and a rapidly rising 10-year Treasury yield, which almost hit 3 percent…Fast-forward more than a month and those fears seem almost quaint.” Click Here to Read More

March 12, 2018

It’s a bird…It’s a plane…It’s a labor shortage!

There is little doubt the Millennial generation has been reshaping our world. One of the most remarkable aspects of this demographic group is a preference for experiences over consumer goods. “Three out of four millennials would rather spend their money on an experience than buy something desirable. This “experience generation” is now a third of the U.S. population,” reported Eventbrite.

Well, a new experience has arrived – a labor shortage in the United States.

Last week, Barron’s reported, “Across the nation, in industries as varied as trucking, construction, retailing, fast food, oil drilling, technology, and manufacturing, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find good help. And, with the economy in its ninth year of growth and another baby boomer retiring every nine seconds, the labor crunch is about to get much worse…This, of course, is how a labor market works: Production rises, workers get scarce, and employers raise wages to attract employees.”Click Here to Read More

March 5, 2018

As Yogi Berra once said: It’s déjà vu all over again.

Last week, global stock markets took a bit of a dip after President Trump announced a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum. Tariffs are taxes on goods imported from other countries. In general, governments impose tariffs to enhance revenue and/or protect domestic industries from competition abroad.

Tariffs tend to spark fierce debate about protectionism and free trade. Proponents suggest tariffs may protect domestic companies and create jobs. Critics suggest tariffs may slow economic growth and drive prices higher.

Here’s the thing: tariffs don’t always produce the anticipated results. Let’s take a look at two examples while keeping in mind that World Trade Organization (WTO) rules do not allow countries to impose new tariffs unless they are ‘safeguards’ intended to protect a domestic industry.Click Here to Read More

February 26, 2018

U.S. Treasuries are offering a lesson in supply and demand.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury auctioned $258 billion in bonds. Treasury auctions are the way the United States government finances its debt. The Treasury sells short-, intermediate-, and long-term IOUs, known as bills, notes, and bonds. When investors and governments purchase bonds, they agree to lend money to the United States. In return, the United States agrees to pay an amount of interest over a certain period of time. At the end of that time, the government is expected to repay the money borrowed.

The price and interest paid on U.S. government debt is determined by supply and demand. When there are few bonds and a lot of demand, prices rise and interest rates fall. When there are a lot of bonds and little demand, prices fall and interest rates rise.Click Here to Read More

February 19, 2018

As New York Fashion Week ended, inflation strutted its stuff. 

Ever since the Federal Reserve began raising the Fed funds rate in 2015, analysts have been anticipating higher inflation. The fact that price increases remained relatively small was a perplexing mystery. Then, last week, inflation increased faster than expected.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the Consumer Price Index (CPI), one measure of inflation, rose 0.5 percent in January. As you might expect, the cost of some items rose faster than others. For example, energy costs rose by 3.0 percent, while the cost of food was up 0.2 percent. In total, during the last 12 months, the all-items index rose 2.1 percent. When food and energy are excluded, the increase was 1.8 percent.Click Here to Read More

February 12, 2018

Back to reality...

After months of eerie calm, stock market volatility has returned. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) – a measure of how turbulent investors expect stock markets to be during the next 30 days – appeared to fall asleep in November 2016. For more than a year, a level of serenity that is rarely associated with stock markets prevailed and U.S. share prices moved steadily higher.

It appears that time is behind us. Barron’s wrote:Click Here to Read More

February 5, 2018

It was not a good week for stocks.

Last week, stock markets around the world lost value. In the United States, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500), Dow Jones Industrial Index (Dow), and NASDAQ all finished lower.

Some pundits have been drawing comparisons between the performance of the Dow last Friday and Black Monday, the memorable day in 1987 when the index shed 508 points in a single day.

They may be barking up the wrong tree. 

Yes, the Dow lost more than 600 points on Friday. That was about 2.5 percent of its value. On Black Monday a lesser drop equated to a 22 percent loss for the Dow. In addition, Black Monday was widely attributed to program trading gone awry. The culprit behind last Friday’s fall is likely to be bonds, according to Barron’s.Click Here to Read More

January 29, 2018

The numbers are coming in.

Publicly-traded companies report their earnings and sales numbers for the previous quarter in the current quarter. For example, fourth quarter’s sales and earnings are reported during the first quarter of the year, and first quarter’s sales and earnings will be reported during the second quarter, and so on.

Through last week, about one-fourth of the companies in the Standard & Poor (S&P)’s 500 Index had reported actual sales and earnings for the fourth quarter of 2017. As far as sales go, a record number – 81 percent – of companies sold more than expected during the fourth quarter. That was quite an improvement. FactSet reported:Click Here to Read More

January 22, 2018

Last week, the United States government might as well have hung a sign on the front door of the Capitol that read, “Gone negotiating. We’ll be back in…however long it takes.”

In 2013, the U.S. government closed for 16 days. About 850,000 federal workers were furloughed and 6.6 million workdays lost. The shutdown affected private companies that worked with the government, too, and the U.S. economy took a hit.

The prospect of kicking off 2018 with a government shutdown didn’t appear to concern investors too much. Barron’s reported the Dow Jones Industrial, Standard & Poor’s 500, and NASDAQ indices all finished the week higher.Click Here to Read More

January 16, 2018

Inflation, inflation, where’s the inflation?

The U.S. Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates in anticipation of higher inflation.

In its 2018 forecast, Goldman Sachs indicated it expected to see “a gradual increase in global core inflation, albeit to levels that are still below central bank targets in most places.”

At year-end 2017, Barron’s wrote:

“Economists have raised the specter of inflation for several years, only to be disproved time and again. There’s reason to believe, however, that 2018 will be different – that prices will finally rise in a more sustained pattern, forcing stock- and bond-market investors to react to a new trend. ‘An unanticipated acceleration in inflation is probably the biggest risk for markets in 2018,’ says Larry Hatheway, chief economist at GAM Investments…Economists like Hatheway aren’t expecting runaway inflation, as in the days of disco and leisure suits, when prices rose by double digits. They’re girding for an annual increase of 2 percent to 2.5 percent at the most.”Click Here to Read More

January 8, 2018

Whoosh! Bang! Flash! Fizz! Whistle!

U.S. stock markets delivered their own version of fireworks to celebrate the New Year. During the first week of 2018, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a new all-time high, moving above 25,000 for the first time ever. The NASDAQ Composite and Standard & Poor’s 500 Indices also rose to new highs.

2018 is off to an impressive start, but let’s pause for a moment and take a look back at 2017. It was a memorable year for global markets, but there are other reasons it was interesting, too. Here are the highlights of a few of The Economist’s most popular articles during the year:Click Here to Read More

January 2, 2018

How good was 2017?

It was so good, the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index finished in positive territory every month for the first time ever (on a total return basis), reported Barron’s. All major U.S. indices finished the year with double-digit gains.

As we enter 2018, keep an eye on investor sentiment. “History has shown us that the crowd can be right during trends, but it also tends to be wrong at extremes. This is why sentiment can be an important contrarian indicator, because if everyone who might become bearish has already sold, only buyers are left. The reverse also applies,” reported ValueWalk.

Toward the end of 2017, sentiment shifted, but not everyone shared the same outlook. Surveys and indices that track market indicators and institutional advice became less bullish, while newsletter writers and investors became more bullish. Click Here to Read More

August 29, 2016

Attention investors: U.S. interest rates may be moving up and it might happen this year. During last Friday’s speech at the Federal Reserve’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen signaled that a rate hike is probably coming but, as usual, she didn’t offer any specifics about the timing:

“…Indeed, in light of the continued solid performance of the labor market and our outlook for economic activity and inflation, I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months. Of course, our decisions always depend on the degree to which incoming data continues to confirm the Committee's outlook.”

There’s a good chance the increase could occur during 2016. Goldman Sachs economists, cited by Bloomberg, said the subjective odds of a September rate hike increased from 30 percent to 40 percent last week. Bloomberg’s data suggests a 65 percent chance of a rate hike by December.

Click Here to Read More


August 22, 2016

Last week, Wall Street was speculating about monetary policy with the enthusiasm of commentators trying to predict who will bring home Olympic gold.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is expected to introduce another rate hike before the end of 2016, according to the BBC, and it has just three opportunities to deliver the goods – during its September, November, or December meetings.

Analysts and pundits parsed minutes from July’s FOMC meeting looking for clues about timing and found relatively few because there was no consensus view at the July meeting. The BBC wrote, “According to the minutes, some FOMC members felt ‘economic conditions would soon warrant taking another step,’ while others believed more data was needed.” The BBC also pointed out a hike in November was unlikely because of the timing relative to the U.S. Presidential election.

Click Here to Read More


August 15, 2016

How do you measure stock market valuation?

If you look at conventional measures – like price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios – then U.S. stock markets appear to be pricey. The Wall Street Journal reported trailing 12-month P/E ratios are high when compared to 10-year averages.

High P/E ratios haven’t dampened investors’ interest in U.S. stocks, and share prices have been moving higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow), Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, and NASDAQ all reached new highs last Thursday – the first time that has happened since 1999.

Click Here to Read More


August 8, 2016

It’s déjà vu all over again!

The Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, tracks the prices of options on the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index. Since options often are used to hedge portfolio risk, the VIX is considered to be a ‘fear gauge’ that has value with regard to market volatility during the next 30 days. The VIX moves higher when investors are worried and lower when they’re feeling content. While this is not necessarily predictive, it does measure the current degree of fear present in the stock market.

Last Friday, the VIX dropped to 11.18, which was a two-year low. Financial Times attributed investor complacency to “…a buoyant U.S. jobs report and easy monetary policy.” However, it also pointed out analysts’ concern that the current lack of fear reflects a disregarThe Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, tracks the prices of options on the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index. Since options often are used to hedge portfolio risk, the VIX is considered to be a ‘fear gauge’ that has value with regard to market volatility during the next 30 days. The VIX moves higher when investors d for threats to world economic stability as well as sparse trading during a vacation month. Click Here to Read More

August 1, 2016

Here’s a brain tickler for you:

In July 2016, there were four.
In June 2016, there were 10.
Since 2008, there have been 673!
What are they?

If you guessed central bank rate cuts, you are on the money. Financial Times reported:

“In the eight years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the world’s top 50 central banks have, on average, cut rates once every three trading days…Despite a modest global recovery, central banks have barely had any time to breathe since the summer of 2008 – carrying out mass asset purchases and entering into negative rate territory. Britain’s decision to leave the EU, coupled with political instability across Europe, still subdued inflation, and concerns over Chinese indebtedness, have spurred central banks back into action.”

The latest downward adjustment came last week when the Bank of Japan (BOJ) took its key interest rate into negative territory, reported CNN Money. Negative rates are intended to promote bank lending and consumer spending. They also create a surreal situation in which banks pay customers to borrow and charge customers to keep money in their accounts.  Click Here to Read More

July 25, 2016

Like a cool breeze on a hot day, the post-Brexit market rally has soothed investors.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), also known as the fear gauge, fell significantly during the past few weeks, according to CNBC.com. The VIX measures investors’ concerns about future volatility. The lower the Index is; the calmer investors are about the future. In late June, the VIX rose as high as 25.76. Last week, it hovered around 12.

Barron’s reported the latest advisory sentiment readings from Investors Intelligence showed bullishness at 54.4 percent, up two percentage points from last week. That’s the highest reading since April 2015 (just before the S&P 500 hit its previous record). Click Here to Read More 


July 18, 2016

“Start your engines,” was not in the Department of Labor (DOL)’s June Employment Report Summary, but it may as well have been. A positive jobs report revved investor optimism and sent U.S. stock markets sprinting higher last week.

Job growth was strong in June with 287,000 new jobs created. That helped soothe worries raised by a less than stellar May jobs report. The Wall Street Journal wrote:

“A powerful rebound in hiring last month eased fears about an economic downturn as the U.S. expansion enters its eighth year, putting the nation on solid footing to absorb global shocks and market turbulence.”

Investors appeared to agree the U.S. economic growth would continue apace. The American Association of Individual Investors (AAII)’s Investor Sentiment Survey reported bullish sentiment – the expectation stock prices will rise over the next six months – increased by 5.8 percentage points last week to 36.9 percent. That’s just the second time since November 2015 bullishness has stayed above 30 percent for two weeks in a row. Click Here to Read More

July 11, 2016

When the yield on 10-year Treasuries finished last week at 1.37 percent, a record closing low, Barron’s called it a Kübler-Ross rally.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss psychiatrist whose research identified the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. According to Barron’s, institutional money managers have reached the final stage of grief and accepted that bond yields may remain low for some time:

“Far from irrational exuberance, many institutional investors voice resignation (or worse) to the fact that they are forced to put money to work at record low yields – 1.366 percent for the benchmark 10-year Treasury note – since that’s better than nothing, which literally is what they earn on the estimated $11.7 trillion of global debt securities with negative yields.”  Click Here to Read More

July 5, 2016

Second quarter ended with a spectacular finale of Brexit-inspired market volatility.

Investors typically welcome sharp market movements with about the same level of enthusiasm that canines show for fireworks. However, recent market agitations highlighted a key tenet of investing: Volatility often creates opportunity. Following an initial Brexit sell-off, global markets rebounded. Last Friday, Financial Times reported:

“Global equity indices continued their stunning post-Brexit vote recovery, “core” government bond yields hovered near record lows, and sterling stayed in sight of a three-decade trough against the dollar as a tumultuous week in the markets drew to a close. The dollar finished the week on a broadly softer note, helping gold stay in sight of the two-year high it struck five days earlier. Oil prices were volatile but Brent regained the $50 a barrel mark in late trade.” Click Here to Read More

June 27, 2016

SURPRISE! Britain is leaving the European Union (EU) after 40 years of membership.

Last Thursday, almost three-fourths of voters in Britain – about 30 million people, according to the BBC – cast ballots to determine whether the United Kingdom would remain in
the EU. By a slim margin, the British people opted out. Click Here to Read More 

June 20, 2016

The world’s stock markets took it on the chin last week.

A one-two punch was delivered with the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting leading and concerns Britain will leave the European Union following.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve confirmed what many had suspected. There would be no June rate hike. There was unexpected news, too. The Fed lowered its projections for U.S. growth to 2 percent through 2018. Barron’s reported the stance of various committee members had shifted from the previous meeting:

“At this week’s confab, there were seven projections for two increases, to 0.875 percent, and six for a single hike, to 0.625 percent. There also were two outliers expecting more hikes to above 1 percent. Excluding the highest and lowest guesses, the “central tendency” was in a range of 0.6-0.9 percent, according to the Fed’s projections…In March, however, there was a solid consensus of nine members expecting two hikes to 0.875 percent, and seven looking for more hikes to over 1 percent. Back then, the single outlier was calling for just one increase to 0.625 percent.” Click Here to Read More

June 13, 2016

The British may be leaving. The British may be leaving.

Last week, the interest rate on 10-year U.S. Treasuries dropped to levels last seen in 2013. Why, you may ask, would bond yields move lower when Federal Reserve policy is to push interest rates higher? The answer can be found across the pond.

On June 23, the United Kingdom, a.k.a. Britain, will vote on whether the country should remain in the European Union (EU) or leave. The New York Times reported:

“The economic effect of an exit would depend on what settlement is negotiated, especially on whether Britain would retain access to the single market for duty-free trade and financial services...Most economists favor remaining in the bloc and say that an exit would cut growth, weaken the pound, and hurt the City of London, Britain’s financial center. Even economists who favor an exit say that growth would be affected in the short and medium term, though they also say that Britain would be better off by 2030.” Click Here to Read More

June 6, 2016

Statistics means never having to say your certain, and that was certainly true last week.

The employment report, which was released on Friday, was a bit short on jobs. Analysts had predicted employers would add about 162,000 new jobs during May, according to CNBC. Instead, a paltry 38,000 jobs added to payrolls.

The United States Department of Labor focused on the fact the United States has experienced 75 consecutive months of private-sector jobs growth, as well as the significant decline in unemployment. The unemployment rate fell from 5.0 percent to 4.7 percent – but it was largely attributed to Americans leaving the labor force.

United States Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez commented, “At this point in a recovery, we expect to see trade-offs between job growth and strong wage growth. Earnings growth in May was encouraging. So far this year, average hourly earnings for private employees have increased 3.2 percent at an annual rate.”  Click Here to Read More

May 31, 2016

Everyone makes mistakes. Some people learn from them.

In GMO’s March 2016 white paper, James Montier and Philip Pilkington continued to explore the Federal Reserve’s influence on the stock market. It was a process they’d begun in 2015 as they sought “…to understand why our forecast for the S&P 500 had been too pessimistic over the last two decades or so.” Inspired by research done at the New York Federal Reserve, they found:

“…sometime around 1985 the market really started to react to FOMC [Federal Open Market Committee] days. Like the Fed economists, we found that for the past 30 or so years these announcement days have had a major, and increasing, impact on the stock market…In fact, FOMC days account for 25 percent of the total real returns we have witnessed since 1984!”

Upon further examination, they realized the Fed’s influence on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) wasn’t caused by monetary policy decisions. Markets moved just because the committee was meeting. Investor sentiment was driving market action.  Click Here to Read More 

May 23, 2016

A mobile trivia game maker recently assessed the playing habits of Americans and identified the most popular topics by state. As it turns out, Alabamians like college football questions, Alaskans like queries about U.S. states, Rhode Island natives prefer inquiries about the human body, and Wisconsinites love their Green Bay Packers.

We think markets, finance, and economics offer fine fodder for quiz trivia. Test your knowledge with these questions about recent and pending market events:

*  What is ‘Brexit?’ The United Kingdom will hold a referendum in June to decide whether it should remain in the European Union. According to the BBC, opinion polls say the public is pretty evenly divided on the issue. ‘Brexit’ stands for ‘British exit.’        

*  How likely is a stock market swoon during the next six months? A lot less likely than most investors think, according to a three-decade study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research and cited by Barron’s. The study asked participants how likely it was the market would lose significant value – as much as it did during the worst one-day drops in history (down 22.6 percent and down 12.8 percent) – during the next six months:

On average over the last three decades, respondents believed there to be a 19 percent risk of such a daily plunge in the subsequent six months…Given that there have been more than 32,000 trading sessions since then, the judgment of at least this swath of history is that in any given six-month period there is a 0.79 percent chance of a daily crash that severe.”  Click Here to Read More


May 16, 2016

When is a door not a door?

The answer, of course, is: When it’s ajar.

Investors and analysts were trying to find the answer to a different riddle last week: When are strong retail sales not strong retail sales?

The answer is: When the retailers are department stores.

Consumers spent more in April than they have in more than a year. Commerce Department data showed April’s retail sales improved by 1.3 percent month-to-month and 3.0 percent year-to-year. Yet, several large department stores reported poor first quarter earnings and weren’t optimistic about the future, according to Barron’sClick Here to Read More


May 9, 2016

Reading economic portents can be tricky.

For example, do signs that economic growth is slowing - like last week’s employment report, which was anemic relative to consensus forecasts, and first quarter’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth - mean the economy is headed for trouble? Or, does it mean the economy is going to continue to grow slowly?

It all depends on whom you ask.

Some see current lackluster economic data as a harbinger of trouble. Last week, Barron’s cited an expert who was concerned about employment data. “...It could be a sign of trouble...Specifically, falling profit margins will put pressure to trim costs and head counts later this year and into 2017, which would slow consumer-spending growth.”  Click Here to Read More

May 2, 2016

Which would you prefer to be: a medieval monarch or a modern office-worker?” If you immediately answered medieval monarch, take a moment to ponder life without “…modern dentistry, antibiotics, air travel, smartphones, and YouTube.”

Last week, The Economist used this example to illustrate the challenges of accurately measuring living standards over time. For many years, countries and economists have relied on gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all goods and services produced by a country over a specific period of time, to gauge relative prosperity. The publication pointed out GDP may not be an accurate measure of well-being because it does not account for changes in quality of output:

“…The benefits of sanitation, better health care, and the comforts of heating or air-conditioning meant that GDP growth almost certainly understated the true advance in living standards in the decades after the Second World War. But at least the direction of travel was the same. GDP grew rapidly; so did quality of life. Now GDP is still growing (albeit more slowly), but living standards are thought to be stuck. Part of the problem is widening inequality: median household income in America, adjusted for inflation, has barely budged for 25 years. But increasingly, too, the things that people hold dear are not being captured by the main yardstick of value.” Click Here to Read More

April 25, 2016

U.S. stock markets finished last week in heady territory.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 18,003. Its all-time closing high is 18,312. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was less than 1 percent below its intraday trading record, which was set last year.

Despite strong stock market performance, optimism was in short supply.  Click Here to Read More

April 18, 2016

Isn’t it remarkable that China’s growth is so consistent?

A columnist from The Washington Post once opined that China “produces an astonishing number of astonishing numbers.” Last week’s GDP announcement, which helped push markets higher, may fall into that category.

China’s official statistics agency reported the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.7 percent during the first quarter of 2016. That didn’t come as a big surprise because it’s smack-dab-in-the-middle of the official Chinese government target of 6.5 to 7.0 percent GDP growth. The target was set last year when the government adopted its most recent five-year plan.  Click Here to Read More

April 11, 2016

We all learned a thing or two about Panama last week.

The country is not the home of the Panama hat, which is made in Ecuador. However, it is the only place in the world where you can watch the sun rise on the Pacific Ocean and set on the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s also home to a lot of offshore companies, according to the millions of records leaked from the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm. The Guardian reported 12 national leaders were among 143 politicians, athletes, and wealthy individuals (including family members and associates) who were participating in offshore tax havens.  Click Here to Read 

April 4, 2016

It’s like déjà vu all over again!

This wasn’t the first quarter, or even the first year, that bond markets have not performed in the way Wall Street strategists have expected.

During 2014, bond yields were expected to rise. They did not.

During 2015, bonds were predicted to finish the year yielding about 2.8 percent to 3.3 percent. On December 31, they were at about 2.3 percent. Click Here to Read More 

March 28, 2016 

Are corporations in the United States struggling?

In its cover article last week, The Economist (a British publication), suggested there is not enough competition among American companies. It pointed out:

“Aggregate domestic profits are at near-record levels relative to GDP… High profits might be a sign of brilliant innovations or wise long-term investments were it not for the fact that they are also suspiciously persistent. A very profitable American firm has an 80 percent chance of being that way 10 years later. In the 1990s the odds were only about 50 percent.”

Click Here to Read More

March 21, 2016

There is ongoing debate about whether markets behave in rational ways.

The efficient market hypothesis suggests it’s impossible to outperform the stock market because current share prices reflect all relevant information. In other words, stocks should always trade at fair value and it should be impossible to invest in a stock that is overpriced or underpriced.

The Economist reported there are two issues efficient market theorists have trouble explaining. The first is market bubbles, “where entire markets get out of whack with traditional valuation measures and then collapse.” The other is pricing anomalies. For instance, value stocks are inexpensive relative to their asset values and tend to outperform over the long term. In a perfect market, pricing anomalies shouldn’t occur.  Click Here to Read More

March 14, 2016

The European Central Bank (ECB) was singing a tune that invigorated financial markets last week. The Wall Street Journal explained:

“The fresh measures included cuts to all three of the ECB’s main interest rates, €20 billion a month of additional bond purchases atop the ECB’s current €60 billion ($67 billion) program, and an expansion of its quantitative easing program to highly rated corporate bonds – all more aggressive steps than analysts had anticipated. The central bank also announced a series of ultracheap four-year loans to banks, some of which could be paid to borrow from the ECB.”

Most national indices in Europe gained ground last week. The Financial Times Stock Exchange Milano Italia Borsa (FTSE MIB), which measures the performance of the 40 most-traded stocks on the Italian national stock exchange, was up almost 4 percent. Spain’s Indice Bursatil Español Index (IBEX 35), which is comprised of the most liquid stocks trading on the Spanish continuous market, gained more than 3 percent. Major markets in the United States moved higher, as well.  Click Here to Read More

March 7, 2016

When Mark Twain’s death was reported in the United States, he was alive and well in London. He responded to news accounts with a note saying, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Last week’s jobs data suggest the same is true of reports that a recession is imminent in the United States. Barron’s explained:

“Thank goodness the mid-February fears of recession that brought markets to their knees – and the 10-year Treasury yield to a low of 1.53 percent – were overblown. Friday’s nonfarm payrolls report was the latest confirmation. It showed that 242,000 jobs were created last month, far more than expected and up from the previous month’s reading, which was itself revised higher.”   Click Here to Read More



February 29, 2016

It wasn’t as entertaining as the Fantastic Four, The Magnificent Seven, or Ocean’s 11 but, last week, we had an opportunity to watch the Group of 20 (G20).

The G20 stars finance ministers and central bankers from 19 countries and the European Union as well as representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The group meets periodically to discuss the global economy. Click Here to Read More

February 22, 2016

And the economic data says…

The United States economy is doing pretty well. So well that a March rate hike by the Federal  Reserve is not entirely out of the question. Barron’s described the situation like this:

“Squawking pessimism can't drown out what is a very respectable start to 2016. Economic data so far this year, apart from predictions of deflation and negative interest rates, could justify what was scheduled to be, but what soon seemed impossible, a rate hike at the March FOMC. Yes, global factors are a risk and are hurting the factory sector but service prices are definitely on the climb and vehicle prices and vehicle production, reflecting strength in domestic demand, are back up. Ignore the cacophony of doubt and look at the economic data for yourself!” Click Here to Read More

February 16, 2016

Are markets suffering from excessive worry? 

Last week, markets headed south because investors were concerned about the possibility of negative interest rates in the United States – even though the U.S. Federal Reserve has been tightening monetary policy (i.e., they’ve been raising interest rates).  Click Here to Read More

February 8, 2016

There was bad news and good news in last Friday’s unemployment report.
 
In the negative column, fewer jobs were created in the United States than economists had predicted, and January’s jobs gains were not as strong as December’s had been. In addition, the December jobs increase was revised downward from 292,000 to 252,000, according to Barron’s.
 
On the positive side of the ledger, more than 150,000 new jobs were added in January. The unemployment rate fell below 5 percent for the first time since February of 2008 and earnings increased. In total, average hourly earnings have moved 2.5 percent higher during the past 12 months.  Click Here to Read More

February 1, 2016

How low can you go?

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) dove into the negative interest rate rabbit hole last week when it dropped its benchmark interest rate to minus 0.1 percent. If you’ve been following Japan’s story, then you know the country has been struggling with deflation for almost two decades. The BOJ’s goal is to push inflation up to 2 percent. MarketWatch explained the idea behind negative interest rates:

“Central banks use their deposit to influence how banks handle their reserves. In the case of negative rates, central banks want to dissuade lenders from parking cash with them. The hope is that they will use that money to lend to individuals and businesses which, in turn, will spend the money and boost the economy and contribute to inflation.” Click Here to Read More

January 25, 2016

Investors breathed a sigh of relief last week when U.S. stock markets recovered from a tumble toward bear market territory with the grace of a Cirque du Soleil performer. Many stock markets around the world finished the week with gains, although national indices in Europe and the United States fared better, generally, than those in Asia.  Click Here to Read More


August 29, 2016

Attention investors: U.S. interest rates may be moving up and it might happen this year. During last Friday’s speech at the Federal Reserve’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen signaled that a rate hike is probably coming but, as usual, she didn’t offer any specifics about the timing:

“…Indeed, in light of the continued solid performance of the labor market and our outlook for economic activity and inflation, I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months. Of course, our decisions always depend on the degree to which incoming data continues to confirm the Committee's outlook.”

There’s a good chance the increase could occur during 2016. Goldman Sachs economists, cited by Bloomberg, said the subjective odds of a September rate hike increased from 30 percent to 40 percent last week. Bloomberg’s data suggests a 65 percent chance of a rate hike by December.

Click Here to Read More


August 22, 2016

Last week, Wall Street was speculating about monetary policy with the enthusiasm of commentators trying to predict who will bring home Olympic gold.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is expected to introduce another rate hike before the end of 2016, according to the BBC, and it has just three opportunities to deliver the goods – during its September, November, or December meetings.

Analysts and pundits parsed minutes from July’s FOMC meeting looking for clues about timing and found relatively few because there was no consensus view at the July meeting. The BBC wrote, “According to the minutes, some FOMC members felt ‘economic conditions would soon warrant taking another step,’ while others believed more data was needed.” The BBC also pointed out a hike in November was unlikely because of the timing relative to the U.S. Presidential election.

Click Here to Read More


August 15, 2016

How do you measure stock market valuation?

If you look at conventional measures – like price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios – then U.S. stock markets appear to be pricey. The Wall Street Journal reported trailing 12-month P/E ratios are high when compared to 10-year averages.

High P/E ratios haven’t dampened investors’ interest in U.S. stocks, and share prices have been moving higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow), Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, and NASDAQ all reached new highs last Thursday – the first time that has happened since 1999.

Click Here to Read More


August 8, 2016

It’s déjà vu all over again!

The Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, tracks the prices of options on the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index. Since options often are used to hedge portfolio risk, the VIX is considered to be a ‘fear gauge’ that has value with regard to market volatility during the next 30 days. The VIX moves higher when investors are worried and lower when they’re feeling content. While this is not necessarily predictive, it does measure the current degree of fear present in the stock market.

Last Friday, the VIX dropped to 11.18, which was a two-year low. Financial Times attributed investor complacency to “…a buoyant U.S. jobs report and easy monetary policy.” However, it also pointed out analysts’ concern that the current lack of fear reflects a disregarThe Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, tracks the prices of options on the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index. Since options often are used to hedge portfolio risk, the VIX is considered to be a ‘fear gauge’ that has value with regard to market volatility during the next 30 days. The VIX moves higher when investors d for threats to world economic stability as well as sparse trading during a vacation month. Click Here to Read More

August 1, 2016

Here’s a brain tickler for you:

In July 2016, there were four.
In June 2016, there were 10.
Since 2008, there have been 673!
What are they?

If you guessed central bank rate cuts, you are on the money. Financial Times reported:

“In the eight years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the world’s top 50 central banks have, on average, cut rates once every three trading days…Despite a modest global recovery, central banks have barely had any time to breathe since the summer of 2008 – carrying out mass asset purchases and entering into negative rate territory. Britain’s decision to leave the EU, coupled with political instability across Europe, still subdued inflation, and concerns over Chinese indebtedness, have spurred central banks back into action.”

The latest downward adjustment came last week when the Bank of Japan (BOJ) took its key interest rate into negative territory, reported CNN Money. Negative rates are intended to promote bank lending and consumer spending. They also create a surreal situation in which banks pay customers to borrow and charge customers to keep money in their accounts.  Click Here to Read More

July 25, 2016

Like a cool breeze on a hot day, the post-Brexit market rally has soothed investors.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), also known as the fear gauge, fell significantly during the past few weeks, according to CNBC.com. The VIX measures investors’ concerns about future volatility. The lower the Index is; the calmer investors are about the future. In late June, the VIX rose as high as 25.76. Last week, it hovered around 12.

Barron’s reported the latest advisory sentiment readings from Investors Intelligence showed bullishness at 54.4 percent, up two percentage points from last week. That’s the highest reading since April 2015 (just before the S&P 500 hit its previous record). Click Here to Read More 


July 18, 2016

“Start your engines,” was not in the Department of Labor (DOL)’s June Employment Report Summary, but it may as well have been. A positive jobs report revved investor optimism and sent U.S. stock markets sprinting higher last week.

Job growth was strong in June with 287,000 new jobs created. That helped soothe worries raised by a less than stellar May jobs report. The Wall Street Journal wrote:

“A powerful rebound in hiring last month eased fears about an economic downturn as the U.S. expansion enters its eighth year, putting the nation on solid footing to absorb global shocks and market turbulence.”

Investors appeared to agree the U.S. economic growth would continue apace. The American Association of Individual Investors (AAII)’s Investor Sentiment Survey reported bullish sentiment – the expectation stock prices will rise over the next six months – increased by 5.8 percentage points last week to 36.9 percent. That’s just the second time since November 2015 bullishness has stayed above 30 percent for two weeks in a row. Click Here to Read More

July 11, 2016

When the yield on 10-year Treasuries finished last week at 1.37 percent, a record closing low, Barron’s called it a Kübler-Ross rally.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss psychiatrist whose research identified the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. According to Barron’s, institutional money managers have reached the final stage of grief and accepted that bond yields may remain low for some time:

“Far from irrational exuberance, many institutional investors voice resignation (or worse) to the fact that they are forced to put money to work at record low yields – 1.366 percent for the benchmark 10-year Treasury note – since that’s better than nothing, which literally is what they earn on the estimated $11.7 trillion of global debt securities with negative yields.”  Click Here to Read More

July 5, 2016

Second quarter ended with a spectacular finale of Brexit-inspired market volatility.

Investors typically welcome sharp market movements with about the same level of enthusiasm that canines show for fireworks. However, recent market agitations highlighted a key tenet of investing: Volatility often creates opportunity. Following an initial Brexit sell-off, global markets rebounded. Last Friday, Financial Times reported:

“Global equity indices continued their stunning post-Brexit vote recovery, “core” government bond yields hovered near record lows, and sterling stayed in sight of a three-decade trough against the dollar as a tumultuous week in the markets drew to a close. The dollar finished the week on a broadly softer note, helping gold stay in sight of the two-year high it struck five days earlier. Oil prices were volatile but Brent regained the $50 a barrel mark in late trade.” Click Here to Read More

June 27, 2016

SURPRISE! Britain is leaving the European Union (EU) after 40 years of membership.

Last Thursday, almost three-fourths of voters in Britain – about 30 million people, according to the BBC – cast ballots to determine whether the United Kingdom would remain in
the EU. By a slim margin, the British people opted out. Click Here to Read More 

June 20, 2016

The world’s stock markets took it on the chin last week.

A one-two punch was delivered with the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting leading and concerns Britain will leave the European Union following.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve confirmed what many had suspected. There would be no June rate hike. There was unexpected news, too. The Fed lowered its projections for U.S. growth to 2 percent through 2018. Barron’s reported the stance of various committee members had shifted from the previous meeting:

“At this week’s confab, there were seven projections for two increases, to 0.875 percent, and six for a single hike, to 0.625 percent. There also were two outliers expecting more hikes to above 1 percent. Excluding the highest and lowest guesses, the “central tendency” was in a range of 0.6-0.9 percent, according to the Fed’s projections…In March, however, there was a solid consensus of nine members expecting two hikes to 0.875 percent, and seven looking for more hikes to over 1 percent. Back then, the single outlier was calling for just one increase to 0.625 percent.” Click Here to Read More

June 13, 2016

The British may be leaving. The British may be leaving.

Last week, the interest rate on 10-year U.S. Treasuries dropped to levels last seen in 2013. Why, you may ask, would bond yields move lower when Federal Reserve policy is to push interest rates higher? The answer can be found across the pond.

On June 23, the United Kingdom, a.k.a. Britain, will vote on whether the country should remain in the European Union (EU) or leave. The New York Times reported:

“The economic effect of an exit would depend on what settlement is negotiated, especially on whether Britain would retain access to the single market for duty-free trade and financial services...Most economists favor remaining in the bloc and say that an exit would cut growth, weaken the pound, and hurt the City of London, Britain’s financial center. Even economists who favor an exit say that growth would be affected in the short and medium term, though they also say that Britain would be better off by 2030.” Click Here to Read More

June 6, 2016

Statistics means never having to say your certain, and that was certainly true last week.

The employment report, which was released on Friday, was a bit short on jobs. Analysts had predicted employers would add about 162,000 new jobs during May, according to CNBC. Instead, a paltry 38,000 jobs added to payrolls.

The United States Department of Labor focused on the fact the United States has experienced 75 consecutive months of private-sector jobs growth, as well as the significant decline in unemployment. The unemployment rate fell from 5.0 percent to 4.7 percent – but it was largely attributed to Americans leaving the labor force.

United States Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez commented, “At this point in a recovery, we expect to see trade-offs between job growth and strong wage growth. Earnings growth in May was encouraging. So far this year, average hourly earnings for private employees have increased 3.2 percent at an annual rate.”  Click Here to Read More

May 31, 2016

Everyone makes mistakes. Some people learn from them.

In GMO’s March 2016 white paper, James Montier and Philip Pilkington continued to explore the Federal Reserve’s influence on the stock market. It was a process they’d begun in 2015 as they sought “…to understand why our forecast for the S&P 500 had been too pessimistic over the last two decades or so.” Inspired by research done at the New York Federal Reserve, they found:

“…sometime around 1985 the market really started to react to FOMC [Federal Open Market Committee] days. Like the Fed economists, we found that for the past 30 or so years these announcement days have had a major, and increasing, impact on the stock market…In fact, FOMC days account for 25 percent of the total real returns we have witnessed since 1984!”

Upon further examination, they realized the Fed’s influence on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) wasn’t caused by monetary policy decisions. Markets moved just because the committee was meeting. Investor sentiment was driving market action.  Click Here to Read More 

May 23, 2016

A mobile trivia game maker recently assessed the playing habits of Americans and identified the most popular topics by state. As it turns out, Alabamians like college football questions, Alaskans like queries about U.S. states, Rhode Island natives prefer inquiries about the human body, and Wisconsinites love their Green Bay Packers.

We think markets, finance, and economics offer fine fodder for quiz trivia. Test your knowledge with these questions about recent and pending market events:

*  What is ‘Brexit?’ The United Kingdom will hold a referendum in June to decide whether it should remain in the European Union. According to the BBC, opinion polls say the public is pretty evenly divided on the issue. ‘Brexit’ stands for ‘British exit.’        

*  How likely is a stock market swoon during the next six months? A lot less likely than most investors think, according to a three-decade study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research and cited by Barron’s. The study asked participants how likely it was the market would lose significant value – as much as it did during the worst one-day drops in history (down 22.6 percent and down 12.8 percent) – during the next six months:

On average over the last three decades, respondents believed there to be a 19 percent risk of such a daily plunge in the subsequent six months…Given that there have been more than 32,000 trading sessions since then, the judgment of at least this swath of history is that in any given six-month period there is a 0.79 percent chance of a daily crash that severe.”  Click Here to Read More


May 16, 2016

When is a door not a door?

The answer, of course, is: When it’s ajar.

Investors and analysts were trying to find the answer to a different riddle last week: When are strong retail sales not strong retail sales?

The answer is: When the retailers are department stores.

Consumers spent more in April than they have in more than a year. Commerce Department data showed April’s retail sales improved by 1.3 percent month-to-month and 3.0 percent year-to-year. Yet, several large department stores reported poor first quarter earnings and weren’t optimistic about the future, according to Barron’sClick Here to Read More


May 9, 2016

Reading economic portents can be tricky.

For example, do signs that economic growth is slowing - like last week’s employment report, which was anemic relative to consensus forecasts, and first quarter’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth - mean the economy is headed for trouble? Or, does it mean the economy is going to continue to grow slowly?

It all depends on whom you ask.

Some see current lackluster economic data as a harbinger of trouble. Last week, Barron’s cited an expert who was concerned about employment data. “...It could be a sign of trouble...Specifically, falling profit margins will put pressure to trim costs and head counts later this year and into 2017, which would slow consumer-spending growth.”  Click Here to Read More

May 2, 2016

Which would you prefer to be: a medieval monarch or a modern office-worker?” If you immediately answered medieval monarch, take a moment to ponder life without “…modern dentistry, antibiotics, air travel, smartphones, and YouTube.”

Last week, The Economist used this example to illustrate the challenges of accurately measuring living standards over time. For many years, countries and economists have relied on gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all goods and services produced by a country over a specific period of time, to gauge relative prosperity. The publication pointed out GDP may not be an accurate measure of well-being because it does not account for changes in quality of output:

“…The benefits of sanitation, better health care, and the comforts of heating or air-conditioning meant that GDP growth almost certainly understated the true advance in living standards in the decades after the Second World War. But at least the direction of travel was the same. GDP grew rapidly; so did quality of life. Now GDP is still growing (albeit more slowly), but living standards are thought to be stuck. Part of the problem is widening inequality: median household income in America, adjusted for inflation, has barely budged for 25 years. But increasingly, too, the things that people hold dear are not being captured by the main yardstick of value.” Click Here to Read More

April 25, 2016

U.S. stock markets finished last week in heady territory.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 18,003. Its all-time closing high is 18,312. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was less than 1 percent below its intraday trading record, which was set last year.

Despite strong stock market performance, optimism was in short supply.  Click Here to Read More

April 18, 2016

Isn’t it remarkable that China’s growth is so consistent?

A columnist from The Washington Post once opined that China “produces an astonishing number of astonishing numbers.” Last week’s GDP announcement, which helped push markets higher, may fall into that category.

China’s official statistics agency reported the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.7 percent during the first quarter of 2016. That didn’t come as a big surprise because it’s smack-dab-in-the-middle of the official Chinese government target of 6.5 to 7.0 percent GDP growth. The target was set last year when the government adopted its most recent five-year plan.  Click Here to Read More

April 11, 2016

We all learned a thing or two about Panama last week.

The country is not the home of the Panama hat, which is made in Ecuador. However, it is the only place in the world where you can watch the sun rise on the Pacific Ocean and set on the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s also home to a lot of offshore companies, according to the millions of records leaked from the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm. The Guardian reported 12 national leaders were among 143 politicians, athletes, and wealthy individuals (including family members and associates) who were participating in offshore tax havens.  Click Here to Read 

April 4, 2016

It’s like déjà vu all over again!

This wasn’t the first quarter, or even the first year, that bond markets have not performed in the way Wall Street strategists have expected.

During 2014, bond yields were expected to rise. They did not.

During 2015, bonds were predicted to finish the year yielding about 2.8 percent to 3.3 percent. On December 31, they were at about 2.3 percent. Click Here to Read More 

March 28, 2016 

Are corporations in the United States struggling?

In its cover article last week, The Economist (a British publication), suggested there is not enough competition among American companies. It pointed out:

“Aggregate domestic profits are at near-record levels relative to GDP… High profits might be a sign of brilliant innovations or wise long-term investments were it not for the fact that they are also suspiciously persistent. A very profitable American firm has an 80 percent chance of being that way 10 years later. In the 1990s the odds were only about 50 percent.”

Click Here to Read More

March 21, 2016

There is ongoing debate about whether markets behave in rational ways.

The efficient market hypothesis suggests it’s impossible to outperform the stock market because current share prices reflect all relevant information. In other words, stocks should always trade at fair value and it should be impossible to invest in a stock that is overpriced or underpriced.

The Economist reported there are two issues efficient market theorists have trouble explaining. The first is market bubbles, “where entire markets get out of whack with traditional valuation measures and then collapse.” The other is pricing anomalies. For instance, value stocks are inexpensive relative to their asset values and tend to outperform over the long term. In a perfect market, pricing anomalies shouldn’t occur.  Click Here to Read More

March 14, 2016

The European Central Bank (ECB) was singing a tune that invigorated financial markets last week. The Wall Street Journal explained:

“The fresh measures included cuts to all three of the ECB’s main interest rates, €20 billion a month of additional bond purchases atop the ECB’s current €60 billion ($67 billion) program, and an expansion of its quantitative easing program to highly rated corporate bonds – all more aggressive steps than analysts had anticipated. The central bank also announced a series of ultracheap four-year loans to banks, some of which could be paid to borrow from the ECB.”

Most national indices in Europe gained ground last week. The Financial Times Stock Exchange Milano Italia Borsa (FTSE MIB), which measures the performance of the 40 most-traded stocks on the Italian national stock exchange, was up almost 4 percent. Spain’s Indice Bursatil Español Index (IBEX 35), which is comprised of the most liquid stocks trading on the Spanish continuous market, gained more than 3 percent. Major markets in the United States moved higher, as well.  Click Here to Read More

March 7, 2016

When Mark Twain’s death was reported in the United States, he was alive and well in London. He responded to news accounts with a note saying, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Last week’s jobs data suggest the same is true of reports that a recession is imminent in the United States. Barron’s explained:

“Thank goodness the mid-February fears of recession that brought markets to their knees – and the 10-year Treasury yield to a low of 1.53 percent – were overblown. Friday’s nonfarm payrolls report was the latest confirmation. It showed that 242,000 jobs were created last month, far more than expected and up from the previous month’s reading, which was itself revised higher.”   Click Here to Read More



February 29, 2016

It wasn’t as entertaining as the Fantastic Four, The Magnificent Seven, or Ocean’s 11 but, last week, we had an opportunity to watch the Group of 20 (G20).

The G20 stars finance ministers and central bankers from 19 countries and the European Union as well as representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The group meets periodically to discuss the global economy. Click Here to Read More

February 22, 2016

And the economic data says…

The United States economy is doing pretty well. So well that a March rate hike by the Federal  Reserve is not entirely out of the question. Barron’s described the situation like this:

“Squawking pessimism can't drown out what is a very respectable start to 2016. Economic data so far this year, apart from predictions of deflation and negative interest rates, could justify what was scheduled to be, but what soon seemed impossible, a rate hike at the March FOMC. Yes, global factors are a risk and are hurting the factory sector but service prices are definitely on the climb and vehicle prices and vehicle production, reflecting strength in domestic demand, are back up. Ignore the cacophony of doubt and look at the economic data for yourself!” Click Here to Read More

February 16, 2016

Are markets suffering from excessive worry? 

Last week, markets headed south because investors were concerned about the possibility of negative interest rates in the United States – even though the U.S. Federal Reserve has been tightening monetary policy (i.e., they’ve been raising interest rates).  Click Here to Read More

February 8, 2016

There was bad news and good news in last Friday’s unemployment report.
 
In the negative column, fewer jobs were created in the United States than economists had predicted, and January’s jobs gains were not as strong as December’s had been. In addition, the December jobs increase was revised downward from 292,000 to 252,000, according to Barron’s.
 
On the positive side of the ledger, more than 150,000 new jobs were added in January. The unemployment rate fell below 5 percent for the first time since February of 2008 and earnings increased. In total, average hourly earnings have moved 2.5 percent higher during the past 12 months.  Click Here to Read More

February 1, 2016

How low can you go?

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) dove into the negative interest rate rabbit hole last week when it dropped its benchmark interest rate to minus 0.1 percent. If you’ve been following Japan’s story, then you know the country has been struggling with deflation for almost two decades. The BOJ’s goal is to push inflation up to 2 percent. MarketWatch explained the idea behind negative interest rates:

“Central banks use their deposit to influence how banks handle their reserves. In the case of negative rates, central banks want to dissuade lenders from parking cash with them. The hope is that they will use that money to lend to individuals and businesses which, in turn, will spend the money and boost the economy and contribute to inflation.” Click Here to Read More

January 25, 2016

Investors breathed a sigh of relief last week when U.S. stock markets recovered from a tumble toward bear market territory with the grace of a Cirque du Soleil performer. Many stock markets around the world finished the week with gains, although national indices in Europe and the United States fared better, generally, than those in Asia.  Click Here to Read More


August 29, 2016

Attention investors: U.S. interest rates may be moving up and it might happen this year. During last Friday’s speech at the Federal Reserve’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen signaled that a rate hike is probably coming but, as usual, she didn’t offer any specifics about the timing:

“…Indeed, in light of the continued solid performance of the labor market and our outlook for economic activity and inflation, I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months. Of course, our decisions always depend on the degree to which incoming data continues to confirm the Committee's outlook.”

There’s a good chance the increase could occur during 2016. Goldman Sachs economists, cited by Bloomberg, said the subjective odds of a September rate hike increased from 30 percent to 40 percent last week. Bloomberg’s data suggests a 65 percent chance of a rate hike by December.

Click Here to Read More


August 22, 2016

Last week, Wall Street was speculating about monetary policy with the enthusiasm of commentators trying to predict who will bring home Olympic gold.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is expected to introduce another rate hike before the end of 2016, according to the BBC, and it has just three opportunities to deliver the goods – during its September, November, or December meetings.

Analysts and pundits parsed minutes from July’s FOMC meeting looking for clues about timing and found relatively few because there was no consensus view at the July meeting. The BBC wrote, “According to the minutes, some FOMC members felt ‘economic conditions would soon warrant taking another step,’ while others believed more data was needed.” The BBC also pointed out a hike in November was unlikely because of the timing relative to the U.S. Presidential election.

Click Here to Read More


August 15, 2016

How do you measure stock market valuation?

If you look at conventional measures – like price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios – then U.S. stock markets appear to be pricey. The Wall Street Journal reported trailing 12-month P/E ratios are high when compared to 10-year averages.

High P/E ratios haven’t dampened investors’ interest in U.S. stocks, and share prices have been moving higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow), Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, and NASDAQ all reached new highs last Thursday – the first time that has happened since 1999.

Click Here to Read More


August 8, 2016

It’s déjà vu all over again!

The Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, tracks the prices of options on the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index. Since options often are used to hedge portfolio risk, the VIX is considered to be a ‘fear gauge’ that has value with regard to market volatility during the next 30 days. The VIX moves higher when investors are worried and lower when they’re feeling content. While this is not necessarily predictive, it does measure the current degree of fear present in the stock market.

Last Friday, the VIX dropped to 11.18, which was a two-year low. Financial Times attributed investor complacency to “…a buoyant U.S. jobs report and easy monetary policy.” However, it also pointed out analysts’ concern that the current lack of fear reflects a disregarThe Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, tracks the prices of options on the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index. Since options often are used to hedge portfolio risk, the VIX is considered to be a ‘fear gauge’ that has value with regard to market volatility during the next 30 days. The VIX moves higher when investors d for threats to world economic stability as well as sparse trading during a vacation month. Click Here to Read More

August 1, 2016

Here’s a brain tickler for you:

In July 2016, there were four.
In June 2016, there were 10.
Since 2008, there have been 673!
What are they?

If you guessed central bank rate cuts, you are on the money. Financial Times reported:

“In the eight years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the world’s top 50 central banks have, on average, cut rates once every three trading days…Despite a modest global recovery, central banks have barely had any time to breathe since the summer of 2008 – carrying out mass asset purchases and entering into negative rate territory. Britain’s decision to leave the EU, coupled with political instability across Europe, still subdued inflation, and concerns over Chinese indebtedness, have spurred central banks back into action.”

The latest downward adjustment came last week when the Bank of Japan (BOJ) took its key interest rate into negative territory, reported CNN Money. Negative rates are intended to promote bank lending and consumer spending. They also create a surreal situation in which banks pay customers to borrow and charge customers to keep money in their accounts.  Click Here to Read More

July 25, 2016

Like a cool breeze on a hot day, the post-Brexit market rally has soothed investors.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), also known as the fear gauge, fell significantly during the past few weeks, according to CNBC.com. The VIX measures investors’ concerns about future volatility. The lower the Index is; the calmer investors are about the future. In late June, the VIX rose as high as 25.76. Last week, it hovered around 12.

Barron’s reported the latest advisory sentiment readings from Investors Intelligence showed bullishness at 54.4 percent, up two percentage points from last week. That’s the highest reading since April 2015 (just before the S&P 500 hit its previous record). Click Here to Read More 


July 18, 2016

“Start your engines,” was not in the Department of Labor (DOL)’s June Employment Report Summary, but it may as well have been. A positive jobs report revved investor optimism and sent U.S. stock markets sprinting higher last week.

Job growth was strong in June with 287,000 new jobs created. That helped soothe worries raised by a less than stellar May jobs report. The Wall Street Journal wrote:

“A powerful rebound in hiring last month eased fears about an economic downturn as the U.S. expansion enters its eighth year, putting the nation on solid footing to absorb global shocks and market turbulence.”

Investors appeared to agree the U.S. economic growth would continue apace. The American Association of Individual Investors (AAII)’s Investor Sentiment Survey reported bullish sentiment – the expectation stock prices will rise over the next six months – increased by 5.8 percentage points last week to 36.9 percent. That’s just the second time since November 2015 bullishness has stayed above 30 percent for two weeks in a row. Click Here to Read More

July 11, 2016

When the yield on 10-year Treasuries finished last week at 1.37 percent, a record closing low, Barron’s called it a Kübler-Ross rally.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss psychiatrist whose research identified the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. According to Barron’s, institutional money managers have reached the final stage of grief and accepted that bond yields may remain low for some time:

“Far from irrational exuberance, many institutional investors voice resignation (or worse) to the fact that they are forced to put money to work at record low yields – 1.366 percent for the benchmark 10-year Treasury note – since that’s better than nothing, which literally is what they earn on the estimated $11.7 trillion of global debt securities with negative yields.”  Click Here to Read More

July 5, 2016

Second quarter ended with a spectacular finale of Brexit-inspired market volatility.

Investors typically welcome sharp market movements with about the same level of enthusiasm that canines show for fireworks. However, recent market agitations highlighted a key tenet of investing: Volatility often creates opportunity. Following an initial Brexit sell-off, global markets rebounded. Last Friday, Financial Times reported:

“Global equity indices continued their stunning post-Brexit vote recovery, “core” government bond yields hovered near record lows, and sterling stayed in sight of a three-decade trough against the dollar as a tumultuous week in the markets drew to a close. The dollar finished the week on a broadly softer note, helping gold stay in sight of the two-year high it struck five days earlier. Oil prices were volatile but Brent regained the $50 a barrel mark in late trade.” Click Here to Read More

June 27, 2016

SURPRISE! Britain is leaving the European Union (EU) after 40 years of membership.

Last Thursday, almost three-fourths of voters in Britain – about 30 million people, according to the BBC – cast ballots to determine whether the United Kingdom would remain in
the EU. By a slim margin, the British people opted out. Click Here to Read More 

June 20, 2016

The world’s stock markets took it on the chin last week.

A one-two punch was delivered with the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting leading and concerns Britain will leave the European Union following.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve confirmed what many had suspected. There would be no June rate hike. There was unexpected news, too. The Fed lowered its projections for U.S. growth to 2 percent through 2018. Barron’s reported the stance of various committee members had shifted from the previous meeting:

“At this week’s confab, there were seven projections for two increases, to 0.875 percent, and six for a single hike, to 0.625 percent. There also were two outliers expecting more hikes to above 1 percent. Excluding the highest and lowest guesses, the “central tendency” was in a range of 0.6-0.9 percent, according to the Fed’s projections…In March, however, there was a solid consensus of nine members expecting two hikes to 0.875 percent, and seven looking for more hikes to over 1 percent. Back then, the single outlier was calling for just one increase to 0.625 percent.” Click Here to Read More

June 13, 2016

The British may be leaving. The British may be leaving.

Last week, the interest rate on 10-year U.S. Treasuries dropped to levels last seen in 2013. Why, you may ask, would bond yields move lower when Federal Reserve policy is to push interest rates higher? The answer can be found across the pond.

On June 23, the United Kingdom, a.k.a. Britain, will vote on whether the country should remain in the European Union (EU) or leave. The New York Times reported:

“The economic effect of an exit would depend on what settlement is negotiated, especially on whether Britain would retain access to the single market for duty-free trade and financial services...Most economists favor remaining in the bloc and say that an exit would cut growth, weaken the pound, and hurt the City of London, Britain’s financial center. Even economists who favor an exit say that growth would be affected in the short and medium term, though they also say that Britain would be better off by 2030.” Click Here to Read More

June 6, 2016

Statistics means never having to say your certain, and that was certainly true last week.

The employment report, which was released on Friday, was a bit short on jobs. Analysts had predicted employers would add about 162,000 new jobs during May, according to CNBC. Instead, a paltry 38,000 jobs added to payrolls.

The United States Department of Labor focused on the fact the United States has experienced 75 consecutive months of private-sector jobs growth, as well as the significant decline in unemployment. The unemployment rate fell from 5.0 percent to 4.7 percent – but it was largely attributed to Americans leaving the labor force.

United States Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez commented, “At this point in a recovery, we expect to see trade-offs between job growth and strong wage growth. Earnings growth in May was encouraging. So far this year, average hourly earnings for private employees have increased 3.2 percent at an annual rate.”  Click Here to Read More

May 31, 2016

Everyone makes mistakes. Some people learn from them.

In GMO’s March 2016 white paper, James Montier and Philip Pilkington continued to explore the Federal Reserve’s influence on the stock market. It was a process they’d begun in 2015 as they sought “…to understand why our forecast for the S&P 500 had been too pessimistic over the last two decades or so.” Inspired by research done at the New York Federal Reserve, they found:

“…sometime around 1985 the market really started to react to FOMC [Federal Open Market Committee] days. Like the Fed economists, we found that for the past 30 or so years these announcement days have had a major, and increasing, impact on the stock market…In fact, FOMC days account for 25 percent of the total real returns we have witnessed since 1984!”

Upon further examination, they realized the Fed’s influence on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) wasn’t caused by monetary policy decisions. Markets moved just because the committee was meeting. Investor sentiment was driving market action.  Click Here to Read More 

May 23, 2016

A mobile trivia game maker recently assessed the playing habits of Americans and identified the most popular topics by state. As it turns out, Alabamians like college football questions, Alaskans like queries about U.S. states, Rhode Island natives prefer inquiries about the human body, and Wisconsinites love their Green Bay Packers.

We think markets, finance, and economics offer fine fodder for quiz trivia. Test your knowledge with these questions about recent and pending market events:

*  What is ‘Brexit?’ The United Kingdom will hold a referendum in June to decide whether it should remain in the European Union. According to the BBC, opinion polls say the public is pretty evenly divided on the issue. ‘Brexit’ stands for ‘British exit.’        

*  How likely is a stock market swoon during the next six months? A lot less likely than most investors think, according to a three-decade study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research and cited by Barron’s. The study asked participants how likely it was the market would lose significant value – as much as it did during the worst one-day drops in history (down 22.6 percent and down 12.8 percent) – during the next six months:

On average over the last three decades, respondents believed there to be a 19 percent risk of such a daily plunge in the subsequent six months…Given that there have been more than 32,000 trading sessions since then, the judgment of at least this swath of history is that in any given six-month period there is a 0.79 percent chance of a daily crash that severe.”  Click Here to Read More


May 16, 2016

When is a door not a door?

The answer, of course, is: When it’s ajar.

Investors and analysts were trying to find the answer to a different riddle last week: When are strong retail sales not strong retail sales?

The answer is: When the retailers are department stores.

Consumers spent more in April than they have in more than a year. Commerce Department data showed April’s retail sales improved by 1.3 percent month-to-month and 3.0 percent year-to-year. Yet, several large department stores reported poor first quarter earnings and weren’t optimistic about the future, according to Barron’sClick Here to Read More


May 9, 2016

Reading economic portents can be tricky.

For example, do signs that economic growth is slowing - like last week’s employment report, which was anemic relative to consensus forecasts, and first quarter’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth - mean the economy is headed for trouble? Or, does it mean the economy is going to continue to grow slowly?

It all depends on whom you ask.

Some see current lackluster economic data as a harbinger of trouble. Last week, Barron’s cited an expert who was concerned about employment data. “...It could be a sign of trouble...Specifically, falling profit margins will put pressure to trim costs and head counts later this year and into 2017, which would slow consumer-spending growth.”  Click Here to Read More

May 2, 2016

Which would you prefer to be: a medieval monarch or a modern office-worker?” If you immediately answered medieval monarch, take a moment to ponder life without “…modern dentistry, antibiotics, air travel, smartphones, and YouTube.”

Last week, The Economist used this example to illustrate the challenges of accurately measuring living standards over time. For many years, countries and economists have relied on gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all goods and services produced by a country over a specific period of time, to gauge relative prosperity. The publication pointed out GDP may not be an accurate measure of well-being because it does not account for changes in quality of output:

“…The benefits of sanitation, better health care, and the comforts of heating or air-conditioning meant that GDP growth almost certainly understated the true advance in living standards in the decades after the Second World War. But at least the direction of travel was the same. GDP grew rapidly; so did quality of life. Now GDP is still growing (albeit more slowly), but living standards are thought to be stuck. Part of the problem is widening inequality: median household income in America, adjusted for inflation, has barely budged for 25 years. But increasingly, too, the things that people hold dear are not being captured by the main yardstick of value.” Click Here to Read More

April 25, 2016

U.S. stock markets finished last week in heady territory.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 18,003. Its all-time closing high is 18,312. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was less than 1 percent below its intraday trading record, which was set last year.

Despite strong stock market performance, optimism was in short supply.  Click Here to Read More

April 18, 2016

Isn’t it remarkable that China’s growth is so consistent?

A columnist from The Washington Post once opined that China “produces an astonishing number of astonishing numbers.” Last week’s GDP announcement, which helped push markets higher, may fall into that category.

China’s official statistics agency reported the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.7 percent during the first quarter of 2016. That didn’t come as a big surprise because it’s smack-dab-in-the-middle of the official Chinese government target of 6.5 to 7.0 percent GDP growth. The target was set last year when the government adopted its most recent five-year plan.  Click Here to Read More

April 11, 2016

We all learned a thing or two about Panama last week.

The country is not the home of the Panama hat, which is made in Ecuador. However, it is the only place in the world where you can watch the sun rise on the Pacific Ocean and set on the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s also home to a lot of offshore companies, according to the millions of records leaked from the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm. The Guardian reported 12 national leaders were among 143 politicians, athletes, and wealthy individuals (including family members and associates) who were participating in offshore tax havens.  Click Here to Read 

April 4, 2016

It’s like déjà vu all over again!

This wasn’t the first quarter, or even the first year, that bond markets have not performed in the way Wall Street strategists have expected.

During 2014, bond yields were expected to rise. They did not.

During 2015, bonds were predicted to finish the year yielding about 2.8 percent to 3.3 percent. On December 31, they were at about 2.3 percent. Click Here to Read More 

March 28, 2016 

Are corporations in the United States struggling?

In its cover article last week, The Economist (a British publication), suggested there is not enough competition among American companies. It pointed out:

“Aggregate domestic profits are at near-record levels relative to GDP… High profits might be a sign of brilliant innovations or wise long-term investments were it not for the fact that they are also suspiciously persistent. A very profitable American firm has an 80 percent chance of being that way 10 years later. In the 1990s the odds were only about 50 percent.”

Click Here to Read More

March 21, 2016

There is ongoing debate about whether markets behave in rational ways.

The efficient market hypothesis suggests it’s impossible to outperform the stock market because current share prices reflect all relevant information. In other words, stocks should always trade at fair value and it should be impossible to invest in a stock that is overpriced or underpriced.

The Economist reported there are two issues efficient market theorists have trouble explaining. The first is market bubbles, “where entire markets get out of whack with traditional valuation measures and then collapse.” The other is pricing anomalies. For instance, value stocks are inexpensive relative to their asset values and tend to outperform over the long term. In a perfect market, pricing anomalies shouldn’t occur.  Click Here to Read More

March 14, 2016

The European Central Bank (ECB) was singing a tune that invigorated financial markets last week. The Wall Street Journal explained:

“The fresh measures included cuts to all three of the ECB’s main interest rates, €20 billion a month of additional bond purchases atop the ECB’s current €60 billion ($67 billion) program, and an expansion of its quantitative easing program to highly rated corporate bonds – all more aggressive steps than analysts had anticipated. The central bank also announced a series of ultracheap four-year loans to banks, some of which could be paid to borrow from the ECB.”

Most national indices in Europe gained ground last week. The Financial Times Stock Exchange Milano Italia Borsa (FTSE MIB), which measures the performance of the 40 most-traded stocks on the Italian national stock exchange, was up almost 4 percent. Spain’s Indice Bursatil Español Index (IBEX 35), which is comprised of the most liquid stocks trading on the Spanish continuous market, gained more than 3 percent. Major markets in the United States moved higher, as well.  Click Here to Read More

March 7, 2016

When Mark Twain’s death was reported in the United States, he was alive and well in London. He responded to news accounts with a note saying, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Last week’s jobs data suggest the same is true of reports that a recession is imminent in the United States. Barron’s explained:

“Thank goodness the mid-February fears of recession that brought markets to their knees – and the 10-year Treasury yield to a low of 1.53 percent – were overblown. Friday’s nonfarm payrolls report was the latest confirmation. It showed that 242,000 jobs were created last month, far more than expected and up from the previous month’s reading, which was itself revised higher.”   Click Here to Read More



February 29, 2016

It wasn’t as entertaining as the Fantastic Four, The Magnificent Seven, or Ocean’s 11 but, last week, we had an opportunity to watch the Group of 20 (G20).

The G20 stars finance ministers and central bankers from 19 countries and the European Union as well as representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The group meets periodically to discuss the global economy. Click Here to Read More

February 22, 2016

And the economic data says…

The United States economy is doing pretty well. So well that a March rate hike by the Federal  Reserve is not entirely out of the question. Barron’s described the situation like this:

“Squawking pessimism can't drown out what is a very respectable start to 2016. Economic data so far this year, apart from predictions of deflation and negative interest rates, could justify what was scheduled to be, but what soon seemed impossible, a rate hike at the March FOMC. Yes, global factors are a risk and are hurting the factory sector but service prices are definitely on the climb and vehicle prices and vehicle production, reflecting strength in domestic demand, are back up. Ignore the cacophony of doubt and look at the economic data for yourself!” Click Here to Read More

February 16, 2016

Are markets suffering from excessive worry? 

Last week, markets headed south because investors were concerned about the possibility of negative interest rates in the United States – even though the U.S. Federal Reserve has been tightening monetary policy (i.e., they’ve been raising interest rates).  Click Here to Read More

February 8, 2016

There was bad news and good news in last Friday’s unemployment report.
 
In the negative column, fewer jobs were created in the United States than economists had predicted, and January’s jobs gains were not as strong as December’s had been. In addition, the December jobs increase was revised downward from 292,000 to 252,000, according to Barron’s.
 
On the positive side of the ledger, more than 150,000 new jobs were added in January. The unemployment rate fell below 5 percent for the first time since February of 2008 and earnings increased. In total, average hourly earnings have moved 2.5 percent higher during the past 12 months.  Click Here to Read More

February 1, 2016

How low can you go?

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) dove into the negative interest rate rabbit hole last week when it dropped its benchmark interest rate to minus 0.1 percent. If you’ve been following Japan’s story, then you know the country has been struggling with deflation for almost two decades. The BOJ’s goal is to push inflation up to 2 percent. MarketWatch explained the idea behind negative interest rates:

“Central banks use their deposit to influence how banks handle their reserves. In the case of negative rates, central banks want to dissuade lenders from parking cash with them. The hope is that they will use that money to lend to individuals and businesses which, in turn, will spend the money and boost the economy and contribute to inflation.” Click Here to Read More

January 25, 2016

Investors breathed a sigh of relief last week when U.S. stock markets recovered from a tumble toward bear market territory with the grace of a Cirque du Soleil performer. Many stock markets around the world finished the week with gains, although national indices in Europe and the United States fared better, generally, than those in Asia.  Click Here to Read More


August 29, 2016

Attention investors: U.S. interest rates may be moving up and it might happen this year. During last Friday’s speech at the Federal Reserve’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen signaled that a rate hike is probably coming but, as usual, she didn’t offer any specifics about the timing:

“…Indeed, in light of the continued solid performance of the labor market and our outlook for economic activity and inflation, I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months. Of course, our decisions always depend on the degree to which incoming data continues to confirm the Committee's outlook.”

There’s a good chance the increase could occur during 2016. Goldman Sachs economists, cited by Bloomberg, said the subjective odds of a September rate hike increased from 30 percent to 40 percent last week. Bloomberg’s data suggests a 65 percent chance of a rate hike by December.

Click Here to Read More


August 22, 2016

Last week, Wall Street was speculating about monetary policy with the enthusiasm of commentators trying to predict who will bring home Olympic gold.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is expected to introduce another rate hike before the end of 2016, according to the BBC, and it has just three opportunities to deliver the goods – during its September, November, or December meetings.

Analysts and pundits parsed minutes from July’s FOMC meeting looking for clues about timing and found relatively few because there was no consensus view at the July meeting. The BBC wrote, “According to the minutes, some FOMC members felt ‘economic conditions would soon warrant taking another step,’ while others believed more data was needed.” The BBC also pointed out a hike in November was unlikely because of the timing relative to the U.S. Presidential election.

Click Here to Read More


August 15, 2016

How do you measure stock market valuation?

If you look at conventional measures – like price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios – then U.S. stock markets appear to be pricey. The Wall Street Journal reported trailing 12-month P/E ratios are high when compared to 10-year averages.

High P/E ratios haven’t dampened investors’ interest in U.S. stocks, and share prices have been moving higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow), Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, and NASDAQ all reached new highs last Thursday – the first time that has happened since 1999.

Click Here to Read More


August 8, 2016

It’s déjà vu all over again!

The Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, tracks the prices of options on the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index. Since options often are used to hedge portfolio risk, the VIX is considered to be a ‘fear gauge’ that has value with regard to market volatility during the next 30 days. The VIX moves higher when investors are worried and lower when they’re feeling content. While this is not necessarily predictive, it does measure the current degree of fear present in the stock market.

Last Friday, the VIX dropped to 11.18, which was a two-year low. Financial Times attributed investor complacency to “…a buoyant U.S. jobs report and easy monetary policy.” However, it also pointed out analysts’ concern that the current lack of fear reflects a disregarThe Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, tracks the prices of options on the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index. Since options often are used to hedge portfolio risk, the VIX is considered to be a ‘fear gauge’ that has value with regard to market volatility during the next 30 days. The VIX moves higher when investors d for threats to world economic stability as well as sparse trading during a vacation month. Click Here to Read More

August 1, 2016

Here’s a brain tickler for you:

In July 2016, there were four.
In June 2016, there were 10.
Since 2008, there have been 673!
What are they?

If you guessed central bank rate cuts, you are on the money. Financial Times reported:

“In the eight years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the world’s top 50 central banks have, on average, cut rates once every three trading days…Despite a modest global recovery, central banks have barely had any time to breathe since the summer of 2008 – carrying out mass asset purchases and entering into negative rate territory. Britain’s decision to leave the EU, coupled with political instability across Europe, still subdued inflation, and concerns over Chinese indebtedness, have spurred central banks back into action.”

The latest downward adjustment came last week when the Bank of Japan (BOJ) took its key interest rate into negative territory, reported CNN Money. Negative rates are intended to promote bank lending and consumer spending. They also create a surreal situation in which banks pay customers to borrow and charge customers to keep money in their accounts.  Click Here to Read More

July 25, 2016

Like a cool breeze on a hot day, the post-Brexit market rally has soothed investors.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), also known as the fear gauge, fell significantly during the past few weeks, according to CNBC.com. The VIX measures investors’ concerns about future volatility. The lower the Index is; the calmer investors are about the future. In late June, the VIX rose as high as 25.76. Last week, it hovered around 12.

Barron’s reported the latest advisory sentiment readings from Investors Intelligence showed bullishness at 54.4 percent, up two percentage points from last week. That’s the highest reading since April 2015 (just before the S&P 500 hit its previous record). Click Here to Read More 


July 18, 2016

“Start your engines,” was not in the Department of Labor (DOL)’s June Employment Report Summary, but it may as well have been. A positive jobs report revved investor optimism and sent U.S. stock markets sprinting higher last week.

Job growth was strong in June with 287,000 new jobs created. That helped soothe worries raised by a less than stellar May jobs report. The Wall Street Journal wrote:

“A powerful rebound in hiring last month eased fears about an economic downturn as the U.S. expansion enters its eighth year, putting the nation on solid footing to absorb global shocks and market turbulence.”

Investors appeared to agree the U.S. economic growth would continue apace. The American Association of Individual Investors (AAII)’s Investor Sentiment Survey reported bullish sentiment – the expectation stock prices will rise over the next six months – increased by 5.8 percentage points last week to 36.9 percent. That’s just the second time since November 2015 bullishness has stayed above 30 percent for two weeks in a row. Click Here to Read More

July 11, 2016

When the yield on 10-year Treasuries finished last week at 1.37 percent, a record closing low, Barron’s called it a Kübler-Ross rally.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss psychiatrist whose research identified the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. According to Barron’s, institutional money managers have reached the final stage of grief and accepted that bond yields may remain low for some time:

“Far from irrational exuberance, many institutional investors voice resignation (or worse) to the fact that they are forced to put money to work at record low yields – 1.366 percent for the benchmark 10-year Treasury note – since that’s better than nothing, which literally is what they earn on the estimated $11.7 trillion of global debt securities with negative yields.”  Click Here to Read More

July 5, 2016

Second quarter ended with a spectacular finale of Brexit-inspired market volatility.

Investors typically welcome sharp market movements with about the same level of enthusiasm that canines show for fireworks. However, recent market agitations highlighted a key tenet of investing: Volatility often creates opportunity. Following an initial Brexit sell-off, global markets rebounded. Last Friday, Financial Times reported:

“Global equity indices continued their stunning post-Brexit vote recovery, “core” government bond yields hovered near record lows, and sterling stayed in sight of a three-decade trough against the dollar as a tumultuous week in the markets drew to a close. The dollar finished the week on a broadly softer note, helping gold stay in sight of the two-year high it struck five days earlier. Oil prices were volatile but Brent regained the $50 a barrel mark in late trade.” Click Here to Read More

June 27, 2016

SURPRISE! Britain is leaving the European Union (EU) after 40 years of membership.

Last Thursday, almost three-fourths of voters in Britain – about 30 million people, according to the BBC – cast ballots to determine whether the United Kingdom would remain in
the EU. By a slim margin, the British people opted out. Click Here to Read More 

June 20, 2016

The world’s stock markets took it on the chin last week.

A one-two punch was delivered with the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting leading and concerns Britain will leave the European Union following.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve confirmed what many had suspected. There would be no June rate hike. There was unexpected news, too. The Fed lowered its projections for U.S. growth to 2 percent through 2018. Barron’s reported the stance of various committee members had shifted from the previous meeting:

“At this week’s confab, there were seven projections for two increases, to 0.875 percent, and six for a single hike, to 0.625 percent. There also were two outliers expecting more hikes to above 1 percent. Excluding the highest and lowest guesses, the “central tendency” was in a range of 0.6-0.9 percent, according to the Fed’s projections…In March, however, there was a solid consensus of nine members expecting two hikes to 0.875 percent, and seven looking for more hikes to over 1 percent. Back then, the single outlier was calling for just one increase to 0.625 percent.” Click Here to Read More

June 13, 2016

The British may be leaving. The British may be leaving.

Last week, the interest rate on 10-year U.S. Treasuries dropped to levels last seen in 2013. Why, you may ask, would bond yields move lower when Federal Reserve policy is to push interest rates higher? The answer can be found across the pond.

On June 23, the United Kingdom, a.k.a. Britain, will vote on whether the country should remain in the European Union (EU) or leave. The New York Times reported:

“The economic effect of an exit would depend on what settlement is negotiated, especially on whether Britain would retain access to the single market for duty-free trade and financial services...Most economists favor remaining in the bloc and say that an exit would cut growth, weaken the pound, and hurt the City of London, Britain’s financial center. Even economists who favor an exit say that growth would be affected in the short and medium term, though they also say that Britain would be better off by 2030.” Click Here to Read More

June 6, 2016

Statistics means never having to say your certain, and that was certainly true last week.

The employment report, which was released on Friday, was a bit short on jobs. Analysts had predicted employers would add about 162,000 new jobs during May, according to CNBC. Instead, a paltry 38,000 jobs added to payrolls.

The United States Department of Labor focused on the fact the United States has experienced 75 consecutive months of private-sector jobs growth, as well as the significant decline in unemployment. The unemployment rate fell from 5.0 percent to 4.7 percent – but it was largely attributed to Americans leaving the labor force.

United States Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez commented, “At this point in a recovery, we expect to see trade-offs between job growth and strong wage growth. Earnings growth in May was encouraging. So far this year, average hourly earnings for private employees have increased 3.2 percent at an annual rate.”  Click Here to Read More

May 31, 2016

Everyone makes mistakes. Some people learn from them.

In GMO’s March 2016 white paper, James Montier and Philip Pilkington continued to explore the Federal Reserve’s influence on the stock market. It was a process they’d begun in 2015 as they sought “…to understand why our forecast for the S&P 500 had been too pessimistic over the last two decades or so.” Inspired by research done at the New York Federal Reserve, they found:

“…sometime around 1985 the market really started to react to FOMC [Federal Open Market Committee] days. Like the Fed economists, we found that for the past 30 or so years these announcement days have had a major, and increasing, impact on the stock market…In fact, FOMC days account for 25 percent of the total real returns we have witnessed since 1984!”

Upon further examination, they realized the Fed’s influence on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) wasn’t caused by monetary policy decisions. Markets moved just because the committee was meeting. Investor sentiment was driving market action.  Click Here to Read More 

May 23, 2016

A mobile trivia game maker recently assessed the playing habits of Americans and identified the most popular topics by state. As it turns out, Alabamians like college football questions, Alaskans like queries about U.S. states, Rhode Island natives prefer inquiries about the human body, and Wisconsinites love their Green Bay Packers.

We think markets, finance, and economics offer fine fodder for quiz trivia. Test your knowledge with these questions about recent and pending market events:

*  What is ‘Brexit?’ The United Kingdom will hold a referendum in June to decide whether it should remain in the European Union. According to the BBC, opinion polls say the public is pretty evenly divided on the issue. ‘Brexit’ stands for ‘British exit.’        

*  How likely is a stock market swoon during the next six months? A lot less likely than most investors think, according to a three-decade study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research and cited by Barron’s. The study asked participants how likely it was the market would lose significant value – as much as it did during the worst one-day drops in history (down 22.6 percent and down 12.8 percent) – during the next six months:

On average over the last three decades, respondents believed there to be a 19 percent risk of such a daily plunge in the subsequent six months…Given that there have been more than 32,000 trading sessions since then, the judgment of at least this swath of history is that in any given six-month period there is a 0.79 percent chance of a daily crash that severe.”  Click Here to Read More


May 16, 2016

When is a door not a door?

The answer, of course, is: When it’s ajar.

Investors and analysts were trying to find the answer to a different riddle last week: When are strong retail sales not strong retail sales?

The answer is: When the retailers are department stores.

Consumers spent more in April than they have in more than a year. Commerce Department data showed April’s retail sales improved by 1.3 percent month-to-month and 3.0 percent year-to-year. Yet, several large department stores reported poor first quarter earnings and weren’t optimistic about the future, according to Barron’sClick Here to Read More


May 9, 2016

Reading economic portents can be tricky.

For example, do signs that economic growth is slowing - like last week’s employment report, which was anemic relative to consensus forecasts, and first quarter’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth - mean the economy is headed for trouble? Or, does it mean the economy is going to continue to grow slowly?

It all depends on whom you ask.

Some see current lackluster economic data as a harbinger of trouble. Last week, Barron’s cited an expert who was concerned about employment data. “...It could be a sign of trouble...Specifically, falling profit margins will put pressure to trim costs and head counts later this year and into 2017, which would slow consumer-spending growth.”  Click Here to Read More

May 2, 2016

Which would you prefer to be: a medieval monarch or a modern office-worker?” If you immediately answered medieval monarch, take a moment to ponder life without “…modern dentistry, antibiotics, air travel, smartphones, and YouTube.”

Last week, The Economist used this example to illustrate the challenges of accurately measuring living standards over time. For many years, countries and economists have relied on gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all goods and services produced by a country over a specific period of time, to gauge relative prosperity. The publication pointed out GDP may not be an accurate measure of well-being because it does not account for changes in quality of output:

“…The benefits of sanitation, better health care, and the comforts of heating or air-conditioning meant that GDP growth almost certainly understated the true advance in living standards in the decades after the Second World War. But at least the direction of travel was the same. GDP grew rapidly; so did quality of life. Now GDP is still growing (albeit more slowly), but living standards are thought to be stuck. Part of the problem is widening inequality: median household income in America, adjusted for inflation, has barely budged for 25 years. But increasingly, too, the things that people hold dear are not being captured by the main yardstick of value.” Click Here to Read More

April 25, 2016

U.S. stock markets finished last week in heady territory.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 18,003. Its all-time closing high is 18,312. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was less than 1 percent below its intraday trading record, which was set last year.

Despite strong stock market performance, optimism was in short supply.  Click Here to Read More

April 18, 2016

Isn’t it remarkable that China’s growth is so consistent?

A columnist from The Washington Post once opined that China “produces an astonishing number of astonishing numbers.” Last week’s GDP announcement, which helped push markets higher, may fall into that category.

China’s official statistics agency reported the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.7 percent during the first quarter of 2016. That didn’t come as a big surprise because it’s smack-dab-in-the-middle of the official Chinese government target of 6.5 to 7.0 percent GDP growth. The target was set last year when the government adopted its most recent five-year plan.  Click Here to Read More

April 11, 2016

We all learned a thing or two about Panama last week.

The country is not the home of the Panama hat, which is made in Ecuador. However, it is the only place in the world where you can watch the sun rise on the Pacific Ocean and set on the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s also home to a lot of offshore companies, according to the millions of records leaked from the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm. The Guardian reported 12 national leaders were among 143 politicians, athletes, and wealthy individuals (including family members and associates) who were participating in offshore tax havens.  Click Here to Read 

April 4, 2016

It’s like déjà vu all over again!

This wasn’t the first quarter, or even the first year, that bond markets have not performed in the way Wall Street strategists have expected.

During 2014, bond yields were expected to rise. They did not.

During 2015, bonds were predicted to finish the year yielding about 2.8 percent to 3.3 percent. On December 31, they were at about 2.3 percent. Click Here to Read More 

March 28, 2016 

Are corporations in the United States struggling?

In its cover article last week, The Economist (a British publication), suggested there is not enough competition among American companies. It pointed out:

“Aggregate domestic profits are at near-record levels relative to GDP… High profits might be a sign of brilliant innovations or wise long-term investments were it not for the fact that they are also suspiciously persistent. A very profitable American firm has an 80 percent chance of being that way 10 years later. In the 1990s the odds were only about 50 percent.”

Click Here to Read More

March 21, 2016

There is ongoing debate about whether markets behave in rational ways.

The efficient market hypothesis suggests it’s impossible to outperform the stock market because current share prices reflect all relevant information. In other words, stocks should always trade at fair value and it should be impossible to invest in a stock that is overpriced or underpriced.

The Economist reported there are two issues efficient market theorists have trouble explaining. The first is market bubbles, “where entire markets get out of whack with traditional valuation measures and then collapse.” The other is pricing anomalies. For instance, value stocks are inexpensive relative to their asset values and tend to outperform over the long term. In a perfect market, pricing anomalies shouldn’t occur.  Click Here to Read More

March 14, 2016

The European Central Bank (ECB) was singing a tune that invigorated financial markets last week. The Wall Street Journal explained:

“The fresh measures included cuts to all three of the ECB’s main interest rates, €20 billion a month of additional bond purchases atop the ECB’s current €60 billion ($67 billion) program, and an expansion of its quantitative easing program to highly rated corporate bonds – all more aggressive steps than analysts had anticipated. The central bank also announced a series of ultracheap four-year loans to banks, some of which could be paid to borrow from the ECB.”

Most national indices in Europe gained ground last week. The Financial Times Stock Exchange Milano Italia Borsa (FTSE MIB), which measures the performance of the 40 most-traded stocks on the Italian national stock exchange, was up almost 4 percent. Spain’s Indice Bursatil Español Index (IBEX 35), which is comprised of the most liquid stocks trading on the Spanish continuous market, gained more than 3 percent. Major markets in the United States moved higher, as well.  Click Here to Read More

March 7, 2016

When Mark Twain’s death was reported in the United States, he was alive and well in London. He responded to news accounts with a note saying, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Last week’s jobs data suggest the same is true of reports that a recession is imminent in the United States. Barron’s explained:

“Thank goodness the mid-February fears of recession that brought markets to their knees – and the 10-year Treasury yield to a low of 1.53 percent – were overblown. Friday’s nonfarm payrolls report was the latest confirmation. It showed that 242,000 jobs were created last month, far more than expected and up from the previous month’s reading, which was itself revised higher.”   Click Here to Read More



February 29, 2016

It wasn’t as entertaining as the Fantastic Four, The Magnificent Seven, or Ocean’s 11 but, last week, we had an opportunity to watch the Group of 20 (G20).

The G20 stars finance ministers and central bankers from 19 countries and the European Union as well as representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The group meets periodically to discuss the global economy. Click Here to Read More

February 22, 2016

And the economic data says…

The United States economy is doing pretty well. So well that a March rate hike by the Federal  Reserve is not entirely out of the question. Barron’s described the situation like this:

“Squawking pessimism can't drown out what is a very respectable start to 2016. Economic data so far this year, apart from predictions of deflation and negative interest rates, could justify what was scheduled to be, but what soon seemed impossible, a rate hike at the March FOMC. Yes, global factors are a risk and are hurting the factory sector but service prices are definitely on the climb and vehicle prices and vehicle production, reflecting strength in domestic demand, are back up. Ignore the cacophony of doubt and look at the economic data for yourself!” Click Here to Read More

February 16, 2016

Are markets suffering from excessive worry? 

Last week, markets headed south because investors were concerned about the possibility of negative interest rates in the United States – even though the U.S. Federal Reserve has been tightening monetary policy (i.e., they’ve been raising interest rates).  Click Here to Read More

February 8, 2016

There was bad news and good news in last Friday’s unemployment report.
 
In the negative column, fewer jobs were created in the United States than economists had predicted, and January’s jobs gains were not as strong as December’s had been. In addition, the December jobs increase was revised downward from 292,000 to 252,000, according to Barron’s.
 
On the positive side of the ledger, more than 150,000 new jobs were added in January. The unemployment rate fell below 5 percent for the first time since February of 2008 and earnings increased. In total, average hourly earnings have moved 2.5 percent higher during the past 12 months.  Click Here to Read More

February 1, 2016

How low can you go?

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) dove into the negative interest rate rabbit hole last week when it dropped its benchmark interest rate to minus 0.1 percent. If you’ve been following Japan’s story, then you know the country has been struggling with deflation for almost two decades. The BOJ’s goal is to push inflation up to 2 percent. MarketWatch explained the idea behind negative interest rates:

“Central banks use their deposit to influence how banks handle their reserves. In the case of negative rates, central banks want to dissuade lenders from parking cash with them. The hope is that they will use that money to lend to individuals and businesses which, in turn, will spend the money and boost the economy and contribute to inflation.” Click Here to Read More

January 25, 2016

Investors breathed a sigh of relief last week when U.S. stock markets recovered from a tumble toward bear market territory with the grace of a Cirque du Soleil performer. Many stock markets around the world finished the week with gains, although national indices in Europe and the United States fared better, generally, than those in Asia.  Click Here to Read More