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Market Commentary

October 16, 2017

There’s a new kid in town: narrative economics.

Last week, Richard Thaler was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics. His work in behavioral economics and finance recognizes not all economic and financial decisions are made after rational reflection. In Nudge, he wrote:

“The workings of the human brain are more than a bit befuddling. How can we be so ingenious at some tasks and so clueless at others?…Many psychologists and neuroscientists have been converging on a description of the brain’s functioning that helps us make sense of these seeming contradictions. The approach involves a distinction between two kinds of thinking, one that is intuitive and automatic, and another that is reflective and rational.”Click Here to Read More

October 9, 2017

Slow and steady... 

It has been 332 days since the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index experienced a 5 percent drop, reported Barron’s. If there isn’t a selloff on Monday or Tuesday, this will become the longest rally without such a drop.

During this period, the Index has gained 33 percent. Think about that for a moment: 33 percent over 332 days. By Barron’s calculations, the market has gained less than 0.1 percent per day. That’s a very slow rate of increase, relatively speaking. The longest-ever rally without a 5 percent drop, which began in November 1994, was accompanied by a gain of 56 percent or 0.17 percent per day.Click Here to Read More

October 2, 2017

A lot happened during the third quarter of 2017, but not much changed.

The bull market in U.S. stocks continued to charge ahead. Traditional measures of valuation continued to suggest the market is overvalued, but some analysts argued it’s different this time. The Economist explained:

“The current [cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings] ratio of 31 suggests that stocks are about 50% over-valued – a figure that has only been exceeded in the past 60 years during the dot-com bubble. Bulls argue that the S&P 500’s constituents can justify this heady valuation. Big American companies are wielding increased market power, enabling them to earn outsized profits at the expense of America’s customers.”Click Here to Read More

September 25, 2017

Geopolitics, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin'!

In January, Robert Kahn of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in Global Economics Monthly:

“Markets showed impressive resilience in the face of a range of geopolitical shocks in 2016, but recent market moves suggest this year could be different…It should be the year that global geopolitical risks provide the volatility in markets that I, and many other economists, have been predicting for some time.”Click Here to Read More

September 18, 2017

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is.”

Yogi Berra was talking about baseball, but the concept also applies to diversification, according to the GMO White Paper, The S&P 500: Just Say No. From the title, you might think the authors – Matt Kadnar and James Montier – don’t like U.S. stocks. They do:Click Here to Read More

September 11, 2017

Last week, the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and potency of Hurricane Irma dominated hearts and minds, but there were some diversions and some welcome news, too.

The NFL kicked off its 2017 season with the Chiefs’ win over the Patriots. The men’s U.S. soccer team tied Honduras to stay in the running for a World Cup spot. And, Sloane Stephens made the jump from 957th best on the women’s tennis tour to U.S. Open Champion.

Also, last week, President Trump signed a bipartisan bill authorizing relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey. The damage from Harvey has been estimated at about $50 billion, reported Yahoo! Finance, and the damage from Hurricane Irma may be even greater.

The signed bill also raised the debt ceiling, avoided a U.S. Treasury default, and funded the government for three months. These aspects of the legislation may have been more important to stock markets, according to a source cited by Barron’s:Click Here to Read More

September 5, 2017

When it comes to economic growth, the government doesn’t measure twice. It measures three times.

Last week, the Bureau of Economic Analysis revised its initial estimate that the gross domestic product (GDP), which is the value of all goods and services produced by a country or region, grew by 2.6 percent during the second quarter of 2017. The second estimate indicated the economy grew by 3.0 percent from April through June. The third and final GDP estimate for the second quarter will become available near the end of September.

The New York Times reported:Click Here to Read More

August 28, 2017

Hope floats.

Optimism about possible pro-growth economic policies, including tax reform and deregulation, helped U.S. stock indices finish higher last week, reported Barron’s. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. Stocks bobbed up and down as investors’ optimism was weighted by concerns about a possible debt-ceiling battle and government shutdown.

CNN offered some insight to the historic economic impact of government shutdowns on productivity:Click Here to Read More

August 21, 2017

Here, there, and everywhere… 

Markets around the world appear to be benefitting from global economic recovery. 

After pointing out the United States’ economy is the heart of the global financial system, Barron’s reported:Click Here to Read More

August 14, 2017

North Korea may be a little country, but it can churn up big trouble.

The possibility that verbal hostilities between the United States and North Korea could trigger geopolitical conflict had investors on the run last week. In the United States, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell by 1.4 percent, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1.1 percent, and the NASDAQ Composite finished 1.5 percent lower.Click Here to Read More 

July 31, 2017

There was some good news and some bad news last week.

First, the good news: Thanks to consumer spending and an upturn in federal government spending, the U.S. economy grew faster from April through June this year. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 2.6 percent during the period, according to the advance estimate for economic growth. This was an improvement over growth from January through March, when GDP increased by 1.2 percent.

Now, the bad news: Personal income did not grow as fast from April through June as it did from January through March. Wages and salaries grew at a slower pace, as did government social benefits and other sources of income. The New York Times wrote:Click Here to Read More

July 24, 2017

Do we have central banks to thank?

Low interest rates, accommodative monetary policy, and improving economic growth have helped stock markets around the world reach record highs, reports Barron’s:

“…a look around the globe shows the surge of the U.S. market to new peaks to be anything but unique. Major [markets] in Europe and Asia also have been setting records. Even in South Korea, the Kospi closed at a new peak and is up 25 percent from its 52-week low last year, as the global technology rally has proved to be more powerful than the threat of a nuclear-missile launch from North Korea. Last week also saw a record close in the S&P BSE Sensex in India. Japan’s Nikkei is up 25 percent from last August and near a 52-week high (albeit still down 48 percent from its 1989 bubble peak). The Shanghai Composite is a relative laggard, with a 9.6 percent gain from its August lows, bolstered by a 3.7 percent jump over the past five weeks.”Click Here to Read More

July 17, 2017

It was a good week for a lot of stocks but not bank stocks.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) both finished at record highs last week. Barron’s indicated investors owe Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen a debt of gratitude:

“The main force behind the rally was the dovish performance by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen in Congress on Wednesday and Thursday when she reiterated that rate hikes would most likely be gradual. On balance, her remarks were interpreted as evidence of continued accommodative monetary policy and, from there, stocks were off to the races. The ignition of the rally can almost be time-stamped to her appearance. Before her speech, the market was down for the week.”Click Here to Read More

July 10, 2017

Things you may want to know…

Last Friday, Financial Times (FT) published, ‘Five markets charts that matter for investors.’ Among the issues addressed in the charts were:

The bond market bear watch. The yield on 10-year German Bunds (Germany’s government bonds) reached an 18-month high of 0.58 percent recently. Yields rose after the European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi indicated its stimulus efforts would end at some point.

When bond yields rise, bond values fall, and that makes rising interest rates quite a significant event for anyone who holds lower yielding bonds. In the United States, 10-year U.S. Treasuries moved to a seven-week high last week and then dipped lower following the release of the Federal Open Market Committee meeting minutes, reported CNBC.com.Click Here to Read More 

July 3, 2017

This is the way the quarter ends – with a central bank scare.

Central bankers are stodgy. They speak carefully. For many, reading the words ‘Federal Reserve’ is enough to cause boredom to set in and web surfing to ensue.Click Here to Read More

June 26, 2017

It has been a very good year, so far.

Through the end of last week, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index posted 24 record highs and delivered returns in the high single digits. The MSCI World ex USA Index was up more than 11 percent, and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index gained more than 17 percent.

After reading those numbers, many people would assume bond markets are down for the year. After all, stock and bond markets tend to move in different directions. Zacks explained,Click Here to Read More

June 19, 2017

All eyes on inflation!

Inflation is the way economists measure changes in the prices of goods and services. The United States has enjoyed relatively low inflation for a significant period of time. Last week, the consumer price index indicated inflation had moved lower in May.

Inflation is our focus because it is at the core of two very different opinions that currently are influencing markets and investors. A commentary on the Kitco Blog explained:Click Here to Read More


June 12, 2017

Stock market historians may dub 2017 the Xanax year. Traditional historians will probably choose a different moniker.

Stock markets in many advanced economies have been unusually calm during 2017, reported Schwab’s Jeffrey Kleintop in a May 15, 2017 commentary. The CBOE Volatility Index, a.k.a. the Fear Gauge, which measures how volatile investors believe the S&P 500 Index will be over the next few months, has fallen below 10 on just 15 days since the index was introduced in 1990. Six of the 15 occurred during 2017. The average daily closing value for the VIX was 19.7 from 1990 through 2016. For 2017, the average has been 11.8.

Investors’ calm is remarkable because 2017 has not been a particularly calm year. We’ve experienced significant geopolitical events. For example, the U.S. launched a military strike on Syria, and dropped its biggest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan. There have been terrorist attacks in Europe, along with discord in the Middle East. The European Union has been unraveling. The U.S. government has shown unusual levels of disarray, and the U.S. President’s passion for Tweets has stirred the pot.Click Here to Read More

June 5, 2017

The bull market in U.S. stocks is getting really old!

In fact, this bull has been charging, standing, or sitting for more than eight years. In April, it became the second longest bull market in American history, according to CNN Money.

There are some good reasons the stock market in the United States has continued to trend higher. For one, companies have become more profitable. During the first quarter of 2017, companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index reported earnings increased by 14 percent, year-over-year. That was the highest earnings growth rate since 2011, according to FactSet.Click Here to Read More

May 30, 2017

Is preparing for the future more important than enjoying the present?

There is a lot to enjoy today. Last week, Financial Times wrote:

“Wall Street ended an impressive week on a steady note – eking out a tiny gain to a fresh record close – as oil prices recouped some of the previous day’s steep losses and the latest U.S. Gross Domestic Product data reinforced expectations for a June rate rise.”Click Here to Read More

May 22, 2017

How much is too much?

There has been no shortage of drama since the new administration took office – legislative setbacks, controversial hiring and firing, and fiery tweets on various topics. Regardless, U.S. investors and markets remained stalwart until last week when the CBOE Volatility Index (a.k.a. the fear gauge) jumped 46 percent higher and markets declined.

Financial Times explained:

“…a range of stock benchmarks made their biggest single-day fall since November, as the political controversy over Donald Trump ties with Russia undermined investors’ faith in the administration’s ability to enact its pro-growth policies. Markets subsequently steadied, but investors are primed for further volatility as the White House faces the distraction of a lengthy inquiry led by an independent special counsel.”Click Here to Read More

May 15, 2017

Does performance tell the whole story?

American stock markets have delivered some exceptional performance in recent years. Just look at the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index. Barron’s reported the S&P 500, including reinvested dividends, has returned 215 percent since April 30, 2009. The index is currently trading 50 percent above its 2007 high.

The rest of the world’s stocks, as measured by the MSCI EAFE Index, which includes stocks from developed countries in Europe, Australia, and the Far East, returned 97 percent in U.S. dollars during the same period. At the end of April, the MSCI EAFE Index was 20 percent below its 2007 high.Click Here to Read More

May 8, 2017

Is it complacency? Exuberance? Uncertainty? Exhaustion? Insight? Intuition?

Last week, all three major U.S. stock markets gained value and two reached new record highs. On the face of it, that’s great news for stock investors. However, if you look below the surface, the markets’ upward trend may have you scratching your head.

Barron’s reported:Click Here to Read More

May 1, 2017

It was a good week to own stocks.

Not all financial news was good news last week, but that didn’t prevent U.S. stock markets from moving higher. Barron’s reported on the good news:

“This past week, welcome political news from Europe, a batch of stellar corporate-earnings reports, and a concrete tax proposal to cut corporate and some personal rates sharply gave the bull even more reasons to rally. By Friday’s close, the Dow Jones industrials and other market measures were standing near all-time highs.”Click Here to Read More

April 24, 2017

Last week, investors multi-tasked, pushing both U.S. bond and stock markets higher.

In March, the Federal Reserve raised the Fed funds rates for the second time in three months. Typically, we would expect interest rates to rise and bond prices to fall, but interest rates have been falling and bond prices have been moving higher. Barron’s reported yields on 10-year Treasuries hit their lowest levels since the election last week.

Reuters explained there has been a shift in expectations:Click Here to Read More

April 17, 2017

And the survey said...

In late 2016, Natixis Global surveyed 500 institutional decision makers representing corporate pension plans, public pension plans, sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies, foundations, and endowments. Survey participants said market volatility, geopolitics, and interest rates were their top risk concerns for 2017.

So far, U.S. stock markets haven’t proven to be very volatile, but geopolitics caused some disruption last week. Barron’s reported:Click Here to Read More

April 10, 2017

U.S. stock markets are sending mixed signals.

If you look at the performance of the CBOE Volatility Index (a.k.a. the VIX or fear gauge), which is a measure of market expectations for volatility in the near future, it appears all is well and investors expect no unexpected events. Barron’s explained:

“…which brings us back to a central fact: the absence of volatility. The first quarter was historic for the CBOE Volatility Index...It ranged from 10.6 to 13.1, and its average level was 11.69, the lowest in an initial quarter since the VIX was born in 1990 and the second-lowest quarterly average since the 11.3 of 2006’s final three months...”Click Here to Read More

April 3, 2017

Happy birthday!

Toward the end of the first quarter, the bull market celebrated its eighth birthday. David Kelly, Chief Global Strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management wrote:

“Eight years ago, on March 9, 2009, the S&P 500 closed at 677, down 57 percent from where it had been just 18 months earlier. 10-year Treasury yields had fallen from 3.6 percent to 2.9 percent over the previous year…Investors were depressed and scared. However, good long-term returns from stocks were almost inevitable at that point since economic and market fundamentals were at unsustainably low levels…Eight years later, the financial landscape has changed completely…it still makes sense to be in long-term investments including both domestic stocks and bonds. However, it is time to adopt a more diversified and thoughtful approach that recognizes the importance of valuations…”Click Here to Read More

March 27, 2017

You’ve read it before – and it’s true. Markets hate uncertainty.

Failure to pass the American Healthcare Act, which was supported by Republican leaders in Congress and President Trump, may have spooked U.S. stock markets last week.

In an article titled, “How To Make Investing Decisions Based On Politics: Don't,” Nasdaq.com reported controversy over the bill was “raising questions about [Republicans’] ability to focus on and pass policies that the market has been eagerly anticipating, such as tax reform and infrastructure spending.” Financial Times concurred:Click Here to Read More

March 20, 2017

Three steps and no stumble…

Technical analyst Edson Gould developed a market rule of thumb known as ‘three steps and a stumble.’ It states stock prices may fall after the Federal Reserve (Fed) raises the Fed funds rate three times in a row without a decline, according to Market Technicians Association. [1]

The idea is three increases show the Fed is serious about keeping rates at a relatively high level for a significant length of time. Higher interest rates could potentially mean higher costs and lower profits for businesses. As a result, stock investors may sell shares and share prices may fall. [2]Click Here to Read More

March 13, 2017

Rate hike ahead…maybe.

Last week’s U.S. employment report was better than expected. The United States added 235,000 jobs in February, which was a few more than economists had forecast.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the positive economic data helped push U.S. stock markets lower. The jobs report was a sign the American economy continues to be strong and indicates a rate hike may be on the horizon. Barron’s reported:Click Here to Read More

March 6, 2017

It was a grand slam.

Major U.S. stock markets were positively euphoric following President Trump’s speech on February 28. Optimism about the new administration’s pro-growth policies propelled the four major U.S. stock indices to record highs, despite a dearth of policy details, reported Financial Times.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why stocks have moved so far, so quickly. However, it appears that mom-and-pop investors have become quite enthusiastic about the asset class according to data from JPMorgan Chase cited by Bloomberg. While institutional investors (pensions, insurance companies, etc.) have been reducing exposure to stocks, smaller investors have been loading up on shares.Click Here to Read More

February 27, 2017

Once upon a time, five blind men discovered an elephant. Each man examined a different part of the elephant and formed a unique impression about the animal. One believed an elephant was like a pillar, while another decided an elephant was like a snake.

In recent weeks, stock and bond markets have been telling different stories, too.

Following a rally on Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished at a record high for the 11th time last week. Reuters reported major U.S. benchmark indices have been driven higher by optimism about tax reform, eased regulation, and increased infrastructure spending.Click Here to Read More

February 21, 2017

Up!

Four major U.S. benchmark stock indices closed at record highs for four consecutive days during Valentine’s Day week, reported Financial Times (FT).

To date, positive corporate earnings and robust investor confidence have offset fiscal and political uncertainty and helped push U.S. stock markets higher, said sources cited by FT. With 82 percent of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index reporting, corporate earnings are up 4.6 percent for the fourth quarter of 2016, and the Investors Intelligence Advisors Sentiment survey showed bullishness at a 12-year high last week, according to CNBC.com.Click Here to Read More

February 13, 2017

What’s the word ‘phenomenal’ worth? It all depends on who says it.

Barron’s shared Wilshire Associates’ calculations which indicated the word was worth about $175 billion – the amount markets gained last Thursday – when President Trump used it to describe the tax plan his administration will deliver “ahead of schedule.” Markets gained another $100 billion in value on Friday. Barron’s reported:

“While tax reform is definitely coming, a final bill is still a long way off, and a 2017 effective date is looking less likely…Yet, as the action late last week suggests, the equity markets are more than willing to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt. Something’s coming, even if we don’t know what or when. And that seems good enough to bid stocks higher…”Click Here to Read More

February 6, 2017

U.S. stock markets were unsettled last week.

President Trump's executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries to the United States for 90 days, in tandem with some disappointing earnings reports, inspired turmoil and uncertainty that helped push U.S. stock markets lower early in the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped below 20,000.

Mid-week, markets remained sanguine after the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged. An economist cited by Barron’s saidClick Here to Read More


January 30, 2017

An historic moment for U.S. stock markets…

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surpassed 20,000 last week. Barron’s cautioned investors not to make too much of the milestone since, “There are only 30 stocks in the index so each one carries a lot of weight.”

Regardless of the significance of the Dow’s move, U.S. stock markets generally were upbeat about President Trump’s first week in office. Financial Times reported ‘animal spirits’ – a term British economist John Maynard Keynes used to describe the emotions that drive consumer and investor confidence – returned as rapid executive action indicated the new President would follow through on campaign promises, including infrastructure spending.Click Here to Read More


January 23, 2017

Markets weren’t quite sure which direction to move last week.

The Trump rally, which lost some steam, gained momentum early in the week. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index finished January 19, the day before the inauguration, with its biggest election-to-inauguration gain since Bill Clinton won a second term in 1996, according to MarketWatch, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average remained within striking distance of 20,000, according to Yahoo!Finance.

On Friday, President Trump delivered his inauguration address, but it didn’t resolve the uncertainty that has been nagging investors. The speech mentioned infrastructure activity, brushed over stimulus spending and tax cuts, and leaned heavily into protectionism. Mr. Trump said:Click Here to Read More

January 17, 2017

Around the world in a few paragraphs…

The post-election adrenaline rush may be over in the United States. Barron’s reported:

“The new year began with high hopes, with the bulls expecting the rally that began with Donald J. Trump’s election victory to continue into 2017, while the bears salivated at the opportunity presented by a market that had gotten way ahead of itself. Instead, the market has failed to break up or down…At his press conference last week, Trump covered a lot of ground…But he didn’t cover the three subjects investors especially wanted to hear about – namely taxes, fiscal policy, and infrastructure. As a result, some of the primary beneficiaries of the Trump trade stalled: The S&P 500 Financials index declined 0.1 percent, while the energy sector dropped 1.9 percent.”Click Here to Read More

January 9, 2017

…And, they’re off!

Bullish sentiment helped world equity markets get off to a fast start last week. Just name a country or region – developed markets, emerging markets, the United States, Latin America, Asia, Europe, the United Kingdom – and it’s likely the area’s benchmark index may have been up for the week.

Not everyone was in the bullish camp, though. Barron’s reported:

“The market optimism is understandable. After a long spell of zero interest rates, a baton transfer from monetary manipulation to fiscal stimulus and pro-growth chutzpah can be an exciting regime change…But investors’ hopes could be misplaced. It would be one thing if there were shovel-ready infrastructure projects or proposed tax cuts on the table that could quickly boost spending. Instead, Republicans propose, for example, changing the basis for corporate tax from location of operations to location of sales. The aim is to encourage domestic production and exports, but the plan could hurt companies that import materials or goods. Will big importers like [big box stores] pass the tax hit onto consumers by raising prices?” Click Here to Read More

January 3, 2017

What a difference a year makes! At the start of 2016, investors were rather pessimistic and risk averse, preferring bonds to stocks. By the end of the year, they were quite optimistic and preferred stocks to bonds. In between, markets traveled a bumpy road.

During January of last year, few investors imagined we would be where we are today. Markets started 2016 in a tailspin with investors worried about slower growth in China, U.S. economic strength, oil price declines, and the possibility of a global recession.

During the first 10 trading days of 2016, U.S. stock markets got off to their worst start for any year on record, reported Financial Times. The Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index lost about $1.4 trillion in value and every major sector in the index was in the red, except for utilities.Click Here to Read More

December 27, 2016

Missed it by that much…

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) got within 13 points of 20,000 last Tuesday. It finished the week about 90 points below the vaunted milestone. “The Dow has gained nearly 10 percent since the end of October, more than double its 4.1 percent rise during the first nine months of the year, spurred in part by Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” Barron’s reported.

The major U.S. indices have been strong performers since early November. Many people are wondering whether they will continue to do well in 2017. The Economist suggested 2017 could hold a surprise that will negatively affect investors’ expectations:Click Here to Read More

December  19, 2016

The Federal Reserve put a hitch in the markets’ giddy-up last week.

It wasn’t the Fed’s second interest rate hike in a decade that caused markets to stumble. December’s rate hike was old news before it happened. In mid-December, Reuters reported Fed funds futures indicated there was a 97 percent probability the Fed would raise rates one-quarter percent at its December Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting. In addition, all 120 economists polled by Reuters agreed rates were headed higher.

It was the dot plot – a chart showing FOMC members’ assessments of appropriate monetary policy going forward – that unsettled investors. Barron’s explained:

“The market, however, was surprised when the Fed turned ever-so more hawkish, with its “dot plot” indicating three rate hikes next year, up from two. Still, stocks handled the news better than might be expected, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropping 0.8 percent immediately following the announcement but still finishing the week down just 0.1 percent to 2258.07. The NASDAQ Composite fell 0.1 percent to 5437.16, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 86.56 points, or 0.4 percent, to 19843.41, its sixth consecutive winning week.” Click Here to Read More

December 12, 2016

Dad: “Fra-gee-lay” …it must be Italian!
Mom: I think that says “fragile,” honey.
Dad: Oh, yeah.

This holiday season, investors’ enthusiasm for U.S. stocks has rivaled old man Parker’s passion for his major-award leg lamp in ‘A Christmas Story.’ Last week, three major U.S. indices hit all-time highs. Click Here to Read More

December 5, 2016

Flirting with higher interest rates.

Last week, yields on 10-year Treasury bonds rose to a 17-month high of 2.44 percent, reported The Wall Street Journal, before retreating to finish the week at about 2.4 percent.

As we’ve mentioned previously, some experts suspect the bull market in bonds, which has persisted for more than 30 years, may be headed into bear territory. In part, this is because the U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to increase the fed funds rate in December. Last week, CME’s FedWatch Tool indicated there was almost a 99 percent chance the Fed would raise rates in December. Bond yields often reflect the actions of the Fed. If interest rates rise, bond prices move lower, resulting in a higher bond yields. Click Here to Read More

November  28, 2016

It’s a myth!

According to WebMD, the amino acid L-Tryptophan is not responsible for Americans’ post-Thanksgiving food coma. The real culprit is overeating. So, last week’s post-feast sleepiness can be blamed on big appetites.

Investors also indulged their appetite for risk last week. Barron’s reported:

“…the stock market sent all four major U.S. benchmarks – the Standard & Poor’s 500, the Dow industrials, the NASDAQ Composite, and the Russell 2000 – to record highs last week, on the same day. Lest you think that’s an easy feat, we haven’t seen such a gathering at the summit since December 31, 1999, back when we had juvenile waistlines and Napster accounts. Then, for emphasis and encore, the market did it again a day later, a back-to-back fete the likes of which we haven’t seen since the positively Pleistocene era…of 1998. The buying binge continued on Friday, after Thanksgiving’s regrettable interruption, propelling the indexes to – you guessed it – more record highs.” Click Here to Read More

November 21, 2016

This time it’s the end. Really. Possibly.

It seems like experts have been forecasting the end of the bull market in bonds for years – and they have been doing so. In July 2010, bond guru Bill Gross predicted the 28-year bull market in bonds was near an end and, as interest rates moved higher, bond values would move lower. The Federal Reserve’s first round of quantitative easing had ended in March 2010, and he couldn’t know a second round, which would keep interest rates low, would begin in November 2010. Click Here to read more


November 14, 2016

Surprise!

Markets were remarkably sanguine following the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States.

There was a moment of panic. As election results rolled in on Tuesday, Gold prices rose and Treasury yields fell, as investors sought safe havens. Dow Futures, a measure of overnight sentiment, fell by 4 percent, and Standard & Poor’s 500 futures dropped 5 percent. (When index futures trade lower before the market opens, it is an indication investors expect the actual index to trade lower when the market opens.)

The losses triggered market circuit breakers, forcing investors to take a moment. They listened to President-elect Trump’s conciliatory acceptance speech, reassessed the political and economic landscape, and liked what they saw, according to Barron’s. Financial Times offered this assessment: Click Here to Read More

November 7, 2016

Markets hate uncertainty – and that may create opportunities.

Last week, investors experienced another bout of election jitters, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Index fell for the ninth straight session.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), a.k.a. the fear gauge, which measures the expected volatility of the S&P 500 during the next 30 days, was up more than 40 percent for the week. The shift in the VIX reflected investors’ concerns about stock market performance after the election. Many think the next four weeks will offer a rough ride.

That may prove to be the case; however, all of the election hoopla and hyperbole has obscured some positive news. So far, the third quarter earnings season has been going well. According to FactSet, 85 percent of companies in the S&P 500 Index have reported earnings and the blended earnings growth rate for the Index is 2.7 percent. That means the S&P 500 Index is on track to experience its first quarter of earnings growth after five quarters of falling earnings. Click Here to Read More

October 31, 2016

It’s almost over…

During July 2016, Pew Research reported almost 60 percent of Americans were suffering from election fatigue. They weren’t uninterested in the election. They were just worn out by never-ending news coverage that focused on candidates’ comments, personal lives, and standing in the polls rather than their moral character, experience, and stance on issues. Click Here to Read More

October 24, 2016

“Verrrry interesting.”

Arte Johnson’s catch phrase from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In may not have described U.S. stock markets last week, but there were some interesting economic, cyber-security, and consumer developments around the world.

Major U.S. stock indices finished the week slightly higher. Experts, cited by Barron’s, suggested markets seemed tired and were waiting for clarity around the U.S. election outcome, Federal Reserve rate increase, and corporate quarterly earnings. Click Here to Read More

October 17, 2016

‘Tis the season!

Third quarter earnings season, that is.

Every quarter, companies report earnings to let investors know how profitable the companies were during the quarter. When profits grow, a company’s share price may move higher. When profits decline, a company’s share price may move lower.

For five consecutive quarters, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) has been in an earnings recession – the earnings for the companies in the index have declined every quarter. Another earnings decline is expected for the third quarter. As of September 30, analysts estimated a -2.0 percent earnings decline for the third quarter, according to FactSet. Click Here to Read More

October 10, 2016

Was it good news or wasn’t it?

The U.S. unemployment rate ticked higher last week. The September jobs report showed the United States added 156,000 new jobs in September. That was 16,000 fewer than economists were expecting and 11,000 fewer than were added in August, according to Barron’s.

That doesn’t sound like good news, does it? Click Here to Read More

October 3, 2016

Markets were relatively calm during the third quarter of 2016, yet they delivered some attractive returns overall.

In the United States, all three major U.S. indices posted record highs twice during a single 7-day period in August, reported CNBC.com. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) experienced a 51-day streak without at least a 1 percent decline. The index returned 3.3 percent in the third quarter.

Investors were fairly complacent until comments by Federal Reserve officials raised awareness the Fed might raise rates during 2016, possibly as early as September. The S&P 500 lost 2.5 percent and the VIX, known as the market’s fear gauge, rose 40 percent in a single day. The upheaval was short-lived and U.S. stocks rebounded quickly. Click Here to Read More

September 26, 2016

As expected…

The U.S. Federal Reserve left rates unchanged last week and markets celebrated. Across the globe, national stock market indices finished the week higher. In the United States, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and NASDAQ gained more than 1 percent.

Not everyone was thrilled with the decision, however. Three Federal Reserve presidents cast dissenting votes. All believed interest rates should move higher. That’s the most dissents since December 2014 when even the dissenters were divided about what should happen.

Click Here to Read More

September 19, 2016

If it’s not one thing, it may be another.

Economic data released last week will factor into this week’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) decision on whether to push interest rates higher in the United States. Some of the August data supports the idea economic growth was soft. For example, August retail sales fell more than expected, down 0.3 percent from July. Other data was as expected: U.S. producer prices were flat, which was in line with expectations.

Click Here to Read More

September 12, 2016

Blame it on the central banks!

After 44 consecutive sleepy, summer days when Barron’s reported the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index opened and closed without a 1 percent move in either direction, the index tumbled last week – and so did indices in other markets around the world. What roused investors from complacency? Some experts pointed their fingers at central banks:

“Three central banks announced their monetary policy decisions during the week and all three maintained the status quo and did not change policy. The news disappointed the markets – they were looking for more stimulus. And, in some cases, good economic data was interpreted as bad news because it meant that there was less of a probability of more stimulus.”

Click Here to Read More


September 6, 2016

Economists and market analysts have been thinking a lot about the Federal Reserve and the actions it may take before the end of 2016. Friday’s employment numbers helped fan the speculative fire. The U.S. Labor Department reported the unemployment rate remained at 4.9 percent with 151,000 jobs added during August.

The broad market consensus was 180,000 jobs would be created, according to MarketWatch. The publication cited a source as saying the report, “…wasn’t strong enough to force the Fed to raise rates in September, but it also wasn’t weak enough to raise concern about the U.S. economy or dampen the outlook for corporate earnings. As such it’s a mildly dovish report…”

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 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 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