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Confidence is up, but will it lift the economy higher?

By | 2017, Money Moxie | No Comments

Looking at performance of the stock market over the last 12 months, one might assume that the economy is exploding upward. The rise has been driven mostly by a boost in consumer sentiment, which has taken off since the U.S. elections in November.

In 2017, consumer sentiment hit its highest level in more than 10 years!

Consumers represent 70 percent of the U.S. economy. Their confidence is crucial to future growth. Business spending is much smaller, but it is also much more volatile. So, when businesses are increasing their spending, the economy really has potential to move up. The good news is that optimism is also up for business executives.

Confidence data is nothing more than opinion polls. This is why they are referred to as soft data. Hard data represents real action. Typically, these go hand-in-hand: A change in one leads to a corresponding change in the other.

After inflation, consumer spending is up, but just by 2.8 percent.
The trend in the hard data does not match that of the soft data. The Federal Reserve does not seem concerned.

The Fed raised rates last December and March. Expectations are nearly 100 percent that it will raise them again in June–despite first quarter economic growth of 0.7 percent.

How does one reconcile the gap between opinion polls and actual improvement? What is likely to happen?

The U.S. economy is still improving. Unemployment is down to 4.4 percent. Corporate profits are up. Energy prices are down. Finally, global growth appears to be entering its first synchronized period of growth in two decades. According to BlackRock, European earnings are up nearly 20 percent in the last year.

Add to this good news the potential for positive surprises and it becomes more clear why a glass-is-half-full perspective is better.

  • Soft data could finally lift hard data
  • Increased global trade will help U.S. companies
  • Wages should rise with tight labor market
  • Deregulation could create more opportunities
  • Corporate tax reform may boost profits
  • Infrastructure spending could boost productivity

Any one of these surprises could help convert optimism into action. The timing is the greatest uncertainty, but that is no reason to be overly concerned. With so many positive economic changes occurring in the world right now, we believe there are plenty of opportunities
in 2017.

 

*Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The S&P 500 index often represents the U.S. stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Investing involves risk, including potential loss of principal. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based on market and other conditions, and should not be construed as a recommendation of any specific security or investment plan. SFS is not affiliated with any companies mentioned in this commentary.

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When Will Stocks Go Higher?

By | 2016, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Stocks got off to a rough start in January and February as investors began to fear another recession. At the same time, consumers continued to keep the U.S. economy moving in the right direction. This divergence caused us to ask, which one is right? Are things getting better or worse? If the market is going to improve how strong will it be? Below is a list of what I think we need for stocks to move to new highs. Feel free to check the boxes if they become a reality.

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(1) Oil prices stabilize.
Investors need a dose of reality: low oil prices are good for the economy. Falling oil prices often follow, but do not lead to, recessions. What we need is for prices to stop declining so rapidly.

Oil is falling because the global supply is much
greater than demand. Even at these low prices, producers need to pump oil for cash. Fortunately, the decline is slowing. This is because demand and supply are getting close to a balanced level.

Global oil demand is at 96.5 million barrels/day and growing at 1.5%. Global supply is at 96.9 million barrels/day and is currently falling at a rate of -0.5%. This does not mean prices will move significantly higher, but they may stop falling.

With sanctions lifted, Iran could boost supply by 4 million barrels/day. Demand won’t grow fast enough to balance that much oil for a few years.

So, get used to low oil prices. They may be with us for a while–probably until several indebted producers cease oil production. At that point, oil prices could rise a little, fear over corporate debt should ease, and stocks will be more likely to climb.

(2) Political frontrunners emerge.
Who will be the next President of the United States? Investors are uncomfortable with this uncertainty, but they don’t have to wait until Election Day to feel better. With each election primary, the uncertainty diminishes.

(3) The Fed acknowledges global volatility.
What happened to “data dependence”? With its December rate hike the Federal Reserve announced that it intends to slowly raise rates in 2016 and 2017. It defined slowly as four rate hikes of 25 basis points each.

Rather than applaud transparency, investors have questioned the Fed’s determination.

Globally, central banks are doing the opposite: dropping rates to levels below zero in order to encourage risk taking, economic growth, and job creation.

(4) Evidence of consumer spending increases.
Will consumers continue to hold up this economy? The U.S. consumer represents 70% of the U.S. economy. China, on the other hand, represents approximately 2% of direct trade with the United States. That means that the consumer is 35 times more important.

Consumers are stronger than any time in the last 25 years. They are pocketing roughly $1,000 a year in energy savings. In 2015, spending increased 3% while purchases rose for autos (+5.8%) and homes (+7.5%).

With all of the good news about the consumer, the main concern is if these numbers are peaking. I think not. Unemployment is low (4.9%). Job postings are high (5.4 million). Wages and salaries increased by a reasonable and healthy level (+2.9%).

The final bit of good news on the consumer is that their debt-to-income levels are near their lowest point since the government started tracking them in 1981. That means there is still room for this 70% of the economy
to grow.

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