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Tuesday, May 15, 2018
At about 70% of GDP, the U.S. consumer is the game changer in economic growth. Consumption, income and retail sales have achieved all-time highs.

Retail sales increased for the second month in a row, up .3% in April and up a revised .8% in March. In absolute terms, retail sales hit a record $497.5 billion. Sure, gas sales were higher because of higher oil prices but shoppers were also splurging on new spring wardrobes and home and garden merchandise. The latest consumer numbers bode well for 2Q GDP, which is widely expected to be north of 3%. Consumer spending is a huge piece of the GDP pie but too much spending is like too much pie. Overspending leads to high consumer debt levels and lack of savings for retirement, which impedes long-term future growth. And nobody really needs that many pairs of shoes. Speaking of retirement, if you have not saved anything it is never too late to start. If you forgo 1 fancy coffee and 1 bottle of water each day and invest that 5 dollars you can have $63,000 in 15 years (based on the last 15 years S&P annualized return of ~10%). Cutting expenses is an obvious way to save. In addition, paying down high interest rate credit card debt is a no-brainer. Working longer is another option, especially in this tight labor market where your skills may be highly valued. Moving to a lower cost area may also be necessary. Finally, become a bargain hunter. The internet makes it so easy to shop you don’t have to actually dig through store bins. Although my sister recently found this Hermes cashmere shawl at the Goodwill store for $3.99. Please follow retail sales on page 12 of the Global Perspectives Book.

Friday, May 11, 2018
Returns for a globally diversified strategy over the last 10 years refute the notion of a “lost decade”.

The market is back on the fundamental track for now and many investors are kicking themselves for missing last month’s gain of 3.4% on the S&P 500. The market may be off to a comparatively slow start after last year’s 22% return but investors need to exhibit patience and discipline. Double-digit returns are not the norm although the S&P 500 has had a pretty good run and as of 4/30/2018 it posted a 15-year annualized return of 9.5%. While the S&P 500 has been a portfolio favorite since the recession, compare its returns to the 15-year annualized returns of Midcaps, up 11.7%, Small Caps up 12.3%, Global REITS up 10.1% and Emerging Markets up 12.6%. Each asset class is special in its own way in terms of risk, return and contribution to diversification. Don’t pick a favorite, love them all. Wishing all of our special, wonderful, loving Moms a very Happy Mother’s Day this weekend. Please see the long-term annualized returns across asset classes on page 4 of the Global Perspectives Book.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The tug of war between good news and worry is finally favoring the good news. Inflation is now out of the deflation-zone danger but it’s not too hot. Core inflation rose .1% in April, a little less than expected and held steady at 2.1% over a year ago. Interest rates are rising but they are not surging. The 10-year UST yield is still hovering just below 3%. Oil prices have rallied, helping the out of favor energy stocks regain some mojo, but haven’t pushed high enough to put a dent in consumer spending. The China trade war is on hold, as negotiations seem to be progressing. And most importantly, earnings have not peaked. In fact, in absolute terms, the second quarter dollar amount is actually higher than Q1 and estimates for Q2 growth have moved up to 19% and are likely to go higher. The bears need to hibernate for a while because it looks like most of the geopolitical news has been priced in as well. One possible piece of negative news - the Wall Street Journal reported today that beer sales are down. Oh no.

Please watch Karyn Cavanaugh's latest market comments on CNBC.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I read the May FOMC press report as signaling that the Fed will remain data dependent throughout 2018. I think it will take a breakout of inflation, real wage growth in excess of productivity or an investment slowdown to prompt a fourth 2018 hike. The Fed noted its policy is “symmetric” which says that the Fed will have to allow the PCE deflator to move a bit above 2% to retain credibility in its statements and intentions. The data already show that trend PCE inflation is lifting, currently at 1.8% up from the low of 1% in 2016 but still on top of the 20-year mean.
But how far above 2%? It strikes that this is more of a Fed-behavior question than a straight statistical question. The data show that 20-year mean in the PCE deflator is 1.8%, and that it is statistically “symmetric”. That is important but does not provide a guidepost to the Fed’s objectives. Frankly it is doubtful that the Fed will allow as much upside deviation as the -3% deviation in the financial crisis. I believe that the Fed’s reaction function will be data dependent. There are likely to be four gauges the Fed will consider: the headline itself (now at target); shorter inflation trends (six-month annualized rate now at 2.2%); core PCE inflation developments (currently at 1.7%); and real wage growth (at 0.9%, less than productivity growth). Taken together, there is not enough data for the Fed to become aggressive and begin to hike more than currently advertised - yet. Along with lessened ‘slack’ (low unemployment rate), there are reasons for them to be vigilant, but not enough to get aggressive. The stronger USD is likely to help contain oil prices (perhaps driven by Iran/Venezuela more than monetary policy) and hence inflation. - Special Guest Blogger: Tim Kearney, PhD

Tuesday, May 8, 2018
The unemployment rate has slowly improved in line with economic growth; recent reports and news of job growth and payrolls have continued the favorable trend.

Today the market is anxiously awaiting the Trump/Iranian deal decision and investors may have missed the latest economic good news, which contrary to investor sentiment, has been plentiful. The U.S. economy now has a record high number of 6.55 million job openings, according to the March JOLTS survey and this economy is poised for acceleration, not deceleration. The unemployment rate is at an 18-year low of 3.9%. However, the more comprehensive U6 rate, which includes discouraged and reluctant part time workers, is a 7.8% indicating there is still some slack in the labor pool. In addition, the overall labor participation rate slipped to 62.8%. These factors are holding back higher wage pressures and hence Fed fears of an overheating economy. Wages are up only 2.6% year-over-year. Sluggish productivity is also a factor holding back wage gains. This falls squarely on the business sector which until recently was skimping on business investment and capital spending. So with 6.55 million job openings, it means that for every opening, there is only 1.01 unemployed person out there seeking a position. If you are seeking a job, how can you lose? But before you start planning your office décor, companies are reporting that many job openings are going unfilled because of a skills mismatch. These skills are particularly lacking in the fields of tech, healthcare and manufacturing. Please see page 64 of the Global Perspectives Book where you can watch the steady decline in the unemployment rate from 10.0% in October 2009 to its current ultra-low levels.

Friday, May 4, 2018
Total payrolls, including all non-farm employment, have inched steadily upward with private job creation leading the way.

Yesterday, MarketWatch reported that women retire with $1 million less than their male counterparts. It makes sense that women would amass less over their lifetimes. Women generally earn less than men even in similar professions. In addition, women are less likely to gravitate toward higher paying math, science and engineering positions. But the biggest reason for disparity is most likely breaks in employment as women tend to be the caregivers for children and elderly or sick relatives. Because women live an average of 4.5 years longer, they will need to save more than men. Most retirement investors both male and female are becoming aware of the need to save early and often. However, retirement is not the finish line. The tricky part comes after retirement in devising a withdrawal strategy. Rules of thumb like the 4% rule are obsolete in this low interest rate environment. Investors needed a customized plan that incorporates individual spending needs, inflation, market volatility and tax strategies and that is quite a challenge.

Meanwhile, the labor market continues to steamroll ahead. The economy added 164k jobs in April pushing the unemployment rate under 4% for the first time since 2000. Please watch the non-farm and ADP payroll reports on page 63 of the Global Perspectives Book.

Thursday, May 3, 2018
Average hourly wages have climbed unevenly higher, and productivity gains have been inconsistent.

Yesterday the Fed acknowledged that inflation finally reached its target level of 2% and that they were comfortable around that level. Other than that, the statement was essentially a nothing burger and the Fed held steady on their benchmark rate. The Fed will be data dependent but they have been saying that for 8 years. If anything, the statement has a slightly dovish tilt by removing the phrase “the economic outlook has strengthened." This should be a positive for equities fearing higher rates. But stocks are choosing to eat a dirt sandwich by fixating on near term geopolitical risks and earnings, which are so good, investors are worried that this is good as it gets. Meanwhile wages are running hotter and while productivity ticked up in Q1, investors are concerned it is not sufficient to sustain 3% GDP growth. Through all the speculation and angst, investors are ignoring the tax cuts, which are weaving their way through the economy. Yes, the cuts immediately boosted earnings for many large companies but the growth potential will be most impactful in the small business, which is the backbone of the U.S. economy and has added more jobs to the economy since 2010 than large companies. Please watch wages and productivity on page 65 of the Global Perspectives Book.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018
China and India are growing rapidly, and China is second only to the U.S. in total economic output, while Germany’s export-driven economy is the runaway eurozone leader.

Many headlines classified Q1 GDP growth of 2.3% as ‘slowing’, but in fact, it was stronger than expected (2%), and will the economy pick up enough before the Fed shuts it down will be the tale of the tape this year and next. The four-quarter moving average of GDP reached 2.9%, continuing to build from the anemic 1.2% average ending Q2 2016. Gross private fixed investment reached 4.6% on a four-quarter moving average basis, up from 0.1% in Q3 2016 – and that is before the tax incentives hit in 2018. Consumption was stable at 2.7% on a four-quarter basis.

Perhaps a sign of confidence in the outlook, the personal savings rate continued to ebb around 3% from 6% in 2014-16. Consumers spend from their permanent incomes and from their targeted net worth. The healthy labor market (claims at a near 50-year low) and with household net worth rising are reasons enough for consumers to relax. Household net worth as a share of household income is at new record levels. Most observers on the outlook remain confident, as do I: thus far, there has been the makings of an investment rebound in the (albeit early in the process) recent data. Durable Goods were up some 9% YoY in February, factory orders were up 7.1% in February YoY, factory orders ex-transport were up 6%. Importantly, orders have been translating into shipments, with capital goods (non-defense-ex aircraft) up 9.7% YoY in February. The consensus for Q2 is heading towards 3%, with a possibility for a 3% full-year 2018. Sad to say, the U.S. economic juggernaut has not grown by 3% in a calendar year since 2005, but we are seeing the makings of a turnaround. As a reminder, the U.S. economy averaged 3.2% annual growth over the 1985-2005 period.

For more on GDP growth in the U.S. and around the world, check out page 56 of the Global Perspectives book. You can also see the long-term U.S. growth trend on page 70. - Special Guest Blogger: Tim Kearney, PhD

Tuesday, May 1, 2018
The U.S. manufacturing report has rebounded after a month of contraction; the latest eurozone and emerging markets reports also indicate expansion.

Investors are driving through fog. Sure, earnings are coming in better than expected and GDP is trending higher. But the 10-year yield is approaching 3% again and inflation has been ticking higher as seen in the Employment Cost Index’s first quarter jump of .8% and the April ISM price index rising to the highest level since 2011. Accordingly, the dollar has moved to its highest level in four months. Now the White House has delayed the tariffs on steel and aluminum for our allies for another month, which just prolongs the uncertainty. And to top it off, the Fed will be making a statement tomorrow possibly indicating more interest rate hikes. It’s natural for investors to want to take it slow. However, try to look through the fog. Earnings are an affirmation of a healthy economic backdrop. That latest ISM manufacturing report continues to show robust expansion and new orders at a lofty 61.2. It was recent higher steel and aluminum costs and lack of skilled workers that accounted for the slight reduction in manufacturing production to 57.2. Business is on an upswing. Small business optimism is soaring and M&A activity is surging. Higher inflation does not mean high inflation. Higher rates don’t mean high rates. Lower manufacturing does not mean low manufacturing. The fog may be dense, but the road is still there, just with less traffic. Please watch global manufacturing on page 9 of the Global Perspectives Book.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The first quarter is notoriously an economic disappointment. No one is really sure why first quarter GDP on average lags the other quarters. Maybe it is the severe weather throughout much of the country. Perhaps it is a consumer holiday spending hangover. Or maybe businesses are still prioritizing spending budgets. So amid all of the worry about trade wars, economic slowdown and rising deficits, markets were bracing for the grim reaper to deliver todays preliminary Q1 GDP report. However, Q1 surprised on the upside with growth of 2.3%. Consumer spending of 1.1% was notably weak, especially the purchases of goods which posted a decline. But the tax cuts and business investment more than took up the slack. Private domestic investment jumped 7.3%. Trade (yes trade) also contributed positively, with slower growth in imports and faster growth in exports. Meanwhile, earnings are also surprising on the upside. Q1 earnings growth is now forecasted to exceed 23%. Please see Karyn Cavanaugh’s latest comments on the markets.

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