A Eurozone Pick-Up? Three Key Insights

The Eurozone economy is showing more convincing signs of a pick-up that is more broad based and robust than anticipated. Obviously, a wide difference in conditions exists between European countries and fragmentation in their financial conditions still exist, but these are (slowly) receding. We recently examined trends in three elements of Eurozone health: growth, inflation and the European Central Bank.

Growth: Improving Momentum
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‘No Brakes’ on U.S. Growth – But Are Americans on Board?

IMF Bullish on U.S. Economy – Americans Remain Cautious
“There are no brakes on U.S. growth,” said the IMF’s chief economist, “It’s an economy that is fundamentally robust.” The latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast is for 3.6% global GDP in 2014. The U.S. is expected to grow 2.8%, the Eurozone 1.2%, Japan 1.4% and the UK 2.9%.

Indeed, U.S. labor market data signaled ongoing strength, as unemployment claims fell to 300k, the biggest week/week drop in 10 years and the lowest weekly number since May 2007. Seasonal factors (Easter) and normal data volatility may be at work, but it’s still a low number. The February JOLTs report was fine, considering the weather: the number of job openings and hires rose, the number of terminations was flat. The number of job openings is the highest since January 2008.

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Where Should Interest Rates Really Be? Applying the Taylor Rule to the World’s Central Banks.

The Taylor Rule is a formula widely used by central banks to determine how interest rates should change based on inflation, output, economic conditions and other factors. Since the start of the Great Financial Crisis in 2008, the world’s “G4” central banks – U.S., Japan, UK, and Europe have injected over $5 trillion of liquidity into the global economy. The U.S. Federal Reserve began “tapering” in December 2013, starting the process of exiting its quantitative easing program designed to keep rates low, stimulate borrowing and promote investing. Amidst signs that the global economic recovery is broadening and becoming more sustainable, market attention has begun to shift to whether less overall monetary accommodation is needed.

We applied the Taylor Rule to test the monetary policy stance of the G-4 central banks – testing each of them individually and making the results available below and conclude that policy for all but the Eurozone is too accommodative and that central bankers may have to respond more swiftly than many expect. Continue reading

U.S. Economic Outlook is Sound

We believe U.S. economic data supports sound conditions for the economy in 2014, with no major imbalances appearing. Some figures, weaker than expected in the first weeks of the year, are mainly the result of exceptional weather conditions. The transition towards a self-sustained recovery is supported by strengthening internal demand, driven by recovering capital expenditure and household consumption. We expect to see mixed signals coming from economic activity indicators and labor market as the economy normalizes, but we do not expect the trend in the main drivers of growth to be derailed.

Our growth estimates for 2014:

  • U.S. GDP growth of 2.8%.
  • Personal consumption estimated to grow at a moderate pace and then accelerate in the second half of the year.
  • Inflation expected to remain below 2% but step up gradually during the year.
  • Non-Residential Investments to accelerate in the second half of the year, giving momentum to acceleration in capital expenditures.
  • The Fed will continue to taper its bond buying program which will be effectively wound down by the end of 2014 if its current economic projections hold.

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Yellen More Dovish? Don’t be Fooled.

Observations on the Capital Markets – Week Ended April 4, 2014

Fed Chair Yellen sounded very dovish in Monday’s speech, emphasizing that markets should expect extraordinary policy accommodation for some time, given the slack in the labor market. She broke with precedent by citing anecdotes (this from a person who has perhaps overused the words “data dependent”). She did not repeat the “six-month” guesstimate of how soon after QE ended Fed funds would start rising, but she didn’t “walk it back” either, or give any guidance suggesting anything more dovish than the Fed statement.

My take: she demonstrated empathy without making any promises or commitments. She’s a very good politician (as well as a very good Fed Governor). Continue reading

What Type of Approach Might Best Pursue Investor Needs and Challenges?

In the last five years, we have seen an increasing appetite for risky assets. Initially, this was a consequence of the search for yield and enhanced returns in a low interest rate environment. More recently, it has translated into a deeper exploration of yield opportunities on the riskier side of risky assets (such as high-yield bonds and small-cap stocks). Now, with equity markets close to all-time highs and credit spreads at historical lows, we must ask ourselves two questions: Continue reading

Slow Growth for the Economy but Weather Effects Fading

Do you believe Putin’s words or actions? Putin continued to say he wanted a diplomatic solution to Ukraine while continuing to mass troops along the Ukrainian border. Meanwhile the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a line of credit of up to $18 billion to Ukraine and the Ukrainian parliament passed a law to implement IMF-demanded austerity measures. The “West” cancelled a G8 meeting scheduled for Sochi, and so the G8 reverts to the G7 with the expulsion of Russia. Continue reading

The Fed Doesn’t Surprise, but the Market Reacts Anyway.

As expected, quantitative easing (QE) was tapered another $10 billion last week and the Fed dropped its earlier guidance that it might start raising the Fed Funds rate when unemployment is 6.5% (confirming that it will wait longer than that, since we’re almost at 6.5%).

The U.S. stock market sold off sharply on this news (even though the outcome was widely expected), then rallied the next day.  Some observers think it was computer algorithms that (seeing unexpected hawkishness) triggered the selling; the dip was a buying opportunity.  The bond market moved to price in a stronger economy and faster pace of Fed Fund rate hikes.

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Why Financial Advisors Need Relationship Alpha

As the saying goes, ‘hindsight is 20/20.’ How many advisors have had conversations with clients summarizing 2013, only to find them disappointed that they did not participate fully in the strengthening equity markets? These were the same clients that were (perhaps still are) reluctant to take on the additional risk because they were still smarting from the real and psychological damage wrought by the experience of 2008. Their actions and defenses were predicated on the outcome of the most recent harrowing experience; thus, their portfolios were allocated to provide ballast – reinforced with ‘belt and suspenders’ – to keep them engaged in the capital markets. Prior to the end of 2013, the trade-off for a high ‘sleep at night’ factor was lower return expectations. Now, in hindsight, these well-rested clients are experiencing, as the kids today say —FOMO — “fear of missing out!”

Challenging Markets Challenge Your Mettle
It takes a delicate mixture of compassion, knowledge and courage to provide direction to clients during uncertain or confusing markets. All markets are perplexing to some degree. This is the irony of investing . . . we trade actual capital today for the possibility of future returns. As wise and well equipped as any of us all are, we cannot predict the future with any degree of certainty. The legendary money manager, Peter Lynch, once said something to the effect that investing allows us to build a bridge of well-thought out and time-tested assumptions, but we always need to take a ‘leap of faith’ between what is known and what will actually come to be.

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U.S. Economy Looks OK but War Risks / Chinese Financial Risks Rise

Observations on the Capital Markets – Week Ended March 14, 2014

China’s downbeat economic data raised fears as softness in Chinese economic data (below-consensus growth in industrial production, retail sales, and CPI) fueled concerns over the health of its economy.

The price of copper fell 5% on the week and is down 12% year to date, raising fears that the Chinese financial system is facing cascading margin calls like what happened to U.S. CDO (Collateralized Debt Obligations) prices in 2007-9 (lots of Chinese copper positions appear to be leveraged).

A referendum in Crimea about seceding from the Ukraine to rejoin Russia, only rumored at a week ago, took place Sunday March 16; the Russians report that 93% voted in favor of doing so. Regardless of how the people might have voted under other circumstances, the outcome is almost certain: Russia is effectively conquering/annexing Crimea.

The U.N. will not act. Russia has a veto on the Security Council. On Saturday, it vetoed a draft resolution against the Ukraine referendum (China abstained). Western diplomats continue to cry foul, but it’s hard to make a clear moral case against Crimean self-determination when the Kiev “government” was not elected. Continue reading

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