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Markets End Quarter on a Choppy Note  

June 30, 2017 

**An unexpected decline in U.S. orders for business equipment in May indicates cooling capital-goods investment may weigh on second-quarter economic growth, Commerce Department data showed Monday. Orders for non-military capital goods excluding aircraft fell 0.2% (the estimate was for a 0.4% gain) after a 0.2% increase in the prior month. Shipments of those goods, which are used to calculate gross domestic product, fell 0.2% after 0.1% gain the prior month. Bookings for all durable goods fell 1.1% (the estimate was for a 0.6% drop) following 0.9% decline in the previous month.   Excluding transportation equipment demand, which is volatile, orders rose 0.1% (the estimate was for a 0.4% gain). The broad slowdown in equipment orders and shipments raises the risk that business investment will provide less of a boost than anticipated to the economic rebound this quarter, leaving the heavy lifting to household spending. The outlook for capital-goods production is clouded by cooling automobile sales, while overseas markets -- though improving -- are yet to show the kind of demand acceleration that would spur exports of U.S. made goods. In addition, some companies may be waiting for clarity on more favorable tax policies from Congress before stepping up investment. 

We had a couple of Fed governors giving speeches this week with comments that were worthy of note. New York Fed President William Dudley indicated that easier financial conditions support the Fed tightening policy. A muted market response to plans to shrink Federal Reserve’s balance sheet “suggests that these communications have generally been effective in fostering an orderly adjustment in expectations about how we are likely to normalize our balance sheet,” he went on to say. “Monetary policymakers need to take the evolution of financial conditions into consideration,” Dudley said in remarks delivered Sunday at the Bank for International Settlements’ Annual General Meeting, in Basel, Switzerland and posted online Monday. “For example, when financial conditions tighten sharply, this may mean that monetary policy may need to be tightened by less or even loosened. On the other hand, when financial conditions ease, as has been the case recently, this can provide additional impetus for the decision to continue to remove monetary policy accommodation.” Additionally, Federal Reserve policy maker John Williams also spoke this week indicating he sees interest rates rising as inflation moves up. He made the case Monday for further gradual increases in interest rates, saying he expects inflation to rise to the central bank’s 2 percent target next year as unemployment edges lower. “Gradually raising interest rates to bring monetary policy back to normal helps us keep the economy growing at a rate that can be sustained for a longer time,” Williams said in remarks prepared for delivery at the University of Technology Sydney. The comments by the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco suggest that he’s lining up with Fed Chair Janet Yellen, his predecessor at the bank, in an emerging debate on how to respond to an easing in inflation during the last few months. While some Fed officials have argued for a pause in the rate-hiking campaign to wait for clearer signs that inflation is indeed headed higher, Yellen has played down the significance of recent weak price data and suggested that the Fed remains on course for higher rates. Williams seemed to agree. “Some special transitory factors have been pulling inflation down,” he said. “But with some of these factors now waning, and with the economy doing well, I expect we’ll reach our 2 percent goal sometime next year.” 

Those special factors include a steep drop in the cost of mobile-phone services. That helped pull down the Fed’s favorite inflation gauge to 1.7 percent in April from 1.9 percent in March and 2.1 percent in February. Williams also saw a danger in the Fed allowing the unemployment rate to fall too far. “The very strong labor market actually carries with it the risk of the economy exceeding its safe speed limit and overheating, which could eventually undermine the sustainability of the expansion,” he said. At 4.3 percent in May, the U.S. jobless rate was already below what Williams thinks is its long-run sustainable rate of 4.75 percent. And he sees it dropping some more. “Given the strong job growth we’ve been seeing in the United States, I expect the unemployment rate to edge down a bit further and remain a little above 4 percent through next year,” Williams said. The Fed earlier this month raised interest rates for the second time this year. Policy makers have penciled in one more rate increase for 2017 and three more for 2018, according to projections released after their June 13-14 meeting. Williams is not a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee this year but will vote in 2018. Williams affirmed the Fed’s intention to begin trimming its $4.5 trillion balance sheet this year, saying the central bank would start off “nice and easy.” The aim will be to gradually reduce bond holdings in a widely telegraphed and predictable fashion, he said. “I hope I’ll not be perpetuating an unfair stereotype about economists if I say that ‘boring’ is a virtue,” Williams said. “Indeed, my new mantra is, ‘Boring is the new exciting.’”  It’s nice to see a Fed governor with a sense of humor! 

In European Central Bank news, Mario Draghi called for continued euro-area stimulus this week even as the economy enters a new phase in its upturn, saying support is still needed to entrench the trend. “All the signs now point to a strengthening and broadening recovery in the euro area -- deflationary forces have been replaced by reflationary ones,” the European Central Bank president said on Tuesday in Sintra, Portugal. “However, a considerable degree of monetary accommodation is still needed for inflation dynamics to become durable and self-sustaining. So for us to be assured about the return of inflation to our objective, we need persistence in our monetary policy.” The comments at the annual ECB Forum reflect the intensifying public debate over whether the central bank should continue pumping liquidity into the financial system after more than four years of economic growth and improving resilience.  Policy makers didn’t use their latest policy meeting to discuss whether to wind down their 2.3 trillion-euro ($2.6 trillion) bond-buying program, which is scheduled to run until the end of this year, meaning investors may get relatively short notice of any change. The euro jumped as Draghi said that most factors damping inflation are temporary. The Governing Council used its June 8 meeting to say that risks to growth are now broadly balanced instead of tilted to the downside, and dropped its expectation that interest rates might be cut again. Draghi acknowledged that further changes in the policy stance are coming, but said they should be slow. “In the past, especially in times of global uncertainty, volatility in financial market prices has at times caused an unwarranted tightening of financial conditions,” he said. “So in the current context where global uncertainties remain elevated, there are strong grounds for prudence in the adjustment of monetary-policy parameters, even when accompanying the recovery. Any adjustments to our stance have to be made gradually, and only when the improving dynamics that justify them appear sufficiently secure.” The ECB president did leave room for policy steps that would signal a reduction in the pace of stimulus, without necessarily tightening financial conditions. That could encourage more hawkish members of the Governing Council to push for action. “As the economy continues to recover, a constant policy stance will become more accommodative,” Draghi said. “The central bank can accompany the recovery by adjusting the parameters of its policy instruments -- not in order to tighten the policy stance, but to keep it broadly unchanged.” We respect Mario Draghi and his position – traders seem to also have a great deal of confidence in his ability to lead the central bank. 

In other European news, euro-area economic confidence jumped to the highest level in a decade as the European Central Bank edged toward unwinding unprecedented stimulus. An index of executive and consumer sentiment rose to 111.1 in June from 109.2 in May, the European Commission in Brussels said Thursday.  The reading is the strongest since August 2007 and compares with a median estimate of 109.5 in a Bloomberg survey of economists. The report comes two days after ECB President Mario Draghi confounded investors by arguing that there’s room to adjust stimulus measures as the economy improves, even though he called for prudence and patience.  A gauge for private-sector activity signaled the euro-area economy recorded its fastest expansion in six years in the second quarter as business confidence in Germany hit a record and consumer sentiment in France surged. 

The job market continues to boost U.S. consumer confidence as expectations rise. An unexpected rebound in U.S. consumer confidence reflects a buoyant labor market and improved business conditions, though Americans are slightly less optimistic about where things will be in six months, data from the New York-based Conference Board showed Tuesday. The Confidence index rose to 118.9 (the estimate was for 116) from 117.6 in May. The present conditions measure increased to 146.3, highest since July 2001, from 140.6 the prior month. The gauge of consumer expectations for the next six months fell to 100.6, the lowest level since January, from 102.3 the previous month. Americans are drawing encouragement from an economy that continues to provide jobs, rising stock and home prices and steady pay gains, as the share of respondents expecting higher incomes was the second-highest since 2002. At the same time, the easing of the overall expectations index adds to other sentiment figures that suggest mounting skepticism about the ability of Washington lawmakers to enact economic policies that will drive growth. “Expectations for the short-term have eased somewhat, but are still upbeat,” Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, said in a statement. “Overall, consumers anticipate the economy will continue expanding in the months ahead, but they do not foresee the pace of growth accelerating.” 

Sustained increases for home prices in 20 U.S. cities in April indicate the housing industry is juggling stable demand with a shortage of inventory, figures from S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller showed Tuesday. The 20-city property values index rose 5.7% year-over-year (the estimate was for a 5.9% gain). The national price gauge increased 5.5% year-over-year. The seasonally adjusted 20-city index climbed 0.3% month-over-month (the estimate was for a 0.5% increase). Stubbornly low inventory in housing, particularly for more affordable properties, has helped drive steady home-price gains. While rising property values are helping cushion homeowners’ balance sheets, they also are inhibiting lower-end buyers, especially first-timers, from getting a piece of the action, as wage gains haven’t kept pace. At the same time, industry demand remains healthy, with solid job gains and low mortgage rates supporting purchases. “Since demand is exceeding supply and financing is available, there is nothing right now to keep prices from going up,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement. “The supply of homes for sale has barely kept pace with demand and the inventory of new or existing homes for sale shrunk down to only a four-month supply. All 20 cities in the index showed year-over-year gains, led by a 12.9 percent advance in Seattle and a 9.3 percent rise in Portland, Oregon.  

The U.S. economy’s first-quarter growth was less tepid than previously reported, as consumer spending and trade added more to expansion, Commerce Department data showed Thursday. Gross domestic product rose at a 1.4% annualized rate (the forecast and previous estimate were for 1.2%). Consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, rose 1.1% (the forecast and previous estimate were for 0.6%). Exports grew at a 7% rate, which was revised up from the prior estimate of 5.8% growth. While the revision was more positive than most analysts anticipated, the report still underlines a relatively weak start to the year, with consumer spending growing at the slowest pace since 2013.  Weather and other temporary factors in the period, along with rising wages and salaries, support the idea of a consumer-led rebound in the second quarter.  Federal Reserve policy makers raised interest rates earlier this month, seeing the first-quarter slowdown as transitory as the labor market improves further. The Commerce Department attributed the latest upward revision to spending data for financial services, insurance and health care.  Exports of industrial supplies and materials were higher than previously reported, boosting trade’s contribution to expansion in the period. Analysts estimate the U.S. economy will grow at a 3 percent rate in the April-to-June period, though the slowdown in equipment orders and shipments reported earlier this week raises the risk that business investment will provide less of a boost than anticipated.  Cooling automobile sales and a housing sector limited by a scarcity of affordable homes also remain headwinds for the economy this year. 

As always, stay tuned!

Steigerwald, Gordon & Koch Weekly Blog 3/31/2017


 
Markets End Quarter on Subdued Note
 

President Donald Trump was briefed Thursday on various ways to implement comprehensive tax code changes, as the White House shifts focus after the attempt to replace Obamacare was unsuccessful last week. Trump was to be presented with possible options by a group of administration officials including Gary Cohn, head of the National Economic Council, according to people familiar with the meeting who asked not to be identified because the details are private.  One of the proposals that will be presented is the border-adjusted tax, a centerpiece of the plan favored by House Speaker Paul Ryan.  That provision would replace the 35 percent corporate income tax with a 20 percent levy on companies’ domestic sales and imported goods.  Exports would be exempted. The president was also expected to be briefed on details of a 2014 tax plan championed by former Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican.  Camp, who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee, had proposed lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent while eliminating certain tax credits and deductions.  The plan was deficit neutral, meaning the cuts didn’t add to the deficit.  Revenue neutrality is essential for a tax plan to be permanent and passed without Democratic support in the Senate. Other options will also be under discussion, the people said.  The presentation is the latest in an ongoing series of White House meetings to help the administration craft a tax plan and fulfill what Trump has described as a top legislative priority. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that the administration would be “driving the train on tax reform.”  Spicer said Trump’s tax plan would be focused on job creation and economic growth, rather than just making sure it’s revenue neutral. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has a team within his department to evaluate tax-code rewrite options, signaled last week that while August is the administration’s target date, the fall may be more likely.   

In Federal Reserve news, we had plenty of speakers this week we were following. Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said in an interview this week that he felt two more rate hikes would be about right for 2017. He indicated the risks to economy were more or less balanced and that emerging markets had a pretty good chance of avoiding the difficulty that had been expected a few months ago. He expressed concern about the possibility of postwar globalization policies that have worked well being reversed. He said productivity growth seemed to be very low in the U.S., as is the rate of investment. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Esther George, a non-voting member of the policy setting committee, said it is important to remove monetary policy accommodation “in a gradual but deliberate fashion.” She said that inflation remains relatively tame in aggregate. She indicated, “Monetary policy is at a point where the economy is able to sustain growth, while she doesn’t know enough yet about how much of a boost the U.S. economy will get from fiscal policy to include in her forecasts.” She also expressed, “The consumer today is the engine of growth in the economy.  They are more confident in job prospects, in income and wages.” With respect to the financial system, she stated, “We have seen our banking system continue to strengthen. Banks have higher levels of capital and are more profitable. The post-crisis Dodd-Frank banking reforms had a perverse effect and regulations spilled over to thousands of community banks in the United States.”  

Fed Chair Janet Yellen also spoke this week. She indicated that pockets of persistently high unemployment remain. She went further suggesting that challenges remain in the U.S. labor market, including concentrations of elevated joblessness in poor and minority communities, as she pushed for better education and training so the economy works for all Americans. “While the economy overall is recovering and the job market has improved substantially since the recession, pockets of persistently high unemployment, as well as other challenges, remain,” she said in the text of a speech Tuesday in Washington. U.S. central bankers are gradually removing monetary stimulus as inflation moves back up to their 2 percent target. At 4.7 percent in February, the nation’s unemployment rate is at their estimate of maximum use of labor resources. Yellen didn’t discuss monetary policy in the text of her remarks to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.  She mentioned several educational and workforce development programs that could help narrow disparities in minority communities, such as campus-based childcare programs, apprenticeships and technical education. The unemployment rate for African-Americans stood at 8.1 percent in February, about half of its peak rate of 16.8 percent in March 2010 following the financial crisis and recession.  The unemployment rate for Hispanics is 5.6 percent, compared with a post-recession peak of 13 percent in August 2009. “Significant job market changes in recent years, brought about by global competition and technological advances -- and the new and shifting skills that these changes demand -- make workforce development more important than ever before,” Yellen said.  “Fortunately, programs such as the ones I have highlighted today can help address these challenges in more targeted ways than the Federal Reserve is equipped to do through monetary policy.” Amen! 

In important economic news here in the U.S., the U.S. economy grew in the fourth quarter at a faster pace than previously reported on higher consumer spending, Commerce Department data showed Thursday in Washington. Gross domestic product rose at a 2.1 annualized pace (the forecast was for 2 percent), and this was a revision from the previous estimate of 1.9 percent. Consumer spending, the biggest part of the U.S. economy, rose at a 3.5 percent rate, revised up from 3 percent. Corporate profits in the U.S. jumped 9.3 percent from a year earlier, the most since 2012, and rose 0.5 percent from the previous three months, in the first estimate for the fourth quarter. Trade subtracted 1.82 percentage points from growth, the most since 2004, compared with the prior estimate of a 1.7-point drag, on weaker exports and higher imports. The data basically reinforce the underlying story of the U.S. economy: the seven-year expansion continues to be led by consumers, who are cushioned by a firm labor market and rising confidence.  At the same time, rising corporate profits could provide continued momentum for hiring and support further capital investment.  Analysts expect first-quarter growth of about 1.9 percent, while the Trump administration has said its policies will eventually result in a 3 percent pace or greater. That remains to be seen.  

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index surged to 125.6 (the forecast was for 114), which was the highest level since December 2000, from 116.1 the prior month. The present conditions gauge increased to 143.1, strongest since August 2001, from 134.4 the prior month. The measure of consumer expectations for the next six months rose to 113.8, highest since September 2000, from 103.9 the previous month. The sharp rise in confidence exceeded the expectations of all 69 economists in the Bloomberg survey. Sentiment has advanced in four of the five months since the election of President Donald Trump, a period that coincided with rising stock prices and a firming of the labor market.  The share of the survey’s respondents expecting more jobs will be available in the next six months increased to 24.8 percent, the highest since November 1983.  The share of consumers expecting stocks to rise in next 12 months was the highest since 2000. While consumers are more upbeat, the U.S. economy will only see a boost if it’s matched by actual spending. 

On the housing front, the 20-city home-price gauge rose 5.7 percent in January (the forecast was for 5.6 percent) from January 2016, the biggest gain since July 2014. The national home-price index climbed 5.9 percent year-over-year, most since June 2014 and the seasonally adjusted 20-city measure increased 0.9 percent from December (the forecast was for 0.7 percent), matching the previous month’s gain. A sustained shortage of homes for sale still is pushing property values higher, restraining demand as more Americans wait to trade up or move out of rental units.  Only Cleveland (down 0.1 percent) saw a month-over-month decline in prices, while the Pacific Northwest continues to lead the way on a year-over-year basis.  Rising mortgage rates and higher prices this year risk putting homes out of reach for some Americans even as a strengthening labor market buoys consumers. The pending home sales figure for February came in at +5.5% which exceeded market forecasts for a 2.4% increase. This increase shows the housing market was gathering momentum as warmer weather in February helped bring forward the start of the busy spring sales season.  Buyers also hastened their entry into the market amid expectations of higher borrowing costs.  While strong job creation and rising stock values remain supportive for residential sales, lean inventories are keeping asking prices elevated. 

In the all-important commodity news with respect to oil, signs of growing U.S. fuel demand are propping up oil above $49 a barrel, with more refinery purchases seen helping ease a glut in American stockpiles. Futures in New York were holding gains after rising 2.4 percent Wednesday, when U.S. government data showed that gasoline inventories dropped more than expected.  Additionally, refineries boosted the amount of crude they processed by the most in almost three years.  That helped overshadow a gain in American output and stockpiles that have undermined production curbs this year by OPEC and its partners. While U.S. crude inventories rose last week, they increased by less than they were expected to, signaling that more oil is being pulled out of storage.  That optimism and an unexpected disruption in Libyan production has helped drive prices up 3.7 percent over two trading days this week, their longest stretch of gains in more than a month.  They had slid last week to the lowest since November as increasing American supplies countered output cuts by other producers. 

In European related news, euro-area economic confidence unexpectedly slipped this month, an indication that the region’s recovery may not be as immune from political uncertainty as anticipated. An index of executive and consumer sentiment in the region dipped to 107.9 from 108 in February, the European Commission in Brussels said Thursday.  While that’s lower than the 108.3 median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists, it’s still close to the highest level since 2011. The latest health check on the economy follows a string of positive data suggesting the 19-nation bloc is coping with challenges in a potentially tumultuous year with U.K.’s trigger to leave the European Union and elections in France and Germany, the two largest economies in the region, later this year.  So far political uncertainty has done little to hurt growth, with a gauge for consumer confidence rising in March and unemployment on a downward path. Sentiment in industry and services declined this month, while construction improved, Thursday’s report showed.  The European Union’s statistics agency will release March inflation data on Friday, with economists expecting a deceleration to 1.8 percent from 2 percent in February. The European Central Bank acknowledges the recovery is firming but not strong enough to fuel self-sustaining inflation and allow for an end of extraordinary monetary support. It holds its next policy meeting on April 27. 

Lastly, given markets trade based on international information, we had news on China that helped sway markets this week.  China’s official factory gauge climbed to the highest in almost five years, the latest evidence of gathering momentum in the world’s second-largest economy. The manufacturing purchasing manager’s index increased to 51.8 in March, compared with economist estimates that it would match the November reading of 51.7.  The non-manufacturing PMI rose to a two-year high of 55.1 from 54.2 last month.  Numbers higher than 50 indicate improving conditions. The new strength follows a factory rebound since mid-2016, while industrial output and private investment also have picked up.  Still, the brighter picture has been boosted by surging producer prices that may be close to peaking, and the government is working to stem swelling financial risks by reining in excessive borrowing. "The recent recovery highlights a number of policy dilemmas facing China despite its promise to shift from an investment-led growth model to one favoring consumption and services," Raymond Yeung, chief greater China economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Hong Kong, wrote in a note before the data.  "Even though economic momentum looks to have stabilized on the surface, the authorities still face a very delicate balancing act." We could not agree more! 

As always, stay tuned!



INDEX
  • Markets Steady As Government Shutdown Looms
  • Markets Set New Records
  • Tax Changes Approved
  • Jobs Growth Continues
  • Yellen to leave next year
  • House Passes Tax Reform Bill; Senate Up Next
  • Markets move sideways as earnings season continues
  • Earnings season continues as the Fed gets a new chief
  • Fed Chair Decision Coming Next Week
  • And the Winner Is...
  • Inflation Mystery Continues
  • Employment Falls but Pay Rises
  • Yellen Affirms Fed Rate Hike Path While GOP Releases Tax Reform Blueprint
  • Time to Shrink
  • Economic Data Begins to Feel the Impact from Hurricane Harvey and Irma
  • Empty Chairs at the Fed
  • Market's Focus: Debt Ceiling and Jackson Hold
  • Fed Policy Makers Debate Inflation Outlook
  • Fed's Bullard Calls For Hold and Fed Rate Increases
  • Earnings Season Continues
  • Fed Leaves Rates Unchanged and Provides Guidance on Balance Sheet Reduction
  • Earnings Season Is Here
  • Janet Yellen Speaks and Markets Like What They Hear
  • Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
  • Markets End Quarter on a Choppy Note
  • Health Care Reform Vote Next Week
  • Fed Raises Rates as Expected
  • All Eyes On Fed Interest Rate Decision Next Week
  • Markets Set New Records
  • OPEC Meets as Markets Hover Near Records
  • Stocks Retreat, Bonds Rally on Concerns Administration's Pro-Growth Agenda will be Delayed
  • Economy Chugs Along as Earnings Season Slows
  • Fed Keeps Rates on Hold as Slowdown in Growth Deemed Temporary
  • Tax Reforms Released as Earnings Season Continues
  • All Eyes On Europe as Earnings Season Kicks into Gear
  • Earnings Season Begins
  • Payrolls Affected by Storm
  • Steigerwald, Gordon & Koch Weekly Blog 3/31/2017
  • Markets Chug Along
  • No Surprise: Fed Raises Rates
  • Jobs Galore
  • Fed Governors Send Strong Signal March Rate Hike Likely
  • Fed's Next Move in Focus
  • Steigerwald, Gordon & Koch Weekly Blog 2/17/2017
  • Earnings Season Continues
  • SGK Weekly Blog 2/3/2017
  • Earnings Season in Full Swing as Dow Hits 20000
  • Earnings Get Off to a Solid Start as the Economy Continues to Chug Along
  • Earnings Season Begins
  • SGK Weekly Blog 1/6/2017
  • Markets Book Eighth Consecutive Year of Gains
  • SGK Weekly Blog Dec. 23, 2016 - Happy Holidays!!
  • Fed Raises Rates and Markets Shoot Higher
  • SGK Blog--Update November 23, 2016: Happy Thanksgiving from All of Us at SGK Wealth Advisors!!