Posts filed under “Cycles”

Monday Morning Grab Bag

Invictus here, folks, with a smattering of items that caught my eye last week.  Food for thought on what will likely be a quiet Columbus Day trading session (famous last words).

Revisiting a theme I introduced here in July, I continue to follow the trend of Temporary Services jobs vs. Private Sector jobs less Temps.  As Temps has always been a leading indicator for overall nonfarm payrolls, it should have a story to tell.  What’s interesting in the updated chart below is the rate at which Temps has continued to outpace the year-over-year growth in private sector jobs less Temps, something we’ve not seen in the almost 20 years the Temps metric has been recorded.  I suspect that, with continuing economic fragility and a fairly cloudy outlook, employers have taken a “just in time” hiring posture, and using temporary workers is the best way to execute on that plan.  Remember that “Poor Sales” is the largest concern (by far) expressed by small business members of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) in its monthly Small Business Economic Trends (SBET) (.PDF), and has been for quite some time.  Temps is up 23.4% year over year while Private Payrolls – Temps has just cracked through zero and now sits at +0.2% year over year (the first positive print since April 2008, a 28 month negative streak).

The preliminary read on the diffusion index for the month broke under 50 for the first time since January, which is to say that more companies are cutting payrolls than adding to them (i.e. above 50 = good, below 50 = bad).  This metric was actually higher in December 2007 — at 50.6 — when the recession started, than it is now.

To help me visualize the amount of slack in the labor market, I created this chart some time ago over at FRED.  It shows the Unemployment Rate and the Year Over Year percent change in Average Hourly Earnings for Private Industries.  As one might expect, high(er) unemployment results in stagnant (or lower) wages, while low(er) unemployment results in higher wages.  Simple supply and demand at work.  The bad news is that, as far as the labor market is currently concerned, there is way too much supply and way too little demand, as evidenced by the yawning gap we’re currently experiencing.  (On second thought, I probably should have indicated “minimal” slack instead of  “no” slack, but the point remains.)

Consumers continue repairing their balance sheets, deleveraging, and reducing their credit.  Consumer credit (ex-mortgages) is down some $168 billion since its peak in July 2008.  Some of the decline is borrower paydown, some is lender writedown.  In either case, I’d venture a guess that a new credit cycle is still not close at hand.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has very stealthily, and to virtually no fanfare, charted another Golden Cross (50-day MA crosses the 200-day MA from below).  The S&P500 is on the brink of following suit, barring a significant short term sell off.  The Golden Cross was, if memory serves, much more widely publicized when it occurred last year.  Not being trained much in technical analysis, I’m not sure quite what to make of two Golden Crosses occurring within 18 months of each other, so I’ll leave it to the technicians to figure out what this means.

Moving on, I would throw in that I think New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s decision to scrap a new rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York is wrong in every possible way.  I’m not even sure the most ardent austerian can deny the need to continue trying to ease congestion in and around New York City in any way possible.  There are reports that he is reconsidering his decision, and I sincerely hope he sees the light (insert balance of idiom here).

Lastly, to the folks running the Metropolitan Transit Authority, who just approved the third set of fare hikes in as many years, listen up:  Your repeated fare hikes are beyond offensive and are, at this point, making driving a very competitive alternative. I kid you not.  Between the newly approved fare hike and the monthly charge to park at the station, driving is becoming a serious alternative and, should I find a neighbor with whom to commute, it’s an absolute money-saving no-brainer.  If I needed a MetroCard, which I don’t, the MTA would have already seen the last of me.

As State Senator Carl L. Marcellino put it in a letter to MTA CEO Jay H. Walder (annual salary: $350,000 plus “living allowance”) in August of this year:

Take a Huntington rider for example. The monthly cost to ride the LIRR will increase from $274 to $299 a month, a $300 yearly increase to an astronomical $3588 a year. Add to that a proposed monthly $130 Metrocard and that Huntington resident will pay over $5,000 a year just for the privilege of using the MTA to get to work. For someone making $50,000 a year, that is more than 10% of their income. That cost is simply unaffordable and totally unacceptable.

Marcellino’s point is well taken, but the bottom line is this:  Anything in the vicinity of $400/month to commute is simply outrageous, no matter one’s earnings.  Commuters have gotten nothing — nada, zilch, naught, cipher — in exchange for ponying up more and more for a monthly commutation.  In fact, we’ve faced nothing but cuts.  Keep it up and the mass exodus of employers (and their employees) from New York will continue unabated.  Please, stop the insanity.  (As an aside, and a final thought:  Is there a bigger joke than the pretense that anything anyone says during the requisite “public comment” period will be taken seriously?).

Category: Credit, Cycles, Data Analysis, Economy, Employment

September Trading and Q4

If you closed your eyes in January and opened them today, stocks have barely performed. But the swings have been enormous.

Markets of barely positive on the year, despite all the bad news — Greek scare, Euro crisis, Flash Crash, China slowdown, U.S. double dip, Treasury yields at all time lows, on top of the 2009 run up that left markets overbought.

Despite the ugly U.S. newsflow, US markets have actually been resilient this year. There have been multiple opportunities to rollover, or even crash, and somehow, we have  managed to avoid that fate so far (Cue conspiracy wingnut rant). Perhaps this means equities have more strength than people think.

Let’s have a look at some of the present and historical data.

The first chart shows the swings the market has taken this year: Down 7%, up 14%, -15%, +10%, -6%, +9%. So much for Buy & Hold: This is a nimble trader’s market:

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2010 Market Swings


Chart courtesy of Michael A. Gayed, Pension Partners

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Next up, let’s look at some history: The Stock Trader’s Almanac shows us what September trading (since 1950) has looked like, along with the subsequent Q4 performance. Yes, its a sweet track record — 1973 and 2007 are the only real nasty marks — but I must remind everyone that correlation does not equal causation. (50 years of data is not sufficient to say this is not a random outcome).

The Alamanc notes:

“In nominal terms, Sept will be the 2nd best on record for the S&P 500, a great run of almost 10%. Let’s look at the gain in another context. As is done with economic data to take out the influence of inflation, a REAL calculation is done to deflate the NOMINAL reading in order to take out the noise of higher prices vs volume. Using the CRB index as a market inflation gauge for Sept, the S&P 500 in REAL terms only rose modestly as the CRB index is up 8.7% month to date. This highlights the allure of inflation and higher asset prices from a policy perspective as it creates an image of prosperity but with a much more unstable underpinning.”

Here is the Alamanac’s table of historical September versus Q4 runs:

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S&P Sept Q4
1954 8.3% 11.4%
1998 6.2% 20.9%
1950 5.6% 4.9%
1996 5.4% 7.8%
1997 5.3% 2.4%
1958 4.8% 10.3%
1973 4.0% – 10.0%
1988 4.0% 2.1%
1995 4.0% 5.4%
1968 3.9% 1.2%
2007 3.6% – 3.8%
2009 3.6% 5.5%
1967 3.3% – 0.2%
1970 3.3% 9.4%
1965 3.2% 2.7%
1964 2.9% 0.7%
1980 2.5% 8.2%
2006 2.5% 6.2%
1976 2.3% 2.1%
1955 1.1% 4.1%
1983 1.0% – 0.7%
1992 0.9% 4.3%
2004 0.9% 8.7%
1982 0.8% 16.8%
2005 0.7% 1.6%
1953 0.1% 6.3%

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Last, let’s look at a set of economic projections that forecast future economic performance by combining historical patterns with recent data, from Trendlines Research.

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Category: Cycles, Economy, Markets, Technical Analysis

War & Peace + Inflation + Secular Bull = Dow 38K ?

I mentioned this morning that Jeff Hirsch is the anti-Prechter — forecasting a wild $38K Dow in 2025. (Discussed this AM here, with Jeff’s full piece here) Jeff and I are in the same secular bear market camp; However, he argues that the current secular Bear market will end ~18 years after the last secular…Read More

Category: Cycles, Inflation, Investing, Psychology, Technical Analysis, War/Defense

Smackdown: Fisher vs El-Erian

Ken Fisher channels my monkey comments to diss PIMCO’s Mohamed El-Erian and their “New Normal” thesis. I disagree with the New Normal thesis, but for very different reasons than Fisher does. (Note: I am a fan of his book, The Wall Street Waltz). I’ll post more on this later this week, but the shorter version…Read More

Category: Cycles, Investing

Households, Treasuries, Small Biz, Inflation

There was a ton of data released last week, some of which we only get quarterly or annually.  It would be virtually impossible to comment on all the items of interest contained in just three of the more bountiful reports — the Census Bureau’s annual release of Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States, the quarterly Fed Flow of Funds report (one of my favorites, even though the data’s always a bit stale), and the monthly Small Business Economic Trends report from the National Federation of Independent Business.  That said, here are a few items that caught my eye which tend to be overlooked and not reported elsewhere.

HOUSEHOLD FORMATION

Among the things that jumped out at me in last week’s Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States: 2009, which is always a fascinating read, was the virtually stagnant condition of household formation in the United States.  Page 13 of the report shows the number of households in the U.S. in 2008 as 117,181,000. For 2009, Census tells us the number rose to 117,538,000, for a gain of 0.30%, the lowest growth rate on record according to their database (and eclipsing what had been the previous lowest on record — 0.34% — in 2008).

Here’s a graphic (calculated using Table HH-1):

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The formation of new households is obviously critical for the growth of the economy for more reasons than I could detail here (think housing, for starters, then move on to durable goods, then perhaps autos).  While one would expect the rate to decline in hard times (job insecurity, wage stagnation), a continuation of this trend will only serve to exacerbate some of the challenges we’re trying to work through.

[ADDING 9/20/2010:  We have heard from Calculated Risk regarding the usability/utility of the chart above and the underlying data from which I derived it (i.e. it tends to be unreliable as a time series).  In fact, CR had a post here just Saturday on this very topic;  readers are encouraged to have a look.  That said, we do clearly agree that “combined data suggest extremely slow growth over the last few years,” and that is my overarching point.]

HOUSEHOLD OWNERSHIP OF TREASURIES

Turning to Friday’s Fed Flow of Funds report, I noted that Treasury securities on the balance sheet of U.S. households have exploded — by $616 billion from the second quarter of 2009 to the second quarter of 2010.  From $447.448B to 1.063622T:

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Now, this is not to say I am in the bond bubble camp, as I am not.  I am merely pointing out that the flight to safety is — and will likely continue to be — in full effect as economic uncertainty prevails and boomers (and retirees) struggle to get what safe income they can.  I would also note that part of this equation probably has to do with the fact that — at ~2.75% on the 10-year — it takes a lot more bonds money to produce the same income than it would at, say, 5% or higher.  None of this is to say that Treasuries represent a significant percent of household assets — they do not.  But the almost vertical rise in dollar terms is noteworthy.

As Americans continue the long, hard slog of balance sheet repair, it is encouraging to see owners’ equity as a percent of real estate on the mend, though there’s a long way to go:

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NATIONAL FEDERATION OF INDEPENDENT BUSINESS – SMALL BUSINESS ECONOMIC TRENDS

The NFIB put out its Small Business Economic Trends report last week, and although the Optimism Index eked out a modest gain (though still mired in recessionary terrain), much of the commentary was downright depressing:

There is no life in the jobs market.
The environment for capital spending is not good.
The weak economy continued to put downward pressure on prices.
Those looking for loans predominately are looking for cash flow support, not funds to expand or hire (see Small Business Credit in a Recession, 12/09).
Overall, 91 percent of the owners reported all their credit needs met or they did not want to borrow, unchanged from July.

The first two comments are fairly obvious to anyone with a pulse living in the United States.  The third comment — supported by two inflation-related releases last week — argues that a deflationary scenario is not out of the question.  The fourth comment is very troubling, in my opinion.  It is disheartening to see that those businesses seeking credit are doing so to support their cash flow needs.  Over time, without a more sustained recovery, that will not end well.  While it is encouraging to see that 91% of small businesses either do not want to borrow or are having their borrowing needs met, it does call into question the talking point that “banks aren’t lending” or “credit is not available.”  Finally, I would note that Poor Sales continue to be the Number One problem cited by small business — above Taxes, Gov’t Regulation/Red Tape, or any other issue:  “What businesses need are customers, giving them a reason to hire and make capital expenditures and borrow to support those activities.”  So for all the rhetoric about “uncertainty,” the simple fact of the matter is a lack of demand.

AND A WORD ON INFLATION after the jump

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Category: Cycles, Data Analysis, Economy

It Was the Best of Times. It Was the Worst of Times. Yup.

Invictus here, gang.

Is it possible that Dickens was trying to reconcile two seemingly conflicting charts of the labor market when he penned that famous line?

We’re all reminded, month after tedious month, that this is the mother of all jobless recoveries.  One of the charts I (Invictus) have seen used most widely appears every month over at the most excellent Calculated Risk website (first chart in post at link).  I (Invictus) get sick just looking at it.  Bill’s chart is, of course, accurate (sickening though it may be).  Other such charts and graphs have proliferated, and most discuss job losses since the onset of recession in December 2007, or something to that effect.  David Rosenberg has frequently mentioned the hideousness of the job market “xx months since the recession’s start.”  And he, too, is correct.  (Aside:  Can’t wait to see who still refers to me as BR in the comments.)

Here’s how one media report put it:

By almost every measure, the economy has been expanding at a healthy pace for six months. But the nation’s employers remain stubbornly reluctant to add jobs in the United States.  [...]  Another [reason for lack of hiring] is rising productivity, squeezing more work from existing staff and other efficiencies.  [...]  Despite strong economic growth since last summer, the current recovery started out very slowly and that helps to explain the lack of hiring.

That report, from the NY Times, is dated March 6, 2004, fully three years from the onset of the 2001 recession.  And there’s this post’s “the more things change” reference.

If the economy is in recovery — a new cycle –  for the the past 13 (or so) months — “technical” or not — should we perhaps be looking at the employment situation relative to the trough now, and not to the last peak?  To be clear, I am not advocating hard one way or the other (though I will offer some thoughts in closing), simply pointing out that if the recession ended — as many, including the St. Louis Fed (see: Dude, Where’s My Recession Bar, Jan 2010, and St. Louis Fed Tracks Nascent Expansion, Mar 2010) –  perhaps we should now be looking at our experience from the trough?  This is more my offering an item for discussion than taking a stand on the issue — both sides have valid arguments.

Both of the following statements are true, and neither contradicts the other:  We experienced the worst labor market recession since the Great Depression.  From the trough, the labor market is generating jobs at a faster pace than the previous two recessions.

Let’s get to the topic of what date is used as the peg from which to measure.  Here are the relevant charts, but first a few notes:

1) To avoid running into census worker issues, I have chosen to use Private Sector payrolls (USPRIV at the St. Louis Fed).  We’ll keep the government out of this and focus on the private sector.  Makes the comparisons apples-to-apples, as census was not at play in 2001 or 1991.

2) Y-axis scales on the two charts differ slightly and are set to best show changes.

3) BR stole a bit of my thunder by posting Kasriel’s related chart in a recent post, as it drives home a similar point in a totally different context (i.e. Boskin’s a lying sack of shit).  For the record, my post was a work-in-progress at that time and in no way a result of the Kasriel post.

So, first let’s look at a chart indexed to 100 at the beginning of the past three recessions (and below that a chart indexed to their ends, two of which we know, the last we assume) — 2007, 2001 and 1990.  Immediately below is what is generally seen floating around in various iterations and has become the de facto representation of the job market.  Many charts show more recessions, or averages, or maximums and minimum.  I’m focused on 2001 and 1990 because they defined modern-day “jobless recoveries” and are thus the appropriate choices.  (It occurs to me that the phrase “jobless recovery” itself, by definition, arguably demands that we focus on the “recovery” and not the “recession,” or we would name it otherwise.)

True claim:  “This is/was the worst job market since the onset of recession since the Great Depression.”

Now let’s have a look at labor market performance from business cycle bottoms, and I’ll offer the following question:  Is this the more relevant yardstick at this point in time?

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Category: Cycles, Data Analysis, Economy, Employment

Advanced/Emerging Countries in Financial Distress, 1980-2010

Today’s chart of the day comes to us via Reza Moghadam, who writes at IMF Direct. The chart makes it readily apparent that the so-called 100 year floods seem to come along every decade or so: > click for larger chart Chart courtesy of IMF > Source: Global Safety Nets: Crisis Prevention in an Age…Read More

Category: Bailouts, Credit, Cycles, Economy

Interest Rates: 60-Year Cycle

Last week, we reviewed the History of US Interest Rates: 1790-Present via Doug Kass. Following that, several of you pointed us to this fascinating 60 year cycle in interest rates. It is quite compelling, to say the least: > chart from McClellan Financial Publications

Category: Cycles, Fixed Income/Interest Rates

SCIENTISTIC FICTION

The following was written by Lakshman Achuthan and Anirvan Banerji, co-founders of ECRI:

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“As Geoffrey H. Moore once reminded us, if you can ‘predict’ a recession just as it’s beginning you are doing very well as a forecaster.” We recalled our mentor’s observation in our book, Beating the Business Cycle, and it’s just as relevant today as it ever was.

With the economy slowing, the double-dip recession debate has naturally assumed center stage. Perhaps you already know something about the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) or the Weekly Leading Index from your favorite analyst, commentator or blog. But, as debates go, this one is becoming heated and ECRI is being misrepresented more often than not. We write this note in an effort to address the more extreme misperceptions.

Recent diatribes from investment managers with blogs have culminated in an accusation that we are dishonest when it comes to ECRI’s forecast track record in the lead-up to the 2007-09 recession. Having ECRI’s forecast challenged is nothing new, but we’ve never had our professional integrity called into question, until now. Criticism of our work comes with the territory, but such charges do not. Therefore we ask you to consider what’s been left out of that narrative and, more importantly, why. Inquiring minds would surely investigate before accepting such character assassination.

One would find that the facts are willfully misrepresented, perhaps in an attempt to undermine ECRI’s credibility when expedient. Our detractor’s declaration is based on a cherry-picked quote from a PowerPoint file (including discussion notes) that we posted on our website on October 5, 2009. Ten months later, on Aug. 4, 2010, the charge was that “ECRI is caught” in an “Outright Lie,” saying that we claim to have forecast the recession in November 2007. This is simply made up.

Evidence offered to support this allegation resides on the third slide of 23 from an October 2009 ECRI presentation titled The Great Recession and Recovery. That slide shows our Weekly Leading Index (WLI) and includes an ECRI discussion note for the presentation saying that the WLI has been around for over a quarter century and that “it has correctly predicted every recession and recovery in real-time.”

In fact, that statement is undeniably true. The WLI peaked and went into a cyclical downturn six months before the recession began. So this is hardly a smoking gun.

In evaluating the performance of any leading indicator, the key question is whether its cyclical turn occurred before the cyclical turn in the economy. If so, the follow-on question is whether that lead occurred in real time, or showed up only in revised data. In the case in question the WLI peak occurred well before the business cycle peak, in real time. That was the point of that slide.

But, nowhere on the slide in question does ECRI claim to have predicted the recession. Nowhere do we equate ECRI to the WLI. To the contrary, a few slides later, we say that ECRI called the recession in March 2008. It’s inconceivable that anyone attending the actual presentation, or reviewing the presentation in retrospect, could come away believing otherwise.

To be clear, our detractors are capable of understanding what we’ve been saying all along. On July 20, 2010 they wrote:

“I suppose you can see how confusing this is when the WLI ‘has correctly predicted every recession and recovery in real time’ yet Lakshman Achuthan also says … ‘In fact, at the very least, ECRI itself would need to see a ‘pronounced, pervasive and persistent’ decline in the level of the WLI (not merely negative readings in its growth rate) following a ‘pronounced, pervasive and persistent’ decline in ECRI’s U.S. Long Leading Index (not discussed in the article), before it makes a recession call.’ That is a clear statement that the WLI cannot in and of itself predict anything unless it follows the ECRI’s U.S. Long Leading Index.”

That focus on our “clear statement” is correct. In fact, ECRI interprets the WLI in the context of our full array of leading indexes (including the Long Leading Index) as outlined in chapter seven of Beating the Business Cycle (Doubleday, 2004). And yet, these critics try to malign ECRI by conflating the WLI’s movements with ECRI’s recession calls.

The Whole Truth

Just go to The Great Recession and Recovery, which provides a clear timeline of ECRI’s forecasts from the fall of 2007 through summer 2009. We encourage you to examine the full presentation firsthand, but here are the pertinent slides from that presentation, starting with the third slide:

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Category: Cycles, Economy, Psychology

The 56 Year Benner Cycle

The 56 year cycle mentioned yesterday (“Periods When to Make Money” (© 1883) was picked up by FT Alphaville; we hear it caused some “consternation” in certain circles where the marinating of ice cubes takes place. I find these approaches quite fascinating, if for no other reason than I consider myself a student of market…Read More

Category: Cycles, Technical Analysis