Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Stocks have gone from overvalued to fairly valued.

With the market falling like it did over the past week it may prove valuable to look at the PE and some other economic reports.  In my PE model the market became overvalued in December and January.  The last observation is at the market close on Thursday, 8 February 2018. the previous two observation are the end of December and January values.

Notice that the PE did not rise until December . As of November, 2017 the market PE was still below where it was when Trump was elected.  If the market rallied because investors expected higher future earnings because of the tax cut, it did not show up in the PE until the tax bill was actually passed.  The usual rule is to buy the rumor and sell the fact.  But given Trumps record, it was understandable that investors were not willing to pay up for stronger earnings until the legislation was actually signed into law.

Most of the market rally for a year after Trump was elected reflected double digit earnings growth rather than  a higher PE as investors started discounting stronger earnings.  Now, we have a divergence in earnings expectations as the top down strategists and economist expect the tax cut to generate double digit earnings growth in 2018.   But the bottoms-up analysts only expect modest earnings gains. Analysts expectations are driven largely by company guidance. This divergence may suggest that corporate America is not as bullish as Wall Street has been the last few months.

Generally ignored because of the jobs report,  productivity was reported the same day as unemployment, and it was very weak.  As a consequence, the spread between unit labor cost and prices — the nonfarm deflator– narrowed sharply. This spread is the dominate determine of profit margins and is a leading to concurrent  indicator of earnings growth. It implies that earnings growth will be quite weak over the next few months.  Right now there seems to be two views on 2018 profits growth.  Economists and strategist expect the tax cut to lead to double digit earnings growth in 2018 while  analysts expect single digit earnings growth.  Analysts bottoms-up forecast are driven largely by management guidance.  So this divergence between analyst and economists may imply that corporate management may not be as bullish on the economy as Wall Street.

Moreover,my bond model implies that bond yields should be rising.  Rising rates are especially hard on the market when the market is overvalued. So you are faced with an market where rates are rising and earnings expectation are falling.

Finally, the dollar is weak despite the point that interest rate spreads between US and foreign rates are rising. Historically, the combination of rising interest rate spread and a falling dollar is a very bearish development.

The bottom line is that this market fall is being  produced in Washington. Over the last six years under Obama we had a combination of easy money and tight fiscal policy as the Republican Congress implemented restrictive fiscal policy– the deficit fell from near 10% of GDP to about 3%. –and the Fed offset it with  easy money.  But now, Congress is implementing easy fiscal policy when the economy is at or near full employment and the Fed is being  forced to offset it with tight money policy.  The agreement to give the Republicans the expanded military spending and the Democrats the expanded social spending they want is a repeat of the guns and butter policy under President Johnson. But now, the US is dependent on foreign capital inflows to  finance the deficit and the weak dollar implies that the foreign capital is not forthcoming at current interest rate spread.

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Jobless claims make another record low

Jobless claims make another record low

One reason not to get excited about the last week’s stock market swoon is that it isn’t being confirmed by any other short term leading indicators.  Most significantly, jobless claims.
The 4 week moving average of new jobless claims has fallen below 225,000. This is yet another 40 year record low. In fact, with the exception of six weeks in the early 1970s, it’s a new 50 year low.
And adjusted for population growth, it is a new all-time low.
As a practical matter, virtually nobody is getting laid off.  This is not an economy that is about to roll over.

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What Happened to All the Jobs Trump Promised?

Hat tip Linda Beale contact forwards this Propublica job tracker post:

What Happened to All the Jobs Trump Promised?

President Trump has made many claims promising that individual companies such as Amazon, Alibaba and Boeing will hire large – and specific – numbers of American workers, a total of 2.4 million in all … We found that only about 206,000 of those jobs have been created so far … Roughly 136,000 of those were genuinely new positions, as opposed to slots that were planned before the presidential election … And some 63,000 of them are potentially attributable to Trump, according to the companies that did the hiring

Carrier, Alibaba, Saudi Arabia, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, GE…mostly not in the works as Public Relations suggests. Worth a read, very short.

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GOP’s “I See “Secret Societies” Meme

The line in the movie The Sixth Sense, “I see dead people. They don’t know they’re dead.” Repubs; “I see Secret Societies, others do not know they exist. They are everywhere.”

Daily Beast’s Rick Wilson; “The story was falling apart even before the Moron Caucus beclowned themselves with the ‘Secret Society’ meme (my addition), because the memo obviously hadn’t done enough to reduce the Republicans in stature and seriousness. Seizing on a single, obviously joking text message, Sen. Ron Johnson took to the microphones to describe the FBI’s alleged ‘Secret Society’ as if he had watched Eyes Wide Shut enough times to memorize it. Fidelio, Ron. Fidelio.

When confronted with the risible absurdity of his claim, Johnson said ‘informants’ had told them about the dark, satanic orgies of the FBI. Within hours, he denied all of it in an embarrassingly clumsy walk back. From the Trump-right obsession with ‘Q-Anon’ as a source of Deep State gibberish to the uncritical acceptance of even the most outrageously absurd rumors, the GOP is becoming defined as a party of conspiracy. It’s is a bad look for a governing party, and it’s getting worse by the day.”

This is what the Koch Bros poured $millions into Wisconsin in support of Ron Johnson and Wisconsin Republicans, a cultural divide to hide behind and defend one’s self no matter how ridiculous. Hopefully, the adults in the room can maintain . . .

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A comment about the markets for the average reader

A comment about the markets for the average reader

This is a post aimed at the generally Progressive audience of this blog who followed us over from way back in our days at Daily Kos, rather than the financially sophisticated audience who have picked us up since (but of course everybody is welcome to read and appreciate!).
Anyway, at times like this over 10 years ago Bonddad used to write posts like “A comment about the markets” for the DK audience, explaining the “significance” of the market action. So in that tradition ….
First of all, don’t base any investing decision on advice from anyone you read online — including me.  If you are concerned enough, go talk to a registered financial professional. In particular, at times like this, the Doomers are going to come out of the woodwork, especially at places like Daily Kos. It got to the point that in years past, I used to use the “Pied Piper of Doom” at DK as a contrary indicator.  I once even called the bottom of a market selloff similar to the present one *in real time* based on his panicky post.
That being said. here’s my take based on over 25 years of watching the markets closely, and seeing this kind of selloff maybe 20 times. Moves of 3% or more a day are based on emotion, either euphoria (less likely) or panic (more likely!), or more recently, “algorithms gone wild!” (think of the “flash crash.” That is a very bad basis on which to make a decision about your money.
Because I am a nerd, and I always show you graphs, here’s a three-pack to put this in perspective.  First, here is the entire 1990s, the second half of the biggest bull market in history:

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Why I’m not impressed by January’s 2.9% YoY wage growth

Why I’m not impressed by January’s 2.9% YoY wage growth

I wanted to follow up on why I dissented Friday from the near-consensus take that workers finally got a nice raise, with many citing hikes in the minimum wage. As you may recall, the YoY% change in the average hourly earnings of all employees rose 2.9% as of January.
That was the story in, for example, Marketwatch:

Average hourly wages jumped 9 cents, or 0.3%, to $26.74, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means wages have increased 2.9% over the last year — the biggest gain since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009.The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and hasn’t increased since 2009. But many states and municipalities enacted laws to raise the wage this year.

Even progressive sources like The American Prospect touted the number, under the headline, “The Proof is in: Minimum Wage Hikes Work”:

{A]verage hourly earnings for private-sector workers increased by 0.34 percent this month, and 2.9 percent over the past year.Wage levels have struggled to gain traction in recent years, even as the labor market has tightened. But for labor economists and workers alike, these most recent increases could be a sign that wages might finally be on the upswing, thanks to progressive state policies. In the new year, 18 states across the country—from Florida to Maine, and from Washington state to Michigan—hiked their minimum wages, bringing $5 billion in additional pay to 4.5 million workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The reason I dissented is that the YoY% increase for nonsupervisory workers was only 2.4% — right in the range it has been for over a year.  As Jared Bernstein, who called the number “A Nice Wage Pop,”  pointed out:

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End Of The Obama-Yellen Economy

End Of The Obama-Yellen Economy

For the past year the US has been essentially operating on an Obama-Yellen economy, at least as far as the big macroeconomic policies have been concerned in terms of fiscal and monetary policies.  We saw basically a continuation of what had been seeing in previous years, steady growth with inflation under control.  There was some uptick in wage growth, although that had already started in the previous year.  He has supposedly engaged in a lot of deregulation, but most of it that has gotten a lot of attention has involved making it easier for firms to pollute in various ways, with squashing renewable energy projects while super encouraging fossil fuels and coal.  Indeed, about 50% of the increase in capital investment in the US last year was in the energy sector.

One area where Trump’s policy, or expectation of it, has had a noticeable influence has been the expectation of his corporate tax cut on the stock market, ,which has risen a lot since his election, even after taking account of the declines in the past week (although the market rose more in percentage terms in Obama’s first year than it did in Trump’s first year).  But, of course, stock markets are famous for buying on the rumor and selling on the news.  Now the market continued to zoom after the tax cut passed for awhile, but now some realities may be kicking in regarding the full implications of it.  The Obama fiscal policy is over, and Janet Yellen officially went out the door at the Fed at 9 AM this morning when her successor was sworn in as the new Fed Chair.

So why is the realization of the end of the Obama-Yellen economy downing the market so hard?  One side item that has probably exacerbated things and has little to do with Trump or the rest has been the more dramatic collapse of the cryptocurrency markets, now down well over 50% from its November high. I shall not get into the details of that or where I think it is going, but I suspect the sharper plunging those markets were doing this past week have spilled over to some extent into the stock market.

That said, it has been noted by a wide range of people, with Robert Shiller perhaps the most prominent, that the US stock market appeared to have become somewhat overvalued, with Shiller claiming it has had the highest ratios of prices to recent trends of earnings of any major national stock market.  Many have been warning of an impending correction, and it looks like it is here.  If it does not go down too much more, it will not in the end be a big deal, a merely useful correction.

That said, and along with the caveat regarding the drag coming from the epiphenomenon of the crytpocurrency crash, there is reason to believe that this recent market drop may well reflect some realizations about the implications of Trump policies, along with perhaps jut a bit of confidence loss due to the departure of the incredibly calming and reliable Janet Yellen from the Fed.  A lot of talk has been that with wage pressures rising, inflation expectations may be rising, and with that that interest rates may be pushed up by the Fed.  On top of that there was the realization a week ago that Treasury borrowing is really up thanks to the Trump tax cut, estimated to be up 84%, and we have a debt ceiling increase needed in probably a month, not to mention another possible government shutdown looming this week (probably to be put off for another month).  In any case the unexpectedly high increase in borrowing will put upward pressure on interest rates, irrespective of inflation or Fed policies affecting short term interest rates.  I suspect this matter is what has really gotten the stock market spooked.  They sent all last year capitalizing in their higher after tax profits, but had failed to capitalize in the higher interest rates to accompany the higher budget deficits.

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January jobs report

January jobs report: good headline growth, mostly negative internals. UPDATE: THE BOSSES GAVE THEMSELVES A RAISE

  • +200,000 jobs added
  • U3 unemployment rate unchanged at 4.1%
  • U6 underemployment rate rose 0.1% from 8.1% to 8.2%
Here are the headlines on wages and the chronic heightened underemployment:
Wages and participation rates
  • Not in Labor Force, but Want a Job Now: declined -137,000 from 5.308 million to 5.171 million
  • Part time for economic reasons: rose +74,000 from 4.915 million to 4.989 million
  • Employment/population ratio ages 25-54: fell -0.1% from 79.1% to 79.0%
  • Average Weekly Earnings for Production and Nonsupervisory Personnel: rose +$.0.03 from  $22.31 to $22.34, up +2.4% YoY.  (Note: you may be reading different information about wages elsewhere. They are citing average wages for all private workers. I use wages for nonsupervisory personnel, to come closer to the situation for ordinary workers.)
Holding Trump accountable on manufacturing and mining jobs
 Trump specifically campaigned on bringing back manufacturing and mining jobs.  Is he keeping this promise?  
  • Manufacturing jobs rose by +15,000 for an average of  +17,300 a month vs. the last seven years of Obama’s presidency in which an average of 10,300 manufacturing jobs were added each month.
  • Coal mining jobs increased by 100 for an average of -46 a month vs. the last seven years of Obama’s presidency in which an average of -300 jobs were lost each month

November was revised downward by -36,000. December was revised upward by +12,000, for a net change of -24,000.

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