January 26, 2015
Clarksville, TN – As expected, the European Central Bank (ECB) signaled that it would begin a quantitative easing program, purchasing €60 billion per month in public and private securities through September 2016.
The amount of monthly purchases was a bit higher than anticipated, but that included the ECB’s already-existing program to purchase asset-backed securities and covered bonds. The ECB’s announcement sent the euro sharply lower.
January 11, 2015
Clarksville, TN – The December Employment Report was strong, but with some conflicting details. Nonfarm payrolls rose by a greater-than-expected 252,000 (median forecast: +240,000), with a net revision to October and November of +50,000.
It was the strongest year for job growth since 1999 (and the strongest private-sector job growth since 1997). The unemployment rate fell to 5.6% (median forecast: 5.7%), with annual benchmark revisions making little difference – however, the drop in the unemployment rate was due entirely to a decrease in labor force participation (don’t read too much into that, seasonal adjustment is tricky in December).
January 4, 2015
Clarksville, TN – Two days before Christmas, the government revised its estimate of 3Q14 GDP growth sharply higher (to 5.0%, vs. +3.9% in the 2nd estimate). Most of the revision was in consumer spending (a 3.2% annual rate, vs. +2.2%), which accounts for 70% of the economy.
Moreover, the monthly figures through November suggest an even stronger pace of consumer spending growth in 4Q14 (4.0% to 4.5%). It’s not hard to do the consumer spending calculation (and the monthly figures are subject to revision), but the markets seemed not to fully reflect the improved consumer outlook.
December 22, 2014
Clarksville, TN – The stock market’s anxieties about oil prices, the Fed, and the rest of the world gave way to a renewed sense of optimism (or at least less pessimism).
Heading into the Federal Open Market Committee meeting, the key question was whether it would abandon the “considerable time” phrase. The FOMC had it both ways, removing the phrase, saying instead that it could “be patient” in deciding when to begin normalizing policy, but quickly adding that the intent is exactly the same.
December 14, 2014
Clarksville, TN – Retail sales figures for November were stronger than expected, while results for September and October were revised higher. The report suggests that consumer spending growth is on a moderately strong path in 4Q14 – and we aren’t even close to seeing the full impact of the drop in gasoline prices (expect a bigger benefit for the consumer in the first half of 2015).
The retail sales data did little to offset the negative mood in equities. A further sharp decline in crude oil prices added to the anxiety. A sustained drop in oil prices will be a significant negative for oil producers here and abroad.
December 7, 2014
Clarksville, TN – In recent weeks, the U.S. stock market has reacted negatively to bad economic news out of Japan, China, and the euro area and positively to efforts by the corresponding central banks to spur growth. The European Central Bank did not make that extra effort on Thursday.
After strong hints that quantitative easing is on the way, the ECB’s Governing Council disappointed by failing to launch QE. ECB President Draghi indicated that further extraordinary measures could be employed “if needed.” The ECB staff and euro systems have stepped up technical preparations for QE, but Draghi seemed to suggest that there is no haste toward QE.
November 25, 2014
Clarksville, TN – There are a few key financial market themes of the last several weeks. While the outlooks for the domestic economy and Federal Reserve policy are important, U.S. investors are sensitive to developments in the rest of the world.
Basically, poor economic news from the euro area, China, or Japan is a negative for U.S. equities, while any efforts by foreign central banks to address weakness are seen as a positive.
Japan posted a second quarterly decline in real GDP. Manufacturing gauges for the euro area and China were weak. The Bank of Japan extended its quantitative easing at the end of October.
November 16, 2014
Clarksville, TN – The economic calendar was thin. The report on retail sales, the only significant release during the week, was a little better than expected, restrained by the decline in gasoline prices. Note that lower gasoline prices should provide some support for consumer spending in the important holiday shopping season.
However, that support is likely to merely offset the impact of sluggish wage growth (leading to “okay” holiday sales). The impact of lower gasoline prices on consumer spending depends on how low gasoline prices go and how long they stay low, but usually arrives with a lag.
November 12, 2014
Clarksville, TN – As was widely anticipated, Republicans picked up enough seats in the mid-term elections to control the Senate. Voter turnout was low, especially among young people and Hispanics.
Some are hopeful for a new spirit of bipartisanship, which happens after every mid-term election. Others are expecting the Republicans to accomplish things, such as tax reform and immigration reform.
November 2, 2014
Clarksville, TN – As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee brought the large-scale asset purchase program (QE3) to an end and repeated that it expects conditions to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate “for a considerable time.”
The policy statement was viewed as more hawkish (or less dovish) than anticipated. The FOMC noted that the slack in the job market is “diminishing gradually” (in the previous statement, slack was described as “significant”). The Fed added that the initial increase in short-term interest rates likely would come sooner if the economy is stronger than anticipated or later if the economy disappoints.