Posts tagged ‘CPI’

April Flowers Have Investors Cheering Wow-sers!

Normally April showers bring May flowers, but last month the spring weather was dominated by sunshine that caused stock prices to blossom to new, all-time record highs across all major indexes. More specifically, the S&P 500 jumped +5.2% last month, the NASDAQ catapulted +5.4%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose +2.7%. For the year, the Dow and S&P 500 index both up double-digit percentages (11%), while the NASDAQ is up a few percentage points less than that (8%).

What has led to such a bright and beaming outlook by investors? For starters, economic optimism has gained momentum as the global coronavirus pandemic appears to be improving after approximately 16 months. Not only are COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rates declining, but COVID-19 related deaths are dropping as well. A large portion of the progress can be attributed to the 246 million vaccine doses administered so far in the United States.

Blossoming Economy

As a result of the improving COVID-19 health climate, economic activity, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), expanded by a healthy +6.4% rate during the first quarter. Economists are forecasting second quarter growth to accelerate to an even more brilliant rate of +10%.

As the economy further re-opens and pent-up consumer demand is unleashed, activity is sprouting up in areas like airlines, hotels, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms. An example of consumer demand climbing can be seen in the volume of passenger traffic in U.S. airports, which has increased substantially from the lows a year ago, as shown below in the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) data.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

A germinating economy also means a healthier employment market and more jobs. The chart below shows the dramatic decline in the number of jobless receiving benefits and pandemic unemployment assistance.

Fed Fertilizer & Congressional Candy

Monetary and fiscal stimulus are creating fertile ground for the surge in growth as well. The Federal Reserve has been clear in their support for the economy by effectively maintaining its key interest rate target at 0%, while also maintaining its monthly bond buying program at $120 billion – designed to sustain low interest rates for the benefit of consumers and businesses.

From a fiscal perspective, Congress is serving up some sweet candy by doling out free money to Americans. So far, roughly $4 trillion of COVID-19 related stimulus and relief have passed Congress (see also Consumer Confidence Flies), and now President Biden is proposing roughly an additional $4 trillion of stimulus in the form of a $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan and a $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.

Candy and Spinach

While Congress is serving up trillions in candy, eventually, Americans are going to have to eat some less appetizing spinach in the form of higher taxes. Generally speaking, nobody likes higher taxes, so the question becomes, how does the government raise the most revenue (taxes) without upsetting a large number of voters? As 17th century French statesman Jean-Baptiste Colbert proclaimed, “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing.”

President Biden has stated he will only increase income taxes on people earning more than $400,000 annually and increase capital gains taxes for those earning more than $1,000,000 per year. According to CNBC, those earning more than $400,000 only represents 1.8% of total taxpayers.

Bitter tasting spinach for Americans may also come in the form of higher inflation (i.e., a general rise in a basket of goods and services), which silently eats away at everyone’s purchasing power, especially those retirees surviving on a fixed income. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell sees any increase in inflation as transitory, but if prices keep rising, the Federal Reserve will be forced to increase interest rates. Such a reversal in rates could choke off economic growth and potentially force the economy into a recession.

 If you strip out volatile energy prices, the good news is that underlying inflation has not spiraled higher out of control, as you can see from the chart below.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

In addition to the concerns of potential higher taxes, inflation, and rising interest rate policies from the Federal Reserve, for many months I have written about my apprehension about the speculation in SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Companies) and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. There are logical explanations to invest selectively into SPACs and purchase Bitcoin as a non-correlated asset for diversification purposes and a hedge against the dollar. But unfortunately, if history repeats itself, speculators will eventually end up in a pool of tears.

While there are certainly some storm clouds on the horizon (e.g., taxes, inflation, rising interest rates, speculative trading), April bloomed a lot of flowers, and the near-term forecast remains very sunny as the economy emerges from a global pandemic. As long as the government continues to provide candy to millions of Americans; the Federal Reserve remains accommodative in its policies; and the surge in pent-up demand persists to drive economic growth, we likely have some more time before we are forced to eat our spinach.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (May 3, 2021). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in GME or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

May 3, 2021 at 3:55 pm Leave a comment

Why 0% Rates? Tech, Globalization & EM (Not QE)

Globalization

Recently I have written about the head-scratching, never-ending, multi-decade decline in long-term interest rates (see chart below). Who should care? Well, just about anybody, if you bear in mind the structure of interests rates impacts the cost of borrowing on mortgages, credit cards, automobiles, corporate bonds, savings accounts, and practically every other financial instrument you can possibly think of. Simplistic conventional thinking explains the race to 0% global interest rates by the loose monetary Quantitative Easing (QE) policies of the Federal Reserve. But validating that line of thinking becomes more challenging once you consider QE ended months ago. What’s more, contrary to common belief, rates declined further rather than climb higher after QE’s completion.

10-Year Treasury Yields - Calafia 12-14

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit 

More specifically, if you look at rates during this same time last year, the yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note had more than doubled in the preceding 18 months to a level above 3.0%. The consensus view then was that the eventual wind-down of QE would only add gasoline to the fire, causing bond prices to decline and rates to extend an indefinite upwards march. Outside of bond guru Jeff Gundlach, and a small minority of prognosticators, the herd was largely wrong – as is usually the case. As we sit here today, the 10-Year Note currently yields a paltry 2.26%, which has led to the long-bond iShares 20-Year Treasury ETF (TLT)  jumping +22% year-to-date (contrary to most expectations).

The American Ostrich

Like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, us egocentric Americans tend to ignore details relating to others, especially if the analyzed data is occurring outside the borders of our own soil. Unbeknownst to many, here are some key country interest rates below U.S. yields:

  • Switzerland: 0.33%
  • Japan: 0.34%
  • Germany: 0.60%
  • Finland: 0.70%
  • Austria: 0.75%
  • France: 0.88%
  • Denmark: 0.89%
  • Sweden: 0.98%
  • Ireland: 1.29%
  • Spain: 1.69%
  • Canada 1.80%
  • U.K: 1.85%
  • Italy: 1.93%
  • U.S.: 2.26% (are our rates really that low?)

Outside of Japan, these listed countries are not implementing QE (i.e., “Quantitative Easing”) as did the United States. Rather than QE being the main driver behind the multi-decade secular decline in interest rates, there are other more important disinflationary forces at work driving interest rates lower.

Technology, Globalization, and Emerging Market Competition (T.G.E.M.)

While tracking the endless monthly inflation statistics is a useful exercise to understand the tangible underlying pricing components of various industry segments (e.g., see 20 pages of CPI statistics), the larger and more important factors can be attributed to  the somewhat more invisible elements of technology, globalization, and emerging market competition (T.G.E.M).

CPI Components

Starting with technology, to put these dynamics into perspective, consider the number of transistors, or the effective horsepower, on a semiconductor (a.k.a. computer “chip”) today. The overall impact on global standards of living is nothing short of astounding. Take an Intel chip for example – it had approximately 2,000 transistors in 1971. Today, semiconductors can cram over 10,000,000,000 (yes billions – 5 million times more) transistors onto a single semiconductor. Any individual can look no further than their smartphone to understand the profound implications this has not only on pricing in general, but society overall. To illustrate this point, I would direct you to a post highlighted by Professor Mark J. Perry, who observed the cost to duplicate an iPhone during 1991 would have been more than $3,500,000!

There are an infinite number of examples depicting how technology has accelerated the adoption of globalization. More recently, events such as the Arab Spring point out how Twitter (TWTR) displaced costly military engagement alternatives. The latest mega-Chinese IPO of Alibaba (BABA) was also emblematic of the hunger experienced in emerging markets to join the highly effective economic system of global capitalism.

I think New York Times journalist Tom Friedman said it best in his book, The World is Flat, when he made the following observations about the dynamics occurring in emerging markets:

“My mom told me to eat my dinner because there are starving children in China and India – I tell my kids to do their homework because Chinese and Indians are starving for their jobs”.

“France wants a 35 hour work week, India wants a 35 hour work day.”

There may be a widening gap between rich and poor in the United States, but technology and globalization is narrowing the gap across the rest of the world. Consider nearly half of the world’s population (3 billion+ people) live in poverty, earning less than $2.50 a day (see chart below). Technology and globalization is allowing this emerging middle class climb the global economic ladder.

Poverty

These impoverished individuals may not be imminently stealing our current jobs and driving general prices lower, but their children, and the countless educated millions in other international markets are striving for the same economic security and prosperity we have. The educated individuals in the emerging markets that have tasted capitalism are giving new meaning to the word “urgency”, which is only accelerating competition and global pricing pressures. It comes as no surprise to me that this generational migration from the poor to the middle class is putting a lid on inflation and interest rates around the world.

Declining costs of human labor from emerging markets however is not the only issue putting a ceiling on general prices. Robotics, an area in which Sidoxia holds significant investments, continues to be an area of fascination for me. With human labor accounting for the majority of business costs, it’s no wonder the C-suite is devoting more investment dollars towards automation. Rather than hire and train expensive workers, why not just buy a robot? This is not just happening in the U.S. – in fact the Chinese purchased more robots than Americans last year. And why not? An employer does not have to pay a robot overtime compensation; a robot never shows up late; robots never sue for discrimination or harassment; robots receive no healthcare or retirement benefits; and robots work 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, and 365 days/year.

While newspapers, bloggers, and talking heads like to point to the simplistic explanation of loose, irresponsible monetary policies of global central banks as the reason behind a four decade drop in interest rates that is only a small part of the story. Investors and policy makers alike should be paying closer attention to the factors of technology, globalization, and emerging market competition as the more impactful dynamics systematically driving down long term interest rates and inflation.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own a range of positions, including long positions in certain exchange traded fund positions and INTC (short position in TLT), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in BABA, TWTR or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

December 26, 2014 at 11:04 am 2 comments


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