Posts Tagged 'gdp'

What’s Wrong, What We’re Doing About It, and When Will it All End? Part I

I’ve been suffering some serious writer’s block lately. Just can’t seem to come up with the right words to express the current condition we find our condition to be in.

Now usually in the movies, when the main character is a writer suffering from the blank page syndrome, something dramatic happens. Either he goes off to the woods to find inspiration and instead finds a gang of crazy zombies trying to break into his house and kill him. Or, typically after a bottle of bourbon, he makes a deal with the devil – inspiration for his soul. Or even worse (that is if you’re the movie watcher looking for a good action flick on a Saturday night) he finds the “love interest,” and the whole thing just turns into another weepy chick flick.

But as luck would have it, I didn’t need to recluse myself to the woods, or make a deal with the devil. Instead I had the good old European Community to snap me out of my doldrums. You see this past weekend, the G-8 world leaders met, and emerged with what had to be, one of the single most bizarre statements ever made in political/economic history. Since this incident received minimal coverage, let me set the stage and explain.

So picture the G-8 leaders (the leaders of 8 of the largest 12 world economies – they still won’t let the non-white guys in, or Russia which are basically white guys that don’t count), sitting around a table agonizing over unemployment across the EU, lack of economic growth, trillions in deficits, the Greeks are dumpster diving for food, the Spanish are turning back the clock 200 years as young men are flocking to be sheep herders – one of the few jobs available in their new “austerity” economy. Then in the midst of gloom, up pops Eddie Haskell aka French President Hollande, and he says. “Hey Beav, let’s just change our policies to “growth” and our economies will grow again!” The Beaver, played by ECB Chief Mario Drahgi, replies, “That’s a great idea Eddie, why didn’t we do that before!” Then in unison, the rest of the G-8 leaders have their V-8 moment, slap their foreheads with the palm of their hands and, in unison, exclaim, “Yes, we’ll just grow our economies!” They proudly emerge from the conference and announce to the press that they will implement a balanced approach to austerity by adding in growth measures for their economies. The world applauds, and global stock markets rally…for a day.

The immediate reaction to this “Eddie Haskell” moment, was relief. (For both of you readers that are too young to appreciate the Leave it to Beaver references, you can go to to see what you missed). The ECB would just give growth a chance, before giving Greece, Italy, and Spain the boot. But seriously, if growth was just a matter of politicians sitting around and agreeing to implement growth strategies, what the heck have we been doing for the past decade(s)?!? You mean we needn’t go through business cycles? Booms and busts? All we have to do, to have consistent sustainable growth, is to say “Make it so”?

The reality is that growth strategy is synonymous with government spending in politician speak. The entire European Union has been implementing “growth strategies” since the formation of the EU. If deficit spending truly resulted in sustainable economic growth then Greece would have the fastest growing economy on the planet, followed by big brother and big sis, Spain and Italy. They have cumulatively spent their way into deficits that are 200% or so of their GDP, saddled their banks with bad debt, and killed off their private sectors in return for the Euro, and more cheap borrowing. You simply do not keep feeding a drunk alcohol to cure alcoholism.

The reality is, the entire G-8 has financed a global boom with massive government borrowing. The end result is that private sector growth has been stunted as capital has been siphoned off to the public sector. Now, when the accounting numbers no longer add up, debt needs to be repaid, there is just not a large and vibrant enough private sector (translation: not enough jobs and the jobs we have don’t pay enough), to generate enough tax revenue to maintain our bloated public sectors AND maintain payments on our accumulated debt. The only difference between us and Europe is that they are further down the road then we are. When the dust settles in Europe, it will be our turn. Pay attention. This is a rare opportunity to watch your future unfold before your eyes.

Why is my adrenaline flowing? Why am I worked up? Here is a quick story: A couple weekends ago I was asked to speak at a conference in Atlanta. It was hosted by one of the largest clearing firms in the US. One of the other speakers was a chief equity analyst for a very big domestic investment company that we all know and love. In addressing the European situation, he said “We see about a 5% chance that the Euro will break up”. I challenged that assessment, asking for his data that would suggest the anyone has enough money to actually get all of Europe solvent again. His reply, and I paraphrase was, “ We really don’t have any data, we just believe that a breakup of the Euro would be so catastrophic, that it just won’t happen.” Really. As he spoke visions of Wall Street bankers flashed through my head, circa 2007, and I wondered how many had said those exact same words referring to mortgages and the mortgage backed securities market?

Here is the bottom line. Risk is not about the odds of something happening. It is about the consequences if it does. The question you should be asking yourself is not whether the Euro fails or not. The question is, what happens to my investments, my retirement, my kid’s education, my sanity, if we go through another market crash as seen in 2000-2002, and 2007-2009. And if you are not willing to accept the consequences of another 50% loss or so to the equity portion of your portfolio, you need to take steps now. Either get out, lighten up on risk, or plan an exit strategy. If Greece exits, the global financial markets will be in trouble. If Europe holds it together, we will be knocking on the door of the next secular bull market – you’ll have 15 – 20 years to make some serious money. Being on the sidelines for the first 3 – 6 months or so, would really not be a big deal.

Up next: The indicators we’re watching and how we’ve prepared our portfolio’s.


Europe Undercuts the U.S. Rally

Originally posted on
As I have mentioned in prior posts, as have most writers commenting on the current state of the financial markets, Europe has been the 500 pound gorilla controlling weekly, if not daily market gyrations. With the announcement of a trillion or so Euro bailout, the markets were free to rally on a solid estimated domestic GDP growth rate of 2.5% for the third quarter. The unexpected part is the latter, despite what has been weak, (if not awful) economic data, GDP certainly indicates that we have sidestepped a double dip recession, as long as the European solution is in fact a solution, and not just a solid kick, kicking the can further down the road.
So let’s take a look at the charts and see where we are.
First a look at SPY shows that we have not only broken out of the trading range established in August, but have also broken through the very key 200 day simple moving average (SMA). With the year’s previous high just 6% away look for a new 2011 high in the very near future, if the market’s reaction to the Euro deal remains positive. Anew trading range between the current level and prior high around 136 would be a healthy pause leading to a Santa Claus rally to finish the year.  At the same time keep an eye on the former resistance line around 123. Any drop below, would likely come from the Euro agreement falling apart.
Chart 1. Spy 2011 YTD
Next a quick look at JNK shows a similar pattern. A slight negative is that JNK actually turned negative on Friday the 28th, while SPY was able to follow through on through on Thursday’s news. This could have more to do with the drop in Treasuries as much to the positive GDP release then any lack of follow through to the Europe news. While a move to new highs for SPY would not be a surprise, JNK will likely be pressured by the potential for inflation/rising rates brought on by the bailout. JNK looks way over bought relative to its 30 SMA (Yellow Line) and a current yield of 8.55% ( as of Sept 30, 2011) seems fair to low depending on any further rise in Treasury rates.
Chart 2. JNK 2011 YTD
In Chart 3 you can see that the VIX also gapped down to coincide with Thursday’s big up day. While way down from its recent trading range, it is still at the top of the range established in the first half of the year when we saw a solidly rising market.

Chart 3. VIX 2011 YTD


Next a quick rundown of fundamentals. In Chart 4 you can see a history of the Kansas City Financial Stress Index (KSFSI) and the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI). While both are in “bad” territory (Positive financial stress and negative activity index) they are not quite at the levels that have predated the last two recessions.

Chart 4 KSFSI,CFNAI and U.S. Recessions

Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve FRED

However, when we zoom in, in Chart 5 you can see that the two indicators are heading in different directions in terms of indicating an improving economy. While the Chicago Activity index rose over the last month, so did the financial stress index. The theory behind the two indexes is that economic activity will be pulled lower if financials stress continues to increase.

Chart 5 KSFSI and CFNAI January 1, 2011 – September 30 2011

Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve FRED

On this note, I have to throw in one slightly troubling chart. While earlier I noted that the absolute drop in JNK could be the result of rising level of interest rates. However, in Chart 6, we see that the bond market was not as enthralled with the Europe Solution  as the stock market. The TED spread is the difference between the interest rates on interbank loans and on short-term U.S. government debt (“T-bills”). In Chart 7 you can see that the spread continued to rise through the market rally of the last week. The implication is that banks are even less reluctant to lend to each other now, then they were a week ago. This is not a good omen for future releases of the KSFSI.

Chart 6 TED Spread


But not to end on a sour note, I’ll finish with the prior graph of the CFNAI and KSFSI, but this time throwing in GDP in Chart 8. This is the source of my renewed optimism. GDP is at the highest level it has ever been.

Chart 7 CFNAI,KSFSI, and GDP

Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve FRED

And yet, as we see in the final Chart 9, SPY is still well below prior peaks in both 2000 and 2007. In fact we are at levels first seen in 1999.

Chart 8 SPY Monthly from 1996 to present


Putting it All Together
Not surprisingly the Europe Solution is being scrutinized and the analysis is not as positive as the initial reaction. There are certainly some big holes. Seriously, who is going to step forward and “voluntarily” accept a 50% haircut on Greek bonds? And while there is to be a trillion Euros available to recapitalize European banks, where exactly will it come from, and at what price? At this point the stock market is only a couple percent positive on the year and trading at a modest 13 times earnings. Not where you’d expect a “euphoric” market to be.
But what this appears to have accomplished is to buy significant time. Time for Europe to put its financial house in order. And as long as we can see some sort of begrudging movement, it leaves room for the U.S. to move up (or down) based on our own fundamentals

Investment Policy
With the important 200 SMA breached to the upside for SPY, our modified trading signal will have us wait a few days to see if it holds. If so I will move our ETF Growth Cycle Portfolio into higher beta ETF’s to take advantage of the seasonality cycle that favors the November to May period. Our dividend portfolios have been fully invested since around the time JNK crossed above its 30 day moving average. For new accounts in cash, I will be scouring our targeted dividend stocks for stocks that have not fully recovered from last quarter’s sell off. Even if ( and it is a big if), Europe is out of the way for now, a muddle through economy still looks probable. I like the idea of generating return through dividend yields. • 937.434.1790

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Charles H. Dow Award Winner 2008. The papers honored with this award have represented the richness and depth of technical analysis.