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Economics

A tale of two growth rates; GDP and US corporate profits

June 3, 2014
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A tale of two growth rates; GDP and US corporate profits

Last week’s “second” 1Q14 GDP print revised to a -1.0% annualized growth rate relative to the prior print of +0.1%. The second 1Q14 GDP print was shrugged off, with equity markets rallying to new highs, in impressive fashion, given the seasonally low volumes around Memorial Day. While the 1Q14 print is still not “final” (there will be third print, and an ultimate benchmark revision) there is little fear for two consecutive down GDP quarters; the typical definition of a recession. Nonetheless, the real economy is still punk. The performance between the real economy, and the environment for corporate profits, is often confused, and wrongly, treated as one and the same thing. CJF holds the view that what’s ok for the economy is a nirvana for corporate profits. If the...

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April employment report; strength broadens to lower-end

May 2, 2014
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April employment report; strength broadens to lower-end

This month’s job report will rightly be questioned; late-winter/early spring weather for much of the country was horrible in February and March, and this morning’s report reflects payback from depressed activity making results appear better than they actually are. Nonetheless, trends in April, and thus far year-to-date, reflect a potentially important change in labor market dynamics; the broadening of job creation to the lower-end segment of the job market. This emerging trend represents the start of a sea-change towards “normalization” in the job market – looking more like what it used to look like pre-financial crisis, finally. The implications for lower/middle income consumption, the housing market, inflation, and corporate input costs are crucial. Data points supporting signs of broadening: U6 unemployment rate fell to 12.3% from 12.7% (this metric...

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Wealth Effect; gaining steam from asset returns and persistence

April 29, 2014
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Wealth Effect; gaining steam from asset returns and persistence

The ongoing economic tug-of-war remains tied. Growth spurts with better momentum (housing, auto, healthy corporate profits, job market) are almost immediately met by numerous automatic stabilizers (higher mortgage rates, deteriorating housing affordability, satiation of replacement cycles). But weighing the good and the bad, we are in a fine environment for the stock market. The environment is good enough to drive slow, yet relatively stable, economic growth but weak enough for corporate input costs (labor, materials, interest rates) to remain very well contained. Margins are elevated, cash flow is healthy, and the market performs well (big picture). The wealth effect is a key item on the “good” side of the economic ledger that is set to gain steam in terms of economic drivers. “Wealth” matters because it is the secondary...

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Student debt bubble; should school loans be repaid, or not?

April 23, 2014
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Student debt bubble; should school loans be repaid, or not?

Tuesday’s WSJ presented an interesting cover story on student debt forgiveness. Push back is growing with respect to managing the amount of total debt forgiveness or capping it to a maximum amount; the article states $57,500 as potential forgiveness cap per student. Bubble aftermath is never pretty and the fascinating case of runaway US student debt will be no different. Let’s be frank, there is no black and white solution to any of this. Per the American Student Assistance association, there are approximately 37 million Americans with some form of outstanding student debt. Each instance is unique from the standpoint of two important factors: 1) capacity to repay 2) the ability to earn a return on a debt-financed education spending If individual students were mini-corporations, its credit worthiness would...

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Crimea Annexation; the implications for global capital allocation

March 27, 2014
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Crimea Annexation; the implications for global capital allocation

Around geopolitical events, political posturing is generally the short-term focus for all parties involved, and markets, but the longer-term implications are often unrelated to what is obvious in the short-term. The despotic approach of Vladimir Putin, and his “damn the torpedoes” approach to dealing with market/economic consequences exacerbates this effect. A fascinating take on the longer-term consequences of Putin’s bravado is detailed in the Journal of Foreign Affairs.  Recent actions are presented as a negative for Russia and a positive for the Ukraine. While this will take several years to validate/invalidate, the article is provocative and provides at least a partial justification for financial markets (outside Russia/Ukraine) to come to terms with the annexation issue, and largely ignore it. Perhaps Ukraine/Russia geopolitical issues become 2014′s version of last year’s...

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Europe’s Prisoner’s Dilemma – LTRO Needs to Continue for Years

May 22, 2012
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Europe’s Prisoner’s Dilemma – LTRO Needs to Continue for Years

European leaders have inadvertently created one of the financial world’s largest negative feedback mechanisms. By issuing long-term refinancing operations (LTRO) with cheap ECB funding for terms up to three years and encouraging European banks to take the funding and purchase assets such as sovereign debt, the ECB effectively has encouraged the European financial system to purchase and hold “money good” European sovereign debt. With cheap funding available and the ECB encouraging banks to take the money and invest/lend a situation was created where the natural buyers of sovereign debt were propped up and supported. With many of the bonds in Spain and Italy having maturities in the vicinity of 5-10 years, there is a good chance that the LTRO will need to continue for a number of years until...

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Deja Déjà Vu – A Third Summer of European Crisis

May 18, 2012
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Deja Déjà Vu – A Third Summer of European Crisis

Over the past week, it has become clear that a third annual conflagration throughout Europe is upon us. The crisis has morphed yet again, and like The Hydra, it has come back in a more menacing form. The issue this summer is more profound than the “sovereign debt crisis” which struck last summer. Last summer’s issues were always containable with simple resolve from the ECB. The market forced the issue in sudden manner and eventually a fix came in the form of 3-year long-term refinancing operations (LTRO).  Astute observers will notice that today, sovereign debt rates, while higher, have not flared up to the levels they reached last year. European interest rates should not approach summer levels because there is a set playbook that works to contain sovereign rates...

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Like QE, the ECB’s Long-Term Refinancing Operations Will Continue for Years

April 23, 2012
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Like QE, the ECB’s Long-Term Refinancing Operations Will Continue for Years

I came across an article in The Telegraph by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard which does a good job of highlighting the circularity of the ECB’s LTRO and associated bond buying. As banks throughout Europe took advantage of ECB stimulus, which they were de facto encouraged to do by Mario Draghi and the ECB, it is clear that both the stimulus itself as well as ECB sovereign debt purchases will be needed until there is a solid economic recovery throughout the periphery of Europe. With austerity implementation to reduce deficits, economic recovery for many counties in Europe could be years away. With the automatic stabilization mechanisms in peripheral Europe broken as weaker economic growth leads to higher interest rates it will become necessary for Europe to continue to cap interest rates to...

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Bernanke’s Labor Market Speech – The Case for Continued Accommodative Policy

March 30, 2012
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Bernanke’s Labor Market Speech – The Case for Continued Accommodative Policy

Ben Bernanke made a highly referenced speech earlier this week, which was credited with fueling a sharp rally in the stock market. The speech was colorfully titled: “Recent Developments in the Labor Market” and is a worthwhile read for investors and those interested in the US economy. The speech highlights a growing controversy in the labor market regarding the constraints on hiring. The traditional school of economic thought focuses on the cyclical factors which have depressed hiring and constrained labor market improvements. In Fed speak this is described as insufficient “aggregate demand”. A new school of thought is emerging focusing on the bottlenecks in the job market stemming from; the aging of the workforce, globalization, and technological change. Obstacles based on these reasons are described as “structural impediments”. Ben...

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Welcome to the World, North Korea – Investment Opportunities Will Eventually Sprout

March 13, 2012
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Welcome to the World, North Korea – Investment Opportunities Will Eventually Sprout

North Korea has been isolated since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Significant amounts of communist aid ceased, and the fall of communism across Eastern Europe ultimately had a profound impact on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for the next two decades. North Korea was figuratively and literally off the grid as the country experienced severe shortages of electricity, energy, and food for many years. Society was more advanced around the time of Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 compared to today and the economy was much more productive. North Korea has been one of the few industrialized civilizations to experience famine during peacetime over the past 50 years. The state controlled media ranks second to last in terms of the World Press Freedom Index (if you’re...

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The Economic Process of Deleveraging Part Two – Why the US is Well Positioned

February 22, 2012
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The Economic Process of Deleveraging Part Two – Why the US is Well Positioned

The differences between the US situation post-financial crisis and Japan in 1990 are stark. The previous post outlined how extreme things got in Japan and how ahead of itself the Japanese stock market, real estate market and economy got. While Japan was exposed to “extreme extremes” the US economy experienced imbalances that could be worked off much more quickly. Real Estate Excess Has Been Wrung Out Over 5-years The US experienced multiple years’ worth of double digit real estate gains. The gains were spectacular and fueled by credit standards which continued to loosen until the point where the housing market evolved into the concept of “renting with the option to own”. When mortgage financing was willing to underwrite this type of one-way asymmetric risk the party was bound to...

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The Economic Process of Deleveraging Part One – What Happened in Japan?

February 9, 2012
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The Economic Process of Deleveraging Part One – What Happened in Japan?

The process of deleveraging has been in place since the onset of global recession and financial crisis in 2008. Many investors and economists have highlighted how long the process can take once it gets going. It’s striking how the theme of deleveraging, broadly speaking, is universally assumed to play out over a very long time. Japan is the oft cited example of how a deleveraging processes can take 20 years or more! It is all very alarming given that the western world’s recent crisis is only 2-3 years in. At risk of sounding Pollyannaish, there are dramatic differences between the economic situation in Japan in the late 1980’s and the US in 2008. For a number of reasons, I believe that a decade-long deleveraging process in the United States...

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