The week that was…

Most weeks, I choose one topic on which to spout my thoughts and opinions.  But, this week, there were just too many interesting things to ponder, so here are 8 brief points of interest.

1)  Earnings season is over and the results were better than expected.  Revenues didn’t dazzle, meaning that end demand is slow, but cost cuts more than made up the difference.  This just goes to show that companies and the stock market can do well even in a slow economy.

2)  Economic numbers continue to improve.  Unemployment claims improved, railroad loadings are up, leading economic indicators surprised on the upside as did the Philly Fed’s survey.  The economy is improving ever so slowly, but it is improving.

3)  There’s been a lot of speculation that the Fed’s quantitative easing program is merely an attempt to puff up the stock market to get rich people to spend, thus improving the overall economy.  Andy Kessler and Don Coxe made convincing arguments that the Fed is really worried about real estate and the financial institutions that depend on real estate values, and thus quantitative easying may be an attempt to support bank balance sheets.  Why did the economy roll over in 2008?  Oh, that’s right, real estate values tanked and financial institutions froze up.

4)  The mortgage documentation mess promises to have much more lasting impacts than most realize.  This issue goes to the heart of real estate titles and ownership, and the dinosaurs are going toe to toe to find out who will eat losses.  If the banks end up losing this fight, like they should, then we could be right back into a 2008 crisis again.  See 3) above.

5)  Ireland will likely take a bailout from the European Union (EU).  If you think this means Ireland is in a weak position, think again.  When you owe the bank $10,000, it’s your problem; when you owe it $10 billion, it’s the bank’s problem.  The EU is more worried about Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy than Ireland, so they are hoping to draw a line in the sand at Ireland (after Greece).  Ireland has the stronger hand in this game.  Oh, and by the way, why is another bailout in Europe good news for markets?

6)  China is working hard to slow down their economy, mostly by slowing bank lending, because food inflation is making the natives restless.  China may succeed more than world markets anticipate.  Initially, markets will probably take that hard.  But, over time, this will lower the prices of input commodities, thus improving developing economies.  This may be a case where slowing for them is good news for us.

7)  Many state and local governments in the U.S. look like Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain in terms of fiscal health.  When these issues hit the front page, likely next year or the year after, it will rattle markets and lead to huge bailouts by the federal government.  This will be good in the long run (because budgets are out of touch with reality), but I don’t think many people, especially investors, are paying attention to the short term impacts.

8)  Long term bond yields spiked over the last couple of weeks.  An almost 5% decline in the 10 year U.S. Treasury bond over a couple of weeks should be a wake up call for investors who think bonds are risk free.  It should also give pause to equity investors who should know that stocks should go down when long term bond yields spike.  But, why worry about that, the market is rallying!

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

The week that was…

Got Growth?

The U.S. economy has really taken it on the chin over the last 2 years.

U.S. Gross Domestic Product shrunk the most since the Great Depression. Unemployment hit double digits for the first time since the 1970’s. Our housing market dropped like a stone.

Added to this, the world economy turned down pretty much because of the economic collapse in the U.S. This makes sense when you think about it; the U.S. economy is larger than the next 3 largest economies combined. How could the world keep growing when it depends so much on U.S. consumers and capital markets?

At the height of the crisis, many Europeans seemed to bask in the glow of American failure. They seemed to wag their fingers at us and say, “I told you so!”

In some ways they were right, but not in the most important ways.

You see, the U.S. economy returned to growth last quarter, a whopping 3.5% annualized growth rate. This was far faster than anyone, including yours truly, predicted 9 – 12 months ago. And, economic growth in the current quarter looks good, too, projected at around 2.5%.

Amusingly to me, the European Union grew in the third quarter, too, but at only 0.4%. I’m not surprised we aren’t hearing as much from European know-it-alls.

Why such a big difference in growth? I’m sure every economist and armchair economist has an opinion, and I do too: I think it’s mostly due to our more flexible labor markets.

America has its share of problems, but we still have one of the most flexible and adaptive economies in the world. One reason for this is that U.S. companies are relatively free to hire and fire when compared to places like Europe or Japan.

This is not a one-sided benefit for employers, it benefits employees, too, who can quit and find better employment when they want. I think not being able to quit is as bad a sin as not being able to fire.

Contrary to popular belief, what will get U.S. and world economies growing again will not be stimulus, but adjustments of the economy to new economic realities. And, it’s unlikely bureaucrats in any government position will be able to see this before businesses and entrepreneurs.

The places where labor and business flexibility are stifled, like Europe and Japan, will be mired in slow growth until they change. The economies that are flexible and adaptive, like the United States, will return to growth more quickly and will re-establish high growth rates.

That doesn’t mean the U.S. will grow faster than Brazil, China, India, Korea or a host of other emerging markets, but compared to any developed market, I’ll place my bets on the good ole U.S. of A.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.