One of the big mysteries in this recovery has been the fact that wages have not risen much despite the fact that employment has expanded greatly. Investors have gotten used to massive amounts of new jobs being created, but also to quite meager wage gains. Economists have been somewhat stumped as to why, but a new explanation makes a lot of sense—monopsony. Those with an economics background will immediate recognize the term. It refers to when there are many suppliers of something but only one buyer. In this case it is being applied to the labor market—there are tons of available workers, but quite few employers, especially in more isolated locations. This means the employer has sole negotiating power in dictating wages, leading to widespread wage stagnation despite a competitive labor market.
FINSUM: This seems like the outcome of all the corporate consolidation that has occurred over the last few decades. There are less employers, so they collectively have more power to hold down wages.
The US economy is on fire. Growth is strong, consumer confidence is high, and (somewhat worryingly) the Fed is almost giddy. However, even the greatest optimists will have a gnawing fear caused by the US housing market, which has been in decline for the past handful of months. The huge rising gap between home prices and wages has finally stalled the market, all while rates move higher and dampen demand. The big risk that no one is pointing out, though, is how that trouble in housing will flow through to the broader economy. It will likely not be via mass mortgage defaults and foreclosures like last time, but rather through a severe tightening of purse strings. The big rise in home prices means Americans disproportionately hold their wealth in home values, so a decline will cause a major loss of wealth, and thus spending, seizing up the economy.
FINSUM: In 1978 a 20% decline in home prices would have caused a 1% decline in aggregate income. Today, the same decline would cause a five percent drop, or about $600 bn of lost equity. Housing may still lead the economy downward.
Investors need to be careful, real estate looks likely to take a pounding in the coming months. While all the focus on the big jump in yields has been on how it has impacted bonds and stocks, one of the big risk areas is real estate. Unlike other parts of the economy and markets, real estate has been teetering for some time, with months of weak performance. REITs and real estate stocks have been selling off strongly over the last couple of days and the reason is clear—the last thing the already weak housing market needs is higher borrowing costs.
FINSUM: We think the move higher in rates and yields could spell a significant downturn for real estate. Prices are so high and demand is already starting to dry up, so higher yields may have a further dampening effect.
The big question on every investor’s mind (and Wall Street’s) is when the US recession will arrive. With the economy doing so well, and certain indicators flashing negative, a recession in the next few years looks all but certain. But how soon? Some say it will be by the end of 2019, others think that is too aggressive. Well, a survey of US business economists has just been published that shows a majority of them believe the recession will arrive before the end of 2020. Most precisely, 66% believe a recession will occur before the end of that year.
FINSUM: This seems like a fair representation to us, but predicting the timing of recessions is notoriously difficult, so there may be little value in this survey.
The Fed has hiked rates many times over the last couple of years, but the overall attitude of Fed officials has been very relaxed. They have been diligent to project a very mild outlook of rate hikes. However, that may be set to change, argues the Financial Times. The US economy is growing very strongly, and the odds that the Fed may have to adopt a much more hawkish position are growing. The Fed’s hikes, though frequent, have been small, meaning policy is still accommodative and pro-growth. However, given the state of the expansion, a sharp move higher in rates is looking increasingly necessary.
FINSUM: Given the Fed’s most recent statement, this argument carries some weight. We can see Powell and the team getting more hawkish. That said, the economic tailwind of tax changes is fading, so perhaps it won’t be necessary.