Is the US economy breaking out of its short-term data tailspin? Maybe. This week has seen some improved news, none more so than new hiring data released this morning. US hiring in March was much better, with the economy creating 196,000 jobs, significantly higher than forecasted and up hugely from February’s barely positive numbers. Wage growth decreased slightly in pace, but was solid at 3.2%. The unemployment rate remained steady at 3.8%.
FINSUM: This could mean the weak data recently was just a blip and things are still on course. The data is lining up to show this might have been a big bond market overreaction…
Stocks are in an interesting place right now. The year is off to a feverish start and momentum is strong, yet some are worried the rally has been too fast and that shares are vulnerable. Barron’s ran an article arguing the bull case for stocks. The core bull argument is that the economy is not as late cycle as many currently fear. While some think we are the very end, data and history suggest returns could be good. Based on a combination of economic signs (e.g. purchasing managers index) versus the recent market decline, stocks look poised for a great year (they are already well on their way). Macro indicators show the economy is still mid cycle, not at the end, such as private investment’s share of GDP.
FINSUM: We think the economy may be mid-cycle, but only if the Fed lets it be that way. The Fed can manipulate the economic cycle significantly, and markets generally follow.
New economic data was released on the US economy and fourth quarter growth was a mixed bag. The economy expanded at 2.6% annualized in the fourth quarter, a decent number that exceeded estimates, but did nothing to change the overall downward direction of the economy. Consumer spending slowed in the quarter. The economy expanded at 4.2% in Q2 2018, 3.4% in Q3 2018, and 2.6% in Q4 2018.
FINSUM: The trend downward is clear on many levels. That said, this should have been expected as the benefits from the tax cuts continue to fade. We think the economy is in the late stages of its expansion, but so long as the Fed stays quiet, we could drift on solidly for a while.
The topic of the next recession has faded a bit from the mainstream media discussion over the last month, and understandably so. Not only has the market jumped, but the Fed seems to have completely backed off the rates gas pedal. That said, we are keeping an eye on primary and secondary data on the economy to see what the future may hold. Here is some data that is worrying us a bit: global freight shipping rates are tumbling. China’s weak spending and a global slowing of growth has sent shipping rates way down, a sign of excess supply and demand weakness across the world.
FINSUM: This kind of info, along with metals demand etc, are great leading indicators of what might happen in the economy. Add this to the warning signs.
BAML has put out a report chronicling a new outlook for stocks, and it isn’t pretty. The report shows that investors have the worst views on the markets in a decade. Investors are pessimistic about global growth and corporate profits, the combination of which makes them expect a weak equity market. Here is a summary of Bank of America’s report: “A poll of asset managers showed a net 60 per cent of those questioned think growth in gross domestic product will weaken over the next 12 months, the worst outlook on the global economy since July 2008 and below the trough in January 2001”.
FINSUM: So it is important to note that these are asset manager opinions, not individual investors. Accordingly, it may not be as much of a contrarian indicator as usual.