Is simply stopping rate hikes and stopping liquidity draining, going to be enough to avert the recession? OR… is it already baked in the cake, and hike or no hike, we’re getting a recession this year?
Policymakers’ goal of rolling out vaccines fast and evenly is clear — to erase volatility in the bond market and make debt the cheapest it’s ever been to discourage saving and encourage investment.
Their hope rests on the premise that cheap cash motivates companies to invest and hire as rising asset prices make people more confident and ready to spend.
The inevitable side effect, obviously, is even more risky asset volatility as investors chase returns around the world.
The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) is out with the “Chart Book: Tracking the Post-Great Recession Economy.”
This ongoing study is a comprehensive, insightful look at how our economy has fared since the financial crisis that began in late 2007.
Last week’s article highlighted the World Gold Council’s outlook for gold this year. All in all, things look potentially promising from their vantagepoint. So, hang in there.
In its own 2022 Outlook, too big to fail Goldman Sachs gives the probability of a recession this year as a modest 10%.
In coming to that conclusion, GS looks at three factors that have caused recessions in the past:
A year before the pandemic hit the U.S., consumer sentiment was on the rise, eventually hitting the 101 mark in February 2020 before abruptly falling to 89.1 and then 71.8 over the next two months.
The latest consumer sentiment index declined by 9.4% to 59.1 from 65.2 in April, reversing gains realized last month.
The 59.1 represents a 59% fall from its pre-pandemic peak and is the lowest reading since August 2011.
What is the Consumer Sentiment Index?
Stocks, bonds and precious metals plummeted again today as Wall Street reacted with continuing, unencumbered knee jerks to soaring inflation.
It appears there’s widespread distrust and a self-fulfilling fear among investors about how forceful the Federal Reserve will be as it tries to put the evil genie back in the bottle.
The S&P 500 is now officially in a bear market, down nearly 22% since it hit its most recent high on January 3rd.
Matt Phillips writes that these market moves highlight the deeply uncertain outlook after more than a decade of growth for stocks and gold and low bond yields that made borrowing more affordable than ever for investors and consumers alike.
So affordable, in fact, that U.S. consumers’ collective personal debt has risen to over $23 trillion – about $69,800 per citizen.
The S&P 500 benchmark index closed down 3.9% on the day. The Nasdaq composite index fell 4.7%. The yield on 10-year Treasuries climbed 0.22 points to 3.39%.
Plus, bitcoin is down another 14%+ over the past 24 hours, and rates on the 30-year fixed mortgage hit 6.13%.
Spiking prices are overshadowing the Fed’s policy meeting tomorrow and Wednesday, where the Federal Open Market Committee will almost certainly hike interest rates by at least another half a percentage point.
Inflation is driving prices upward at the highest level in over 40 years, leaving the Fed with little wiggle room to cut interest rates in the face of dizzying markets — as it has done repeatedly in recent years, most recently in 2019.
For now, the markets will have to figure out how to live without the support of the Fed.
By Dave Allen for Discount Gold & Silver
On yesterday’s Financial Survival podcast/radio program, I observed that getting the price of oil down is really the whole ballgame when it comes to how, why and when the Federal Reserve plans to bring down inflation.
And if it doesn't go down – substantially – then the Fed will only go harder and faster on rate hikes to try to scale back demand – ill-advised as that may end up being.
Whatever the case, that level of unwarranted monetary tightening will mean markets further spiraling downward and sending the economy into a recession sooner – and possibly deeper – than we think.
The average mortgage rate is up 80bps or 50% in just over one week. As a result, applications for a mortgage are now roughly half the level they were one year ago.
Homebuilder sentiment is at a two-year low. And online real estate companies Redfin and Compass have announced layoffs of 8% and 10% of their workforces, respectively.
What can go wrong in the housing industry?
Wow, talk about exceeding expectations
Job growth was up much higher than pundits expected in June, as reported today by the government.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payrolls increased by 372,000 over the month, way stronger than economists’ consensus estimate of 250,000.
The BLS’ U-6 unemployment rate that includes discouraged workers and those holding part-time jobs for economic reasons dropped to 6.7% from 7.1% (the underreported U-3 headline rate remained unchanged at 3.6%).
Civilian labor force participation was essentially flat, falling slightly to 62.2% from 62.3% but still remains more than a full percentage point below the level seen just before the pandemic started in 2020.
Total civilian employment – at 158.1 million – actually fell somewhat in June and was still close to 800,000 below its February 2020 level.
Average hourly earnings increased 0.3% for the month and were up 5.1% from a year ago, indicating that wage pressures remain strong as brisk inflation sails along.
Among the unemployed, both the number of permanent job losers (1.3 million) and the number of persons on temporary layoff (827,000) changed little over the month.
The number of long-term unemployed – i.e., those jobless for 27 weeks or more – was essentially unchanged at 1.3 million. This measure is 215,000 higher than in February 2020.
The long-term unemployed accounted for 22.6% of all unemployed persons in June.
Interestingly, 7.1% of employed Americans teleworked (worked mainly from home) because of the pandemic, down from 7.4%.
Another 2.1 million people reported that they’d been unable to work because their employer closed or they were laid off thanks to the pandemic – up from 1.8 million in May.
By sector, education and health services led the job added, with 96,000 hires, while professional and business services added 74,000 positions.
What do these numbers mean?
In one of his lesser-known songs, “Easy Money,” legendary singer-songwriter Billy Joel writes:
I want the easy, easy money
I could get lucky, things could go right
I want the easy, easy money
Maybe just this time, maybe tonight.
Things aren’t so easy these days for the too big to fail banks whose financial shenanigans are coming home to roost.
Profits at mega Wall Street banks took a nosedive in the 2nd quarter, as "easy money" policies that made the pandemic era a boom time in lower Manhattan come to a close.
The latest earnings reports show that Goldman Sachs and Bank of America earned smaller profits than a year earlier. Ditto for Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.
Free money on Wall Street — a side effect of the “emergency” monetary policies the Fed implemented to keep the pandemic from imploding the economy — has been winding down over the last few months.
The Fed started cutting interest rates in March 2020 – slashing them to virtually 0% and began printing trillions of dollars and pumping them into financial markets, if not the economy as a whole.
And as Matt Phillips points out, that turbocharged Wall Street – driving public stock offerings and corporate bond sales, advising and financing big mergers and acquisitions, and operating hyperactive trading desks.
Bank stocks themselves surged, too. A year after the stock market hit bottom in March 2020, Morgan Stanley was up 200%, Goldman Sachs was up 150%, while Bank of America and Citigroup had doubled.
The S&P 500 grew by a measly 75% over that same time.
Fast forward to 2022: interest rates have begun to take off, rapidly changing the conditions in financial markets and slowing down business in the New Normal.
High rates have been crushing stock prices as of late and pushing the S&P 500 into bear territory, and now, companies are getting antsy about what new business to write in a down economy.
The business of managing new corporate bond sales is also sagging as interest rates rise – with companies not wanting to borrow at the new, outrageously high rates (2-3%!).
And, as Phillips notes, higher borrowing costs – which the Fed is using to try to ease inflation – also increase the risk of recession and the losses on loans that normally occur during downturns.
So, banks are socking away billions in reserves just in case things get ugly, which hurts their earnings.
But it's not all bad on Wall Street. In fact, volatility can be good for bank trading desks that make the right calls. Trading was a bright spot for Goldman and Citi this last quarter.
Higher interest rates can also boost the money that banks make by charging interest – Bank of America, for one, did just that.
But overall, higher interest rates in the months ahead mean tighter margins for big banks – with stagnant dividend payments, less share buybacks and more circumspect credit for the rest of us.
Could It Get Worse?
Courtenay Brown and Neil Irwin have been spot-on with their analysis of the economy recently.
Yesterday, they wrote that the “strong labor market continues to be the economy's bright spot.”
They say it could stay robust even as the Fed sends the economy into a slowdown if, that is, “businesses hoard workers to avoid repeating past mistakes.”
Employers, particularly in industries that have struggled with labor shortages, may be more reluctant to lay people off, even as rising interest rates and other factors slow consumer and business demand.
Brown and Irwin believe if employers maintain their payrolls, it would make the coming “economic slowdown milder and less painful for workers than recent recessions.”
They point to recent company earnings calls, where some employers have reported hesitancy to reduce their headcounts, even as growth deteriorates.
Government quarterly reports show that GDP has shrunk a cumulative 2.5% in the first half of 2022.
Chris Gorman, CEO of bank holding firm KeyCorp, said, "It's been challenging, frankly, to be out in the hiring market in this ride-up in the last couple of years."
That's why he says his company will staff up more in some areas "in sort of a flat or down" environment than they have in the past.
In June, only 1.3 million workers were laid off, fired or otherwise released from their jobs, according to the Labor Department.
That’s down 28% from the average of 1.8 million in 2019 (i.e., before the pandemic) – suggesting that companies are indeed more reluctant now than they were then.
The duo’s historic cross-country expedition began in 1804, when President Thomas Jefferson directed Meriwether Lewis to explore lands west of the Mississippi included in the Louisiana Purchase.
Lewis chose William Clark as his co-leader for the mission. Their treacherous adventure lasted over two years.
Along the way, they faced hostile weather, unforgiving terrain, perilous waters, bodily injury, persistent hunger, disease and both friendly and unwelcoming Native Americans.
Nevertheless, their roughly 8,000-mile trek was deemed a big success and provided new geographic, ecological and cultural information about previously unmapped areas of North America.
It was all about slow and steady.
Fast Forward 400 Years.......
Pending home sales dropped for the 3rd straight month in August and the 7th drop of 2022.
It’s another sign that the Fed’s campaign to rein in the effects of high inflation appear to be sending a critical industry into recession. https://www.axios.com/2022/09/29/housing-affordability-income-sales-decline
According to the National Association of Realtors, 3 out of the 4 major regions across the country experienced month-over-month decreases in sales (the West saw a minor gain). All 4 regions saw double-digit declines.
The NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings, fell 2.0% to 88.4 in August. Year-over-year, pending transactions dwindled by 24.2%.
An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined.
The PHSI is a leading indicator for the housing sector, based on pending sales of existing homes.
A sale is pending when a contract has been signed, but the transaction has not closed (the sale usually is finalized within one or two months of signing).
According to NAR, pending contracts are considered good early indicators of upcoming sales closings.
Variations in the length of that process – from pending contract to closed sale – are caused by difficulties with buyers getting a mortgage, home inspection issues, or appraisal issues.
The index is based on a sample that covers about 40% of multiple listing service data each month.
In developing the model for the index over 20 years ago, it was shown that the level of monthly sales-contract activity matches the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months.
Coincidentally, the volume of existing-home sales in 2001 fell in the range of 5.0-5.5 million, which is considered normal for the nation’s current population.
Matt Phillips is right when he observes that “the debt ceiling circus has arrived in D.C.” and it’s not going away anytime soon.
He writes today that the closer the federal government gets to “stiffing creditors” and going into an unprecedented default, “the bigger the implications will be for the markets and the economy.”
As I wrote in Friday’s article, the government hit its $31.4 trillion debt limit last Thursday.
While that’s a big deal, it’s nothing compared to what will happen to financial markets if the government defaults sometime mid-year.
For now, it just means the Treasury Department has to start using "extraordinary measures" – like drawing down its cash balances and deferring contributions to government pension funds – to keep paying its bills.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress that her department can keep juggling payments at least until June.
Markets don't appear to be overly worried at this point. But just wait. As Phillips points out, the longer the debt ceiling drama plays out — and the closer the government comes to default — the crazier markets will get.
That's exactly what happened in the summer of 2011, when we last came perilously close to the Thelma & Louise Driving Over the Edge moment into the abyss.
That year, as the crisis got worse into July and early August, the S&P 500 plummeted 15% and credit spreads that determined costs for home mortgages and corporate borrowings surged.
That jump came as investors grew leery of lending in the face of growing risk and uncertainty.
On the other side, those who say they want to cut government debt levels will likely claim that the turmoil the debt fight raised over a decade ago was worth it – despite the U.S.’s lowered credit rating.
They point to the Budget Control Act of 2011 that resulted from that debt limit fight, which helped cut federal budget deficits in subsequent years (note that it hasn’t actually helped cut the national debt, an important distinction).
So, however it turns out, the fight over raising the debt ceiling and avoiding default is going to hang over the markets for a good chunk of the year.
And, at least for investors, according to Phillips, “it's likely to be a bummer.”
Ambrose Evans Ambrose-Pritchard writes in The Telegraph that “monetary tightening is like pulling a brick across a rough table with a piece of elastic.
“Central banks tug and tug: nothing happens. They tug again: the brick leaps off the surface into their faces.”
Or as economist Paul Krugman puts it, the task is like trying to operate complex machinery in a dark room wearing thick mittens.
Lag times, blunt tools, and bad data all make it impossible to execute a beautiful soft-landing.
Way back in late 2007, the economy went into recession, a lot earlier than originally thought and almost a year before the demise of not-too-big-to-fail Lehman Brothers.
But the Federal Reserve apparently didn’t know – or acknowledge – that at the time.
The initial data release was way off base, as it frequently is at certain points in the business cycle.
The Fed’s main predictive model was showing an 8% risk of recession at the time. Today, by the way, it’s under 5%. Evans-Pritchard remarks, “It never catches recessions and is beyond useless.”
Fed officials later complained they wouldn’t have taken their hawkish stance on inflation the next year had the data told them what was accurately happening in real time.
And, more importantly, they wouldn’t have set off the chain reaction leading the global financial system to come crashing down.
Evans-Pritchard, however, ponders that had the Fed and its peers overseas paid more attention – or any attention for that matter – to the quickly evolving slowdown in the first half of 2008, they would have seen what was coming.
So, where does that leave us today as the Fed, European Central Bank and Bank of England hike rates at the fastest pace and more aggressively in four decades, with massive QT as icing on their cake?
According to Evans-Pritchard, the monetarists are again crying the apocalypse is coming! They’re accusing central banks of inexcusable errors:
First, they unleashed the high inflation of the early 2020s with an explosive monetary expansion.
Then, they swung to the other extreme of monetary contraction – disregarding both times the standard quantity theory of money.
A major study out last Friday finds that the Federal Reserve has never reduced inflation from high levels, much like today’s, without causing a recession.
The paper was written by a group of leading economists, with three current Fed officials addressing its conclusions at a conference on monetary policy.
When inflation takes off, as it has over the past two years, the Fed normally reacts by raising interest rates – sometimes forcefully – to try to put the brakes on price increases and cool the economy in the process.
The higher rates, directly or indirectly, make mortgages, car loans, credit card debt and commercial lending more expensive.
But sometimes – again, like today – inflation remains stubbornly high, requiring even higher rates to rein it in.