Weekly Economic Update

Economic Update 5-20-2019

  • Economic data for the week included weakness in retail sales and industrial production, while several regional manufacturing surveys, jobless claims, consumer sentiment, and housing stats came in stronger than expected.
  • Equity markets in the U.S. and in emerging markets ended the week with declines, while developed foreign regions gained slightly on net. On the other hand, bonds and real estate fared decently as interest rates declined. Commodities gained, despite the stronger dollar, due to agriculture and energy affected by sector-specific factors, such as weather and geopolitics.

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Weekly Economic Update

Economic Update 5-13-2019

  • Economic data for the week included ongoing mixed to lower reports for producer and consumer inflation, little changed conditions but lower demand for bank loans, and continued positive jobs markets and claims data.
  • Equities fell across the globe last week, due to threats and eventual implementation of U.S.-China tariffs. Government bonds fared well as flows moved away from risk, while credit lagged a bit. Commodities were mixed to lower, with little change in either the dollar or crude oil prices.

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Weekly Economic Update

Economic Update 5-06-2019

  • Economic data for the week was characterized by a Federal Reserve meeting where policy was left unchanged. Positive data included a very strong employment situation report, and gains in consumer confidence, while the ISM services index tempered, but remained expansionary. On the negative side, the ISM manufacturing index and regional manufacturing data came in below expectations.
  • U.S. and foreign equity markets both gained slightly on the week, despite mixed growth and policy news. Bonds were flat to slightly negative, as interest rates ticked just a bit higher. Commodities lost ground, led by lower prices for crude oil due to concerns over a near-term supply glut.

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Fed Update

Fed Note:

As predicted, today’s FOMC meeting ended with no change in policy, with all members on board with keeping the fed funds rate within a range of 2.25-2.50%. The formal statement was very little changed, noting continued strength in the labor market and economic growth; however, household and business spending were noted as slowing in the first quarter.

Demonstrated by the drama of the V-shaped financial market reaction from Q4-2018 through Q1-2019, many strategists have been surprised by the speed and magnitude of the Fed’s change in tone from moderately hawkish to much more dovish. The accompanying deceleration in economic progress around year-end has caused fed funds futures probabilities to now price in about a 50% chance of a rate cut by September and 65% chance of one by December, which is a different story than the Fed’s own comments over the past several months of ‘patience,’ and that more rate hikes could come prior to cuts.

The dashboard of Fed mandate items looks similar to recent readings, and while the most recent data is mixed to lackluster, there appear to be hopes for stronger growth in some camps slated for later in 2019. On net, in looking at all measures, conditions continue to look relatively neutral.

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Weekly Economic Update

Economic Update 4-29-2019

  • Economic data for the week was highlighted by advance first quarter GDP that came in stronger than expected, solid durable goods orders and new home sales, while existing home sales and jobless claims came in a bit worse than expected.
  • U.S. equity markets gained due to decent corporate earnings results, while foreign stocks were held back a bit by a stronger dollar. Bonds gained as interest rates ticked down over most of the yield curve. Commodities lost ground on average, with early gains in crude oil retreating by week’s end.

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Weekly Economic Update

Economic Update 4-22-2019

  • Economic data for the week included stronger-than-expected retail sales, jobless claims and a tighter trade deficit, several regional manufacturing indexes showed mixed results, while housing starts again struggled.
  • In a shortened week, U.S. equity markets were mixed, while foreign stocks gained slightly. Bonds were generally flat with little change in underlying interest rates. Commodities fell slightly, with a minimal rise in crude oil offset by declines in other sectors.

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Weekly Economic Update

Economic Update 4-15-2019

  • In a light week for economic data, producer and consumer prices rose a bit more than expected on the headline side, due to higher recent energy prices. Positive news included jobless claims again reaching multi-decade lows, while, on the negative side, the government JOLTS report indicated fewer job openings.
  • Global equity markets experienced gains for the week, with foreign stocks helped by a weaker dollar. However, bonds fell back as interest rates ticked higher and the treasury yield curve again turned positive for the most part. Commodity indexes gained due to higher prices for crude oil and agriculture.

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Weekly Economic Update

Economic Update 4-08-2019

  • Economic data for the week featured a decline in ISM services, retail sales and durable goods orders, while the employment situation report showed decent recovery growth from poor winter results in prior months, ISM manufacturing measures rebounded and jobless claims again reached multi-decade lows.
  • U.S. equity markets gained on the week, with positive economic and labor data, as did foreign equities with the better sentiment. Bonds, however, suffered declines as long-term interest rates ticked higher. Commodities rose due to continued gains in the price of crude oil, as well as agriculture.

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Weekly Economic Update

Economic Update 4-01-2019

  • Economic news for the week included a downward revision to last quarter’s economic growth in the U.S., mixed housing results, manufacturing sentiment and consumer sentiment, but a stronger trade balance.
  • U.S. equity markets gained ground last week, while foreign stocks declined a bit, after being negatively affected by a stronger dollar. U.S. bonds rose for another week, with slower global growth pulling down interest rates and future expectations for yields generally. Commodities were mixed, with oil prices creeping upward slightly.

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Weekly Economic Update

Economic Update 3-25-2019

  • Economic news for the week centered on the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to leave rates unchanged, but, more importantly, revised expectations toward no further rate hikes in 2019. Manufacturing sentiment surpassed expectations, as did data for housing, jobless claims, and a composite of leading economic indicators. However, weaker data abroad appeared to outweigh these benign results.
  • Global equity markets bounced around in the positive during the week before ending in the red by Friday. Due to investor risk aversion away from stocks, bond markets rallied as yields fell to lows not seen in months. Commodities gained a bit, due to slightly higher oil prices, but other segments ended the week mixed.

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Fed Update

Fed Note:

The March FOMC meeting ended as many predicted—with no change to the fed funds rate, which is currently set at 2.25-2.50%. Regardless, the meeting was closely watched in terms of how the Fed planned to communicate a stance on policy for the remainder of 2019.

The formal statement noted a slowing in economic growth from the last meeting in January, including slower growth in household and business spending, while employment remained strong and inflation remained lower recently. The summary of economic projections, released quarterly, showed a downgrade in the ‘dot plots’ (which are generally averaged visually) to essentially zero implied rate changes for 2019, and perhaps only a handful at best over the next few years.

Investors were also watching for signs of a change in current or future policy regarding the runoff of the large Fed balance sheet (which it announced will taper off and in September). While the runoff had been described as being on ‘autopilot,’ fears have increased over an unreviewed runoff amount becoming excessive, essentially resulting in a ‘tapping of the policy brakes’ at the long-end of the treasury yield curve and perpetuating higher rates than ideal. One tweak is that maturing agency MBS will eventually be invested in treasuries instead—in keeping with the Fed’s preference for using treasuries as a purer policy tool and exiting the mortgage market, the participation in which was less ideal long-term as it implies a nudge toward helping housing markets (not part of the Fed’s mandate).

One very interesting development has been the change in Fed Funds futures market probabilities. Late last year, it was largely assumed the Fed would hike perhaps 1-2 times in 2019, a downgrade from the 3-4 many first expected based on the pace of rate hikes last year. As global uncertainty has increased, including the mixed bag of economic data showing deceleration in a variety of areas, this has since morphed into a market expectation for ‘no change’ this year, which has been in conflict with the Fed’s own estimates. Now, the tide has completely turned, with market probabilities for December showing 70% no change and 30% for a 0.25% or more rate cut. This would have almost unthinkable not that long ago, but worries over a possible slowdown into recession have begun to dominate market psyche. A variety of market strategists continue to believe the underlying economy is stronger than it looks, and could easily still handle a hike or two. Within reason, a few hikes could help the Fed with more ammunition to fight the next recession through room to cut rates at that time as needed.

Also interestingly, the Fed is reviewing its approach toward inflation targeting this year, and it is quite possible they could move toward an ‘averaging’ method. This would treat the 2% policy target as a multi-year objective, as opposed to a full-time anchor. What this means is if inflation were to run below target, such as during a recessionary period, it may be later allowed to run ‘hot,’ for example perhaps a half-percent higher than target during a subsequent expansion—resulting in a net result near target for the cycle as a whole. Such a method would give the Fed greater flexibility for interest rate policy, but not having been used up until now, we don’t know what any potential side effects could be from such a change. No doubt there will be more to come on this discussion.

The dashboard of key Fed mandates shows a little-changed story, despite what one might assume from the whipsaw in market sentiment over the past few months:

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