IN THE MARKETS
by Steve Glasgow
U.S. Markets: U.S. large cap indexes were flat to slightly lower, while the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite and smaller-cap benchmarks managed to close positive. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell for a second week by losing 64 points to close at 23,358, a loss of -0.27%. The Nasdaq Composite retraced last week’s loss rising 0.47% to close at 6,314. Smaller cap indexes showed relative strength over large caps with the mid cap S&P 400 and small cap Russell 2000 rising 0.82% and 1.19%, respectively, while the large cap S&P 500 fell -0.13%.
International Markets: Canada’s TSX fell -40 points to close at 15,998, along with the United Kingdom’s FTSE which ended down -0.7%. Most bourses on Europe’s mainland major markets followed suit. France’s CAC 40 retreated -1.14%, along with Germany’s DAX which fell -1% and Italy’s Milan FTSE which lost over -2%. In Asia, China’s Shanghai Composite gave up most of last week’s gains by falling -1.45%, and Japan’s Nikkei retreated ‑1.25%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng closed in the green, managing a 0.27% gain. As grouped by Morgan Stanley Capital International, emerging markets rose 1.1%, while developed markets fell -0.5%.
Commodities: Gold surged over $22 for the week to close at $1296.50, a gain of 1.75%. Silver, gold’s smaller and generally more volatile cousin, jumped almost 3% to close at $17.37 an ounce. In energy, a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil fell just -0.05% to end the week at $56.71, while Brent crude oil fell -1.38% to $62.72 per barrel. Copper, seen by some analysts as an indicator of world economic health due to its variety of uses, fell a second week losing -0.29%.
U.S. Economic News: The Labor Department reported initial claims for unemployment rose 10,000 to 249,000 last week as the number of applications hit a six-week high and exceeded economist’ forecasts of just 235,000. New jobless claims rose in part to a backlog of applications from the areas recently hit by hurricanes such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. On a positive note, the number of claims remained far below the key 300,000 threshold that analysts use to indicate a “healthy” jobs market. The more stable four-week moving average of claims rose by 6,500 to 237,750. The number of people already receiving unemployment benefits, known as continuing claims, fell by 44,000 to 1.86 million. That number is at its lowest level since December of 1973.
Confidence has climbed to an 8-month high among U.S. home builders. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported its confidence gauge rose two points to 70—its highest since March and the second highest reading since the housing bubble of 2005. Economists had forecast a one point decline to 67. The sub-index that tracks current sales conditions also rose two points to 77, but the gauge of sales over the next six months slipped one point to 77. The NAHB noted in its statement that builder confidence is “a strong indicator that the housing market continues to grow steadily”, but voiced concern about “lot and labor shortages and ongoing building material price increases.”
Housing starts surged in October, rising 13.7% to a seasonally-adjusted 1.29 million—its second-highest level since the economic recovery began eight years ago. In the details of the repot, the Commerce Department noted large double-digit gains in the South and the Midwest (with some of that hurricane-related). Construction of single-family homes, which makes up the largest share of the housing market, increased 5.3% to 877,000 units, while starts for the volatile multi-family housing segment surged 36.8% to a rate of 413,000 units. Building permits, which analysts use as an indicator of future building activity, likewise, increased 5.9% to a rate of 1.297 million units. Single-family home permits rose by 1.9%, while permits for the construction of multi-family units jumped 13.9%.
Confidence among the nation’s small business owners improved as the promise of lower taxes lifted expectations for increased sales and growth. The National Federation of Independent Business’ (NFIB) small business optimism index rose 0.8 point to 103.8 in October; economists had predicted a reading of 105. In the survey, four of the index’s sub-gauges rose, while five declined and one remained unchanged. Quality of labor and taxes remained near the top of concerns among small business owners. The index surged after the election of Donald Trump on expectations of less regulation and lower taxes, as well as a rollback of the Affordable Care Act, but that has yet to materialize. This month, the NFIB noted that “Congress has taken its first cut at tax reform and small businesses are eagerly waiting to see how the developing legislation will benefit them.”
The Federal Reserve reported industrial production jumped a solid 0.9% last month as factory activity recovered following the effects of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Economists had expected only a 0.5% increase. Manufacturing activity surged 1.3% on the heels of a sharp increase in the production of chemical, petroleum, and coal products. Motor vehicles and metals also reported healthy gains. Over the past year, industrial production has increased 2.9%. With the increase in activity, factories are hiring. Over the past 12 months, manufacturers have added 156,000 jobs—its strongest annual growth since the summer of 2015.
Costs for the nation’s producers rose more than expected last month, driven by an increase in the cost of services, according to the latest reading from the Labor Department. The Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand increased 0.4% last month, following a similar gain in September. In the 12 months through October, the PPI jumped 2.8%, its largest increase since 2012. Prices for services advanced 0.5% last month, following a 0.4% increase in September. The PPI shows that inflation is building in the “pipeline” of the economy before it reaches consumers. The report from the Labor Department showed steady increases in underlying producer prices, which support expectations of a gradual increase in inflation and will probably keep the Federal Reserve on track for an interest rate hike in December.
For consumers, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.1% in October, weighed down by a fall in energy prices as hurricane-related disruptions to Gulf Coast oil refineries were resolved. Stripping out the volatile food and energy categories, core CPI rose a slightly larger 0.2% to a 1.8% annual rate, the Labor Department said. The drop in energy prices in the CPI pushed the annualized rate of inflation down -0.2% to 2% in September. While the 1% drop in energy prices weighed on overall inflation, the rise in the core gauge was relatively broad-based. Housing costs were a significant factor, along with medical care, education, air fares and auto insurance. As with the PPI, the CPI report reinforces expectations that the Fed will raise interest rates in December for the third time this year.
Sales among the nation’s retailers rose unexpectedly last month, as an increase in purchases of motor vehicles and other goods offset a decline in demand for building materials. The Commerce Department reported retail sales increased 0.2% last month, and data for September was revised up 0.3% to 1.9%, rather than the 1.6% previously reported. Economists had expected retail sales to remain unchanged in October. On an annualized basis, retail sales increased 4.6%. Mike Loewengart, vice president for investment strategy at E*Trade noted, “Today’s retail sales numbers are encouraging for the U.S. economy, especially heading into the holiday shopping season. It’s important to keep in mind that these numbers are coming off one of the worst hurricane seasons ever, so the fact that 9 of 13 categories showed increases is a testament to the resiliency of the US consumer.”
International Economic News: To the north, Canada’s economy is booming but few Canadians are willing to give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the credit, according to a recent poll. While Canada’s economy is currently leading the G-7 in growth, just 25% of Canadians describe the Prime Minister’s performance as an economic manager as “good” or “better”, while 36% call it “poor” or “worse”. The poll, conducted by Nano Research, was a disappointing result for Trudeau. According to the results, Canadians were more focused on rising interest rates and the deficit. In an interview, Nik Nanos of Nano Research stated, “What this survey shows is that there is fundamental disconnect between the macroeconomic reality and micro opinion of Canadians.”
Across the Atlantic, one notable benefit of the Brexit vote appears to be the United Kingdom’s re-establishment of its former trade ties with other Commonwealth nations before it entered the European Union, according to Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Patrick O’Flynn. Mr. O’Flynn noted that Brexit will allow the U.K. to put an end to EU tariff barriers and allow for increased trade with countries such as Australia and New Zealand. In a speech to the European Parliament he stated that it was regarded as a “sort of shame” in Britain that their country threw up tariff barriers against their historic commonwealth partners, and that it was “a wrong that is soon to be righted” as the United Kingdom broadens its economic and diplomatic relationships.
On Europe’s mainland, top investors at the Reuters 2018 Global Investment Outlook Summit stated that money will continue flowing into the bloc in 2018 as the best economic growth in a decade and a tightening of the Franco-German axis at the heart of the 19-member euro zone has de-sensitized markets to European political risks. Investments in the euro zone have had one of their best years since the single currency was established in 1999. The bloc had an unexpectedly brisk pickup in consumer and business confidence this year along with an economy expanding at its fastest rate in ten years. Views remained mixed on the effect of Brexit. Some felt that the vote would bind the remaining euro zone countries together more tightly, while others stated the ultimate result is still unknown. Overall, however, the political mood and economic backdrop is much more optimistic heading into 2018 than at the same time last year.
Is China’s 3 trillion in US dollar reserves actually an economic curse? According to Chinese government advisor Huang Qifan, it is “a major source of the country’s financial problems.” Huang told a forum organized by news organization Caixin that the central bank should stop feeding cash into the Chinese economy as it is fueling asset price bubbles and financial risks. Beijing should entrust its finance ministry to manage foreign exchange reserves and let the central bank focus on making independent monetary policy, Huang said. Huang is deputy director on the financial and economic committee at the National People’s Congress—and one of China’s most outspoken economic bureaucrats.
Japan’s economic growth streak has extended now for a seventh consecutive quarter—its longest streak in nearly two decades. According to government data, gross domestic product increased an annualized 1.4% in the third quarter, while the economy has been expanding overall since the start of 2016. Japanese businesses have benefited from increased global demand and sustained financial stimulus measures from the government and Japan’s central bank. On the positive side, unemployment is at a multidecade low, the stock market is hitting new highs, and persistent wage and price deflation has eased. However, of concern, the pace of expansion slowed from the previous quarter and consumer spending declined. After healthy domestic consumer spending in the second quarter, it was spending on Japanese goods abroad that fueled the third quarter increase. Exports have remained central to Japan’s recovery, helped in part by a weaker yen.
Finally: One of the criticisms of proposed tax breaks for businesses is that businesses probably won’t use the windfall for wage increases or hiring, but rather for continued stock buybacks – which only benefit shareholders (including, of course, the executives of the businesses). To shed light on this behavior, Credit Suisse studied net stock share purchases since the financial crisis of 2008-2009 by businesses, US households, and US financial institutions (mutual funds, ETFs and the like). The conclusion: the corporate sector has been the only net buyer of stocks over this period. In an independent but related study, Societe Generale concluded that virtually all the net debt issued this century has been used to fund stock buybacks. It seems the critics of coming tax relief for corporations have a point!
Remember to have a plan…
and have a great week!