Saturday, November 14, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
The ICSC reported that same store retail sales declined -0.1% WoW, the first decline in 7 weeks, but YoY sales improved to +2.9%. They also said that "same-store sales for November could be as strong as +5.0- +8.0 percent [YoY] for the month."
Shoppertrak finally also joined in reporting positive numbers. For the week ending 11/7/09, they reported a Year Over Year % Change of 0.1%, and a Week Over Week % Change of 4.8%.
Oil declined slightly under $80 to about $78, so there is still a little rationality in that market.
The Daily Treasury Statement through November 10, showed payment of $47.4 million in withheld state and local taxes for the month so far, compared with last year's $51.6 million on the same date, indicating state and local government's in severe distress even compared with last year (this is a lagging indicator which tends to bottom about one quarter after the end of a recession on an absolute basis).
The most interesting weekly statistic, however, was rail traffic, which held steady. Why is that interesting? Because by now rail traffic should be well into its seasonal decline (last year the decline was a "cliff dive"), but traffic has generally held steady at September-early October's levels or even improved, as shown on this graph:
This is a very bullish sign for the economy.
The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said its preliminary index of sentiment for November fell to 66.0, the lowest level since August, from 70.6 in October. This was well below economists' median expectation of a reading of 71.0, according to a Reuters poll.
"Importantly, the decline in confidence was already in place before the announced increase in the unemployment rate to 10.2 percent on November 6," the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said in a statement, adding "the likelihood that the sentiment index would drift even lower in the months ahead cannot be easily dismissed."
Within the survey, the 12-month economic outlook fell to its lowest since April.
Here is the chart:
We have two months of declines and a third is probably on the way. These are not good developments especially with the holiday shopping season already underway.
An index measuring the performance of the 2,000 smallest companies in the Russell 3000 Index, which is made up of 3,000 of the biggest U.S. stocks. The Russell 2000 serves as a benchmark for small cap stocks in the United States.
In other words, it's an index of companies that need a growing economy to increase profits. Unfortunately, the index is not sending us good signals.
A.) The IWMs (Russell 2000 ETF) printed a double top with the first top occurring in lagte Setember and the second top occurring in late October.
B.) Unlike the other markets, prices have not rallied to new highs, but instead have run into resistance at the 50% Fibonacci retracement level.
C.) Momentum is decreasing and has been for a few months. In addition, the MACD is now negative.
D.) The accumulation/distribution line is decreasing, indicating money is flowing out of the index.
But here's the kicker:
You could argue the Russell 2000 is forming a complex head and shoulders formation right now. That does not bode well for the future.
Notice that overall we are still in a very bearish pattern. The chart continues to print lower lows (A) and lower highs (A). All the EMAs are moving lower and the shorter EMAs are below the longer EMAs. However
Are prices printing a double bottom? Notice that the last two bottoms have been near the same level price wise. Also note the MACD printed a rising bottom (A) and the the RSI printed a higher number (B) on the second bottom.
Fundamentally it is difficult to see the dollar making big rise. US interest rates are very low and will be there for some time. Other countries (like Australia) are already raising their rates. While the US economy is growing, so are other regions. And there is little need for a safe haven play right now.
A.) Prices moved higher through all the moving averages at the beginning of trading but could not hold the levels
B.) Prices move through all the EMAs printing strong bars and higher volume.
C.) Prices continue to run into resistance at various EMAs
D.) Prices again make a move lower as trading nears the end of the day.
A.) Notice how momentum has been decreasing for the last four months yet prices have been moving higher. Remember -- the MACD measures the difference between two EMAs. So long as that number is positive we're at worst moving sideways.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Notice consumer credit loans typically flatline during a recession and a little bit after. The one exception was the 2001 recession. While we haven't had a contraction like the current contraction in consumer credit, the decline is consistent with recession experience.
C and I loans either flatline or decrease after a recession. Recent experience is 100% in line with historical patterns.
The point of these charts is simple: during and after a recession credit demand drops. The reason is really simple. People borrow less money when the future is uncertain.
As demonstrated in the latest senior loan survey lending terms are getting easier; banks are trying to make loans. My guess is the terms are still harder than they were at the height of the "if you have a pulse you can get a loan" phase of the last expansion. But the point is business and consumer borrowers are decreasing their loan appetite at the macro-level.
In the week ending Nov. 7, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 502,000, a decrease of 12,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 514,000. The 4-week moving average was 519,750, a decrease of 4,500 from the previous week's revised average of 524,250.
Here is the relevant chart:
Here is a chart from the St. Louis Federal Reserve that shows the long-term trend for the 4-week average. This chart has not been updated with the latest reading:
This was the first piece of data that clued me into the fact that the recession was ending. The first time I noticed the continued decline in the 4-week moving average was maybe June(?) (there was a Barron's article that highlighted the trend). Since then the 4-week moving average has continued to move lower. Notice that the 4-week moving average is a good indicator for the end of a recession as evidenced from the previous recessions.
The 4 week moving average, at 519,750, is the lowest reading in a year, since the equal number on November 19, 2008. It appears the weekly jobless claims data are getting reading to test my hypothesis that net new jobs will be added if the jobless claims simply stay at this level for a few more weeks. In that regard, at the time of the 501,250 new jobless claims reading in 1990, payrolls lost 160,000 that month and 211,000 the next. In 2001, the new jobless claims high of 489,250 coincided with payroll losses of 325,000 that month and 292,000 the next. This year, we have already seen in August new jobless claims in the 560,000-570,000 range coinciding with a payroll loss of 151,000.
I have also surmised that, while Calculated Risk is correct that there will be little seasonal hiring this year, there will also be little seasonal firing this year either (believe it or not, layoffs increase dramatically as you move from September through New Year’s Day). Here is how the UNadjusted jobless claims look from their September lows through the first full week of November in the last 4 years:
2006: +86,500 weekly new claims
2007: +80,300 weekly new claims
2008: +203,100 weekly new claims
2009: +118,300 weekly new claims
In other words, so far my hypothesis is largely correct.
The oil market is forming a classic pennant formation. There may be some issue with which top line trend line to use. I have added A and B because both are technically correct. Trend lines connect important points on the chart. Trend line A connects the tops of the candle's shadows which are the highest points of the candles. Trend line B starts and ends at the top of a candles and moves through various shadows. Regardless of which trend line you like the point is the tops are pointing downward.
C.) Prices bounced off of the 200 day EMA. This indicates we're still in a bull market.
We're still in a bullish EMA situation -- shorter EMAs are above longer EMAs and all the EMAs are moving higher. But the fact that prices are in a consolidation pattern indicates oil is waiting for something.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
A.) Volume has been decidedly weak.
B.) The market has printed two spinning tops the last two days. In addition, prices have yet to breach the technical level established a few weeks ago. In fact, prices ran into resistance just below that level, crossed it sometime today and couldn't keep the momentum going.
A.) Volume on this rally in the transports has been better -- we have had some decent days. But overall it is still weak.
B.) Prices however have printed some strong bars.
A.) Volume has been weak.
B.) Prices have printed one spinning top and one doji -- both weak patterns. And prices crossed technically important levels but couldn't keep going higher. That's weak.
I had sorta promised an update to my "When will the Economy Add Jobs?" series this week, but since both industrial production and real retail sales will be updated next week, and I think both of them are going to be quite interesting from the jobs perspective, I've decided to defer my update until then. In the meantime, there are three items that shed some other perspectives on the subject.
From the Rockefeller Institute via Barry Ritholtz, here is a graph of Real Retail Sales comparing the last 5 (really 6, since they've combined 1980 and 1981) recessions:
This graph shows nicely the slope of improvement in real retail sales for all of the recessions. Note also the flat sales for the entire 2001-02 period (ex- the post 9/11 arrhythmia), and flat sales after a false start in 1991 -- presaging the "jobless recoveries" of 1992 and 2002-03. We've had flat sales since last December or this March, which may or may not have begun to trend upward with "cash for clunkers." More on this next week.
From the Conference Board, this is their Employment Trends Index (not including the last 2 months - this is the most updated version I could find):
You may recall that I have spent a lot of time researching leading indicators specifically for jobs. It turns out the Conference Board has also done that, and last year they premiered this Index as their leading indicator. Note that at previous troughs, it has turned 1-4 months before the BLS jobs number. The ETI made a bottom in August, and has been up the last two months (from 88.3 to 89.3). Interestingly, the Conference Board's Senior Economist, Gad Levanson said: “The Employment Trends Index has likely turned a corner in September, and the historical relationship between the index and employment suggests that job losses will end in early 2010,” i.e., 5 or more months later. I suspect this has something to do with the strength of the rebound or fear of a "false dawn," but they're not saying.
Finally, this is graph from Prof. James Hamilton at Econbrowser, showing the percentage of the average US consumer's budget that goes to energy purchases:
Hamilton says that:
When this share rises above 6%, it seems to become a more significant factor. The consumer energy expenditure share peaked [in 2008] at 6.8%, but collapsing energy prices subsequently brought it back down to 4.7%. The resurgence in oil prices this summer had pushed that share back up to 5.4% in September .
He also says:
What do these estimates imply looking forward...? The relation ... assumes that there is a threshold effect before the next oil price shock would begin to do its damage. According to that relation, oil has to get back above $130....
I have included this graph because I believe (as do many others) the price of Oil is the most serious challenge to the sustainability of the economic expansion.
The entire article is well worth reading, and I encourage you to click on the link and go over and do so. This past "Great Recession" was maybe half really an Oil Shock, and Hamilton's research backs that up (as he explains in the post I link to). It appears that his research calls for more positive GDP this quarter.
It is also worth recalling that Hamilton's research suggested that there might abruptly be a positive jobs number in October 2009. Silver Oz has indicated that, except for the BLS applying an outsized seasonal adjustment last month, the jobs number would in fact have been +51,000.
On the commercial and industrial loan front we see that the number of institutions tightening their lending standards is still increasing, but at a far lower rate. At the end of last year/beginning of this year 80% of respondents were tightening their lending standards; currently that number is around 20%. In addition, the percentage of banks increasing their spreads is still increasing but at a lower rate. At the end of last year/beginning of this year that percentage was near 100%; now it's around 40%. However, loan demand is still negative. In other words, institutions are becoming more accommodating. The main issue with C and I loans is demand.
In general we see the same pattern with consumer loans. While the percentage of institutions tightening their lending standards is still increasing, the percentage is decreasing. At the end of last year/beginning of this year about 60% of banks were tightening their standards; now that total is near 20%. At the end of last year there was a noted lack of interest in making consumer loans; now that total is near 0%. However, note that since the beginning of 2006 we've been seeing a weaker consumer loan demand.
On the residential mortgage front notice the large drop in the number of institutions tightening their lending standards; we've seen a drop from right around 100% of institutions to about 20% now. Also note the increase in mortgage loan demand. While the loan demand was negative for the first part of this year it has picked up. Although still negative for sub-prime mortgages we are seeing a positive performance from the prime market.
Where this report tells us is the following: lenders are loosening standards to attract loans. The main issue is loan demand.
Long term copper is still in an uptrend -- but notice that prices are approaching the long-term trend line.
A.) In June and July prices consolidated in a triangle pattern
B.) In August and September prices formed a rounding top, finding a large amount of resistance (supply area) in the ~ 40-41 prices area
C.) For the last two weeks prices have again been consolidating, this time in a triangle pattern
The EMA picture is still bullish -- the shorter are above the longer and all of them are moving higher. But notice that the angle of the uptrend of all the EMAs is slowly decreasing. Also note that the 10 day EMA is really losing it's angle indicating the upward momentum is taking a hit right now.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The SPYs look pretty good. Prices are approaching a important technical level, the MACD is rising and so is the A/D line. The 10 day EMA has crossed over the 20 day EMA finalizing the bullish EMA picture. About the only problem with this chart is prices have moved higher at a quick pace and may need to pullback a bit.
Everything said about SPYs applies here.
And the riskiest side of the market -- the Russell 2000 -- just isn't confirming, is it? Prices today had an inside day -- meaning the body of today's candle is entirely within yesterday's candle. That can be bearish. But most importantly, notice that the riskiest part of the equity markets did not rise today as other parts of the market rose to just shy of important technical levels. That is warning.
Twenty two months from the December 2007 start of this downturn, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) – “The Voice of Small Business” – reports that “Poor Sales” remain the single biggest problem facing small business owners. And it has now reached a new record, hitting 33 in this most recent report.
Although credit is harder to get, “financing” is cited as the “most important problem” by only four percent of NFIB’s hundreds of thousands of member firms. Although a nice gesture, enhancing SBA lending programs will not help much – too many owners have no reason to borrow. Record low percentages cite the current period as a good time to expand, more owners plan to reduce inventories than to add to them, and record low percentages plan any capital expenditures. In short, the demand for credit is in short supply and failing to understand the more major problems facing small business leads to bad policy. […]
Statistically, we are in a huge “V” recovery, with Gross Domestic Product rebounding from a 6.4 percent decline in the first quarter to 3.5 percent growth in the third. That is quite a “comeback,” a very steep “V.” But unless the consumer comes back, the recovery is likely to turn into the “square root recovery,” slower, flatter growth on the recovery leg of the V.
Overall, the Optimism Index rose by 0.3, from 88.8 to 89.1, essentially unchanged from where it was in May (88.9), and only slightly above where it was one year ago in October 2008 (87.5).
There is no wage pressure reflected in the report, and it’s clear that deflation is a greater concern than inflation with regard to pricing.
In short, the large company/small company decoupling seems to be continuing apace.
The long end of the Treasury market has been characterized by a trading range bounded by the lines labeled "A". However, prices are now below that line as (B) and momentum is clearly decreasing (C). The bottom line is momentum is leaving the long-end of the Treasury market. Finally, note the current EMA/price relationship -- all EMAs are moving lower, the shorter EMAs are below the longer EMAs and prices are below all the EMAs.
The shorter part of the curve is also in a downtrend (A). The EMA picture is very bearish: all EMAs are moving lower, the shorter EMAs are below the longer EMAs and prices are below all the EMAs. Finally, momentum is dropping (C).
Fundamentally this also makes sense. First, overall risk appetite has returned; stocks are rising and riskier parts of the credit market are doing well. As a result there is little demand for Treasuries. Then there is the continued increasing of supply which will eventually lower prices. Finally, the Federal Reserve is nearing the end of its credit market operations. Bottom line: rates are probably moving higher.
Monday, November 9, 2009
"Demand for most major categories of loans at domestic banks reportedly continued to weaken, on balance, over the past three months."
While banks aren't necessarily tightening credit standards as much as they had been, fewer people are showing up to borrow (as reflected in Friday's consumer credit numbers). You simply cannot force people to borrow money.
A widening gap between data and reality is distorting the government’s picture of the country’s economic health, overstating growth and productivity in ways that could affect the political debate on issues like trade, wages and job creation.
The shortcomings of the data-gathering system came through loud and clear here Friday and Saturday at a first-of-its-kind gathering of economists from academia and government determined to come up with a more accurate statistical picture.
The fundamental shortcoming is in the way imports are accounted for. A carburetor bought for $50 in China as a component of an American-made car, for example, more often than not shows up in the statistics as if it were the American-made version valued at, say, $100. The failure to distinguish adequately between what is made in America and what is made abroad falsely inflates the gross domestic product, which sums up all value added within the country.
American workers lose their jobs when carburetors they once made are imported instead. The federal data notices the decline in employment but fails to revalue the carburetors or even pinpoint that they are foreign-made. Because it seems as if $100 carburetors are being produced but fewer workers are needed to do so, productivity falsely rises — in the national statistics.
“We don’t have the data collection structure to capture what is happening in a real time way, or what is being traded and how it is affecting workers,” said Susan Houseman, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich., who has done pioneering research in the field. “We have no idea how to measure the occupations being offshored or what is being inshored.”
The statistical distortions can be significant. At worst, the gross domestic product would have risen at only a 3.3 percent annual rate in the third quarter instead of the 3.5 percent actually reported, according to some experts at the conference. The same gap applies to productivity. And the spread is growing as imports do.
At worst, the distortion would lower GDP from 3.5% to 3.3%. And that's the worst case scenario.
Let's repeat a key piece of information contained in the article: the worst effect would be a .2% drop in GDP.
And the reason for this problem is the way we count a single piece of data: imports.
So, the story is "US needs to rethink the way it counts imports in GDP data."
How this has been translated into "all government data is crap" is beyond me. Wait a minute -- no it's not. There are a lot of people who write about economics that don't know point one about economics. For example, they don't know there are actually two different employment surveys (just as an example). Or, they claim a 50% stock market rally is a bear market rally (ever read WD Gann or John Murphy?) So to hide this high level of stupidity they claim any data they don't understand is somehow flawed.
Or, these people are still wedded to the belief that the sky is falling (despite a rising stock market, expansionary ISM numbers .. you get the idea). So they have to somehow save face from overlooking the obvious trends of improvement in the data. As a result, any piece of data which isn't bearish is cooked, while any piece of data the is bearish is lauded.
Regardless in both cases you'll see these same people quote data from official government sources when it conforms to their opinions.
1.) The US is thinking about changing the way it counts imports in the GDP report.
2.) This does not mean there is a plot to fool the people of the United States. Unless of course you either don't know anything about government statistics or are so completely bearish that all of the positive data released in the last 6 months must be discredited. In which case, it's all a big lie from the man specifically targeted at you to make you look foolish.
You may now return to your regularly scheduled conspiracy theory....
The yield curve is still positive +0.25
Jobless claims were strongly better +0.1
Aggregate hours in manufacturing were up 1/10 of an hour +0.07
Stocks' 3 month gain is worth +0.05
Durable goods' strong growth add +0.05
Consumer nondurables up significantly +0.05
New home sales were flat 0.0
ISM deliveries down slightly, subtracting -0.05
Consumer sentiment was down -0.1
Real M2* has been trending slightly negative, so -0.1
Bottom line: it looks like October Leading Economic Indicators (and revisions to September) will net about +0.3, the seventh positive reading in a row. This suggests that economic growth will continue through this quarter and the first quarter of 2010 as well.
Typically, even in the last two "jobless recoveries", jobs began to be added to the economy when the YoY LEI was up +5% or better. This month will replace the awful -1% of October 2008, meaning that for the last 7 months, the LEI will probably be up 5.9%. YoY they will be up about 4.2%. If the LEI simply print flat for November and December, the YoY growth will be +5.0 %, consistent with jobs being added in December or January.
1) The previous two months’ revisions were positive to the tune of about 91k
2) There was a 34k add in temp help (often a leading indicator for the labor market)
That’s about all one can say about Friday’s report.
On the downside was the 10.2% unemployment sound bite and the much broader U-6 print at 17.5%. Most other measures showed similar deterioration.
One part of the release that usually goes virtually unnoticed is Table B-7, Diffusion indexes of employment change. BLS notes: Figures are the percent of industries with employment increasing plus one-half of the industries with unchanged employment, where 50 percent indicates an equal balance between industries with increasing and decreasing employment.
Coming off a March 2009 trough of 19.6, this index stood at 37.5 last month, which is to say that industries were still shedding jobs, but at least we were working our way back to 50 (breakeven) or above, where more would be hiring than firing. This metric slipped back down to 33.8, a clear step in the wrong direction (click through for larger image):
David Rosenberg also makes this interesting point (which I've harped on previously):
While the -190,000 headline nonfarm payroll print was not that far off the consensus, and while there were upward revisions to the prior two months (of over 90,000), the major problem is that the Establishment Survey, at this time, is missing a very important part of the story, which is the strain that the small business sector continues to face. Small businesses have less cash on the balance sheet, less access to credit and less exposure to overseas growth dynamics compared to large companies. The Establishment Survey (nonfarm payrolls), has a "large company" bias that the companion Household Survey does not have. If you look at the historical record, you will find that at true turning points in the economic cycle, the Household Survey leads the Establishment Survey. This has always been the case heading into expansions and into recessions.
We will get another peek into the health of small buiness tomorrow when the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) releases its Small Business Economic Trends (SBET) report. I believe the big business/small business decoupling is an incredibly important story that is being woefully overlooked by the media. Stay tuned.
Lastly on this, I would also note that Average Weekly Hours, which had ticked up to 33.1 in both July and August, have now ticked back down to 33.0 in the last two reports. This is obviously a troubling sign that employers do not yet see the need to ramp up hours (which always lead bodies).
Separately, I noted here that I thought there was some nuanced cross-fire between former ML Chief Economist David Rosenberg and his successor Ethan Harris (along with the team Rosie left behind). As I mentioned, I don't buy into the more optimistic forecasts ML has been publishing since Rosie's departure. Well, it would appear that Harris and his team are already walking back some of their forecasts, as this "D'oh" moment in Friday's NFP analysis clearly demonstrates:
“Given that this [10.2%] was our anticipated peak in unemployment this suggests that there is an upside risk to our peak unemployment rate.”
Gee, ya think?
This is the problem with trying to sugar-coat the state of the economy -- when the numbers prove you wrong, you wind up with egg on your face.
And, finally, I would note that the Fed released its Consumer Credit numbers on Friday afternoon and, once again, it tanked -- down about $14 billion month/month and now roughly $122 billion over the past year. The YoY decline is now 4.8% -- the largest decline in consumer credit in over 65 years. Folks, this is not just about banks not lending (which they're arguably not); it's also about people no longer having an appetite for credit. On this file, I believe the Fed's Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey is released today, so we'll get a fresh take on lending and credit standards.
Notice that on the long-term chart price action is now occurring below the long-term trend line. That line could also become top-side resistance if this rally continues to progress.
A.) Overall, prices moved from about the 110 level to 103.6 level -- a drop of about 6%. This is a bit low for a solid correction. Ideally we'd like to see at least 10%. But price fell to a bit below the 50 day EMA which is a standard technical sell-off level. Also note the increase in volume as the sell-off continued.
B.) Prices retreated to just below the 50 day EMA. This is a standard technical level.
C.) Prices have now moved through all the EMAs -- a bullish development.
Let's look at the Transports:
A.) Prices dropped about 10% as
B.) prices fell to the 200 day EMA
C.) Prices have since risen through all the EMAs. However they have done so on decreasing volume -- a bearish development.
Overall, it looks as though the sell-off is over. However, there are two key technical points to remember.
1.) Prices are still below the long-term trend line.
2.) The latest move higher has been on decreasing volume.