Economic Conditions Continue to Worsen
It must be China. Or the weather, which is usually either too cold or to warm – somehow the weather is just never right for economic growth. Surely it cannot be another Fed policy-induced boom that is on the verge of going bust? Sorry, we completely forgot – the Fed is never at fault when the economy suffers a boom-bust cycle. That only happens because we have “too few regulations” (that’s what Mr. Bernanke said after the 2008 bust – no kidding).
Photo credit: Matthew Emmett
No matter what economic data releases one looks at lately, one seems more horrendous than the next. This is apart from payrolls of course, which are not only a lagging indicator, but are apparently a number that is occasionally made up out of whole cloth – such as in December, when 281,000 of the reported 292,000 in non-farm payroll gains were the result of “seasonal adjustment”, which is bureaucrat-speak for “didn’t actually happen”.
Today the markets were inundated with data that strongly suggest that the negative trends observed over much of 2015 continue to accelerate. In what is by now a well-worn tradition, Fed district surveys of the manufacturing sector continued their decline with today’s release of the Empire State survey. One no longer risks being accused of hyperbole by calling its recent trend a “collapse”:
As is often the case, not a single economist came even remotely close to correctly forecasting this meltdown. As Mish noted earlier today, it was quite a big miss:
“The Econoday Consensus estimate was for a slight improvement to -4 from a November reading of -4.59. The actual result was -19.37 with the lowest economic estimate -7.50.”
Our friend Micheal Pollaro has provided us with several charts, including the following comparison chart, which shows the Empire State survey’s new orders index for January, as well as the new orders index of the National ISM and the average of the new order indexes of the Fed district surveys as of December. Not only are new orders one of the most important components of such surveys, as they lead future manufacturing activity, but in recent months the Empire State new orders index has begun to lead other survey data. If it continues to work as a leading indicator, one should expect more negative data points to be released in the near future.
Admittedly, this is an especially volatile regional survey, so it is probably not useful as decisive evidence for a broader economic downturn, but every other data points released today proved to be a disappointment as well. The industrial production index has also continued its decline in December. Industrial production was down 0.4% in for the month (3.4% y/y) and the November reading was revised lower to minus 0.9%. In this case, no mainstream economist managed to forecast any of this either. It is noteworthy that readings similar to the current ones have never been recorded outside of recessions in the post WW2 period. Here is a chart showing developments since 1970:
Industrial production declines further. Keep in mind that NBER is backdating the beginning of recessions once they are six months old or older. This means that a recession is never officially recognized when it actually begins. In other words, a recession may have begun already; we will only know for sure a few months down the road – click to enlarge.
It is quite funny that the failure to forecast the decline in IP was once again blamed on the weather. The credibility of that excuse is really beginning to wear thin – are economists as a group unaware of the weather? What was it about the weather that hindered industrial production this time? Apparently it was too warm. One might be tempted to conclude that it is the mere fact that weather as such exists that is the problem here, but the reality is of course that forecasts of specific economic data down to 10ths of percentage points are essentially a waste of time. One might as well toss a coin.
But surely December retail sales would come in at a reasonably good level? No luck on that score either, although this weak report (down 0.1%) was actually the best of the day. This time expectations were only slightly undercut, but there were large declines in a broad range of sub-sectors, all of which normally tend to do well in the Christmas season.
Lastly, the Census Bureau reported business sales and inventories for November, with the slide in sales continuing – inventories declined by 0.2% on month-on-month, but were still up 1.6% from a year ago. Sales declined at a similar pace month-on-month, but were down 2.8% from a year ago. As a result, the inventory-to-sales ratio remained stuck at its recent interim high – which is still the highest level since mid 2009. Mid 2009 wasn’t a particularly happy time for the economy.
Negative stand-out in terms of business sales were wholesalers’ sales, which have declined by 5% year-on-year as of the end of November. Inventories are declining as well (m/m), but not fast enough yet – the inventory-to-sales ratio of this sub-sector has consequently made a new high for the move:
Selected Other Indicators
While we have no new update yet on charge-offs and delinquencies in the commercial and industrial sector, it should be noted by way of reminder that this is yet another datum that is consistent with an incipient recession (the data are as of Q3):
Junk bonds have continued to decline – with yields reaching new highs for the move on Wednesday and improving by just one basis point yesterday. In light of today’s carnage in risk assets, with junk bond ETFs once again falling sharply, it can be safely assumed that yields have yet again reached new highs today. As always, the lowest-rated bonds are the worst performers, but even the Master Index II effective yield has by now nearly doubled from its late June 2014 low. Energy debt plays a big role in these moves, but in the meantime the weakness has begun to spread to other sectors as well:
Lastly, our coincident boom-bust indicator, the ratio of capital equipment to consumer goods production, remains at quite an elevated level. This suggests that if a bust has indeed begun, it is only in its beginning stages.
The ratio of capital equipment to consumer goods production gives us a rough idea toward which stages of the production structure the bulk of investment is flowing. Just as capital theory suggests, during times when interest rates are artificially suppressed and the money and credit supply are expanding, the higher stages of production (capital goods producing industries) attract a greater level of investment and display more activity relative to the lower stages (consumer goods).
However, this can never work out in the long run, as production is ultimately not funded by “money”, but by real capital, i.e., by real savings. It is impossible to print the economy to prosperity and these artificial booms are therefore never sustainable. The denouement of the boom can be delayed by keeping monetary policy loose for longer, but such delaying tactics will as a rule merely worsen capital consumption and hence the subsequent bust. The chart above is telling us that more society-wide impoverishment definitely awaits.
Everything continues to suggest that the economic recovery is in the process of screeching to halt. The recovery was already the weakest of the post WW2 era to begin with. Only one datum still gives us pause, and that is the rate of growth of the broad true money supply TMS-2, which has seen a rebound to approx. 8% year-on-year in November.
On the other hand, the annual growth rate of narrow money M1 has reached a new low for the move of 4.65% in mid December, compared to a peak reading of approx. 24.6% attained in October of 2011. While this volatile series has rebounded sharply between mid December and early January (to 9.5%), the effects of changes tend to arrive with a considerable lag. We continue to suspect that it will lead the broader measure TMS-2 lower as well.
Lastly, the stock market, oversold as it already was, proved unable to withstand today’s onslaught of data and proceeded to fall out of bed completely. At one point the DJIA was down more than 500 points. By the close it had recovered to a loss of 390 points, which is still quite hefty. As we noted yesterday in this context: “[An] oversold market can easily become more oversold when it keeps being inundated with evidence that economic conditions are not what they were thought to be.”
The S&P 500 Index bounces after briefly undercutting the August 2015 low by a mere seven points. This level seems ideally suited for a rebound to begin, but at the same time, it remains uncomfortably close – click to enlarge.
Based on technical grounds we still believe that the market is likely close to a short term rebound, but keep our recent warning in mind: Sharp declines during usually seasonally strong periods are a typical bear market characteristic. In fact, as Jason Goepfert reports, the recent combination of market moves has only been seen in the vicinity of a handful of major historic market tops.
Note that Mr. Goepfert’s observations are independent from what we said about seasonal patterns. If we add the occurrences of past warning signals given by unusual seasonal cycle inversions to his list, we find a few overlaps, as well as additional examples (namely 1962, 1973, 2001, 2007, 2008 and Tokyo 1990 – there may be a few more examples for this, but these are probably the most prominent ones). In connection with the economy, the relevance of this consists of the fact that a putative bear market (“officially” the market is merely in a strong correction so far) would almost certainly go hand in hand with a recession.
Charts by: St. Louis Federal Reserve Research, Michael Pollaro, StockCharts
You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
2 Responses to “US Economy – Slip-Sliding Away”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- Modi’s Great Leap Forward
India’s Currency Ban – Part VIII India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced on 8th November 2016 that Rs 500 (~$7.50) and Rs 1,000 (~$15) banknotes would no longer be legal tender. Linked are Part-I, Part-II, Part-III, Part-IV, Part-V, Part-VI and Part-VII, which provide updates on the demonetization saga and how Modi is acting as a catalyst to hasten the rapid degradation of India and what remains of its institutions. India’s Pride and Joy Indians are...
- Global Recession and Other Visions for 2017
Conjuring Up Visions Today’s a day for considering new hopes, new dreams, and new hallucinations. The New Year is here, after all. Now is the time to turn over a new leaf and start afresh. Naturally, 2017 will be the year you get exactly what’s coming to you. Both good and bad. But what else will happen? Image of a recently discarded vision... Image by Michael Del Mundo Here we begin by closing our eyes and slowing our breath. We let our mind...
- US Financial Markets – Alarm Bells are Ringing
A Shift in Expectations When discussing the outlook for so-called “risk assets”, i.e., mainly stocks and corporate bonds (particularly low-grade bonds) and their counterparts on the “safe haven” end of the spectrum (such as gold and government bonds with strong ratings), one has to consider different time frames and the indicators applicable to these time frames. Since Donald Trump's election victory, there have been sizable moves in stocks, gold and treasury bonds, as the election...
- The Great El Monte Public Pension Swindle
Nowhere City California There are places in Southern California where, although the sun always shines, they haven’t seen a ray of light for over 50-years. There’s a no man’s land of urban blight along Interstate 10, from East Los Angeles through the San Gabriel Valley, where cities you’ve never heard of and would never go to, are jumbled together like shipping containers on Terminal Island. El Monte, California, is one of those places. Advice dispensed on Interstate...
- A Trade Deal Trump Cannot Improve
Worst in Class BALTIMORE – People can believe whatever they want. But sooner or later, real life intervenes. We just like to see the looks on their faces when it does. By that measure, 2017 may be our best year ever. Rarely have so many people believed so many impossible things. Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for...
- Pope Francis Now International Monetary Guru
Neo-Marxist Pope Francis Argues for Global Central Bank As the new year dawns, it seems the current occupant of St. Peter’s Chair will take on a new function which is outside the purview of the office that the Divine Founder of his institution had clearly mandated. Neo-Papist transmogrification. We highly recommend the economic thought of one of Francis' storied predecessors, John Paul II, which we have written about on previous occasions. In “A Tale of Two Popes” and...
- Where’s the Outrage?
Blind to Crony Socialism Whenever a failed CEO is fired with a cushy payoff, the outrage is swift and voluminous. The liberal press usually misrepresents this as a hypocritical “jobs for the boys” program within the capitalist class. In reality, the payoffs are almost always contractual obligations, often for deferred compensation, that the companies vigorously try to avoid. Believe me. I’ve been on both sides of this kind of dispute (except, of course, for the “failed”...
- Trump’s Trade Catastrophe?
“Trade Cheaters” It is worse than “voodoo economics,” says former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. It is the “economic equivalent of creationism.” Wait a minute - Larry Summers is wrong about almost everything. Could he be right about this? Larry Summers, the man who is usually wrong about almost everything. As we have always argued, the economy is much safer when he sleeps, so his tendency to fall asleep on all sorts of occasions should definitely be welcomed....
- Money Creation and the Boom-Bust Cycle
A Difference of Opinions In his various writings, Murray Rothbard argued that in a free market economy that operates on a gold standard, the creation of credit that is not fully backed up by gold (fractional-reserve banking) sets in motion the menace of the boom-bust cycle. In his The Case for 100 Percent Gold Dollar Rothbard wrote: I therefore advocate as the soundest monetary system and the only one fully compatible with the free market and with the absence of force or fraud...
- Trump’s Plan to Close the Trade Deficit with China
Rags to Riches Jack Ma is an amiable fellow. Back in 1994, while visiting the United States he decided to give that newfangled internet thing a whirl. At a moment of peak inspiration, he executed his first search engine request by typing in the word beer. Jack Ma, founder and CEO of Alibaba, China's largest e-commerce firm. Once he was a school teacher, but it turned out that he had enormous entrepreneurial talent and that the world of wheelers, dealers, movers and...
- Side Notes, January 14 - Red Flags Over Goldman Sachs
Red Flags Over Goldman Sachs Just to prove that I am an even-handed insulter, here is a rant about my former employer, Goldman Sachs. The scandal at 1MDB, the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund from which it appears that billions were stolen by politicians all the way up to the Prime Minister, continues to unfold. The main players in the 1MDB scandal. Irony alert: apparently money siphoned off from 1MDB was used to inter alia finance Martin Scorcese's movie “The Wolf of...
- Silver’s Got Fundamentals - Precious Metals Supply-Demand Report
Supply-Demand Fundamentals Improve Noticeably Last week was another short week, due to the New Year holiday. We look forward to getting back to our regularly scheduled market action. Photo via thedailycoin.org The prices of both metals moved up again this week. Something very noticeable is occurring in the supply and demand fundamentals. We will give an update on that, but first, here’s the graph of the metals’ prices. Prices of gold and silver...