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Posts Tagged ‘Unemployment’

Have Mortgage Delinquencies Peaked?

Posted by Larry Doyle on December 8th, 2009 9:43 AM |

This past May, I designated mortgage delinquencies as “The Most Critical Economic Statistic.” I wrote then and continue to believe now:

Which economic statistic is the most important? Unemployment? Housing starts? Trade deficit? Inflation? Retail sales?

Well, they are all important . . . but as I review the many statistics, the economic data that I believe most significant are loan delinquencies.

While assorted analysts and economists have called the bottom in housing numerous times, rest assured a true bottom will not be established until we see a meaningful decline in mortgage delinquencies. Why? There is a strong correlation between delinquencies, defaults, and foreclosures. Until delinquencies decline, the supply of homes coming onto the market through the foreclosure process will not abate.

While analysts and economists have been wrong in their calls to this point, I keep my eyes and ears open when another entity calls a peak in the rate of delinquencies. I witnessed another one again this morning.   (more…)

Jobs is Job #1

Posted by Larry Doyle on November 30th, 2009 9:34 AM |

“Kiss me!!”

“What?”

That’s right, I said, “Kiss me!!”

Many a businessman is familiar with the basic principle of “kiss me,” that is “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Regrettably, Washington is not familiar with that simplest of business principles. Legislative bills that run into the thousands of pages and admittedly go unread by our lawmakers prior to vote are often an unmitigated disaster for American business.  How so?

These bills create an environment of uncertainty. What do business leaders do when they’re unsure of what is coming out of Washington and how it might impact their business? “When in doubt, wait it out.”

I witness increasing evidence of this basic business dynamic and believe it will be on full display this coming Thursday. What will happen Thursday? President Obama is hosting a Jobs Summit in Washington. Sounds like a reasonable idea given the domestic employment situation is so bad and getting worse, despite assertions to the contrary by a number of public officials and economists.

How convenient that the summit is being held Thursday. Why? This summit will provide plenty of photo ops and media coverage highlighting that Washington is hard at work addressing the employment situation right before the monthly unemployment report is released on Friday morning. Do not think for a second that the timing of this summit was not strategically scheduled to negate the negative impact of another weak report. (more…)

Is a Jobless Recovery a Recovery?

Posted by Larry Doyle on November 16th, 2009 2:20 PM |

Cartoon by Steve Breen, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Jobless recovery seems to be a phrase economists and analysts are using with increasing frequency. In my opinion, this usage is akin to a drug dealer or liar repeating his rationalizations to the point where he believes his own bulls%&t.

Are we to believe this economic subterfuge? I believe the American public buys into this rationalization at our peril. Why? Let’s navigate along the most important leg of our economic landscape.

Our unemployment rate currently stands at 10.2% while the underemployment rate is 17.5%. On the heels of the unemployment report released on November 6th (see my summary here), many analysts and economists revised their projections for unemployment to 11% and some as high as 14%.

Just today, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke in a speech at the Economic Club of New York highlighted the fact that the current excess supply of labor in our economy is even worse than indicated. Ponder that for a second. The lead banker in our nation is telling us that our unemployment situation is even worse than statistics would indicate. What does that mean? (more…)

Unemployment Report: November 6, 2009

Posted by Larry Doyle on November 6th, 2009 8:55 AM |

The widely anticipated November Unemployment Report covering the month of October was just released. Let’s dive right in and take a look at the numbers . . .

I. UNEMPLOYMENT RATE
July: 9.5%
August: 9.4%
September: 9.7%
October: 9.8%
– November Consensus Expectation: 9.9%
November Actual:10.2% !!!!

>> LD’s comments: this is the shocker and will get all the play. This rate is especially damaging because the participation rate declined. That drop would help the unemployment rate, all other things being equal. The fact that the rate jumped to 10.2% is an indication that job losses jumped much more than otherwise expected with a loss 558k jobs. The underemployment rate (U-6 rate) is 17.5%!!

II. NON-FARM PAYROLL (click here for definition of this term)
July: initial loss of 467k initially revised to a loss of 443k and now revised to a loss of 463k
August: initial loss of 247k revised to a loss of 276k, further revised to -304k
September: initial loss of 216k, revised to a loss of 201k, revised to a loss of 154k
October: a loss of 263k, revised to a loss of 219k
– November Consensus Expectation:
loss of 175k
– November Actual: a loss of 190k with revisions of +91k to prior months

>> LD’s comments: this month’s print is slightly worse than expected, but given the revisions the overall non-farm payroll could be spun in a somewhat positive fashion. In my opinion, there has been massaging of these numbers for many months and dare I say market participants are questioning the integrity of the reports. Recall that the birth-death model has likely overestimated job creation by upwards of 800k jobs. More of the same here? Perhaps, if not likely. Temporary workers did increase by 36k jobs.

III. AVERAGE HOURLY EARNINGS
July: 0.0%
August: +.2% revised to +.3
September: came in at .3 but then revised to .4%
October: .1%
– November Consensus Expectation: +.1%
– November Actual:+.3%

>>LD’s comment: a positive for those working, but in conjunction with no movement in the hourly workweek this is muted.

IV. AVERAGE HOURLY WORKWEEK
July: 33.0 hours
August: 33.1 hours
September: 33.1 hours
October: 33.0 hours
– November Consensus Expectation: 33.0 hours
November Actual:33.0 hours

>> LD’s comments: no indication here of any strength. This number rests at a low going back to 1964.

V. FURTHER COLOR
It’s all about the headline print of 10.2%. That number will spook consumers and keep Consumer Confidence under pressure. The Fed will clearly remain on hold for as extended as extended can be. I expect this report will cause Washington to talk about the need for another stimulus package.

VI. MARKET REACTION
At 8:10am:

2yr Tsy: .89%
10yr Tsy: 3.52%
S&P 500 Futures: +2
DJIA Futures: +14
U. S. Dollar Index: 75.78

At 8:50am, Post-Report:

2yr Tsy: .85%
10yr Tsy: 3.47%
S&P 500 Futures: -8
DJIA Futures: -68
U.S. Dollar Index: 75.86

Questions, comments, constructive criticisms always encouraged and appreciated.

If you like what you see here, please subscribe to all my work here at Sense on Cents via e-mail subscription, an RSS feed, Twitter, or Facebook. All the links are on every page.

Thanks.

LD

Goldman’s Hatzius v Morgan’s Kasman: “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble”

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 30th, 2009 11:20 AM |

I love a good debate. Much like a prize fight, a healthy debate can ebb and flow as those ‘in the ring’ bob and weave while trying to score points. I so enjoyed a debate highlighted by The Wall Street Journal between the chief economists from Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan that I highlighted it in the Newsworthy section of Sense on Cents. For those who don’t visit that section of my site, I am compelled to replay this debate here.

In the inimitable words of Michael Buffer, “let’s get ready to rumble” as Goldman, J.P. Morgan Economists Debate Shape of Recovery:

The recession might be over, but how goes the recovery?

We posed that question to two prominent Wall Street economists with two very different views of 2010. Bruce Kasman, chief economist at J.P. Morgan, sees the U.S. growing at about a 3.5% pace for most of next year. That appears optimistic compared to Jan Hatzius, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, who sees gross domestic product growth of 2% or so at the start of the year tapering off to just 1.5% by year-end.

The following is an edited transcript of their remarks during a recent conference call with The Wall Street Journal.

Looking ahead to 2010, what kind of recovery do you see? (more…)

Jobs + Housing = Consumer Confidence

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 27th, 2009 3:05 PM |

Market analysts and government officials would attempt to define overall confidence in the economy utilizing a variety of data. In my opinion, consumer confidence is ultimately a function of two factors: employment and housing.

While Uncle Sam has spent trillions of dollars backstopping various sectors of the financial markets and billions in economic stimulus, the size and scope of our employment and housing markets vastly overwhelm Uncle Sam’s ability to ‘prop them up.’ As a result, I am not surprised to see the monthly data on consumer confidence reflecting real weakness.

Bloomberg provides further insight on this topic in writing, U.S. Economy: Consumer Confidence Drops On Unemployment Concern:

Confidence among U.S. consumers unexpectedly fell for a second month in October, reinforcing the views of Federal Reserve policy makers who say household spending will be restrained by rising unemployment.

The Conference Board’s confidence index dropped to 47.7, trailing the lowest economist forecast, from a revised 53.4 in September, a report from the New York-based private research group showed today. A measure of employment availability slid to a 26-year low. (LD’s highlight)  (more…)

Can We Add Some Inflation to Some Deflation and Claim Overall Prices Are Stable?

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 15th, 2009 11:03 AM |

Inflation? Deflation? What is it going to be? As we continue to navigate the economic landscape, that question – perhaps more than any other – is of paramount concern. As I assess the economy and the markets, I envision the following:

> Ongoing deflationary pressures in real estate. Foreclosures hit a record level based on a report this morning.

> A likely increase in deflationary pressures from wages as unemployment continues to increase, hours worked do not pick up, and average hourly earnings are stagnant. How are corporations reporting earnings? Not from growth in top line revenue, but from cutting costs, including headcount.

I firmly believe these two overriding forces most concern the Fed and the threat that the deflationary forces could grow if not counteracted. How does the Fed counteract these pressures? Keep the liquidity pump running via a 0-.25% Fed Funds rate and now increased speculation of perhaps more quantitative easing in the form of purchasing more mortgage-backed securities.

What has been the result of all this liquidity running into the system? A significant decline in the value of our dollar. What does that create? Inflation. That’s good, right? A little inflation will provide some pricing power which supports our equity market. Not so fast. The inflation is not directly addressing the deflationary pressures in real estate and likely deflationary pressure in wages. The inflation is being generated primarily in commodities. What does that mean? Prices for food, gas, oil, and other raw material inputs will increase. As those prices increase, the cost of living in America will increase. Regrettably, that increase in cost of living will not be offset by an increase in wages.

Daily Finance provides a preview of the coming rise in food prices in writing, Sticker Shock at the Supermarket: Food Prices Poised to Rise:

If there’s any silver lining to a recession — albeit a thin one — it’s that consumer prices typically go down. Make no mistake, deflation is a sign of a sick economy, but at least the net effect of cheaper prices for the basic necessities — food, clothing and shelter — helps folks get by when they are struggling to make ends meet.

But consumers should brace themselves for things to change, especially at the supermarket. As the global and U.S. economies emerge from the downturn, economists predict that there is going to be some sticker shock at the checkout line. Food prices, they say, are heading higher and when you combine that with an unemployment rate that’s expected to linger near a three-decade high for at least another year, it’s even more unwelcome news.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects overall food prices to rise as much as 4 percent in the U.S. by the end of 2010. Yet, some economists think they could climb by as much as 5 percent. Even using the government’s more conservative numbers, the price for eggs is forecast to rise 3 percent and beef is seen increasing 2 percent. Lamb, seafood and fish? All three categories are expected to jump as much as 5 percent.

A 5 percent boost in your grocery bill may not seem terribly devastating, but consider this: If you spend $300 a week on groceries now, you’ll need to squeeze a raise of about a thousand dollars a year out of your boss (don’t forget withholding tax) just to keep up with higher chicken, beef, pork and dairy prices. Good luck accomplishing that little feat with a 9.8 percent unemployment rate and companies looking into every nook and cranny in order to cut costs.

Why again are these prices poised to increase?

the weak U.S. dollar means we will be exporting more of our homegrown food overseas, causing prices to rise at home.

The consumer will continue to get squeezed, but the wizards in Washington will be able to pronounce that the overall level of inflation is stable. Really?

-3 + 3 = 0 is not the same as 0 + 0 = 0 !!!

What a world.

LD

October 10, 2009: Month to Date Market Review

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 10th, 2009 10:12 AM |

We are reaching a point in our new “Uncle Sam” economy where rhetoric from Wall Street, Washington, and global financial centers seems to be having greater impact than true market and economic fundamentals. Why? Our financial and political ‘wizards’ are working overtime to reconnect the great ‘disconnect’ between Wall Street and Main Street. While we receive glimmers of hope in certain economic statistics, the dark clouds in employment and housing remain daunting.

Are the ‘Washington wizards’ (Bernanke, Geithner, Summers) providing hints of support for our greenback while truly hoping for a manageable decline? I believe they are, and I believe this financial engineering is a very dangerous game.

I thank you for reading my work, and now let’s collectively ‘navigate the economic landscape,’ the mission of Sense on Cents.

ECONOMIC DATA

Non-manufacturing Institute of Supply Management: this report rose above 50 (an indication of growth) with a positive development in new orders (this is clearly good), but with no signs of improvement in employment and pricing power by manufacturers.

Redbook: indications of slight improvement in same store sales although next week’s Retail Sales report will likely look exceptionally weak as it incorporates an end to the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program. Overall signs point to what is expected to be a weak holiday retail season.

Jobless Claims: overall claims declined, which presents a sign of stability within employment. That said, it is hard to be optimistic on the employment front on the heels of the employment report released on October 2nd (embedded within the Equity section of this commentary).

Trade Deficit: this deficit surprisingly narrowed, with a slight increase in exports combined with a slight decrease in imports. All other things being equal, this report would be positive for our dollar but the noise surrounding our currency is overwhelming the focus within this one month reading.

I would typically lead my review with focus on the equity and bond markets, but those sectors are actually following developments in the currency and commodity markets so let’s shift our focus accordingly.

How did the markets handle the Fed-speak, the data, and technical flows? Let’s continue navigating. The figures I provide are the weekly close and the month-to-date returns on a percentage basis.

U.S. DOLLAR

$/Yen: 89.78 vs. 89.68
Euro/Dollar: 1.4709 vs. 1.4635
U.S. Dollar Index: 76.35 vs. 76.72

Commentary: the overall U.S. Dollar Index has declined by approximately .5% this month, but the volatility and focus on movements in this space have been tremendous. Precipitated by an increase in rates by the Australian Central Bank midweek, the U.S. Dollar Index plunged below 76 which represents multi-year lows. The dollar weakness led to a move higher in global equities as traders, investors, and speculators were emboldened to enter into more ‘positive dollar carry trades.’

While I think Washington is not disappointed in a relatively weak dollar, although they should be (“Dollar Devaluation Is a Dangerous Game”), other countries are not overly keen about further dollar weakness. Why? A weak dollar puts those countries in a marginally less competitive position in international trade. ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet voiced his concerns on this topic. Rest assured, the Asian nations feel the same way although they are careful in their comments. Adding further fuel to dollar weakness was speculation that the trading of oil and a basket of other commodities, which are currently transacted in U.S. dollars, would shift trading away from being dollar-based. On that note, let’s review the action in commodities.

COMMODITIES

Oil: $72.29/barrel vs. $70.39
Gold: $1050.1/oz. vs. $1008.2   !!!! THE BIG WINNER !!!!
DJ-UBS Commodity Index: 129.177 vs. 127.683

Commentary: I view this segment of the market to be the STRONGEST indicator of the global economic pulse. Additionally, the price action in commodities is likely a strong indication of the ‘positive carry’ trade put on by hedge funds and other traders.

The overall commodity index has moved higher by approximately 1.2% on the month, but the movements within specific commodities is gaining the real focus. Gold specifically has soared by over 4% this month. Why? Market speculation about a potential further slide in the greenback would be inflationary.  Oil and other commodities also benefited from the story I referenced above. The conundrum I find in this space revolves around overall levels of international trade. Are these commodities moving higher truly because of an increase in demand or merely because of speculative investing and trading? Where do we go to get a pulse on that? The Baltic Dry Index. How is our friendly indicator of global shipping activity doing?

The  Baltic Dry Index continues to move marginally lower. Can global equities in general and commodities specifically increase in value if the major indicator of global trade, that being the BDI (Baltic Dry Index), is in a downtrend? I think not for the long haul, but for a period of time a cheap funding vehicle, that is the U.S. dollar, can override market fundamentals.

I read these commodity tea leaves as sign of inflationary expectations in these ‘inputs’ while we encounter deflationary pressures in wages and real estate. What a world.

EQUITIES

DJIA: 9865, +1.6%
Nasdaq: 2139, +0.8%
S&P 500: 1071, +1.3%
MSCI Emerging Mkt Index: 946, +3.6%
DJ Global ex U.S.: 197.6, +1.5%

Commentary: equities regained momentum after last week’s selloff. Recall how just one week ago, we faced a remarkably weak and disappointing Unemployment Report which culminated a week in which equities had given up approximately 2%. Well, we not only recaptured that decline but rallied further by another 1-2%. This past week accounted for the strongest advancement in equities since early July. Are we poised for a breakout past 10,000 on the Dow? Well, we need to remain focused on what is driving the market . . . and that is the weak greenback.

Indications of economic strength in Australia compelled the Australian Central Bank to raise rates which drove the Aussie higher and the dollar to new lows. In the process, the ‘dollar carry trade’ gained momentum propelling global equities higher.

The initial earnings reports released continue to show no real signs of improvement in top line revenue generated by increased sales while the bottom lines have improved given ongoing cost cutting progams. If a company cuts ALL its costs, will its stock still go higher? Rising stock values ultimately need to be driven by ‘growth.’

BONDS/INTEREST RATES

2yr Treasury: .97%, an increase of 2 basis points or .01% 
10yr Treasury: 3.39%,
an increase of 9 basis points

The yield curve steepened (longer maturities underperformed shorter maturities) under the weight of another Treasury refunding (3yr, 10yr, and 30yr). The 30yr auction on Thursday was disappointing which precipitated the selloff. The bond market has been trading in sync with equities for the last few months. That price action is an anomaly as typically bonds will trade in an inverse relationship with equities. Comments by Bernanke in the latter part of the week about an eventual and timely increase in rates by the Fed did take the wind out of the bond market’s sails.

COY (High Yield ETF): 6.64, +3.8%
FMY (Mortgage ETF): 17.85, +0.3%
ITE (Government ETF): 57.77, -0.3%
NXR (Municipal ETF): 14.46, +0.1%

Commentary: while interest rates did move marginally higher over the week, overall they remain at remarkably low levels. The high-yield market remains on fire as that sector is benefiting from a lot of hedge funds allocating capital via the ‘dollar carry trade’ referenced previously.

Summary/Conclusion

The game continues. The disconnect between the overall domestic economy and the price action in the markets presents what one noted investor described as ‘the greatest experiment’ in modern finance. To the extent that people are putting money to work, I would focus on buying quality and utilizing ‘dollar cost averaging’ techniques.

Thanks for your support. If you like what you see here, please subscribe via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, or an RSS feed.

Thoughts, comments, questions always appreciated.

Have a great day and weekend.

LD

Elizabeth Warren Highlights Washington’s Losing Battle on Housing

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 9th, 2009 9:21 AM |

Who in Washington will give you a straight answer? Elizabeth Warren.

Who is Elizabeth Warren? Her Wikipedia bio reads:

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren (born 1949) is the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where she teaches contract law, bankruptcy, and commercial law. In the wake of the 2008-9 financial crisis, she has also become the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the U.S. banking bailout, formally known as the Troubled Assets Relief Program. In 2007, she first developed the idea to create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which President Barack Obama, Christopher Dodd, and Barney Frank are now advocating as part of their financial regulatory reform proposals.

In May 2009, Warren was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Ms. Warren consistently takes no prisoners or provides no pandering in making honest assessments of the interaction between Washington and Wall Street. She has called the banks on the carpet. She has called Secretary Geithner on the carpet. She has called Congress on the carpet. Why? A general lack of honesty, integrity, and transparency in dealing with the American public.

When she speaks, I listen.

What did she have to say this morning? In commenting on a recently released report on the effectiveness of government programs to support housing, Warren questioned the scalability and the permanence of the impact of the TARP funding. Bloomberg provides further color in writing TARP Oversight Group Says Treasury Mortgage Plan Not Effective. The report highlights:

“Rising unemployment, generally flat or even falling home prices and impending mortgage-rate resets threaten to cast millions more out of their homes,” the report said. “The panel urges Treasury to reconsider the scope, scalability and permanence of the programs designed to minimize the economic impact of foreclosures and consider whether new programs or program enhancements could be adopted.”

New programs or program enhancements? Yesterday I opined “Washington Needs a New Housing Model” and wrote:

While the administration swims upstream on this issue, bank policy of tight credit and restrictive lending only further exacerbates the housing market. Make no mistake, though, banks are taking that approach to tight credit at the behest of regulators who know the level of losses in the banking system and are trying to preserve the industry as a whole.

I like a rallying equity market as much as anybody, but I wouldn’t spend any paper gains just yet. Why? The new housing model is displaying that:

“As defaults become more common, the social stigma attached with defaulting will likely be reduced, especially if there continues to be few repercussions for people who walk away from their loans,” concluded Sapienza.  “This has an adverse effect on homeowners who do pay their mortgages, and the after-effects of more defaults and more price collapse could be economic catastrophe.”

This model needs some quick-dry crazy glue, which could only be applied in the form of a serious principal reduction program. Banks would take immediate and massive hits to capital which they clearly won’t accept.

So how can we generate some support for housing?

Aside from a principal reduction program, the penalty for those who would strategically default on their mortgage needs to be far more onerous.

The principal reduction would negatively impact bank earnings. Too bad. The banks are currently feeding at the taxpayer trough and would not be here without the bailouts. The individuals who are capable of making their payments need to accept the moral responsibility that is embedded in a contract.

Given the massive violation of moral hazards and breaking of contracts by Uncle Sam, that old man does not have a lot of credibility on that front.

What do we really learn here? Ultimately, the market is the market and efforts to manipulate or support a falling market will only be temporary. The market needs to find the clearing level where private money will purchase properties. That private money will wait while Uncle Sam continues to try to prop the market.

In the meantime, do not expect any meaningful support for housing.

LD

Washington Needs a New Housing Model

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 8th, 2009 12:04 PM |

Traders, strategists, analysts, economists, and politicians will always review models of past behaviors in an attempt to forecast future developments. In the process, the models are only as robust as the inputs. Many of the aforementioned individuals will become overly dependent on models. The risk in that process is that the models ‘work until they don’t work.’ As a result, programs, policies, and procedures are implemented that perhaps exacerbate rather than amend a situation. I believe this scenario is playing out in our housing market.

The breakdown in Washington’s housing model revolves around the newly developed phenomena known as “strategic mortgage defaults.” I highlighted this topic a few weeks back in writing, “Strategic Mortgage Defaults Have Major Implications for Markets and Economy.” We see more evidence of this new extension on our housing model in a report released by Reuters, The Flood of Foreclosures Shows No Sign of Ebbing:

The Center for Responsible Lending says foreclosures are on track to wipe out $502 billion in property values this year.

Investor's Real Estate Guide

That spillover effect from foreclosures is one reason why Celia Chen of Moody’s Economy.com says nationwide home prices won’t regain the peak levels they reached in 2006 until 2020.

In states hardest-hit by the housing bust, like Florida and California, the rebound will take until 2030, Chen predicted.

“The default rates, the delinquency rates, are still rising,” Chen told Reuters. “Rising joblessness combined with a large degree of negative equity are going to cause foreclosures to increase,” she added.

Anyone doubting that the recovery in U.S. real estate prices will be long and hard should take a look at Japan, Chen said.

Prices there are still off about 50 percent from the peak they hit 15 years ago.

(more…)






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