The numbers for August are rosy (for now). There was plenty of bad news in August, and fears of recession and job uncertainty. However the sad part is that the households kept shopping in August and the revenue amongst the biggest 26 retailers jumped by 4.6% (for stores that were open for more than a year). However we still need to know how much was it due to inflation, and how much was organic revenue growth. The reason we look for consumer spending is that it is the driving force behind the U.S economy, i.e 70% of the U.S economy. But we have yet to decipher the underlying factors for the increase in revenues for these stores. It may be that the consumers have been spending what they have been saving for the last 6 months (the average U.S household debt has been on the decline for the last 6 months).
The job numbers are coming in tomorrow morning (Friday, September 2nd). The market expects 93,000 jobs to be created in August, which will not be sufficient to bring the unemployment down, but still better than what we had earlier in June (expectation of 118,000, actual 52,000).
Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week. The market has been short-sighted and it is looking for any positive number. Media outlets have emphasized this statistic of unemployment benefits, however one week is not sufficient, given that the unemployment benefits have been extended to 99 weeks.
So what happened Thursday?
In a recap, the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the economy has not deterioated “enough” to need immediate additional stimulus. (Italics by the author). However he believes that if necessary, there could be more stimulus.
The inaction by the Feds is the invisible stimulus all the financial industry has been hoping for. The invisible stimulus is the lack of the increase in interest rates. With the decreased interest rates there is increased appetite for higher-risk assets, and possibly more return. However this is fueling another bubble by itself. Equities have been mispriced for the last two years, fueled mostly by speculation, and not the underlying business. Companies see great volatility in their stock price for an event that may have no connection to the stock. The low interest rates are a terrible incentive since it invites more “investors” ( I use this word loosely, since traders are not really investors) to enter the market and gamble away their money in the hopes of making a quick buck.
However if there is another “major” correction, which is quite possible within the next year (possibly 20% correction), then we will be seeing another round(s) of stimulus. The correction is derived based on the hypothesis that the stock market has reached pre-2007 crisis level, however the earnings have been consistent or decreasing over the last three years. There is disconnect between the underlying stock and the business. Another assumption is that there is yet another housing bubble that is yet to take place due to high unemployment for the people in the middle trench for CDO’s, the guys who could previously afford the mortgages when they signed their contracts. The 2007 crisis was due to default on mortgages who could not afford their mortgages at all! Their sole reason for getting a property was to sell it back within six months, pocketing the difference, or they were suckered into the mortgage due to the temporary low rates. This next housing bubble is going to hit the whitecollar households where one of the person(s) in the household is unemployed and can barely afford the mortgages.
Once companies see their earnings decreasing (due to consistent high unemployment), they will be forced to layoff more people to save their stock prices, thus starting the vicious cycle where the economy is going to shed more jobs than it will create. (Do you remember the 18K jobs created in June vs expectation of 132K?)