As we are all aware, it’s a three-day weekend on account of President’s Day this coming Monday. It’s a great time to celebrate all the amazing sacrifices that these men have endured to make our country what it is today. Take for example the concession to keep the federal government up and running until of the end of the fiscal year (September 30) instead of only the originally agreed upon three forthcoming weeks. Simply magnanimous. That plus Monday off is cause for celebration indeed.
Many Americans wondered if they would be getting paid for work performed during the last shutdown, and many went on unpaid leave. Some of us in the private sector have been on the edges of our seats many times this last month, wondering whether branches of government would be up and running so that we could do our own jobs. That’s affected the collective unconscious of Americans in general. Consequently, the poll numbers show that our confidence in the system and outlook of the future have both taken a hit. If we’re not careful, our cynicism may become a self fulfilling prophecy. Now if someone will kindly point out the line between sarcasm and cynical I will do my best to avoid it, at least through the weekend.
So while I may be on the edge of my seat about many things, truth be told, it’s an ergonomically designed chair in an obscure climate controlled office, not an overstuffed chair under the scrutiny that its place in the Oval Office bears. I don’t know all the pressure that our Commander in Chief has to deal with. I imagine that the balancing act takes courage, bravado, and thick skin. So in celebration of President’s Day, I take my hat off to you, Mr. President. Let’s make America great again.
Enjoy your long weekend!
For the last little while, the labor market has been very strong all across the country. Because of high demand, wages are up and unemployment is down. These conditions have been a boon to the economy in general, and have helped the stock market rebound from a horrible December. The lasted report out today from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that job openings are at an all time high right now with 7.3 million available positions. Provided that there are enough employees to reach maximum productivity, this is another great sign for the job market, and should continue to cultivate vigorous expansion.
Today is the conclusion of the first FOMC meeting on 2019. The probability of an announced rate hike is at 0%. Chair Jerome Powell will address America at the end of the meeting, and we’ll be listening for clues about their plan for the year ahead with the Fed Funds Rate, and particularly with their $4.05 trillion balance sheet. I imagine there will be talk of “measured” asset depletion as circumstances dictate. Yada yada.
We’re still waiting for the government to start releasing economic data again, now that they are back to work. There are a couple reports that have come out this week so far that concern me a little. The first is Consumer Confidence, which dropped even below the lowered expectation. The second is Pending Home Sales, which fell to the lowest number in five years. Together, the two tell the story of how hesitant would-be homebuyers are to enter into the magical world of real estate.
Since the corporate tax cut announced a few weeks ago, dozens of companies have given many, if not all of their employees $1,000 bonuses. Unfortunately, my company is not one of those participating. I throw that out there because I know that my boss is reading this. Having said that now, I guess that there is a distinct possibility that everyone else working here DID get a bonus. Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to disrupt staff meetings with one liners that he might find disruptive to the dissemination of very important information.
Sadly, with the dollar weakening against other currencies, and inflation on the rise here domestically, that after-tax bonus won’t go nearly as far as it used to. And now I’m starting to sound like my grandpa. Maybe I should keep those jokes to myself after all.
Seventeen years ago today I was standing in a reception line at my own wedding with a shocker in my hand, buzzing all my friends (and some of my parents’ friends) who had come to see if my then fiancé was brave enough to really go through with it. Joke’s on them because we indeed tied the knot and kept all their wedding presents. My wife is the highlight of my life and I love her dearly. Happy anniversary, sweetheart!
Speaking of long lines and shocking buttons, late last year the federal government pushed the snooze button on a budget agreement needed to avoid a shutdown. Well, the alarm is going off again today, and Congress has until midnight tonight to get 51% of 535 elected officials’ to agree on a prudent course of action. I sure hope they figure it out because Amazon uses the Postal Service to deliver happiness to our porch every other day, and I wouldn’t know what to do with myself without a stack of junk mail to rifle through after dinner every night.
So barring any semi-permanent government closure that goes beyond annoyance to send shockwaves of fear through the entirety of the U.S. economy, it looks like interest rates will track upward about a half of a percent by the end of the year. Note to self: buy another hand buzzer on Amazon.
The German Bundt is back above 0.5% this morning, the highest in several years. The 10 Year Treasury Note is up at 2.61%–should it push above 2.62%, longer-term interest rates stand to see a sizable bump in yield. Economists have been drawing the line in the sand at 2.62% for quite some time now. Stocks are under water, so that eases a little pressure off of rising interest rates this morning. As a bit of a tangent from yesterday, Apple laid out a plan today to bring $350B into the U.S. economy as a result of the new tax code–so that seems like a plus. Given the growth we are experiencing, we’ll see how well that line holds up.
When I approached my IT guy last month to talk about getting a new computer, he suggested a Mac. I already have an iPad, an Apple Watch, the Ear Pods, and I’m on like my sixth iPhone; so I figured “why not?”. Well I went live on this machine yesterday and it was extremely painful. I would have rather beat my head against the wall than try to save one more document to an unfindable folder. I awoke this morning with a deep foreboding souring my otherwise pleasant workday ahead. Well it’s just after noon and IT Guy has been in here a half dozen times so far today to coach me some basic processes inherent to Mac-dom. I guess I am doing ok with it because I managed to get this email put together. I have decided that it’s a little like snowboarding, and the first few days is just going to downright stink. But by day five or six I should be shredding down the virtual highway looking cool and collected like the Mac-dude in the picture here. After all, nobody wants to be boring PC, right?
I’m not the only optimistic mind out there; the Fed’s Beige Book, published today, shows that companies across all Fed districts trumpeted an expectation for even better days ahead. Polled professional investors also don rose-colored glasses; over 66% are totally bullish about the equities markets. That rampant enthusiasm was last seen a year before Black Monday in 1987. The DOW is up over 300 points, and bond pricing is at the lowest levels in the last 10 months.
The Jobs Report was released today and on the surface it was a bit of a letdown. With only 148,000 new jobs created last month, the news momentarily squashed the felt euphoria from the flurry of cheerful data released so far this week. I’m here to tell you that the celebration can continue and here’s why: The average rate at which jobs have been created in the U.S. is 210,000 per month, and there have been over two million new jobs created every year for the last seven years! There are about 124 million people working full time in the U.S., and our population is growing at a rate of only 0.7% per year, so the 1.6% rate of new employment opportunities outpaces population growth by 2X. And that means that employers have to pay more to attract the help, which is one reason that wages increased by 2.5% last year alone. So if you are willing and able to work, that’s good news.
All that comes at a cost, however, and that will be higher interest rates in the future. With the Fed raising three times in 2017 and committing to three more in 2018, those in the know are forecasting the 30 year rates to end the year about 1/2% higher than present levels, which are still pretty attractive.
The DOW just hit 25,000 for the first time in its 132 year history. Ahead of tomorrow’s Jobs Report, the ADP Payroll Report shows Private Payrolls rise by 250,000, which is 24% higher than expectations. The 10 Year Note opened this morning at 2.48%, a level not seen since last March. The markets are rolling ahead with little hesitation.
Looking ahead to a few forecasts, the Atlanta Fed sees GDP at 3.2% to end the year. The Mortgage Bankers Association anticipates the 30 year mortgage rate to end the year at 4.6% and the National Association of Realtors expects 4.5% for the same criteria. If the economy maintains its current momentum, rates will blow by those estimates fairly handily.
There are only ten more days until Christmas. Fortunately, the charts show that the cost of purchasing those meaningful expressions of love has risen less that the average paycheck, just in case you don’t have an army of elves helping you out this year.
This week the Fed raised their Funds Rate by 0.25%, making that index now 1.5%. Three percent is tacked onto that rate to give a Prime Rate of 4.5%. and banks tack loads of profit on top of Prime to make their credit card offering rates significantly higher still. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the holidays were sponsored by Master Card and Visa. Borrowing on a credit card is not going to get any cheaper either if the Fed adds another 0.75% in 2018 as they hope. So be wise with your Christmas giving, and if you need some help making that debt more manageable, mortgage rates are now less than even Prime :).