Federal Reserve 2013 News, Article, Analysis
Created in 1913 with the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, the Federal Reserve (the Fed) is the central banking system of the U.S. The Fed functions as the bank of the U.S. government, overseeing the nation’s financial institutions. As the central bank, the Fed safeguards and manages the U.S. economy and its money supply with its economic and monetary policies, which makes it a very powerful global player.
A raft of positive economic news came in last week, suggesting that the U.S. economy may actually be getting stronger. On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate fell from 7.3% to seven percent in November, the non-farm employment numbers improved by 203,000, and unemployment claims fell to 298,000. In addition, preliminary gross domestic product (GDP) growth climbed from 2.8% in October to 3.6%, soaring past the three percent forecast.
Normally, this kind of news would help shore up the stock market and send it rallying higher. But that’s not what happens in a Federal Reserve-fuelled market; in fact, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and NASDAQ all responded with a losing streak.
Why the fear? Two words: quantitative easing. Since implementing the first round of quantitative easing in 2009, the Federal Reserve has flooded the market with over $3.0 trillion. Quantitative easing has translated into artificially low interest rates. The low-interest-rate environment has also been the primary fuel behind the stock markets’ unprecedented rally.
The Federal Reserve has said it will begin to taper (not discontinue) its quantitative easing strategy when the markets improve, which many believe means an unemployment rate of 6.5% and inflation at 2.5%.
Not surprisingly, the sharp decrease in unemployment has made the markets jittery. Tapering quantitative easing bond purchases means interest rates will increase, which could put a wet blanket on the U.S. economy. Back in May, the Federal Reserve hinted it was thinking about tapering quantitative easing; Wall Street responded by sending the markets lower, and banks responded by sending mortgage rates higher.
So you can see why … Read More
Back in March, a Canadian man listed his house for sale in exchange for Bitcoins—5,362 of them. At the time, the digital currency was exchanging hands at US$73.00, which means the house was available for about $395,000. (Source: “Canadian house first on sale for Bitcoin currency,” RT.com, March 25, 2013.)
The listing was considered a risky (and bizarre) idea; after all, the digital currency is experimental, decentralized, and can be transferred to anyone, anywhere in the world. Until recently, it was debatable as to whether or not this currency would even gain traction.
Because it is digital, the currency does not exist in a physical sense. It also isn’t issued by any central bank, and that might be part of the appeal; without a central bank, accounts cannot be seized or frozen. (That’s an attractive point for those in Cyprus who had 10% of all savings and deposits seized by the government.)
The lack of an intervening central bank also means the currency cannot be manipulated. While the digital currency is regularly being “minted,” there is a limit to how much can be created; this is to prevent inflation. There are currently around 12 million Bitcoins in circulation. After the year 2140, no more will be minted, and the total amount available will stand at a maximum 21 million.
Still, the price of a Bitcoin can fluctuate wildly. First introduced in early 2009, the digital currency floundered, coming in at about US$14.00 earlier this year. Now, the digital currency is “worth” around $1,080. Had the above-mentioned house sold for 5,362 Bitcoins, and had the owner held onto those coins, his … Read More
You really can’t beat the Federal Reserve. Despite weak underlying fundamentals, Wall Street continues to rack up strong gains. So long as the Federal Reserve continues with its more-than-generous quantitative easing policy, the markets will continue to defy the laws of physics and climb higher.
For example, in the lead-up to the corporate earnings season, a record 83% of all S&P 500 companies revised their third-quarter corporate earnings guidance lower; so far, 486 companies on the S&P 500 have reported their third-quarter corporate earnings for fiscal 2013. The average increase in corporate earnings per share for the quarter is up 3.4% year-over-year. Take out all of the stock buybacks, and you’ll probably find that third-quarter corporate earnings were essentially flat.
With 97% of S&P 500 companies having already reported results, the percentage of companies reporting revenue above guidance (52%) is below the four-year average of 59%. As for the fourth quarter, 88% of reporting S&P 500 companies have issued negative EPS guidance. (Source: “Earnings Insight,” FactSet web site, November 22, 2013.)
Over the course of a year in which corporate earnings have been flat and revenues subpar, the S&P 500 is up almost 30%. That economic disconnect cannot continue forever—but it will, as long as the Federal Reserve fuels the fire.
A number of transportation stocks could be well-positioned to capitalize on improving micro and macroeconomics. The Dow Jones Transportation Average (DJT) is trading at an all-time high and is outpacing the S&P 500, up more than 36% year-to-date. Supporting the strength in transportation stocks is improved unemployment claims and an increase in building permits. Solid travel numbers over Thanksgiving … Read More
The U.S. housing market is in trouble, and it’s foolish to believe that it’s going to show gains like it did earlier this year and in 2012. More and more evidence is lining up in favor of the housing market in the U.S. economy seeing stagnant growth, or maybe even heading for a downturn.
It is not stressed enough that the housing market depends on home buyers; if they don’t buy, robust growth doesn’t occur.
This phenomenon is currently taking place in the U.S. housing market—the home buyers are shying away. According to the National Association of Realtors, sales for existing (already built) homes declined for the second consecutive month in October. For that month, first-time home buyers only accounted for 28% of the existing home sales in the U.S. housing market. This amount is equal to September and lower than October of 2012, when first-time home buyers made up 31% of all existing home sales. (Source: “October Existing-Home Sales Cool but Low Inventory Drives Prices,” National Association of Realtors web site, November 9, 2013.)
The reason this is happening is because the mortgage rates are continuously increasing. In October, the Freddie Mac 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 4.19%, while this rate was 3.38% a year ago—an increase of 24%.
Sadly, rates are expected to increase further. In a statement, the Federal Reserve implied that it might be moving ahead with the tapering of quantitative easing in the upcoming months, though no date was provided; when we heard something similar in May, we saw an increase in bond yields, which mortgage rates are highly correlated upon. This time will be … Read More
October U.S. retail sector sales numbers are in, but are they worth getting excited about?
The Census Bureau announced on Wednesday that October retail sector sales increased 0.4% month-over-month and 3.9% year-over-year to $428.1 billion. From a shorter-term perspective, the 0.4% increase really isn’t anything to get excited about; that 3.9% year-over-year increase, though, looks pretty good. (Source: “Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services October 2013,” U.S. Census Bureau web site, November 20, 2013.)
Or does it? Take a step back, and you can see we’ve been in a downtrend for the last few years.
In October 2010, U.S. retail sector sales were up 6.9% month-over-month. This isn’t a big surprise when you consider the so-called economic recovery only began in mid-2009. In October 2011, U.S. retail sector sales were up 7.6% year-over-year, another strong gain on the back of ongoing optimism that the economy would rebound. (Source: “Retail and Food Services Sales,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Economic Research web site, November 20, 2013.)
But then we realized the economic recovery wasn’t much of a recovery at all. In 2012, October retail sector sales were up just 4.4%, almost half the gain of the previous year, and in October 2013, U.S. retail sector sales were up just 3.9%. Looking at it from a longer-term perspective, even the recent October year-over-year numbers aren’t anything to get worked up about.
Today, we’re more than 50 months and $3.0-plus trillion into the Federal Reserve-guided recovery, and we really don’t have much to show for it. In fact, you could argue that the economy might have done better without any … Read More