US Retail & Light Vehicle Sales slow

Retail sales growth (excluding motor vehicles and parts) slowed to 2.4% over the 12 months to June 2017.

Retail Sales ex Motor Vehicles & Parts

Source: St Louis Fed & US Bureau of the Census

Seasonally adjusted light vehicle sales are also slowing.

Light Vehicle Sales

Source: St Louis Fed & BEA

Seasonally adjusted private housing starts and new building permits are starting to lose momentum.

Housing Starts & Permits

Source: St Louis Fed & US Bureau of the Census

The good news is that Manufacturer’s Durable Goods Orders (seasonally adjusted and ex Defense & Aircraft) are recovering.

Manufacturing Durable Goods Orders ex Defense & Aircraft

Source: St Louis Fed & US Bureau of the Census

Cement and concrete production continues to trend upwards.

Cement & Concrete Production

Source: US Fed

And estimated weekly hours worked (total nonfarm payroll * average weekly hours) is growing steadily.

Estimated Weekly Hours Worked

Source: St Louis Fed & BLS

All of which suggest that business confidence is growing and consumer confidence is likely to follow. Bellwether transport stock Fedex advanced to 220, signaling rising economic activity in the broader economy.

Fedex

Target: 180 + ( 180 – 120 ) = 240

The S&P 500 broke resistance at 2450, making a new high. Narrow consolidations and shallow corrections all signal investor confidence typical of the latter stages of a bull market. The immediate target is 2500* but further gains are likely.

S&P 500

Target: 2400 + ( 2400 – 2300 ) = 2500

The stock market remains an exceptionally efficient mechanism for the transfer of wealth from the impatient to the patient.

~ Warren Buffett

Australia is on a different path

Motor vehicle sales are strong, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries:

Motor vehicle sales across Australia got off to a solid start in January, with the month’s sales nudging ahead of the same period last year and showing a rise in activity among private purchasers.

Total sales for January, including passenger cars, SUVs, light and heavy commercial vehicles totalled 84,910 for the month, 0.6 percent up on the same month in 2016.

Within the segments, light commercials fell 3.9 per cent, passenger car sales declined slightly (down 0.8 per cent), while SUVs continued their consistent growth pattern with a gain of 3.2 per cent….

But retail sales growth is slowing.

Australia Retail

While housing is slowing after a surge in high-density units over the last five years.

Australia Housing

Resources exports have been performing well but a slow-down in Chinese housing sales could act as a hand-brake on future growth.

US: Why the enthusiasm?

Retail sales are surging, with Retail & Food (ex-Motor Vehicles) growing above 5% a year for the first time since 2012.

Retail & Food Sales

Light vehicles sales are back at their 2000-2006 norm of 17.5 million units a year, reflecting consumer confidence.

Light Vehicle Sales

Housing remains soft but growth in new starts and building permits continues.

Housing

Durable goods orders are also soft but unlikely to remain so if retail sales growth continues.

Durable Goods Orders

Inflationary pressures are likely to rise. Which is why the Fed expects to increase the pace of interest rate hikes in 2017.

Priming the Pump

US stocks are buoyant on hopes that a Donald Trump presidency will benefit business, with major indexes flagging a bull market. But promises come first, the costs come later. While I support a broad infrastructure program and the creation of a level playing field in global markets, the actual execution of these ideas is critical and should not be allowed to be hijacked by the establishment for their own ends.

Erection of trade barriers is a useful negotiating position but is unlikely to be achieved without enormous damage to the global economy. As long as your trading partners think you are crazy enough to do it, they may be more amenable to establishing fair ground rules for international trade. If they don’t believe the threat, they will be happy to continue on their present path. So Trump walks a fine line between reassuring his allies and the domestic market, while keeping others guessing about his intentions.

Before we get carried away with hopes and expectations, however, we need to evaluate the current state of the economy in order to assess the current potential for growth.

The Cons

Let’s start with the negatives.

Construction spending is slow, at about three-quarters of pre-GFC (and sub-prime) levels. It will take more than an infrastructure program to restore this (though it is a step in the right direction). What is needed is higher growth expectations for the economy.

Construction Spending to GDP

Industrial production is close to its pre-GFC peak but has been declining since 2014.

Industrial Production Index

Job growth is slowing. Decline below 1.0 percent would be cause for concern.

Employment Growth

Rail and freight activity also reflects a slow-down since 2015.

Rail & Freight Index

The Philadelphia Fed’s broad-based Leading Index has also softened since 2014. Decline below 1.0 percent would be cause for concern.

Leading Index

One of my favorite indicators, this graph compares profit margins (per unit of gross value added) to employee costs. There is a clear cycle: employee costs (per unit) fall after a recession while profits rise. As the economy recovers and approaches full capacity, employee costs start to rise and profits fall — which leads to the next recession. At present we can clearly see employee costs are rising and profit margins are falling.

Profits and Employee Costs per unit of Value Added

It will be difficult for corporations to continue to grow earnings in this environment. Business investment is falling.

Gross Private Nonresidential Fixed Investment

Plowing money into stock buybacks rather than into new investment may shore up corporate performance for a while but hurts construction and industrial production. Turning this around is a major challenge facing the new administration.

The Pros

Retail sales are rising as increased employee compensation costs lift consumer confidence. Solid November sales with strong Black Friday numbers would help lift confidence even further.

Retail Sales

Light vehicle sales are also recovering, a key indicator of consumers’ long-term outlook.

Light Vehicle Sales

Rising sales and infrastructure investment are only part of the solution. What Donald Trump needs to do is prime the pump: introduce a fairer tax system, minimize red tape and reduce political interference in the economy, while enforcing strong regulation of the financial sector. Not an easy task, but achieving these goals would help restore business confidence, revive investment, and set the economy on a sound growth path.

In the short run, the market is a voting machine
but in the long run it is a weighing machine.

~ Benjamin Graham: Security Analysis (1934)

Retail sales lift

Retail sales (excluding motor vehicles and fuel) jumped to a 2.96% year-on-year increase for April 2016, climbing back above Core CPI to reflect a real increase.

US Retail Sales ex Motor Vehicles and Fuel

We are still waiting on light vehicle sales for April. An upturn would indicate reviving consumer confidence in the economy.

US Light Vehicle Sales

An upturn in business sales is also needed, to spur new investment.

US Business Sales

Weak US retail sales belie strong fundamentals

Lucia Mutikani at Reuters writes:

U.S. retail sales barely rose in September and producer prices recorded their biggest decline in eight months, raising further doubts about whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year. The weak reports on Wednesday were the latest suggestion that the economy was losing momentum in the face of slowing global growth, a strong dollar, an inventory correction and lower oil prices that are hampering capital spending in the energy sector. Job growth braked sharply in the past two months.

Readers of the headline Weak U.S. retail sales, inflation data cloud rate hike outlook could be forgiven for believing the US economy is headed for recession. After all, retail sales growth has slowed to a crawl.

Retail Sales

And the producer price index is declining sharply on the back of lower oil prices.

Producer Price Index

But if we strip out food and energy prices, PPI remains close to the Fed’s 2% inflation target. And low energy prices will eventually feed through as a stimulus to the global economy.

Hourly earnings in the manufacturing sector are starting to grow.

Average Hourly Earnings Growth: Manufacturing and Total Private

Deeper in the Reuters article, we find a more objective view:

“The overall message is that consumer spending has remained extremely strong. If sentiment had indeed shifted, it would be hard to explain why sales of cars, certainly among the more expensive items, jumped in September to their highest level since July 2005,” said Harm Bandholz, chief economist at UniCredit Research in New York.

Light vehicle sales continue their upward trajectory.

Light Vehicle Sales

And construction spending is decidedly bullish.

Construction Spending

Not much here to keep Janet Yellen up at nights. When it comes to rate rises, the sooner we get the economy back on a sound footing the better, I say. Otherwise we encourage further capital misallocation and dependency on Fed stimulus. There are no free lunches from central bankers. Everything comes at a price.

It is always important in matters of high politics to know what you do not know. Those who think they know, but are mistaken, and act upon their mistakes, are the most dangerous people to have in charge.

~ Margaret Thatcher: Statecraft (2002)

Weak US retail sales belie strong fundamentals

Lucia Mutikani at Reuters writes:

U.S. retail sales barely rose in September and producer prices recorded their biggest decline in eight months, raising further doubts about whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year. The weak reports on Wednesday were the latest suggestion that the economy was losing momentum in the face of slowing global growth, a strong dollar, an inventory correction and lower oil prices that are hampering capital spending in the energy sector. Job growth braked sharply in the past two months.

Readers of the headline Weak U.S. retail sales, inflation data cloud rate hike outlook could be forgiven for believing the US economy is headed for recession. After all, retail sales growth has slowed to a crawl.

Retail Sales

And the producer price index is declining.

Producer Price Index

But if we strip out food and energy prices, PPI remains close to the Fed’s 2% inflation target. And low energy prices will eventually feed through as a stimulus.

Hourly earnings in the manufacturing sector are starting to grow.

Average Hourly Earnings Growth: Manufacturing and Total Private

“The overall message is that consumer spending has remained extremely strong. If sentiment had indeed shifted, it would be hard to explain why sales of cars, certainly among the more expensive items, jumped in September to their highest level since July 2005,” said Harm Bandholz, chief economist at UniCredit Research in New York.

Light vehicle sales continue their upward trajectory.

Light Vehicle Sales

And construction spending is decidedly bullish.

Construction Spending

Not much here to keep Janet Yellen up at nights. When it comes to rate rises, the sooner we get the economy back on a sound footing the better, I say. Otherwise we encourage further capital misallocation and dependency on Fed stimulus. There are no free lunches from central bankers. Everything comes at a price.

Bears out in force

Bears continue to dominate equity markets. Patches of support are visible across North America, Europe and Asia but this is likely to be a secondary rally rather than a trend change.

The Russian bear is also playing up. This time in Syria. Senator John McCain sums up the escalating crisis in the Middle East in this 15-minute video.

North America

The S&P 500 respected support between 1870 and 1900, rallying toward another test of resistance at 2000. The 21-day Twiggs Money Flow peak just above zero continues to indicate (medium-term) selling pressure. Recovery above 2000 is unlikely, but would signal a relieving rally. Breach of support at 1870 would confirm the primary down-trend.

S&P 500 Index

* Target calculation: 1900 – ( 2000 – 1900 ) = 1800

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) holding above 20 indicates elevated market risk.

S&P 500 VIX

NYSE short sales remain subdued.

Dow Jones Industrial Average is testing support at 16000. Long tails on the last two weekly candles and recovery of 13-week Twiggs Money Flow above zero indicate strong support. Breach of 16000 would confirm a primary down-trend but we are likely to see a (secondary) bear rally beforehand.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Bellwether transport stock Fedex continues to warn of a contraction in economic activity.

Fedex

And retail sales growth remains subdued.

Retail Sales and Core CPI

A long tail on Canada’s TSX 60 indicates continued support despite the breach of 790. Declining 13-week Twiggs Momentum below zero indicates a primary down-trend. Recovery above 820 is unlikely, but would suggest a bear trap.

TSX 60 Index

* Target calculation: 800 – ( 900 – 800 ) = 700

Europe

Germany’s DAX signals a primary down-trend, but appears to have found secondary support at 9500. Recovery of 13-week Twiggs Money Flow above zero would suggest a bear rally.

DAX

The Footsie found strong support at 6000, with long tails and 13-week Twiggs Money Flow recovering above zero. Penetration of the descending trendline is unlikely but would warn of a bear trap. Breach of support at 6000 is more likely and would confirm the primary down-trend.

FTSE 100

Asia

The Shanghai Composite Index continues to test government-enforced support at 3000. Recovery above 3500 is most unlikely. Breach of 3000 would warn of another sharp sell-off.

Dow Jones Shanghai Index

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index broke support at 21000, confirming the primary down-trend — signaled earlier by 13-week Twiggs Money Flow.

Hang Seng Index

Japan’s Nikkei 225 is testing primary support between 16500 and 17000. Gradual decline on 13-week Twiggs Money Flow suggests a secondary correction, but reversal of 13-week Momentum below zero warns of a primary down-trend. Breach of 16500 would confirm.

Nikkei 225 Index

* Target calculation: 17500 – ( 19000 – 17500 ) = 16000

India’s Sensex found support at 25000 before testing resistance at 26500. 13-Week Twiggs Money Flow trough above zero indicates strong buying pressure. Recovery above 26500 would warn of a bear trap. Reversal below 25000 is less likely, but would confirm the primary down-trend.

SENSEX

* Target calculation: 25000 – ( 26500 – 25000 ) = 23500

Australia

The ASX 200 also shows solid support at 5000, with rising 21-Day Twiggs Money Flow indicating medium-term buying pressure. Recovery above 5200 would indicate a bear rally. Breach of 5000 remains likely, however, and would confirm the primary down-trend.

ASX 200

* Target calculation: 5000 – ( 5400 – 5000 ) = 4600


More….

Gold and Treasury yields decline as inflation weakens

Sen. John McCain on Russia’s airstrikes in Syria

Japan abandons Fed-style inflation targeting and targets GDP growth instead

Deflation supercycle is over as world runs out of workers | Telegraph

Australia: Latest SMSF statistics | FINSIA

I think anybody who is a great investor, a good investor, a successful investor has to be a person who can be both aggressive and defensive….. have enough fear to have the caution. But you can’t let the fear control you.

~ Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates

Spain’s Economy Shows Fresh Strain – WSJ.com

Spain’s economy showed fresh strain as retail sales fell at a record pace in April, showing the government’s austerity program is strangling consumption and suggesting deepening recession. Data Tuesday from the National Statistics Institute, or INE, showed seasonally adjusted retail sales fell 9.8% on the year in April, compared with a 3.8% drop in March. The decline was the sharpest since INE started collecting the data in January 2004. Household spending is dropping as unemployment approaches 25% of the work force.

via Spain’s Economy Shows Fresh Strain – WSJ.com.

Odd Retail Data Aren’t as Worrying as Rising Gas Prices – WSJ

Higher oil prices, the loss of some refining capacity and higher world demand have pushed up U.S. gasoline prices more than they usually track in the winter. So far in February, a gallon of gas nationwide costs $3.56, up from $3.44 in January.

Because they are shelling out more at the pump than usual this winter, consumers have less to spend elsewhere.

The strain is likely to get worse. That’s because gasoline prices typically rise in the first half running up to the summer driving season.

via Odd Retail Data Aren’t as Worrying as Rising Gas Prices – Real Time Economics – WSJ.

Australia: August retail sales up 0.6%

Westpac reported Australian retail sales posted another strong month with nominal sales up 0.6%mth in Aug following a similar gain in July. Through the year sales growth rose from a low of 1.4%yr in Jun to 2.1%yr in August, suggesting a modest 0.6%yr gain in per capital spending.

Talking to a mobile phone salesman yesterday, however, he said that state-wide they had a very quiet September. One has to be careful of seeking out evidence that supports your market view, but it occurred to me that mobile phone sales may be a good barometer of consumer sentiment.

Disleveraging and retail – macrobusiness.com.au | macrobusiness.com.au

We’ve long established the link between [Australian] house prices and retail sales, but here is a pretty clear illustration of the link between mortgage creation and sales.

This stands as a stark warning to anyone expecting a bounce in retail sales so long as disleveraging continues. Let alone actual deleveraging.

via Disleveraging and retail – macrobusiness.com.au | macrobusiness.com.au.