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Top 3 Economic Trends Every Investor Should Follow

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Being plugged into the latest economic trends is crucial when it comes to making sound investments. Julie Jason speaks with Simon Constable, co-author of a new guide to help smart investors make sound decisions using economic trends.

FINRA foundation offers tools for understanding investment issues

If you are an investor, do you watch economic trends?

Some economists believe that being aware of economic trends gives investors an edge. I spoke with economist Simon Constable a few weeks ago to discern how his work might provide some insights and guidance to today’s investors. Constable is co-author of “The Wall Street Journal Guide to the 50 Economic Indicators That Really Matter: From Big Macs to ‘Zombie Banks,’ the Indicators Smart Investors Watch to Beat the Market.”

Constable and his co-author, Robert E. Wright, made a provocative statement in the book, which was written in 2011, a few years after the market bottomed on March 9, 2009: “The financial crisis of 2008-09 and its aftermath suggest that most investors were insufficiently nimble because they were looking at what the economy was rather than what it would become.”

They observed: “Discerning the economy’s direction — whether it will soar, plummet, or stagnate — may sound difficult, and it certainly isn’t easy, but the economy can’t help but constantly provide statistical clues about its health.”

And they provided a tool chest of 50 indicators for investors to follow.

I asked Constable the obvious question: What do the economic indicators tell us about today? Is there a bear market on the horizon?

Constable advised: “The stock market and economy are related like cousins. They are related, but can be estranged for many years.” So, there won’t be simple answers to my questions. That is, the 50 indicators will not provide a clearly defined stock market forecast. Reviewing them will provide insights, however, by watching trends as they develop.

Now, that’s quite a bit of work for the everyday investor. Being pragmatic, I asked Constable for a shortcut:

Could he identify one, two or three of the most important indicators to follow?

He offered this starting point: The Weekly Leading Index (WLI), developed in the 1980s to take an accurate read “on the future of the entire economy,” is published by the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI). The WLI “is a composite leading index that anticipates cyclical turning points in U.S. economic activity by 2-3 quarters,” according to ECRI. The inputs include measures of money supply, housing activity, the labor market, and equity and bond market prices.
For this indicator to be meaningful in calling a recession, trend changes need to be “pronounced, persistent and pervasive,” explained Constable.

As it says in Constable’s book: If “there is a turn in the WLI growth rate that satisfies the three P’s, then a recession (or the end of one) can be expected seven to eight months later.” When the WLI growth rate is trending up, the economy is growing.
The best way to look at trends is graphically. ECRI provides access to free graphs (with underlying data) online at. When you visit this site, look at different time frames.

For an example of this indicator at work, change the dates at the bottom of the graph. Take a look at the end of 2005 through the end of 2009 to pick up economic trends before the financial crisis up to the year the stock market bottomed (March 2009). Zoom out to pick up 1970 through 2017.

Look for warnings as well. At the height of the 2007 market, the November-December 2007 ECRI Outlook cautioned: “The growing weakness in the growth rates of ECRI’s leading indexes is a warning that recessionary weakness could develop. One key danger is a sustained credit crunch because the credit crisis is clearly not over. … [Our] Leading Index[es are] now approaching [their] worst reading[s] since the 2001 recession. … Also, the breadth of deterioration evident in the latest data on the components of ECRI’s many leading indexes has rarely been seen except near the cusp of a recession.”

Returning to today, we are not in a 2007 market, based on economic trends. However, the economy is not the sole arbiter of stock market movements — for one, consider rare but impactful “black swan” events.

In the end, following indicators can help investors evaluate their investments in the context of the broader economic picture.

* * *
Julie Jason, JD, LLM, a personal money manager (Jackson, Grant of Stamford, Conn.) and award-winning author, welcomes your questions/comments ([email protected]). To hear Julie speak, visit here.

(c) 2018 Julie Jason.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.

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Business

US Housing Sales Boom Will Last Until 2021

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Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman told CNBC on Thursday that he sees the US housing sales boom will last until 2021. Total US Home sales increased 9.4% in September, surpassing estimates. Meanwhile, median prices went up 15% year over year. This is according to data provided by the National Association of Realtors.

RELATED: Biden Is Latest Dem to Support Ridiculous Free Housing Proposal

Shares of Redfin, a real estate brokerage firm, were higher by 1% Thursday to $45.60. The stock more than doubled during this year. It now has a market cap of $4.5 billion. 

Why do people buy houses during a recession? 

During this time when the economy is reeling and jobs are tight, people buy homes. Why? There are a couple of reasons.

The bigger acceptance for remote work freed many people from living in the city. The opportunity to leave cramped apartments and expensive city living. The pandemic gave enough reason for workers to pack up and head for greener pastures. Next, interest rates are going down hard. From 3.7%, 30-year mortgage rates are now 2.9%, the lowest rates ever. Despite higher prices, people know this is the best time to buy on the cheap. 

The intent is there. The pandemic allowed you to work anywhere. And interest rates allow you to pay the lowest interest rates. People are taking the plunge and buying. So what’s the problem? We’re running out of houses to buy. 

Demand coming from the rich 

Rich professionals who can work from home are the reason for the uptick in housing demand. Kelman said that many remote workers moved from major cities to distant suburbs. Kelman said these workers began “taking a permanent vacation where they’re working from those homes.”

People are taking advantage of low-interest rates to snap up homes. Kelman noted that “part of what is fueling this boom is that the economy has just split into two and rich people are able to access capital almost for free.” The opportunity to buy homes for cheap may be too much to resist. “Of course, they’re going to use that money to buy homes,” he added.  

Meanwhile, there’s another group of people who would like to buy but can’t. Kleman said:  “There’s just another group of Americans who are still struggling, who can’t access the credit because we’ve raised credit standards, and you have high unemployment. I just think those two trends, at some point, have to collide.” 

Kelman foresees demand to continue until 2021 at least. Many undecided buyers will buckle down next year and take the plunge. He said: “There’s no way it can last forever. This level of demand is absolutely insane. I would expect it to last into 2021, at least.” Why 2021? “There are so many people now who have decided they’re not going to be able to buy a home by year-end,” he said. Kelman expects them to buy next year, “as their kids shift school districts. I do think we’re going to see this for some time.”

Shrinking inventory of houses for sale

With homes fast disappearing from the market, higher purchase prices are coming back. Based on data from the National Association of Realtors data, only 2.7 months’ supply of houses is available last month. This represents the lowest level since 1982 when the NAR began tracking data. 

Kleman expects supply to increase after the elections. Uncertainty will decrease after voters elect a new president. Listing and selling a home can take months to process. That’s why sellers have a lower risk tolerance than buyers. “Buyers, when they see a house they love, they pounce,” he said. “I think the sellers are just looking long term in the economy and still feeling some anxiety. Many of them are going to put their homes on the market in January and February.”

Demand won’t last forever  

The Wall Street Journal’s Justin Lahart thinks not everybody can live outside the big cities. A remote job in a vacation spot may pose difficulties for some. Winter conditions may also make some remote workers rethink their strategy. He also believes that the housing boom now made people buy houses sooner than later. He thinks many of the workers who moved to the suburbs would’ve done so in a few years. When the pandemic subsides, a smaller group might follow the exodus out of big cities. 

The number of people who can afford houses will shrink as well. Many workers’ careers derailed during the year. Many millennials got burned during the financial crisis in the early 2000s. Now, a new career-threatening crisis is in full swing. The post-coronavirus landscape may depend on how well the economy rebounds. We’ll have next year to find out.

Watch this as CNBC reports on the US housing sales boom. Redfin CEO Says “people are buying vacation homes, then taking a permanent vacation:

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Business

Market Volatility Rises As Election Polls Show Tightening Race

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Market Volatility Rises As Election Polls Show Tightening Race

The relatively calm markets earlier this month are giving way to more volatility as we approach the election. This is according to a team of strategists at JPMorgan.

“While it is perhaps true that during the first two weeks of October risk markets were supported by a widening of US presidential odds, which by itself implied a lower probability of a close or contested US election result, over the past week or so these odds have started narrowing again,” said a team of strategists at JPMorgan Chase, led by Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou.

According to recent polls by RealClearPolitics, in key battleground states, Democratic nominee Joe Biden leads President Trump by 3.9 percentage points, 49.1 vs. 45.2. That lead has shrunk from a 5 percentage point advantage for Biden about a week ago.

A general election nationwide poll by RCP shows a wider 8.6 percentage-point lead for Biden. However, there are many who feel those polls are not correcting for sampling bias.

Polls Inaccurate?

MarketWatch recently interviewed Phil Orlando, the chief equities strategist at Federated Hermes. There, he said he doesn’t believe the polls accurately reflect how close the race is. In relation to this, he pointed to the surprise win by Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“Our base case is that the polls are wrong, there’s an oversampling biased error that a lot of polls aren’t correcting for,” Orlando said.

With a tightening race for the White House, volatility has returned to the market. It will also likely increase in the final two weeks leading up to the election.

A report put out yesterday by SentimenTrader showed that the CBOE Volatility Index or VIX, jumped to levels last seen during the Great Financial Crisis, and tends to rise as stocks fall as it is typically used as a hedge against market downturns.

Market analysts use the ratio to measure how speculative traders are getting. A rise in the put/call ratio means that investors are expecting plenty of volatility between now and November 3.

The VIX, which measures investor bullish or bearishness on the S&P 500 for the next 30 days, is currently near 29, well above its historical average between 19 and 20. This week alone the VIX jumped 6.3%.

Source of Volatility

Jeffrey Mills, the chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr Trust, said some of the volatility likely comes from investors trying to position their portfolios based on who they perceive will win the election.  “There could be some front-loaded selling but I do feel like that’s a near-term phenomenon,” he said. But he says no matter who wins, there’s really only one place to invest, and that’s the stock market.

“There is going to be this continued pull toward equity markets — where else are you going to go when you need to earn a certain percentage to fund retirement, fund education?”

If investors are moving money today based on who they think will win the election, Daniel Clifton, head of policy research at Strategas Securities said each candidate will likely benefit different sectors.

A Biden victory will be good for stocks in the infrastructure, renewable energy and technology sectors, said Clifton.

If President Donald Trump is reelected, Clifton said there’s “huge upside” in some sectors. These include defense, financials and even the for-profits like prisons, education and student loan lenders.

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Automobiles

Tesla Keeps Streak Intact, Posts Profitable 3rd Quarter

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The winning streak continues Tesla posts a profitable 3rd quarter, it’s fifth consecutive. The EV company posted a net profit of $331 million for the three-month period ended Sept. 30. Tesla also confirmed its goal of delivering 500,000 vehicles within the year. CEO Elon Musk calls the latest quarter as Tesla’s “best quarter in history.” The company posted a record of $8.77 billion in revenue against estimates of $8.28 billion. This is an increase of 39% from a year ago. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected sales of $8.28 billion. Shares went up over 3% at about $438 in after-hours trading. Since January, Tesla shares have grown 500%.

RELATED: Tesla To Sell New Stock To Raise $5 Billion Capital

500,000 Deliveries on Target

Despite the pandemic, the company will proceed with its original goal of 500,000 cars in 2020. In a statement, Tesla affirmed its goal. “While achieving this goal has become more difficult, delivering half a million vehicles in 2020 remains our target,” it said. This entails building more cars at its Shanghai factory, and improvements in logistics and delivery.

Earlier in October, Tesla reported 139,593 vehicle deliveries in the quarter. This places the 500,000 targets is within reach. Model 3 and Model Y took up the bulk of deliveries and growth during the period. The more expensive Models S and X dropped by 12% compared to 2019. As such, Tesla started slashing prices for its higher-end models to increase demand. The Model S reduced its prices twice to $69,420.

China Remains the Crucial Market

China remains the key market for Tesla’s profitable 3rd quarter. Tesla’s auto sales in China climbed nearly 13% in September, their sixth straight monthly gain. The company’s Shanghai Gigafactory raised production due to demand. Demand for the Model 3, especially in China, led to a retooling. From 150,000 units per year, it now handles 250,000.

China’s “Golden September, Silver October” is the country’s high point in car purchases. Sales reached 2.57 million vehicles last month. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said that sales were still down.  For 2020, 17.12 million vehicles got sold, which is 6.9% below last year. 

Electric vehicles enjoyed brisk sales during the period. Sales increased by 67.7% to 138,000, which is the third straight month of gain. Tesla reduced its Model 3 prices by 8%, down to 249,900 yuan ($36,805).

Based on September sales, the momentum looks to carry over to October. Haitong International analyst Shi Ji expects even better numbers this month. He said: “Based on our dealer channel checks, the growth in momentum extended into the October Golden Week, as retail sales exceeded dealers’ expectations”

A Decrease in Credit Sales

While revenue rose, regulatory credits fell down from $428 million to $397 million. Ben Kallo of RW Baird observed that “Regulatory credits are a big part of the EPS beat. But that’s part of the game: Tesla’s competitors are paying them, and Tesla is reinvesting that into their factories in Berlin and Texas.”

Tesla generates extra income by selling credits. Manufacturers buy these credits to comply with carbon-emissions standards. They come from all over California, Europe, and other areas. Investors prefer seeing profits from the core business of selling cars. A Bloomberg analyst thinks that the S&P snub might be due to credit sales. Analyst Michael Dean noted “question marks about the sustainability of regulatory emission-credit sales, which are currently underpinning earnings.”

For 2021, Tesla aimed for even more increases in production. This includes its all-electric semitrailer truck and its pickup truck. The company hopes to get more cars out of its China factory. It also expects its newest plants in Berlin and Texas to start churning cars. Musk estimates the 2021 production could reach 840,000 to 1 million vehicles.

The company also laid out plans during its recent “Battery Day” event. Musk announced that the company will start making its own “tabless” batteries. These batteries improve the cars’ range and power. The improvements will help bring down the cost to produce a car. Soon, Tesla hopes to launch a vehicle priced under $25,000.

Watch this as Yahoo! Finance reports on Tesla earnings: Tesla posts a profitable 3rd quarter, it’s fifth consecutive and EPS estimates:

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