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5 reasons why US inflation will remain elevated

Last week’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) report showed that inflation in the US rose by the most in over four decades. The Consumer Price Index accelerated…

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Last week’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) report showed that inflation in the US rose by the most in over four decades. The Consumer Price Index accelerated to 8.5% in March, while core CPI was 6.5%. According to many economists, this will likely represent the peak for inflation and starting next month we should see a deceleration in the inflation rate (the “base effect” will clearly play a big role here).

While it is plausible to expect that inflation in the US has finally peaked, I don’t think it is time to get too excited about it. The year-on-year change in inflation might start to trend lower, but inflationary pressures remain very elevated and as a result, inflation won’t fall as quickly as Central Banks may think/hope.

Here are 5 examples of underling inflationary pressures which, to me, suggest inflation will likely be very sticky on the way down.

1. Core CPI services: This is the stickiest part of the CPI basket and it is still rising fast. Rents play a big role here. Due to the way rents are calculated, rent inflation acts with a lag and tends to be very sticky. As a result, rents will likely remain elevated for rest of 2022. Currently rents are growing at 5% year-on-year and given they represents c. 40% of the core CPI index (which includes both goods and services), this already gives you a 2% contribution to core inflation (i.e. in order to go back to the Fed’s inflation target we will need to see 0% inflation from all other categories. Highly unlikely!) 

Source: Bloomberg, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 31 March 2022

2. Median CPI: Median CPI removes the outliers and as a result is a cleaner measure to capture underlying inflation trends. Pre-Covid, month-on-month median CPI was rising at approx. 0.2%, which is consistent with annual inflation slightly above 2%. More recently, median CPI has been around 0.5% month-on-month, suggesting we have reached a new equilibrium consistent with 6% year-on-year inflation.

Source: Bloomberg, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, 31 March 2022

3. PPI final demand: Last week’s Producer Price Index surprised to the upside, suggesting lots more inflation is still in the pipeline. 

Source: Bloomberg, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 31 March 2022

4. Wages: High inflation combined with a tight labour market is resulting in a sharp increase in wages. Higher wages tend to maintain inflation higher, as consumers have more money to spend, while companies keep rising prices to reflect the higher cost for labour. 

Source: Bloomberg, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 31 March 2022

5. Inflation expectations: Households’ and firms’ expectations of future inflation can be key determinant of actual inflation. If households expect higher inflation going forward, they will ask for higher wages. If companies expect higher inflation, they will raise prices. Inflation expectations have risen significantly since mid-2021. The chart below (produced by the NY Fed) shows consumers’ inflation expectations 1 year from now – now at the highest level since the series was introduced. 

Source: New York Fed Survey of Consumer Expectations, 31 March 2022

The inflation genie is now out of the bottle and it is going to be very hard to put him back in. The amount of money thrown at the economy after the pandemic has resulted in a sharp increase in prices and there is nothing in the data that suggests this increase is about to quickly reverse. Inflationary pressures remain elevated and while it is possible that inflation has finally peaked, we should not expect a swift return to normality. Inflation is now embedded in the system and we will likely reach a new equilibrium, which in my view, is well above where Central Banks are currently targeting. Clearly Central Banks have the tools to control inflation and bring it back to target, but using those tools will likely result in a recession, something Central Banks are not keen to engineer.

Inflation has probably peaked, but inflationary pressures are still high and Central Banks are taking baby steps to fight the inflation genie. Don’t expect a swift return to normality. 

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Stay Ahead of GDP: 3 Charts to Become a Smarter Trader

When concerns of a recession are front and center, investors tend to pay more attention to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report. The Q4 2022 GDP report…

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When concerns of a recession are front and center, investors tend to pay more attention to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report. The Q4 2022 GDP report showed the U.S. economy grew by 2.9% in the quarter, and Wall Street wasn't disappointed. The day the report was released, the market closed higher, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ($DJIA) up 0.61%, the S&P 500 index ($SPX) up 1.1%, and the Nasdaq Composite ($COMPQ) up 1.76%. Consumer Discretionary, Technology, and Energy were the top-performing S&P sectors.

Add to the GDP report strong earnings from Tesla, Inc. (TSLA) and a mega announcement from Chevron Corp. (CVX)—raising dividends and a $75 billion buyback round—and you get a strong day in the stock markets.

Why is the GDP Report Important?

If a country's GDP is growing faster than expected, it could be a positive indication of economic strength. It means that consumer spending, business investment, and exports, among other factors, are going strong. But the GDP is just one indicator, and one indicator doesn't necessarily tell the whole story. It's a good idea to look at other indicators, such as the unemployment rate, inflation, and consumer sentiment, before making a conclusion.

Inflation appears to be cooling, but the labor market continues to be strong. The Fed has stated in many of its previous meetings that it'll be closely watching the labor market. So that'll be a sticky point as we get close to the next Fed meeting. Consumer spending is also strong, according to the GDP report. But that could have been because of increased auto sales and spending on services such as health care, personal care, and utilities. Retail sales released earlier in January indicated that holiday sales were lower.

There's a chance we could see retail sales slowing in Q1 2023 as some households run out of savings that were accumulated during the pandemic. This is something to keep an eye on going forward, as a slowdown in retail sales could mean increases in inventories. And this is something that could decrease economic activity.

Overall, the recent GDP report indicates the U.S. economy is strong, although some economists feel we'll probably see some downside in 2023, though not a recession. But the one drawback of the GDP report is that it's lagging. It comes out after the fact. Wouldn't it be great if you had known this ahead of time so you could position your trades to take advantage of the rally? While there's no way to know with 100% accuracy, there are ways to identify probable events.

3 Ways To Stay Ahead of the Curve

Instead of waiting for three months to get next quarter's GDP report, you can gauge the potential strength or weakness of the overall U.S. economy. Steven Sears, in his book The Indomitable Investor, suggested looking at these charts:

  • Copper prices
  • High-yield corporate bonds
  • Small-cap stocks

Copper: An Economic Indicator

You may not hear much about copper, but it's used in the manufacture of several goods and in construction. Given that manufacturing and construction make up a big chunk of economic activity, the red metal is more important than you may have thought. If you look at the chart of copper futures ($COPPER) you'll see that, in October 2022, the price of copper was trading sideways, but, in November, its price rose and trended quite a bit higher. This would have been an indication of a strengthening economy.

CHART 1: COPPER CONTINUOUS FUTURES CONTRACTS. Copper prices have been rising since November 2022. Chart source: StockCharts.com. For illustrative purposes only.

High-Yield Bonds: Risk On Indicator

The higher the risk, the higher the yield. That's the premise behind high-yield bonds. In short, companies that are leveraged, smaller, or just starting to grow may not have the solid balance sheets that more established companies are likely to have. If the economy slows down, investors are likely to sell the high-yield bonds and pick up the safer U.S. Treasury bonds.

Why the flight to safety? It's because when the economy is sluggish, the companies that issue the high-yield bonds tend to find it difficult to service their debts. When the economy is expanding, the opposite happens—they tend to perform better.

The chart below of the Dow Jones Corporate Bond Index ($DJCB) shows that, since the end of October 2022, the index trended higher. Similar to copper prices, high-yield corporate bond activity was also indicating economic expansion. You'll see similar action in charts of high-yield bond exchange-traded funds (ETFs) such as iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (HYG) and SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond ETF (JNK).

CHART 2: HIGH-YIELD BONDS TRENDING HIGHER. The Dow Jones Corporate Bond Index ($DJCB) has been trending higher since end of October 2022.Chart source: StockCharts.com. For illustrative purposes only.

Small-Cap Stocks: They're Sensitive

Pull up a chart of the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) and you'll see similar price action (see chart 3). Since mid-October, small-cap stocks (the Russell 2000 index is made up of 2000 small companies) have been moving higher.

CHART 3: SMALL-CAP STOCKS TRENDING HIGHER. When the economy is expanding, small-cap stocks trend higher.Chart source: StockCharts.com. For illustrative purposes only.

Three's Company

If all three of these indicators are showing strength, you can expect the GDP number to be strong. There are times when the GDP number may not impact the markets, but, when inflation is a problem and the Fed is trying to curb it by raising interest rates, the GDP number tends to impact the markets.

This scenario is likely to play out in 2023, so it would be worth your while to set up a GDP Tracker ChartList. Want a live link to the charts used in this article? They're all right here.


Jayanthi Gopalakrishnan

Director, Site Content

StockCharts.com

 

Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice. The ideas and strategies should never be used without first assessing your own personal and financial situation, or without consulting a financial professional.

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Hotels: Occupancy Rate Down 6.2% Compared to Same Week in 2019

From CoStar: STR: MLK Day Leads to Slightly Lower US Weekly Hotel PerformanceWith the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, U.S. hotel performance came in slightly lower than the previous week, according to STR‘s latest data through Jan. 21.Jan. 15-21, 2023 …

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With the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, U.S. hotel performance came in slightly lower than the previous week, according to STR‘s latest data through Jan. 21.

Jan. 15-21, 2023 (percentage change from comparable week in 2019*):

Occupancy: 54.2% (-6.2%)
• Average daily rate (ADR): $140.16 (+11.3%)
• evenue per available room (RevPAR): $75.97 (+4.4%)

*Due to the pandemic impact, STR is measuring recovery against comparable time periods from 2019. Year-over-year comparisons will once again become standard after Q1.
emphasis added
The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four-week average.

Click on graph for larger image.

The red line is for 2023, black is 2020, blue is the median, and dashed light blue is for 2022.  Dashed purple is 2019 (STR is comparing to a strong year for hotels).

The 4-week average of the occupancy rate is below the median rate for the previous 20 years (Blue), but this is the slow season - and some of the early year weakness might be related to the timing of the report.

Note: Y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the seasonal change.

The 4-week average of the occupancy rate will increase seasonally over the next few months.

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American Express Numbers Show What Still Gets People to Spend Money

American Express stock jumped nearly 12% since earnings dropped.

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American Express stock jumped nearly 12% since earnings dropped.

Even though American Express  (AXP) - Get Free Report earnings announced Friday afternoon fell somewhat short of expectations for the quarter, shares still soared to highs unseen for many months due to a number of strong metrics -- quarterly revenue growth of 17%, plans to raise its dividend by 15% from 52 to 60 cents and an annual revenue that surpassed $50 billion for the first time ever.

At $52.9 billion, the latter is driven primarily by an increase in quarterly member spending. Last year, that number was at $42.4 billion. 

According to American Express Chairman and CEO Stephen J. Squeri, the increase can be attributed to higher numbers of millennials gaining in earning power and using their AmEx above other cards to tap into rewards as many approach milestones like marriage, career advancement, and homeownership.

"Millennial and Gen Z customers continue to be the largest drivers of our growth, representing over 60% of proprietary consumer card acquisitions in the quarter and for the full year," Squeri said in an earnings call discussing the results.

People Are Using Their AmEx Cards a Lot

The $52.9 billion number is up 25% from what was seen last quarter and reflects a number of different factors also having to do with post-pandemic spending.

"We ended 2022 with record revenues, which grew 25% from a year earlier, and earnings per share of $9.85, both well above the guidance that we provided when we introduced our long-term growth plan at the start of last year, despite a mixed economic environment," Squeri said.

AmEx further reported that 12.5 million new members signed up for cards in 2022 while existing members used their cards frequently. Fourth-quarter sales at AmEx's U.S. consumer services and commercial segments rose by a respective 23% and 15%.

But higher expenses also led to falling below analyst expectations. The fourth-quarter income of $1.57 billion, or $2.07 a share, is down from $1.72 billion ($2.18 a share) in the fourth quarter of 2021. FactSet analysts had predicted $2.23 a share.

"I'm not sure what that's really a function of right now -- whether it's a function of the economy or of confusion on where to advertise right now," Squeri told Yahoo Finance in reference to lower spending on the part of small business and digital advertisers. "We're going to watch that, but the consumer is really strong, travel bookings are up over 50% vs pre-pandemic."

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It's a Good Time to Be Tracking Credit Card Companies

Immediately after the earnings dropped, AmEx stock started soaring and was up nearly 12% at $175.24 on Friday afternoon. This is a high unseen in months -- the last peak occurred when, on September 12, shares were at $162.45. 

Whether due to or despite analyst threats of a looming recession, people have been using their credit cards very actively throughout the end of 2022.

When it posted its earnings earlier this week, Mastercard  (MA) - Get Free Report surpassed Wall Street expectations of $5.8 billion and $2.65 per share in fourth-quarter earnings. Visa  (V) - Get Free Report also saw revenue rise 11.8% to $7.94 billion in the same quarter. The numbers also reflect higher numbers of people traveling and using their credit cards in different countries.

"Visa's performance in the first quarter of 2023 reflects stable domestic volumes and transactions and a continued recovery of cross-border travel," outgoing CEO Al Kelly said of the results during a call with financial analysts.

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