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Instability or Inflation, Which Will the Fed Choose?

Over the past few weeks, Fed speakers are bemoaning inflation and voiced their wishes to squash it. They frequently mention how effective their monetary toolbox is in managing inflation.

There lies a massive contradiction between words and actions withi

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Over the past few weeks, Fed speakers are bemoaning inflation and voiced their wishes to squash it. They frequently mention how effective their monetary toolbox is in managing inflation.

There lies a massive contradiction between words and actions within these numerous speeches and media appearances. If the Fed is so intent on fighting inflation, why are they still stimulating the economy and markets with crisis levels of QE? Why is the Fed Funds rate still pinned at zero percent?

Within this ambiguity comes an abundance of risk for investors. If the Fed walks the walk and fights inflation vigorously, markets appear ill-prepared for a sharp decline in liquidity and resulting market instability. Conversely, the Fed may be just talking the talk and hoping inflation starts abating soon. In such a circumstance, they may not be as forceful as they appear.  

The Fed is walking a tightrope between instability and inflation. Can they successfully tame inflation without causing severe market dislocations? The tightrope is thin, and the consequences of falling off to one side or the other are severe. Investors best think about the Fed’s perilous act they are getting ready to attempt.  

The Monetary Toolbox

Since March 2020, the Fed has purchased nearly $5 trillion in government bonds, mortgage-backed securities, and corporate bonds. As the graph below shows, the current annualized pace is more than at the 2008-09 Financial Crisis peak.

In addition to QE and the abundant liquidity, it fortifies financial markets with, they are also keeping the Fed Funds rates at zero percent. The graph below shows that the real Fed Funds rate level is obscenely negative.

real fed funds monetary toolbox

The combination of massive liquidity and near-zero percent borrowing rates have made speculative behavior commonplace among individual and institutional investors. Consider, the Fed removed $5 trillion of assets from the market resulting in more demand for all other remaining assets. Further, they encouraged investors with near-zero interest rates to use leverage to buy more assets than they could otherwise afford. The result is the stunning rise in asset prices and speculative fervor.

margin debt  leverage tightrope

Now, ask yourself what happens when the Fed removes liquidity and raises short-term borrowing rates.

Financial Stability

Financial stability has become a critical element of the Fed’s vernacular since the Financial Crisis. While the Fed’s congressionally chartered mandate only mentions stable prices and maximum employment, Fed members consider financial stability a third objective.

For example, Cleveland Fed President Mester recently opined on reducing the Fed’s balance sheet.

I would like to reduce it — let me say this carefully so that people don’t misunderstand — as fast as we can, conditional on not being disruptive to the functioning of financial markets.”

Despite the Fed being woefully misaligned with their inflation goal, her comments clarify that financial market stability is of equal or even greater concern than high inflation. 

Does The Fed’s “Third Mandate” Make Markets Unstable?

In supplying generous levels of liquidity to markets and incentivizing leverage and speculative behaviors, we think it’s easy to make a strong case that asset valuations are well above where they might have been without the Fed’s aggressive actions.

There are those with a different opinion, so let’s focus on some facts.

  • Using many different methods, Equity valuations stand at record levels or just shy of those seen in 1999. Almost all valuations have eclipsed those from 1929. Economic growth trends and forecasted growth rates are much lower than those periods.
  • The ten-year U.S. Treasury note trades at 1.80% despite inflation running at 7%.
  • BB-rated junk bonds trade at a record low 2.15% above Treasury yields despite more corporate debt than any time in history.

Do the underlying economic fundamentals justify such extremes, or are they the result of massive liquidity and absurd amounts of speculation the Fed fosters?

Walking The Tightrope  

The Fed is making it clear they want to reduce inflation. They are also telling us they will ensure financial stability. Sounds like a good plan, but walking the narrow tightrope successfully by achieving lower inflation without destabilizing markets is an incredibly tough task.

We think the odds of success are poor. As such, we must carefully consider which goal they will prioritize when push comes to shove.

Is the Fed willing to let some air out the financial markets to help get inflation moving toward its goal? Conversely, will market instability halt any Fed action toward reducing inflation?

These are the vast questions to which no one has the answers. That said, if the Fed falls off the tight rope, investors best start thinking about which option they will choose.

Political Pressure

A key factor in answering the questions revolves around politics. The Democrats are at risk of losing the House and or Senate. As November nears, it becomes increasingly likely the President will pressure the Fed to stem inflation. However, like the Fed, Biden may have to choose whether market instability or low inflation is a better outcome.

As you think about how Biden might ponder his choice, think about the following fact: 40% of the public has less than $1,000 of savings and rents. They do not have stocks to offset higher prices.

Can The Fed Control Inflation?

Another vexing problem facing the Fed is how much they control inflation. The Fed can raise rates that will impede economic growth and dampen demand for products. However, they have zero control over the supply line problems and shortages. While some are alleviating, Omicron results in a fresh round of new shortages and production problems. Our deep dependence on imports provides a reduced ability for the Fed to affect supply-side issues.

Also, consider wages are rising quickly, and the economy is at maximum employment. Companies aiming to preserve profit margins are being forced to raise prices with wages. A wage-price spiral is occurring already.

Lastly, let’s consider the role of the Fed and its management over the money supply. In The Fed’s Inconvenient Truth we wrote:

“The amount of money greatly matters, but equally important is how it moves through the economy. The graph below compares the money supply chart above with the velocity of money and inflation.”

money supply velocity inflation

The circle above shows that during the high inflation of the 1970s, the money supply and velocity of money were rising. Today, we see a steep decline in velocity, offsetting a surge in the money supply. As such, we believe most of today’s inflation is not the result of the Fed but the pandemic.

The bottom line is the Fed has a limited ability to affect inflation. They risk taking steps to halt inflation that does not meaningfully slow inflation but creates market instability.

Summary

We ask many questions in this article, and quite frankly, we do not have many answers. Given how high the stakes are, it is vital to consider the tradeoff between fighting inflation and risking market instability.

We think it is improbable the Fed can remove liquidity at the pace they are discussing without harming markets. We also recognize that the Fed can affect inflation but cannot truly manage it. It is possible inflation will diminish on its own over the coming months. However, we can make a convincing case it stays elevated throughout the year.

Predicting the future is difficult. Understanding and preparing for the many possible paths is how to achieve success. We hope this article gets you to think about what diverse paths lay ahead and the choices facing the Fed.

The post Instability or Inflation, Which Will the Fed Choose? appeared first on RIA.

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International

The State of Democracy In Each Region Of the World

The state of democracy has dropped from an average global score of 5.37 to 5.28, the biggest drop since 2010 after the global financial crisis which translates…

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The world’s (almost) eight billion people live under a wide variety of political and cultural circumstances…[that] can be measured and presented on a sliding scale between “free” (democracy) and “not free” (authoritarian) and the…Democracy Index report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), is one such attempt to apply a score to countries based on how closely they measure up to democratic ideals.

According to EIU, the state of democracy is at its lowest point since the index began in 2006, dropping from an average global score of 5.37 to 5.28, the biggest drop since 2010 after the global financial crisis….[which] translates into the sobering fact that only 46% of the population is living in a democracy “of some sort.”

Below is a look at the democratic state of each region in the world:

The Americas

Europe

map showing democracy index measuring political regimes in europe

Africa

map showing democracy index measuring political regimes in africa

Middle East and Central Asia

map showing democracy index measuring political regimes in the middle east

East Asia and Oceania

map showing democracy index measuring political regimes in east asia and oceania

Decline in Global Democracy Levels

Two years after the world got hit by the pandemic, we can see that global democracy is in a downward trend with very region’s global score experiencing  a drop, with the exception of Western Europe, which remained flat. Out of the 167 countries, 74 (44%) experienced a decline in their democracy score.

Editor’s Note: The above article is an edited and abridged version of the original post on visualcapitalist.com by Raul Amoros with article editing by Nick Routley and graphics design by Sabrina Fortin.

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Government

After mass shootings like Uvalde, national gun control fails – but states often loosen gun laws

After mass shootings, politicians in Washington have failed to pass new gun control legislation, despite public pressure. But laws are being passed at…

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A girl cries outside the Willie de Leon Civic Center in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images

Calls for new gun legislation that previously failed to pass Congress are being raised again after the May 24, 2022, mass shooting at an elementary school in the small town of Uvalde, Texas.

An 18-year-old shooter killed at least 19 fourth grade students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, marking the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in a decade.

The U.S. has been here before – after shootings in Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, Charleston, Roseburg, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, El Paso, Boulder, and 12 days earlier at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y.

Gun production and sales in the U.S. remain high, following a purchasing surge during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the firearms industry sold about six guns for every 100 Americans.

Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut was among the Democratic politicians who pleaded for action on gun control as horrifying details of the Uvalde school shooting unfolded.

“What are we doing?” Murphy asked other lawmakers, speaking from the Senate floor on the day of the shooting. “Why are you here if not to solve a problem as existential as this?”

Congress has declined to pass significant new gun legislation after dozens of shootings, including those that occurred during periods like this one, with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, Senate and presidency.

This response may seem puzzling given that national opinion polls reveal extensive support for several gun control policies, including expanding background checks and banning assault weapons.

In October 2021, 52% of people polled by Gallup said that they thought firearm sales laws should be made more strict.

But polls do not determine policy.

I am a professor of strategy at UCLA and have researched gun policy. With my co-authors at Harvard University, I’ve studied how gun laws change following mass shootings.

Our research on this topic finds there is legislative activity following these tragedies, but it’s at the state level.

A Democratic senator and Sandy Hook parents and teachers at a press conference in the US Capitol in 2013.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) speaks to the media as teachers, parents and residents from Newtown, Conn. – where the Sandy Hook school massacre happened – listen after a Capitol Hill hearing on Feb. 27, 2013, on the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Restrictions loosened

Stricter gun laws at the national level are more popular among Democrats than Republicans, and major new legislation would likely need votes from at least 10 Republican senators. Many of these senators represent constituencies opposed to gun control.

Despite national polls showing majority support for an assault weapons ban, not one of the 30 states with a Republican-controlled legislature has such a policy.

U.S. Texas Senator Ted Cruz said on May 24 that more gun control laws could not have prevented the Uvalde attack, explaining “that doesn’t work, it’s not effective, it doesn’t prevent crime.”

The absence of strict control policies in Republican-controlled states shows that senators crossing party lines to support gun control would be out of step with the views of voters whose support they need to win elections.

But a lack of action from Congress doesn’t mean gun laws are stagnant after mass shootings.

To examine how policy changes, we assembled data on shootings and gun legislation in the 50 states between 1990 and 2014. Overall, we identified more than 20,000 firearm bills and nearly 3,200 enacted laws. Some of these loosened gun restrictions, others tightened them, and still others did neither or both – that is, tightened in some dimensions but loosened in others.

We then compared gun laws before and after mass shootings in states where mass shootings occurred, relative to all other states.

Contrary to the view that nothing changes, state legislatures consider 15% more firearm bills the year after a mass shooting. Deadlier shootings – which receive more media attention – have larger effects.

In fact, mass shootings have a greater influence on lawmakers than other homicides, even though they account for less than 1% of gun deaths in the United States.

As impressive as this 15% increase in gun bills may sound, gun legislation can reduce gun violence only if it becomes law. And when it comes to enacting these bills into law, our research found that mass shootings do not regularly cause lawmakers to tighten gun restrictions.

In fact, we found the opposite. Republican state legislatures pass significantly more gun laws that loosen restrictions on firearms after mass shootings.

In 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a new law that eliminated a requirement for Texans to obtain a license or receive training to carry handguns. This came two years after a 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso.

That’s not to say Democrats never tighten gun laws – there are prominent examples of Democratic-controlled states passing new legislation following mass shootings.

California, for example, enacted several new gun laws following a 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino. Our research shows, however, that Democrats don’t tighten gun laws more than usual following mass shootings.

After the Buffalo shooting in early May 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said that she would work to increase the age for legal gun purchasing from 18 to 21 “at a minimum.”

'Change gun laws or change Congress' reads a sign at a 2018 rally in New York City.
In August 2018, Moms Demand Action hosted a rally at New York City’s Foley Square to call upon Congress to pass gun safety laws. Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Ideology governs response

The contrasting response from Democrats and Republicans is indicative of different philosophies regarding the causes of gun violence and the best ways to reduce deaths.

While Democrats tend to view social factors as contributing to violence, Republicans are more likely to blame the individual shooters.

Cruz, for example, has said that stopping individuals with criminal records from committing violence could help prevent mass shootings.

Politicians favoring looser restrictions on guns following mass shootings frequently argue that more people carrying guns would allow law-abiding citizens to stop perpetrators.

In fact, gun sales often surge after mass shootings, in part because people fear being victimized.

Democrats, in contrast, typically focus more on trying to solve policy and societal problems that contribute to gun violence.

For both sides, mass shootings are an opportunity to propose bills consistent with their ideology.

Since we wrote our study of gun legislation following mass shootings, which covered the period through 2014, several additional tragedies have energized the gun control movement that emerged following the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. These include the May 2022 shooting at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, as well as the Uvalde school massacre.

While President Joe Biden issued executive orders in 2021 with the goal of reducing gun violence, action in Congress remains elusive. States, meanwhile, have been more active on the issue.

Student activism following the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, did not result in congressional action but led several states to pass new gun control laws.

With more funding and better organization, this new movement is better positioned than prior gun control movements to advocate for stricter gun policies following mass shootings. Public outcry and devastation over the Uvalde shootings will likely provide fuel to this advocacy work.

But with states historically more active than Congress on the issue of guns, both advocates and opponents of new restrictions should look beyond Washington for action on gun policy.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on March 21, 2021.

Christopher Poliquin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Economics

5 Top Consumer Stocks To Watch Right Now

Are these consumer stocks a buy amid the earnings season?
The post 5 Top Consumer Stocks To Watch Right Now appeared first on Stock Market News, Quotes,…

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5 Trending Consumer Stocks To Watch In The Stock Market Now         

As we tread through the earnings season, consumer stocks could be worth watching in the stock market this week. This would be the case since a number of big consumer names such as Costco (NASDAQ: COST) and Macy’s (NYSE: M) will be posting their financials for the quarter. As such, investors will be keeping an eye on these reports for clues on the strength of consumer spending amid this period of high inflation.

However, despite the soaring prices across the economy, it seems that consumers are surprisingly showing resilience. According to the Commerce Department, retail sales in April outpaced inflation for a fourth straight month. This could suggest that consumers as a whole were not only sustaining their spending, but spending more even after adjusting for inflation. Ultimately, it could be a reassuring sign that consumers are still supporting the economy and helping to diminish the narrative of an incoming recession. With that being said, here are five consumer stocks to check out in the stock market today.

Consumer Stocks To Buy [Or Sell] Right Now

Nordstrom

retail stocks (JWN stock)

Starting off our list of consumer stocks today is Nordstrom. For the most part, it is a fashion retailer of full-line luxury apparel, footwear, accessories, and cosmetics among others. The company operates through multiple retail channels, boutiques, and online as well. As it stands, Nordstrom operates around 100 stores in 32 states in the U.S. and three Canadian provinces.

Yesterday, the company reported its financials for the first quarter of 2022. Starting with revenue, Nordstrom pulled in net sales worth $3.47 million for the quarter. This marks an increase of 18.7% from the same quarter last year. Its Nordstrom banner saw net sales rise by 23.5% year-over-year, exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Next to that, its Nordstrom Rack banner saw a 10.3% increase in net sales from last year. Besides, net earnings were $20 million, with earnings per share of $0.13 for the quarter. Considering Nordstrom’s solid quarter, should you invest in JWN stock?

[Read More] Best Stocks To Invest In Right Now? 5 Value Stocks To Watch This Week

The Wendy’s Company

best consumer stocks (WEN stock)

Next up, we have The Wendy’s Company. For the most part, it is the holding company for the major fast-food chain, Wendy’s. Being one of the world’s largest hamburger fast-food chains, the company boasts over 6,500 restaurants in the U.S. and 29 other countries. The chain is known for its square hamburgers, sea salt fries, and the Frosty, a form of soft-serve ice cream mixed with starches. WEN stock is rising by over 8% on today’s opening bell.

According to an SEC filing, Wendy’s largest shareholder, Trian Partners, is looking into making a potential deal with the company. Trian said that it is considering a deal to “enhance shareholder value.” Also, the firm adds that this could lead to an acquisition or business combination. In response, Wendy’s stated that it is constantly reviewing strategic priorities and opportunities. It added that the company’s board will carefully review any proposal from Trian. Given this piece of news, will you be watching WEN stock?

[Read More] 4 Semiconductor Stocks To Watch In The Stock Market Today

Foot Locker

FL stock

Another stock investors could be watching is the shoes and apparel company, Foot Locker. In brief, the company uses its omnichannel capabilities to bridge the digital world and physical stores. As such, it provides buy online and pickup-in-store services, order-in-store, as well as the growing trend of e-commerce. Some of its most notable brands include Eastbay, Footaction, Foot Locker, Champs Sports, and Sidestep. Last week, the company reported its results for the first quarter of the year.

For starters, total sales came in at $2.175 billion, a slight uptick compared to sales of $2.153 billion in the year prior. Next to that, Foot Locker reported a net income of $133 million. Accordingly, adjusted earnings per share came in at $1.60, beating Wall Street’s expectations of $1.54. CEO Richard Johnson added, “Our progress in broadening and enriching our assortment continues to meet our customers’ demand for choice. These efforts helped drive our strong results in the first quarter, which will allow us to more fully participate in the robust growth of our category going forward.”  As such, is FL stock one to add to your watchlist? 

Tyson Foods 

TSN stock

Tyson Foods is a company that built its name on providing families with wholesome and great-tasting protein products. Its segments include Beef, Pork, Chicken, and Prepared Foods. With some of the fastest-growing portfolio of protein-centric brands, it should not be surprising that TSN stock often comes to mind when investors are looking for the best consumer stocks to buy. 

Earlier this month, Tyson Foods provided its fiscal second-quarter financial update. The company’s total sales for the quarter were $13.1 billion, representing an increase of 15.9% compared to the prior year’s quarter. Meanwhile, its GAAP earnings per share climbed to $2.28, up 75% year-over-year. According to Tyson, these financial figures are a reflection of the increasing consumer demand for its brands and products. To top it off, the company was also able to reduce its total debt by approximately $1 billion. Thus, does TSN stock have a spot on your watchlist?

[Read More] Stock Market Today: Dow Jones, S&P 500 Rise, Wendy’s Stock Gains On Potential Deal

DoorDash

food delivery stocks (DASH Stock)

DoorDash is a consumer company that operates an online food ordering and delivery platform. In fact, it is one of the largest delivery companies in the U.S. and enjoys a huge market share. The company connects hundreds of thousands of merchants to over 25 million consumers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Japan through its local logistics platform. Accordingly, its platform allows local businesses to thrive in today’s “convenience economy,” as the company puts it.

On May 5, the company reported its first-quarter financials for 2022. Diving in, it posted a revenue of $1.5 billion, growing by 35% year-over-year. This was driven by total orders that grew by 23% year-over-year to $404 million. Along with that, it reported a GAAP gross profit of $662 million, an increase of 34% year-over-year. The company said that it added more consumers than any quarter since Q1 2021, due in part to the growth of its DashPass members. The growth in Monthly Active Users and average order frequency has helped it gain share in the U.S. Food Delivery category this quarter as well. Given DoorDash’s performance for the quarter, should you watch DASH stock?

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The post 5 Top Consumer Stocks To Watch Right Now appeared first on Stock Market News, Quotes, Charts and Financial Information | StockMarket.com.

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