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  • Consumer Confidence & Bank Lending Plunge

    Two economic/financial reports last week were shockers and support my view that we may be facing a double-dip recession. First, consumer confidence unexpectedly plunged in January - no analysts that I read saw this large a drop coming. Second, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) released its quarterly report which showed that lending by US banks plunged last year in the sharpest decline since 1942. We also saw new unemployment claims spike higher for the week ending February 20.

    What does this all mean? For one, the economy is not improving and more and more Americans are coming to know this. And banks are still not lending - what else is new? Are we indeed headed for a double-dip recession? Maybe, maybe not, but the odds are increasing. This week, we go over the latest reports, and try to come to some conclusions. And we end on a personal note from me. Let's get started.

  • Why the Economy May Disappoint in 2010

    This Friday we will get the first report on 4Q GDP, and most forecasters expect it to be a very good one. While most forecasters believe the economy rebounded strongly in the 4Q, largely due to inventory rebuilding, these same analysts are lowering their estimates for growth in 2010. Why is that? Mainly because consumer spending is not rebounding as many had expected. With unemployment remaining above 10%, most consumers are worried about the future, as they should be. This week, we take a look at the latest economic reports, and I bring you one of the best articles I have read regarding how we got in the mess we're currently in. It all should make for an interesting letter.

  • Anatomy of a Stock Market "Meltup"

    As the principal of an investment advisory firm, I have to admit that the stock market sometimes causes us to scratch our heads, wondering what in the world it's up to. As the current market rally continues unabated, this is definitely one of those times. In 2009, the S&P 500 Index soared 65% since its lowest closing value in March and ended the year up over 23%. However, this huge rally seems to have driven stock prices beyond where they should be based on the economic fundamentals.

    Even more confusing is the fact that statistics compiled by the Investment Company Institute (ICI) show that domestic equity mutual funds have had net outflows of money (more withdrawals than new investments) over the past five months, meaning that retail mutual fund investors have been heading for the exits in favor of cash or other asset classes. So, how can it be that the market goes up even though investor sentiment for domestic equities is still decidedly bearish?

    The answer may lie in an obscure market phenomenon known as a 'meltup,' which is a momentum-based rally that usually bears little relation to the underlying market fundamentals. This week, we'll delve into the anatomy of a stock market meltup, discuss possible reasons why stock prices went higher even as retail investors were pulling money out of domestic stock mutual funds and speculate as to whether the meltup might continue in 2010.

  • The Economy & What To Expect In 2010

    This week, we start by looking at the latest economic data, and how hard it is to get a new job if you become unemployed. We also examine President Obama's new 'jobs program' that would spend what's left of last year's TARP money that was supposed to be repaid to taxpayers. Next, we look at the Democrats' move to raise the national debt ceiling, and what they really have in mind for the debt limit in January.

    Following that, we will look at the disappointing holiday spending levels - as if anyone is surprised. On the plus side, there was at least a little encouraging news on the housing front over the last couple of weeks. Finally, we take a look at some of the forecasts for 2010 - hint, they are all over the board.

    As always, thank you for taking the time to read this weekly E-Letter, and I especially appreciate your comments and suggestions. Happy New Year everyone!!

  • Has the Economy Really Turned the Corner?

    A recent Bloomberg survey found that Americans have grown gloomier about both the economy and the nation's overall direction over the past three months even as the US shows signs of moving from recession to recovery. The Bloomberg survey found that nearly a year into Obama's presidency, only 32% of poll respondents believe the country is headed in the right direction, down from 40% in September.

    Many forecasters were surprised at the Bloomberg survey since several reports show the economy is improving, such as the Index of Leading Economic Indicators that has now risen for six consecutive months. I have a theory that the latest worsening of the mood of the country is correlated with the increasing likelihood that Congress will pass a sweeping healthcare reform bill. Surveys show that 50-60% of Americans are opposed to the healthcare reform bills in Congress.

    This week, I will give you the details from the Bloomberg survey. We will also focus on the economy with a look at the latest reports, along with the Fed's latest 'Beige Book' and its assessment of the economy. In particular, we will look at the fact that lending to consumers and small business continues to decline. This is a real and growing problem. This should be an interesting letter, so let's get started.

  • The Economy & the Commercial Real Estate Bust

    This week, we take a fresh look at the latest economic reports, most of which have been positive and suggest that the recession is over and the economy is rebounding. Still, I expect that economic growth will only be mild in 2010, as I discuss in this week's letter.

    Our larger topic this week is the huge problem with commercial real estate debt, which could be the next shoe to drop in the credit crisis. Commercial real estate values have plunged apprx. 39% nationwide since the recession began, and some sources believe prices could fall another 20% or so before stabilizing. This is huge, but we don't hear a lot about it, even though banks are failing at an alarming rate as a result. This is a major problem you need to be aware of, so let's get right to it.

  • On the Economy & Obama's Trillions

    Most (but not all) of the economic reports over the last month or so have been positive, and more and more forecasters now believe that GDP growth will be slightly positive in the 3Q. Unfortunately, we don't get our first 3Q GDP estimate until the end of October. The latest GDP estimate for the 2Q was unchanged at -1.0%, which was better than expected. I will cover the latest encouraging (and not so encouraging) economic news just below.

    Next, on Friday, August 21, the Obama administration quietly announced that the White House Office of Management & Budget revised upward its long-term federal deficit projections to fall in line with those of the Congressional Budget Office. The White House finally admitted that its economic assumptions were too optimistic - to the tune of $2 trillion over the next 10 years. So now it's official - even President Obama admits he will more than double the national debt in the next 10 years, which will likely lead to another financial crisis.

  • Is The Recession Over? Don't Bet On It

    Over the last month, we have seen several encouraging economic reports: 2Q GDP was down considerably less than expected (-1.0%); the unemployment rate officially fell slightly in July to 9.4%; and the ISM manufacturing index posted a nice improvement last month. As a result, many forecasters have declared that the recession is over. This week, we will look at the latest economic reports which suggest that we've seen the worst of the recession, but do NOT mean the recession is over. I will also reprint excerpts from a recent economic and market analysis from Dr. John P. Hussman, of the Hussman fund family, which I think you will find interesting.

  • Recession May End But Growth Prospects Low

    Last Friday's better than expected GDP report has caused many forecasters to declare that the recession is ending. While I would say that it is still too early to declare that the recession is ending, the latest data strongly suggests that we've seen the worst of this recession and the credit crisis. Even if the recession is ending, economic growth going forward is likely to remain disappointing since the unemployment rate will continue higher for some time to come. We will look at the latest economic numbers and draw some conclusions as we go along. We will also look at the latest survey of over 100 large hedge fund managers and what they predict for the economy, stocks, interest rates, etc. It all should make for interesting reading.

  • Is America On The Road To Financial Ruin?

    Last Wednesday, President Obama announced the most sweeping financial industry reforms since the Securities and Exchange Commission was created in 1934. Obama unveiled new proposals that would refashion the federal rules governing almost every corner of finance, and will push the government and the Federal Reserve much more deeply into banks and the private markets. I will discuss these massive changes and tell you why I do not believe they will be good for the markets or investors, for the most part. We will also look at some new polls which indicate that more Americans are worried about President Obama's trillion dollar deficits than they are about the recession. Lastly, we will look at the latest economic numbers and what they mean. Let's jump right in....
  • Signs of the End of the Recession - Maybe

    While most of the latest economic reports remain quite bleak, we have seen a few modestly positive indicators over the last few weeks. In addition, the latest Wall Street Journal survey of 53 economists concludes - on average - that the recession will end by the 3Q of this year. If correct, that would be very good news. Yet the leading economic indicators (LEI) and the unemployment rate continue to worsen month after month. Thus, I continue to believe that we will be in this recession for the rest of this year. The Federal Reserve's latest Beige Book assessment agrees, unfortunately. This week, we will take an in-depth look at the latest on the economy, the credit crisis and when we might see an end to this recession. Finally, I will discuss the recent rally in the stock markets, and whether this is a new trend or simply a bear market rally. Let's jump in....
  • When Will The Bull Market Return?

    I'm going to be out of the office most of this week spending time with my son who is home from college on Spring Break. Since we live on Lake Travis near Austin, I'm sure he'll have me driving the boat while he and his buddies ski and wakeboard. That being the case, I'm going to reprint an excellent article by David Henry entitled "When Will the Bull Return?" David brings some good insights in to how stock market cycles work, and just how long it might be before the current bear market comes to an end.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Henry's note of caution is not being heeded by Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) climbed just over 9% last week, prompting many bull market cheerleaders to proclaim that the stock market has hit the bottom and its now on the way back up. While this may be true, it is also a fact that there have been many "market bottom" calls over the course of this bear market and, so far, they have all been wrong. After the article reprint, I'll briefly discuss why I think Wall Street so desperately needs a new bull market.

    Then, I'm going to share with you a way to begin introducing active management strategies into your own portfolio. By making "half a decision," you can test the waters of active management without totally abandoning other strategies that you may now employ. Buy-and-hold strategies are fatally flawed, so maybe its time you tried something else....
  • Why The Stock Markets Are Collapsing

    The US economy is in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and the latest economic reports have been even worse than expected. The US stock markets continue to collapse, with the Dow and the S&P 500 down well over 50% since the peak in October 2007. It is estimated that $10 trillion in wealth has disappeared in the US alone as a result of the stock market bust. Investors around the world are asking WHY? In my opinion, a big reason why the markets are collapsing is the trillions of dollars in new federal spending that President Obama has enacted. Plus, his record $3.55 trillion federal budget for 2010 will likely result in a deficit of over $2 trillion for fiscal 2010. I believe that this enormous spending, plus his other liberal plans that he intends to put in place this year, are serving to drive stock prices much lower than what should be happening. This is a lot to cover in one letter, so let's get started....
  • Obama Seeks Multi-Trillion Dollar Bailouts

    This week we start with a review of the latest economic data which indicate that the recession is still deepening. Following that, we will examine the $800+ billion stimulus plan that President Obama requested and the House passed last week. Unfortunately, apprx. two-thirds of that massive plan is pork-barrel spending that will not help the economy anytime soon or at all. Next, we will look at Obama's request for $1-$2 trillion to help the banking system. And finally, we will address the fact that the Fed is gearing up to directly purchase hundreds of billions of long-term Treasury bonds in case the massive bailouts don't work. It should be a lively letter!...
  • Economic & Investment Outlook For 2009

    As we kick off the New Year, let's review the latest dismal economic and financial data and the consensus views of what lies ahead in 2009 for the economy, the credit crisis and the markets. As you might expect, most of my trusted sources believe that the recession will be with us for a while, but there is hope that the economy will begin to bottom out sometime late this year - aided by more huge government bailouts that President-elect Obama has in store for us....