Today, the Commerce Department reported that consumer spending in January increased for the fourth straight month and increased by more than expected. They also announced that the December increase was greater than earlier reported. Unfortunately, spending increased five times as fast as personal income increased, which only increased about one-fourth of what was expected. Hopefully, … Continue reading Return to the Future . . . I hope not!
The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions
The Conference Board issued the Consumer Confidence Index this morning, which dropped from 56 to 46, the lowest in ten months and the biggest one-month drop in history, even larger than after 9-11. There have been grumblings about their methodology for many years, but today’s reading is so un-realistic that I feel safe in dismissing … Continue reading 1+1=0
Last Wednesday, during the snowstorm that shut down Washington, something odd happened. Even though the testimony of Fed Chief Ben Bernanke was cancelled, the Fed still released his planned comments anyway, which laid out their tentative plans to remove stimulus from the economy, beginning with an increase in the discount rate. This Thursday, the Fed, … Continue reading A Shot Over the Bow
Dr. Nouriel Roubini is widely known as “Dr. Doom” after being the lonely voice predicting the Great Recession. Today, he actually found reason to be optimistic, i.e., the return to growth in global trade. In 2008, global trade grew 3%. In 2009, it actually contracted by 13%, the first contraction in 27 years. Today, he … Continue reading A Tiger Changes His Stripes….?
Wall Street is always climbing a “Wall of Worry”. The current one is the Greek debt crisis, and it does indeed have the potential to be a big problem. Fortunately, it is becoming increasingly apparent that it is definitely in the best interests of the entire European Union to keep Greece from defaulting. While the … Continue reading Waiting for the Fat Lady to Sing…..
Thinking back on President Clinton and President Bush sitting together as friends to discuss lessons learned in life, there are two observations that stick in my mind. First, President Clinton said that, as he aged, it becomes increasingly important to talk with others long enough to find something they agree about. Of course, it is … Continue reading Pearls of Wisdom…?
Some analysts worry about a double-dip recession. While I am not worried about that, I do worry the economy will suffer a “heart attack”, which usually comes from the world of finance. For the last 10 days, the world markets have worried about sovereign debt. This is definitely a chest pain and should not be … Continue reading Chest Pains…?
I try to use this blog to discuss economic events and changes in the investment climate, hopefully in an understandable way, preferably with a touch of whimsy. I assiduously avoid talking of personalities, with the recent discussion of Bernanke being an exception. But, I cannot resist this opportunity. Long time readers know my greatest fear … Continue reading Remenbering Civility
Wall Street attaches some significance to the “January Effect”, which basically says that January predicts the whole year. In fact, when the market is up in January, it is usually up 10.4% for the whole year. If it is down in January, the year is essentially flat. January 2010 was down 2.9%, suggesting a flat … Continue reading Prepare for Boredom…?
Today’s announcement that the GDP grew at 5.7% was clearly good news. In addition, the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index jumped from 58.7 in December to 61.5 in January. If that wasn’t enough, consumer sentiment increased from 72.8 in December to 74.4 in January. What a great day! OK, celebration over . . . the question … Continue reading Successful Rehab?
CNBC super-star Jim Cramer said the loss of either Fed Head Ben Bernanke or Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner could cause the Dow to immediately drop a thousand points. If either happened un-expectedly, Cramer might be right, but I doubt either will happen. Ben Bernanke is clearly guilty of not seeing the recession coming, but very … Continue reading A Thousand Points??
The Tea Party demonstrators were livid at the big banks, especially when the taxpayers had to bail them out. It is fair to say that profits were privatized, while losses were socialized. This means the banks and their shareholders got to keep the profits, while the taxpayers got to pay for their losses. Their anger … Continue reading More Form Than Substance
Hyman Minsky was an economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He pointed out the credit availability is cyclical, i.e., that credit will expand until it bursts. In other words, credit doesn’t slowly deflate or get paid down. It bursts! Describing the 1998 financial crisis that began in Russia and ended with the collapse … Continue reading Good News = Bad News?
Today, on Christmas Eve, the market set a new high for the year. That is always good news, even if it is still down 25% from its high two years ago. Often called a “Santa Claus Rally” (SCR), the market is usually good this time of year and extends through the first two trading days … Continue reading Here Comes Santa Claus…???
For many years, I managed the portfolio for a wonderful gentleman in Williamsburg, who died a few years ago at the age 99. He was a great guy, and I miss him. Coincidently, his son-in-law was Morgan Stanley’s legendary investment strategist, Barton Biggs, whom I have followed closely over the years and have read both … Continue reading Golden Vices???
Long-time readers know that I have proudly served for many years on the certification committee of a prestigious national investment association. For a number of reasons, we recently began making the examination process more difficult, which was fine. But, we became increasingly technical, finding a formula for every question. I recall Warren Buffett saying “Don’t … Continue reading Farewell to Arms…………
Last week’s trouble in Dubai is connected to this week’s trouble in Greece, whose credit rating was decreased both Monday and Tuesday and that is connected to Spain, whose credit rating was reduced today. This has raised worries for the safety of foreign bonds in general, which sold down, as people ran for safety. Because … Continue reading ……..connected to the shin bone…….
As I write this, it looks like the market will open about 200 points down, entirely due to the news that Dubai’s biggest company has asked for a “standstill” on almost $60 billion in debt for six months. Will this trigger the systemic heart attack that worries me? Probably not! Even if the lenders had … Continue reading Take a baby aspirin, and enjoy the weekend!
While data about our economic health has been improving rather consistently since the Crash of 2008, I’ve become very concerned that the patient might suffer an unexpected heart attack. The problem now is the same as the problem then. We still have not figured out how to intelligently regulate derivatives, which Warren Buffett described as … Continue reading Dr. Bernanke: STAT
Late last year, a client wisely predicted that China would emerge from the crisis before the U.S. His reasoning was interesting. He thought that great problems require great decisions, but that the U.S cannot make great decisions like China, which is governed by engineers, while the U.S. is governed by lawyers. I’ve thought about this … Continue reading Why did we send in the clowns?
Today, I listened to one of my favorite thought leaders, John Mauldin of Dallas, author of Bull’s Eye Investing. He spoke of the difficult state of the U.S. economy and the few but painful choices we have: 1. The Argentine Solution – induce hyper-inflation to “inflate away” the huge indebtedness of our country. He gave … Continue reading But, what is the recipe?
Thursday’s big 200 point rally of the Dow was ignited by the surprisingly strong GDP report for the third quarter. It was a healthy 3.5%, which was substantially stronger than the 3.2% that was widely expected. Of course, when the market realized that number was “juiced-up “on steroids from the stimulus, the market dropped almost … Continue reading Below Thursday’s Headline
During the 1990s, our trade deficit averaged about 2% of GDP but started rising in 2000. In December of 2006, I wrote this was not sustainable and possibly dangerous, as it approached 5% of GDP. The latest figures show it has decreased to only 3% of GDP and hopefully still dropping. One reason is the … Continue reading Finally….Real Progress
That’s how the President referred to yesterday’s unemployment release that another 263 thousand Americans lost their jobs. Since the recession began in December of 2007, over 7.2 million people have lost their jobs. Even 54 thousand government jobs disappeared last month! And, we are many months away from any good news. Unemployment improves only after … Continue reading Sobering Reminder
Long time readers know I have expected a retest of the March lows. While the stock market has remained strong during the traditional September/October correction . . . so far, . . . I’m still worried. The Great Recession did a great deal of damage, unemployment will come down very slowly, and the economy must … Continue reading A Light at the End of the Tunnel………?
Economists and securities analysts usually work together well. Sometimes, when they do disagree, it is more apparent than real. The current disagreement is such a case. Economists remain glum, while analysts are giddy. Why? Because U.S. economists have a consensus forecast of a 2.4% growth rate next year, while analysts expect earnings of the S&P … Continue reading Take a side!
Yesterday’s re-appointment of Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve System was wise a decision! Sure, he was slow recognizing the subprime problem, but he showed true innovative genius once he engaged. Although there is never any way to prove it, I am confident he prevented the Great Recession from becoming another Great Depression! … Continue reading Re-appointment of Ben Bernanke
I learn so much from my friends. This is from one of them, i.e., Ben Valore-Caplan, CEO of the highly respected Syntrinsic Investment Counsel in Denver. He reminds us of our reality a mere twelve months ago. • At market close on launch day, the Dow stood at 11,417, about 23% above the current 9,315. … Continue reading What a difference a year makes…….
Was I the only person applauding Monday when the Dow dropped 186 points? It blew a little froth off the market, which is a good thing! There is a loose but direct relationship between the financial markets and the overall economy. The Conventional Wisdom is this: if the economy improves, the market usually senses this … Continue reading Clap…clap…clap…
I just finished reading The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. It makes the point that generations have a predictable flow, starting with growth (the prophets) followed by maturation (the nomads) and then entropy (the heroes) and finally destruction (the artists). The World War II generation could not have foreseen that “America would … Continue reading Linearism
I attended a meeting yesterday and listened to the fear some investors have of China, particularly its ability to crush the dollar by dumping all their dollar-denominated holdings, such as US Treasuries. Their angst is understandable but misplaced. Dumping the Treasuries would create huge losses for themselves and risks sending the world, including themselves, into … Continue reading The Feast Continues…thankfully!
Nassim Taleb is the brilliant author of the “Black Swan”, which described how huge, unpredictable events occur, such as the current market collapse. This morning, he said the current Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, has performed poorly and should not be re-appointed when his tenure as Fed Chair expires in January. A survey of … Continue reading Canary in a Coal Mine??
Friday’s jobs report was great . . . or the headline was great, that unemployment dropped from 9.5% to 9.4%. Also, over 700 thousand workers were losing their jobs in January, compared to “only” 244 thousand last month. Still, how can the rate of unemployment decrease when 244 thousand workers lost their jobs?? Simply, hundreds … Continue reading No Champagne Yet!
Last week, I watched as Hank Paulson was grilled by legislators about his actions last year as Treasury Secretary during the most frightening part of the Crash. Red-faced and obviously uncomfortable, it was clear he did not want to be there. I actually felt sorry for him. He was thrust into an unforeseen crisis last … Continue reading 20/20 Hindsight
Longtime readers know my belief that our society is over-regulated and under-punished. Convicted swindler, Bernie Madoff, got off easy at 150 years. Assuming this 71-year-old man actually lives another 150 years, it means he will have to spend only a few seconds in jail for each dollar stolen and only 40 days for each victim … Continue reading Madoff Justice
It was obvious last September when the markets crashed, following the Lehman failure. It became certain last December with the arrest of Madoff. There will be a re-regulation of the securities markets, which is desperately needed. Of course, “the devil is always in the details”! Last week, the Obama Administration introduced their plan for re-regulation. … Continue reading Change is coming…….
All year, I’ve been advising clients that the economy would “bottom-out” in the fourth quarter. Last week, the latest survey of the National Association of Business Economics (NABE) showed that 90% of economists believe the bottom will be late this year. (As a member, I naturally participated in that survey.) Maybe, I should feel comforted … Continue reading The Wisdom of Crowds?
I was reading a marketing piece from one of the mass market financial advisors. His argument was that since the average recession since the Great Depression has been 21 months and since the stock market has been up an average of 45% twelve months later and since this recession is now officially 19 months old, … Continue reading The Problem with Averages
In the early 1990s, I was appointed by the Governor of Texas to the State Depository Board, where I served with the State Treasurer, State Banking Commissioner, and State Controller. We wrestled with the collapsing Texas Savings & Loan Associations, which had wrecked the Texas economy so badly. I was there when the legendary Bill … Continue reading A Sainted Businessman
After all the stressful suspense, the “Stress Test” results were released last Thursday, and it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Still, there are two lingering issues. First, the assumptions were 10.3% unemployment, GDP dropping 3.3% in 2009 and rising 0.5% next year, and home prices falling another 27%. I’ll be surprised if unemployment doesn’t … Continue reading The Un-Stressful Stress Test
Today, I watched a speech by Ben Bernanke discussing the cause of the current Great Recession. For several years, he has been warning about the “savings glut”, i.e., those nations like China who run huge cash surpluses and lend the cash back to the consuming nations, effectively pushing up debt levels in our national economy. … Continue reading Maybe Bernanke Is Right?
Yesterday we learned the U.S. trade deficit decreased unexpectedly. The surprise was not that imports fell for the seventh consecutive month, but that exports actually rose for the first time in six months, despite the strong dollar. Our trade deficit in 2006 was $681 billion compared with an estimate of only $373 billion this year. … Continue reading Back To The Future
While I am as disgusted as all those pontificating politicians about the AIG bonus issue, there is a greater issue than this additional instance of unfairness, and that is the sanctity of contracts. While contracts can be set aside for a few narrow reasons, this is not one of them. Even worse, over-turning these contracts … Continue reading A Greater Wrong
Last week, I spoke before 750 people for Virginia Beach’s annual “State of the City” address. It was a piece of cake! I also spoke before the 24 brightest high school seniors in Virginia Beach, who are competing for a large scholarship. That was intimidating! These kids are so bright. They asked questions about the … Continue reading Our future leaders are impressive
A year ago, I predicted unemployment would reach nine percent. On Friday morning, the Labor Department released the monthly “Jobs Report,” showing unemployment had already reached 8.1 percent, the worst in 26 years. If you add in the under-employed, those people who are forced to work part-time or who have given up, 14.8 percent of … Continue reading Jobs Report reflects long year ahead
Sitting at a traffic light yesterday, listening to Rush Limbaugh’s speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee, I saw pick-up trucks go by, helpful for small cargoes. I saw 18-wheelers go by, helpful for large cargoes. I saw cement trucks, refrigerated trucks, and even a fire engine — all helpful tools for specialized missions. Some … Continue reading Economics is not a religion
Yesterday, we learned that the fourth quarter was worse than we thought. In fact, it was the worst in 26 years. We thought our economy shrank 3.8% but learned it actually shrank 6.2%. Not too surprisingly, the stock market was disheartened and lost even more wealth. The perspective of time is everything. When we were … Continue reading Stock market actions should be observed with steady hand
The Jobs Report this morning showed another 598,000 Americans lost their jobs, the most in 35 years. The unemployment rate jumped from 7.2% to 7.6%. Totally heart-breaking! Don’t look for foreclosures to slow down . . . So far in this recession, 3.5 million of us have lost our jobs. But, that pales in comparison … Continue reading Job loss mounts worldwide
Uh, oh . . . one of the oldest Wall Street adages is the “January Effect,” which states that … so goes January, so goes the year. The bad news is that the Dow lost 8.4% this month, the worst January in history, indicating a terrible 2009. A little piece of good news is that … Continue reading Will the ‘January Effect’ ring true
I’ve seen this show before. The best thing about seeing it the first time was that it did eventually end! There is now much discussion about a “good bank/bad bank” approach to solving the credit crisis. The problem is that banks cannot be sure how much capital they have to lend, because it’s impossible to … Continue reading Nothing chills a market like uncertainty