The calendar has little important data. Friday’s sharp selling was widely attributed to the fear of a Fed rate hike in September. Is it time? Should we fear the Fed?

Last Week

There was not much news, and it was another mixed picture.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted a continuing discussion of the Fed and the timing of the first rate increase, combined with concern over a September market correction. The first part was pretty accurate all week, but the market remained quiet. The modest trading range ended spectacularly on Friday., The “C” word is now on the lips of many.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. The overall range, once again, is very narrow. Doug’s take is that Friday was all about the Fed. He writes as follows:

Today’s action essentially confirms the metaphor of an equity market infant nursing on mother Fed’s breast. The selloff was triggered initially by hawkish remarks by the normally dovish Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, a voting member of the FOMC. But more surprising was the announcement of an unannounced speech by even more dovish Lael Brainard at the open of the FOMC week, which runs counter to the general policy a silent Fed prior to the FOMC meeting end.

As you will see in today’s “Final Thought,” I have a very different interpretation, still consistent with the data.

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis and several other charts providing long-term perspective.

A Two-Question Quiz

  1. The recent Purchasing managers index for manufacturing recently registered 49.4. Last week’s “services” index came in at 51.4. Each data series has a long-term relationship with GDP. Which of these reports implies the higher rate of economic growth? Which one implies an impending recession? [See conclusion for the answer.]
  2. Suppose you are in an NFL “survivor” pool. You just need to pick a team that will not lose that week. No point spread. What are your odds of making it through two weeks? You may pick the biggest favorite each week.

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is an “ugly” and on rare occasion something really good. My working definition of “good” has two components. The news must be market friendly and better than expectations. I avoid using my personal preferences in evaluating news – and you should, too!

The Good

  • Initial jobless claims fell to 259K, down from the prior week and continuing recent low levels.
  • The Beige Book was mildly positive, providing support for the modest growth scenario.
  • Framing lumber prices remain strong. (Calculated Risk).
  • Sentiment remains bullish. Dana Lyons looks at the ISE Call/Put ratio to refute the idea of a “frothy” market.

  • Durable goods orders had a solid rebound from earlier weakness, increasing 4.4%
  • The JOLTS report registered a new high in job openings and continued strength reflected in the quit rate. This shows the number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs. Josh Brown has a good discussion of this point. The labor market structure from the report is less encouraging. The ratio of unemployment to job vacancies confirms non-recessionary conditions, but also a mismatch between available jobs and workers. (Simple explanation here. Also a good chart via The Daily Shot).

The Bad

  • Employment benchmark revisions showed a decrease of 150K jobs over a one-year period ending last March (BLS). While this is a preliminary report, it is usually a good estimate of what we will see in the actual revisions this coming March. Essentially, this means that the job growth over the one-year period ending last March was over-estimated by 150K jobs, described as 0.1% of the labor force. It is a much larger percentage of the reported net job growth. I frequently cite this report as the most accurate count, but one that arrives too late to be of interest to those in the news and financial communities. If you missed my challenging quiz on the employment report, please take a look.
  • Rail traffic had another bad week. Steven Hansen (GEI) reports on the 5.7% decline for the month of August.
  • ISM non-manufacturing dropped to 51.4. As Bespoke notes, this was the biggest monthly decline since 2008.

Here is some color from the actual report:


“Relatively stable August, with no sharp increase or decrease in sales or pricing. Labor availability and cost remains a very high focal point.” (Accommodation & Food Services)

“Overall, the oil and gas industry remain in [a] ‘wait and watch’ mode. The price of oil has impacted investment considerably.” (Construction)

“No significant changes to report. Still on track for expansion efforts to begin fourth quarter 2016.” (Finance & Insurance)

“Still recovering from the current downturn in the renewable energy market which is expected to pick up in the fourth quarter.” (Professional, Scientific & Technical Services)

“Stable with some increase in construction activity.” (Public Administration)

“The business environment has softened a bit over the last month. There are now opportunities to fill in the marketplace.” (Retail Trade)

“Midyear [is a] slow time for us, summer build is over, fall is historically light, holiday peak build September and October for peak time November and December.” (Transportation & Warehousing)

“Good, but slowing from previous months.” (Wholesale Trade)


The Ugly

North Korea is a multiple winner of my “ugly” award. The recent nuclear test is viewed as completely unacceptable by most of the world. Can leaders find an action that peacefully accomplishes widespread objectives? Will those having the most influence over N. Korea cooperate? These are important questions, beyond our normal concerns over investments.

Jonathan D. Pollack (Brookings) has a good explanation of why the recent test is different and more threatening than those in the past.

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. This week’s award goes to Wisconsin economist Menzie Chinn, who earned a belt full of bullets in a single article. The context is a post for a class in economics. Since so many current financial commentators take pride in not having taken Economics 101, it is a great illustration of why they are wrong! So many mistakes of this sort are made by financial pundits, including intentional misrepresentations. Prof. Chinn illustrates one of the most frequent errors – not using log scales in charts when they are appropriate. Note the deception it would generate in this example, which actually shows a constant rate of increase.

He also debunks the data conspiracy stories, using several links and good explanations. This post might be the single most profitable thing for investors to read this week.


The Week Ahead

We would all like to know the direction of the market in advance. Good luck with that! Second best is planning what to look for and how to react. That is the purpose of considering possible themes

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