The calendar has very little important data. The highlight is the FOMC announcement and press conference on Wednesday. Even though the Fed is not expected to change course, bonds have gotten much weaker, sending the ten-year note yield higher. This effect is gaining notice. Should we expect a further bond selloff?

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted a week of wondering whether we should start fearing the Fed. That was the Monday theme, but it did not last long. Governor Brainard gave a very dovish speech right at the deadline before the blackout period. Many had expected a significant tone change from her. Perceived odds of a rate increase declined after that and continued with the weaker-than-expected data reports.

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 emphasizes the early-week volatility and generally soft 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. Here is a sample, showing the regularity of drawdowns since 2009, including 5% or more about twice a year and several over 10%. Keeping perspective is easier when you understand what is normal.

 

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 were 260K, continuing recent low levels.
  • LA area port traffic increased in August. (Calculated Risk). This indicator may need a “reset” now that the Panama Canal is able to take more traffic. There will also be noise from the bankruptcy of a big shipping firm, leaving some cargo stranded.
  • Inflation – both PPI and CPI remains at benign levels. It is not yet at the point that will attract aggressive Fed action, but is starting to reflect improvement in wages and the economy. Doug Short and Steven Hansen collaborate on the most comprehensive analysis of these data. Check out this deep dive!

  • U.S. households are richer than ever. Scott Grannis reviews the latest updates (June data). While it is 2015 data, incomes also showed a big gain.

  • Frequent indicators are stronger. New Deal Democrat’s update of indicators that most people miss is a regular read for me. One excellent feature is the separation of long-leading, short-leading, and concurrent indicators. This is an excellent check on the more commonly discussed economic indicators. It requires a lot of work to provide information that would be difficult to compile on your own. Here is a key quote from this week’s post:

    Now ALL but one of the long leading indicators are positive.  Interest rates for corporate bonds, treasuries, the yield curve, real money supply, real estate loans, mortgage rates, purchase and refinance mortgage applications are positive. The only negative is that mortgage rates have not made new lows for over 3 years.

     Short leading indicators turned a little more mixed.  Stock prices, jobless claims, oil and gas prices, gas usage, and as of this week the spread between corporates and treasuries, are all positive. Both measures of the US$ are now neutral.  Industrial commodities have joined the volatile regional Fed averages as a negative.

     The coincident indicators remain mixed. For once recently all measures of consumer spending are positive.  The BDI remained barely positive.  Rail, steel, the Harpex shipping index, and bank rates remain negative, with bank rates really spiking. Tax withholding was mixed.  Obviously I do not like a negative YoY tax withholding reading, but I suspect this will resolve next week.

  • Las Vegas visitor traffic has reached a new record high. Bill McBride has the story. And this is even before the new direct flights from Beijing have begun.

The Bad

  • Rail traffic had another bad week. Steven Hansen notes that it is still down 4.9% y-o-y if you remove coal and grain traffic.
  • Industrial production dropped 0.4% missing expectations for a decline of 0.3%.
  • The federal budget deficit is increasing as revenues falter. Scott Grannis has a good discussion. Various sources this week, including Barron’s, noted that the election debate does not pay enough attention to this issue.

  • Election uncertainty is holding back business investment, and it will not stop when the election ends. Duke’s regular survey of CFO’s reports that 1/3 will hold back on investment until there is information about how the new president will govern. Election expert Prof. Larry J. Sabato also expresses concern about the “strange race.” This is a growing concern.
  • Michigan sentiment missed expectations (89.8 v 91.5), but matched last month’s final result.
  • Retail sales declined 0.1% missing expectations of a 0.3% gain. Jill Mislinski covers this thoroughly. The effect on Doug Short’s Big Four indicators is described in the quant section.

 

The Ugly

Corporate misconduct. Deutsche Bank via Bloomberg. “Aside from the U.S. probe into residential mortgage-backed securities, the lender also faces inquiries into matters including currency manipulation, precious metals trading and billions of dollars in transfers out of Russia”. Wells Fargo creating two million phony accounts. (CNN). Exxon accounting issues. (Reuters). Bosch under investigation for possible help to VW in “Dieselgate.” (Bloomberg).

Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf will be before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday. The fines and other penalties for corporate offenses sound large, but do not really force accountability. Eddy Elfenbein ponders what a Wells Fargo investor should do. (We also hold stock versus short calls).

Following up on last week’s North Korea story – the Council on Foreign Relations has a collection of papers covering the key issues.

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 Chris Ciovacco (See It Market) for his great explanation of the VIX. Featuring a prior piece by Jeff Macke, he emphasizes that the VIX is not really about fear, but expected volatility.

The misunderstanding of this concept is costly for investors who see it is a leading “fear” indicator, as well as traders who misuse it for hedging. The entire post is worth a careful reading, but keep this chart in mind:

See also runner-up Adam H. Grimes with similar conclusions on the same topic.

 

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 for the week ahead. You can make your own predictions in the comments.

The Calendar

We have a very light week for economic

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