We have a big economic calendar and potential Fed news. Those stories will take a back burner this week. My safest prediction is that we are about to see a new rash of China experts both in print media and on CNBC! These freshly-minted pundits will be asking:

What will the Trump-Xi meeting mean for the economy, and for stocks?

Last Week

Last week the news was mostly positive, but light. Markets continued the attention to the Trump Administration’s next policy steps – especially the chances for tax reform.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA I predicted a discussion about the aftermath of the ACA repeal decision. That was a good call, as assorted pundits explained what the next policy moves might be. The more adventurous speculated about whether the Freedom caucus would block changes in the debt ceiling or tax reform. Some of that discussion will continue in the early part of next week.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short via Jill Mislinski. She notes the overall weekly gain of 0.80% and the quarter one increase of 5.5%. The biggest takeaway might be the general rebound from last week’s market reaction to the failure of the ACA repeal.

 

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post for several more charts providing long-term perspective, including the size and frequency of drawdowns.

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is an “ugly” and on rare occasion something very positive. 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!

This week’s news was slightly positive.

The Good

  • Hotel occupancy is strong. Calculated Risk reports interesting hard data from private sources. These are items you might not see elsewhere.

  • Household finances are on “solid ground” as explained by Scott Grannis. Debt levels as a percentage of disposable income are at 30-year lows. He provides an interesting chart of household leverage.

  • Serious delinquencies have declined to 1.19% (Fannie Mae via Calculated Risk). This is the lowest level in nine years.
  • Corporate profits remain strong, increasing 9.3% year-over-year in Q416. New Deal Democrat has a good account of the trends, why National Income and Profit Accounts (NIPA) come so late, and how he estimates this series in advance. Scott Grannis has a similar report which also shows the relationship between NIPA profits and stocks. It is dramatically different from the popular valuation charts.

  • Michigan consumer sentiment remained strong, increasing to 96.9. Jill Mislinski has the update. It includes an interesting excerpt from the Survey of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin. He notes that expectations and partisanship are influencing the outlook. This bears watching. Jill also has this fine chart.

  • Q4 GDP revisions edged a little higher than expected to 2.1%
  • Pending home sales increased 5.5%. CNBC’s Diana Olick has an interesting report, noting that sales would be much higher if there were more inventory. She has an interesting interview from Denver, where construction is 50% behind the pace needed. Builders blame the lack of labor, especially illegal immigrants frightened by recent policy changes. The builder interviewed stated that the jobs were not desirable for most U.S. workers.

    This report, if accurate and typical, has implications for homebuilders, Fed policy (labor market tightness), and immigration policy. You need to watch the video to see the key points.

 

The Bad

  • Personal consumption spending missed expectations. The increase was only 0.1% despite an income increase meeting expectations of 0.4% growth. Steven Hansen (GEI) has a thorough analysis with excellent tables and charts.
  • Jobless claims moved slightly lower, to 258K, but the four-week moving average moved higher. I am scoring this as “bad” because the series has moved a bit higher from the best levels. Scott Grannis helps us to keep this in perspective with this interesting chart of claims compared to the labor force.

The Ugly

U.S. Bridges. (No, not the recent North American Bridge Championship, where Bill Gates had a nice win. While that particular event was limited to players with fewer than 10,000 masterpoints, it still included many experts. It was a nice victory, and his best career result). Turning back to actual structures, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) notes that 40% of bridges are more than fifty years old. Over the next twenty-five years the U.S. is short of needed spending by about $3 trillion.

 

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. No award this week, but nominations are always welcome. There are many bogus claims and charts out there! I wrote about headline spinning last week, and the misleading recession forecasts that resulted. We should all encourage astute analysts to help on this front!

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 big week for economic data, featuring the most important reports.

The “A” List

  • Employment report (F). Expectations are in the 180K range, down from last month’s 235K
  • ISM index (M). Continuing strength expected.
  • Auto sales (M). The concept of “peak auto” has some recent buzz, drawing attention to this private data.
  • ISM services (W). Wider scope than manufacturing, but a shorter history. Strength expected.
  • FOMC minutes (W). Will be scrutinized for hints about the pace of future rate hikes.
  • Initial jobless claims (Th). Is the series edging up from record low levels?

The “B” List

  • ADP employment change (W). A good independent read on job growth.
  • Construction spending (M). February data, but an important sector.
  • Factory orders (T). More February data of significance. Continuing strength expected.
  • Trade balance (T). Usually not a market mover, but will get extra attention this week.
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

While the schedule is not as heavy as last week, FedSpeak will be featured on several days.

The Thursday meeting between President Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping could be extremely important for economic policy and the markets.

Next Week’s Theme

This is a big week for economic data. We could usually expect daily analysis of the news, focusing on the Friday employment data. A secondary theme might be the emerging change in Fed policy, with speakers and the release of minutes on Wednesday.

Not this week! The visit of Xi Jinping and the meetings at Mar-a-Lago have significance extending beyond recent economic news. The commentary next week will raise the question:

What will the Trump-Xi meeting mean for the economy and stocks?

No one knows what will happen. The best we can

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