Special Update: New Budget Deal Affects Social Security Strategies Weekly Update – November 2, 2015

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Stuart Miles

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Stuart Miles

Facing down another government shutdown, the House and Senate passed a new budget deal last week that suspends the debt limit until 2017 and increases funding levels for a number of federal programs. President Obama is expected to sign the deal into law early this week.[i]

Unfortunately, though the deal averts a debt default and reduces the risk of a December government shutdown, it includes provisions that may cut into Social Security benefits for millions of Americans. By negotiating the deal in secret, lawmakers have prevented affected retirees from having their say. To say that we’re disappointed is an understatement.

The new regulations will prevent retirees from using two advanced Social Security claiming strategies: file-and-suspend and applying for a restricted claim for spousal benefits. Both of these strategies are designed to increase lifetime income for retirees and are being counted on by many Americans.

Here’s what we know so far:[ii]

  • As of May 1, 2016, spousal or child benefits will no longer be payable unless the primary earner is also collecting Social Security benefits. Spouses will also no longer be able to file restricted claims for spousal benefits at their full retirement age.
  • Workers and spouses who are currently using these strategies (e.g. have already filed and suspended claims) are grandfathered in under the deal and will not be affected.[iii]
  • Retirees who will be age 62 or older by December 31, 2015 may still be able to file a restricted application for spousal benefits.
  • Retirees who will be age 66 or older before May 1, 2016 may still have time to file and suspend and trigger benefits for their spouse or dependents.

If you are eligible to file and suspend before May 1, 2016, please contact us to discuss your situation.

As always, we will update you as we know more in the coming weeks.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: PMI Manufacturing Index, ISM Mfg. Index, Construction Spending

Tuesday: Factory Orders

Wednesday: ADP Employment Report, International Trade, Janet Yellen Speaks 10:00AM, ISM Non-Mfg. Index, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Productivity and Costs

Friday: Employment Situation

 

HEADLINES:Notes: All index returns exclude reinvested dividends, and the 5-year and 10-year returns are annualized. Sources: Yahoo! Finance and Treasury.gov. International performance is represented by the MSCI EAFE Index. Corporate bond performance is represented by the DJCBP. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

Q3 GDP shows slow growth. Our first look at third-quarter economic growth showed that Gross Domestic Product grew a paltry 1.5%. This is just a preliminary report, and economists will revise the data several more times; however, we can see that weak business spending affected growth last quarter. [iv]

Consumer spending misses in September. Personal spending data showed that Americans increased their spending at the slowest rate since January, indicating they may be cautious about economic turmoil.[v]

Consumer confidence rebounds in October. After a weak September reading, consumer confidence jumped in October as lower-income households grew more optimistic. Wealthier households were less confident due to concerns about financial markets.[vi]

Pending home sales drop in September. The number of contracts on previously owned homes fell unexpectedly in September in a potential warning sign about the

[i] http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/30/politics/senate-budget-agreement-rand-paul/index.html?iid=EL

[ii] http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20151030/FREE/151039996/advisers-rethink-retirement-plans-amid-social-security-changes

[iii] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-28/are-you-about-to-lose-50-000-in-future-social-security-benefits-

[iv] http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/29/us-q3-gross-domestic-product-oct-29.html

[v] http://www.foxbusiness.com/economy-policy/2015/10/30/personal-spending-income-miss-expectations/

[vi] http://www.foxbusiness.com/economy-policy/2015/10/30/consumer-sentiment-unexpectedly-declines-in-october/

Fed Cites These 3 Factors Behind Last Week’s Decision Weekly Update – September 21, 2015

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Uncertainty about the Federal Reserve’s decision on interest rates weighed on markets last week, pushing the Dow and the S&P lower. For the week, the S&P 500 lost 0.15%, the Dow fell 0.29%, while the NASDAQ gained 0.10%.

On Thursday, the Federal Reserve voted to hold interest rates steady at near zero for at least another month. Did the Fed choke or are officials just being cautious? It’s hard to say, but we now know that recent global economic events are an official problem for the U.S. Though the Fed economists believe the labor market and other sectors of the U.S. economy are doing well, they cited three factors in their decision to keep rates low:

  1. Weakening inflation pressure because of falling oil and gasoline prices, as well as a stronger dollar.
  2. Recent global events like China’s surprise Yuan devaluation and recent economic reports that raise concerns about slowing worldwide.
  3. Financial developments like the recent stock market correction.

Investors read the decision as a vote of no confidence in the economy on the part of the Fed and reacted with another selloff. However, much like the run-up to Y2K or the panic surrounding the tapering of quantitative easing, we think that a lot of the recent headlines are simply hyperbole.

The Fed doesn’t feel a lot of pressure to raise interest rates because inflation is still quite tame, and the risk of an overheated economy is low. Right now, the Fed’s main concern is risk management; central bankers don’t want to risk tightening too soon in an environment of slowing global growth. Instead, they’d rather commit to a slow, gradual approach that gives them plenty of wiggle room to adjust to changing conditions.

Relax. A rate hike is coming. Some think it will happen in December while others think the Fed will hold off until early 2016. What’s important is that our domestic economy is looking solid, and the Fed doesn’t want to act hastily. Realistically, we can expect market volatility to continue for the near future as investors price in the uncertainty.

The week ahead will be highlighted by a speech by Fed chair Janet Yellen as well as another report on second-quarter GDP. Analysts will be looking for more clarity about the Fed’s path to higher interest rates. Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be visiting the U.S. and analysts hope that he’ll provide some insight into how China plans to tackle their growth problem.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Existing Home Sales

Wednesday: PMI Manufacturing Index Flash, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Thursday: Durable Goods Orders, Jobless Claims, New Home Sales, Janet Yellen Speaks 5:00 PM ET

Friday: GDP, Consumer Sentiment

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Greek exit polls show left-wing win. Projections suggest that the left-wing Syriza party responsible for the debt showdown likely won Sunday’s elections. The win could mean that further austerity fights are in store for Greece’s creditors.

Housing starts fall more than expected.  Groundbreaking on new houses dropped more than projected in August, though permits for new construction rebounded, pointing to underlying strength in the housing market.

Weekly jobless claims fall to multi-month low. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level since mid-July, suggesting that the labor market continues to improve, though the data may be volatile due to the Labor Day holiday.

Consumer prices fall. Prices on a range of U.S. goods and services fell last month as gasoline prices dropped again and the U.S. dollar gained strength. Falling inflation complicates the Fed’s decision on interest rate raises.

Will Interest Rates Go Up for the First Time in Nearly a Decade? Weekly Update – September 14, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/ddpavumba

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/ddpavumba

Stocks rebounded during the holiday-shortened week as gains in overseas stock markets spurred buying activity, giving the Dow its best week since March. Despite the buying pressure, investors curbed their enthusiasm ahead of the Federal Reserve meeting next week. For the week, the S&P 500 gained 2.07%, the Dow grew 2.05%, and the NASDAQ gained 2.96%.

China’s Growth Sputters

Fresh data out of China showed that factory output missed expectations, supporting the view that China’s economic growth may dip below 7% for the first time since the global recession. Infrastructure investment also fell, leading many experts to believe that China’s central government may be forced to roll out new measures to boost economic growth.

All Eyes on the Fed

This week, the eyes of the world will be on the Federal Reserve as the Open Market Committee votes on whether to raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade. The FOMC meets Wednesday and Thursday and will issue their official statement Thursday afternoon. The most recent Wall Street Journal survey of private economists shows that experts are split. Last month, a whopping 82% of economists thought that the Fed would pull the trigger this week; now, just 46% think the Fed will act this month.

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There are strong arguments to make on both sides of the issues. On the pro-rate-hike side are the opinions that too much easy money may fuel asset bubbles. Near-zero-rates also leave the Fed without ammunition in the event of another downturn.

On the hold-rates-steady side is the opinion that recent market volatility and ongoing concerns about global economic growth could spark another spate of selling if the Fed moves to raise rates now.

Realistically, if the Fed moves this week to raise rates, they will likely announce a quarter-point raise to target interest rates in the 0.25%-0.50% range. How will markets react to a rate decision? It’s hard to say. Investors might view an increase as a vote of confidence in the economy and rally. Alternately, sentiment might sour on fears of a new economic downturn. As always, we’re keeping an eye on the situation and will update you as necessary.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Tuesday: Retail Sales, Empire State Mfg. Survey, Industrial Production, Business Inventories

Wednesday: Consumer Price Index, Housing Market Index, EIA Petroleum Status Report, Treasury International Capital

Thursday: Housing Starts, Jobless Claims, Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey, FOMC Meeting Announcement, FOMC Forecasts, Fed Chair Press Conference

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HEADLINES:

Jobless claims drop by 6,000. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week in the latest sign of health in the labor market. Though weekly claims are notoriously volatile, they have held at historic lows for months now.

Consumer sentiment falls to one-year low. A gauge of Americans’ opinions about the economy fell to the lowest level since last September. Americans are concerned about both current and future conditions.

Import-export prices plummet. The prices of U.S. imports fell by the largest amount in seven years as falling gasoline prices and a strong dollar chipped away at import costs. Export prices also fell, possibly because of weaker global demand.

Job openings hit new record high. July job openings hit a new record high of 5.29 million. The rate of voluntary job separations (‘quits’), held steady, indicating that Americans feel confident enough to leave their jobs in search of greener pastures.

What Choice Could Signal Fed Faith in Economy? Weekly Update – September 8, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/renjith krishnan

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/renjith krishnan

Stocks slid after another turbulent week, buffeted by more worries about China. Investors chose to remain cautious ahead of the long Labor Day weekend and a raft of fresh data out of China. For the week, the S&P 500 lost 3.40%, the Dow fell 3.25%, and the NASDAQ dropped 2.99%.

Markets stayed pessimistic last week as traders decided to stay cautious during a four-day Chinese holiday and ahead of the U.S. Labor Day market holiday. This week is packed with more economic data out of China that may shed more light on the current situation. China’s central bank governor hinted at possible stimulus measures designed to help boost economic activity, suggesting that Chinese leaders are ready to get aggressive about their economic woes.

On the domestic side, the August jobs report showed that the economy added 173,000 new jobs last month, pushing the unemployment rate to 5.1%. While the job creation number is lower than expected, the silver lining is that wage growth is increasing. After posting tepid gains earlier this year, wages increased by 2.4% in August, suggesting that employers are nudging paychecks higher to attract workers. If the trend persists, it could indicate that the labor market recovery is on track.

Next week’s Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting could kick the market out of its volatile pattern. The big question everyone is asking is: Will the Fed make a move on interest rates when markets are so uncertain? Even with all the recent volatility, a recent survey of economists shows that the vast majority think the Fed will hike rates at next week’s meeting. Last week’s jobs report could give the Fed the ammunition it needs to raise interest rates. On the other hand, Fed officials could wait longer to give markets more time. If a rate move happens, it will signal that the Fed believes the U.S. economy is on the right path, regardless of what may be happening overseas.

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Right now, markets are in turmoil because of uncertainty. Investors hate uncertainty and tend to react by selling first and asking questions later. Hopefully, once the dust around China settles, investors will see that the U.S. economy has legs and will start making decisions that are based on logic and not fear. While we can hope that a decision by the Fed will give investors the certainty they seek, it’s possible that markets could be in for more turbulence. As always, we’ll be keeping a very close watch on market movements.

 ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: U.S. Markets Closed for Labor Day Holiday

Wednesday: JOLTS

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Import and Export Prices, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Friday: PPI-FD, Consumer Sentiment, Treasury Budget

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HEADLINES:

Motor vehicle sales surge in August. Despite a late Labor Day (cutting into August sales numbers), U.S. automakers posted big gains, achieving the strongest results since July 2005.

 Construction spending booms in July. Spending on construction activity reached a seven-year high in July, increasing by 13.7% as compared to July 2014.

 Factory orders increase in July. New orders for U.S. manufactured goods rose for a second straight month in July, indicating that demand remains strong despite a higher dollar and soft global demand.

 Mortgage applications soar on rate dip. The broad selloff in the stock market briefly pushed interest rates lower, sparking a surge in mortgage applications. Application volume surged 11.3% as compared to the week prior, putting applications up by 30% as compared to the same time last year.

Thriving During Volatility Weekly Update – August 31, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/stockimages

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/stockimages

After a tumultuous week with many ups and downs, markets regained ground to close in the black. For the week, the S&P 500 gained 0.91%, the Dow grew 1.11%, and the NASDAQ added 2.60%.

It’s hard to watch your portfolio value fluctuate, especially when the money involved represents a lifetime of hard work and a comfortable future. If you’re at or nearing retirement, you might be feeling especially emotional about market movements.

Right now, U.S. markets are experiencing a period of significant volatility with rapid selloffs followed by powerful rallies. High stock valuations and concerns about global economic growth are contributing to the swings in investor sentiment.

During volatile times it’s very easy to get spooked and start questioning the logic behind your portfolio strategies. While it may seem tempting to pull out of the market and wait out the volatility, making investment decisions based on fear is usually the worst thing you can do. Behavioral economists have found that people feel the effect of market losses more than twice as powerfully as market gains. Losses hurt.

However, we can’t have the possible gains without the losses. It’s the nature of markets to move up and down, sometimes very rapidly. Trying to time markets is extremely difficult, and you’re unlikely to get the result you want by jumping in and out of markets.

So, what can you do when markets swing?

Use your head, not your gut. It’s natural to feel emotional about your hard-earned money. However, making emotional investing decisions can be very costly because you’re likely to buy and sell at the wrong time, potentially locking in your losses and losing out on gains.

Take a step back. We know that it’s hard to tune out the noise when media headlines scream that the sky is falling. Even when you know intellectually that pullbacks are normal, it’s natural to worry about whether this time is different. However, we recommend that you focus on the big questions:

  • Have your goals changed?
  • Has your investment timeframe changed?
  • Are your investments still in line with your goals?

Talk to us. If you’re worried about how recent market movements may affect your personal situation, we want to hear from you. Before making any decisions, give us a call to discuss your personal situation.

 ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Chicago PMI, Dallas Fed Mfg. Survey

Tuesday: Motor Vehicle Sales, PMI Manufacturing Index, ISM Mfg. Index, Construction Spending

Wednesday: ADP Employment Report, Productivity and Costs, Factory Orders, Beige Book

Thursday: International Trade, Jobless Claims, ISM Non-Mfg. Index, EIA Natural Gas Report, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Friday: Employment Situation

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HEADLINES:Notes: All index returns exclude reinvested dividends, and the 5-year and 10-year returns are annualized. Sources: Yahoo! Finance and Treasury.gov. International performance is represented by the MSCI EAFE Index. Corporate bond performance is represented by the DJCBP. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

Q2 GDP growth surprises. The second estimate of second-quarter Real Gross Domestic Product growth surprised by coming in at 3.7%. The first estimate showed 2.3% growth after 0.6% growth in the first quarter.

Consumer sentiment falls in August. A measure of consumer optimism about the economy fell this month, reaching the lowest level since May. However, economists still believe personal spending is on track.

Oil prices bounce back. Global oil prices experienced their biggest one-day rally since 2009 on Thursday. Prices rose on the back of stronger-than-expected GDP data, a pipeline outage in Nigeria, and higher equity markets.

Consumer spending rises in July. Rising wages led to a healthy increase in consumer spending, which rose 0.3% last month. Americans also stepped up their savings rate.

Volatility, Black Mondays, and Keeping Your Cool Special Update – August 26, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/cuteimage

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/cuteimage

Stock markets around the world have been in tumult for days. Last week, stock markets around the world plummeted on fresh fears about how a slowing Chinese economy might affect the global economic outlook. Stocks remained volatile on Monday and Tuesday, falling further before regaining ground, and then reversing to end Tuesday in the red again.

What’s behind recent market movements? A few things:

  • Stocks have been trading near historic highs for months. A pullback was all but guaranteed and is a very normal part of market cycles. What gave investors a fright was the speed at which the pullback occurred.
  • Emotion is in the driver’s seat. The opposing emotions of fear and greed are putting stocks all over the map. Savvy investors are watching and waiting for opportunities to snap up bargains.
  • Fears about China are probably overrated. Slumping exports, currency devaluations, and shrinking smartphone sales have triggered dire warnings about the state of the Chinese economy. Let’s put China in perspective: Exports to China are worth 0.7% of U.S. GDP. Even if China slips into a recession, it may not be the end of the world. Some U.S. companies that sell a lot of goods in China may feel the pinch, but most of U.S. growth is driven by what we consume at home.

 How long will the correction last? No one knows for sure, but it’s probably not a repeat of 2008 again. The financial crisis was driven by fundamental factors like a housing market crash and the ensuing mortgage meltdown. We can say that fundamentals for U.S. stocks remain positive. Here’s what we’re looking at:

 Keep Calm and Carry On

Now, all of this is to say: keep cool, keep calm, and focus on your own goals. While it’s stressful to see portfolio values swing so wildly, the data behind the recent volatility doesn’t indicate any fundamental reasons to worry. Go outside, take a walk, play some golf. We’re keeping a very close eye on what’s happening in markets and will be in touch as conditions warrant.

4 Things You Shouldn’t Do Right Now Weekly Update – August 24, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

U.S. stocks ended a defensive week in the red as investor sentiment deteriorated in the face of fresh worries out of China. For the week, the S&P 500 fell 5.77%, the Dow lost 5.82%, and the NASDAQ slid 6.78%.

When markets take a dive, it’s natural to worry about what’s happening and where markets will go next. However, part of being a stock investor is taking market swings in stride. Now is the time to stay cool-headed and focused on your long-term goals. On that note, here are 4 things that you definitely should not do after last week’s market pullback:

Don’t listen to the talking heads. The selloff is happening in the middle of a seven-year bull market. As of Friday, the S&P 500 has gone 1,418 calendar days without a 10%+ drop (between 10/3/11 and 8/21/15).[i]

Regardless of what the media is saying, the S&P 500 is down just 7.51% since its peak in mid-May. Markets experienced a similar selloff in September and October of last year. However, the talking heads have taken this widely anticipated pullback and made it sound like 2008 all over again. Remember – the media’s goals are not aligned with yours. They want to keep viewers glued to their televisions and newspapers, waiting for the sky to fall. Out in the real world, we’re taking a look at the numbers behind the selloff and making prudent adjustments where we feel it’s necessary.

Don’t panic and hit the eject button. Corrections are a normal part of market cycles. Since 1927, the S&P 500 has experienced pullbacks of 5% or more about every 3.5 months. While the past can’t predict the future, research shows that panicking and exiting the market is often the worst thing you can do when markets swing. Investors are notoriously terrible at picking market tops and bottoms; since periods of high growth often occur during turbulent times, investors who sell off and sit on the sidelines frequently miss out on the good days.

For example, an investor who stayed fully invested in the S&P 500 between 1995 and 2014 would have experienced a 9.8% annualized return. However, if they had traded in and out of the market, missing just the 10 best days of the market, their return would have plummeted to just 6.1%. Six of the 10 best days of the S&P 500 fell within two weeks of the 10 worst days.

Don’t think like a day trader instead of an investor. Stock markets are driven by fear and greed. Right now, traders are in full-on fear mode and are selling off indiscriminately at any hint of bad news. Long-term investors are taking a look around and seeing what opportunities the pullback is offering.

Don’t get complacent. Pullbacks offer you the chance to ask yourself if you’re honestly prepared for a correction. If you can sleep well at night knowing that you have a prudent strategy and a well-diversified portfolio, then you’re better prepared for a potential correction. We don’t know whether the current selloff is a short-term blip that will reverse in a few days or the beginning of a deeper slide. However, domestic indicators are trending positively, and we believe that there is room for a resurgence.

We are keeping a very close eye on markets worldwide and will update you as needed during the evolving situation. While we can’t predict where markets will go in the next days and weeks, we specialize in helping clients protect and grow their wealth in many market environments.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Tuesday: S&P Case-Shiller HPI, New Home Sales, Consumer Confidence

Wednesday: Durable Goods Orders, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Thursday: GDP, Jobless Claims, Pending Home Sales Index

Friday: Personal Income and Outlays, Consumer Sentiment

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HEADLINES:

Weekly jobless claims rise more than expected. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose more than projected last week, though the underlying trend is consistent with continued labor market improvement and the previous week’s claims were revised downward.

Housing starts boom. Groundbreaking on new homes rose in July to the highest level in nearly eight years. Builders ramped up activity on single-family homes, indicating that they expected significant demand later this year.

Inflation rises steadily. A measure of inflation, the general increase in the cost of goods and services, rose slightly in July, supporting expectations of an interest rate hike this year.

Existing home sales rocket to eight-year high. Resales of U.S. homes increased more than expected in July, rising 2.0%, and indicating that the housing market has legs.

[i] Source: Mike Higley, By The Numbers (8/17/15)

 

 

Stocks Gain on Greek Deal & Data Weekly Update – August 17, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/renjith krishnan

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/renjith krishnan

Despite significant volatility, stocks ended last week higher after a finalized Greek bailout deal and some upbeat domestic economic data. For the week, the S&P 500 gained 0.67%, the Dow grew 0.60%, and the NASDAQ added 0.09%.

Greece finally clinched a third bailout from creditors when its parliament approved the deal and Germany backed off its opposition to the terms. The deal isn’t perfect and the International Monetary Fund is refusing to participate until there is an agreement on debt relief from Greece’s Eurozone creditors. However, U.S. investors greeted the news that Greece will remain in the monetary union with a sigh of relief. Is the Greek drama finally over? Probably not for long.

China added significant uncertainty last week when the Chinese government unexpectedly devalued the yuan against the dollar by the largest amount in two decades. While China claims that the move isn’t designed to lower export prices and boost demand, the move came after a series of depressing export reports that suggest China’s economy is in trouble. At any rate, China has been under immense pressure to devalue its currency as part of market reforms. Investors are worried that a currency war could put pressure on the dollar and hurt U.S. manufacturers.

Despite panicky media headlines that claimed that the sky is falling, the devaluation really isn’t a big deal. Here’s why:

The Chinese yuan dropped about 3.5% against the dollar in the past year. However, the Euro is down 16.4%, the Canadian dollar is down 15.8%, and the Japanese yen is down 17.0%. All told, the U.S. dollar has gained significant ground against the currencies of most of our trading partners. A stronger U.S. dollar means that Americans can afford to buy more foreign products. As First Trust’s chief economist says, “The idea that the Chinese devaluation is going to send ripples of catastrophe across the world is nothing more than a Chicken Little story.”

A cheaper yuan is like a sale on Chinese goods. Right now, the Chinese economy is showing weakness, and a cheaper currency will hopefully help stoke growth in the world’s second-largest economy. If the move is successful in boosting growth, it will be a big help to the global economy. A more expensive dollar relative to the yuan means that Chinese consumers might end up importing fewer U.S. goods (potentially causing some U.S. firms to suffer in the short term). However, if it’s a sign that China may be allowing the market (instead of its central bank) to set the value of its currency, it’s a net win for global consumers in the long term.

Looking at the week ahead, all eyes will be on China to see whether last week’s currency devaluation will continue. Analysts will also be digging through the official minutes from the latest Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting for more hints about how the Fed plans to handle potential threats to economic growth.

P.S. You may have seen Chinese currency called the yuan or the renminbi in media reports and wondered if there was a difference. They are essentially interchangeable terms. Renminbi (meaning “people’s currency” in Mandarin) is the formal term used by Chinese officials, while the yuan is the actual unit of the currency.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Empire State Mfg. Survey, Housing Market Index, Treasury International Capital

Tuesday: Housing Starts

Wednesday: Consumer Price Index, EIA Petroleum Status Report, FOMC Minutes

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey, Existing Home Sales

Friday: PMI Manufacturing Index Flash

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HEADLINES:

Consumer sentiment flags in August. Though American consumers don’t seem to be concerned about inflation or current economic conditions, the latest survey indicates some concerns about their future finances. Dips in consumer sentiment could translate into lower spending this quarter.

Nationwide home rental prices are sky high. The cost of renting a home has risen to record highs. A study found that renters can now expect to pay about 30% of their income in rent, as compared to the 15% buyers pay toward a mortgage. Hopefully, unaffordable rents will contribute to housing market activity.

Weekly jobless claims rise again. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week. Though claims have risen for three straight weeks, they are still below the 300,000 mark and still support a strengthening job market.

Business inventories rise. U.S. businesses increased their stockpiles of goods by the most in two years, indicating that they expect demand to increase in the coming months. Analysts hope that a stronger job market will boost consumer spending.

Stocks Fall on Oil Woes Weekly Update – August 10, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Vlado

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Vlado

Stocks gave in to gloom about low global oil prices and fell again last week, erasing the previous week’s gains. For the week, the S&P 500 lost 1.25%, the Dow fell 1.79%, and the NASDAQ dropped 1.65%.

Domestically, the data looks more positive. Friday’s July jobs report might have given the Federal Reserve the ammunition it needs to raise interest rates in September. The latest data shows that the economy added 215,000 new jobs last month, bringing the total for 2015 to 1.48 million so far. Unemployment held steady at 5.3% (very close to the Fed’s long-term average of 5.1%) and wages edged up 0.2%. Combined with growth in the total number of hours worked, workers’ total cash earnings are up 4.8% from a year ago, giving American workers more money to spend.

Last month was also the 65th month in a row with growth in private (non-government) payrolls, marking the longest jobs-growth streak since the 1930s. All told, the labor market continues to improve. While we’re not in the boom times of the 80s or 90s, our “Plow Horse economy” is moving ahead moderately, which may set the stage for a rate increase later this year.

In not-so-great news, Puerto Rico missed a municipal bond payment, marking a major setback for the U.S. territory, which has suffered from years of stagnant growth and rampant unemployment. Technically, Puerto Rico’s Finance Corporation. (PFC) has until this Tuesday to make its debt payment, but it’s not likely to make the deadline. Puerto Rico owes $73 billion in debt, much of it to investors in its municipal bonds.

While the default may spell financial disaster for the territory, long-term investors are unlikely to be affected. The default has been widely expected, and ratings agencies downgraded Puerto Rico’s debt into junk territory earlier this year. The default is also unlikely to affect the broader muni bond market since the situation in Puerto Rico is not representative of most municipal bond issuers. Improving credit conditions and broad economic growth across the country mean that investment-grade muni bonds may be an option for some investors as part of a well-diversified portfolio strategy.

Looking ahead, the week is light on economic data, though analysts will be looking for consumer sentiment and retail sales data for clues about the back-to-school shopping season. Back-to-school shopping is the second largest retail shopping event after the winter holidays and is an important barometer of overall consumer spending.

 ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Tuesday: Productivity and Costs

Wednesday: JOLTS, EIA Petroleum Status Report, Treasury Budget

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Retail Sales, Import and Export Prices, Business

Inventories

Friday: PPI-FD, Industrial Production, Consumer Sentiment

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HEADLINES:

Low pump prices fuel vehicle sales. The July motor vehicle sales report shows that U.S. car manufacturers are reaping the benefits of low gas prices as consumers rush to buy SUVs and bigger vehicles. The industry is close to pre-recession sales numbers.

Oil prices reach multi-month lows. Though crude oil supplies fell, a jump in U.S. gasoline inventories sent global oil prices low again. If refineries continue to produce at capacity, gasoline stocks will remain high even after the peak driving season.

Factory orders rebound in June. Orders for manufactured goods jumped in June in a positive sign for the struggling sector. A strong dollar and weak energy prices had stalled manufacturing activity in May.

Consumer debt rises in June. Americans took on debt faster in June, suggesting that an improving labor market may be making them comfortable enough to open their wallets.

Stocks Rise on Earnings & Greece Weekly Update – July 20, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/jscreationzs

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/jscreationzs

Stocks surged in an action-packed week, giving the NASDAQ two record closes in a row. For the week, the S&P 500 gained 2.41%, the Dow rose 1.84%, and the NASDAQ soared 4.25%.1

Investors around the world breathed a sigh of relief when EU negotiators finally reached a deal on Greece after weeks of brinksmanship. However, all is not won yet since the deal must pass several Eurozone parliaments next and Greece must apply for a new International Monetary Fund program.2 But, the European Central Bank approved more emergency relief and Greek banks are due to reopen this week.3 Will this new bailout resolve all of Greece’s issues? Certainly not. In fact, we may see new acts in the Greek drama if a snap general election is called this fall or if the IMF refuses to support the deal.4 However, Europe avoided a painful Greek exit and Greece has stepped back from the brink (for now).

On the U.S. side, earnings season really got going last week; despite some outsized performance from a few companies, earnings have gotten off to a lukewarm start, with early results suggesting that revenues may be weaker than what we saw in the first quarter. However, financials are showing strength and some standouts in the tech sector drove the NASDAQ to new record closes.5 Shares from technology giant Google (GOOGL) skyrocketed on strong earnings, giving the stock the biggest one-day rally in history.6

In other news, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testified before House and Senate committees last week, reiterating the Fed’s commitment to raising rates later this year. Though Yellen is comfortable with the improvement shown by the labor market, she wants to be cautious about the timing of interest rate hikes to avoid stalling the economic recovery.7

Looking ahead, earnings season will continue heating up this week, giving analysts piles of new reports to digest. Investors will also take a look at more housing data to gauge how the sector looks this quarter. Though summer is often a sleepy time for markets, recent events are keeping traders close to home and we may see more volatility in the coming weeks.

 ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Wednesday: Existing Home Sales, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Thursday: Jobless Claims

Friday: PMI Manufacturing Index Flash, New Home Sales

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HEADLINES:

Jobless claims fall more than expected. After three weeks of increases, the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell. Summer jobs data tends to be volatile, but the drop is a sign of health for the labor market.8

Inflation rises in June. The cost of consumer goods rose for a fifth straight month in June, driven upward by rising gasoline and other costs. This increase supports the Federal Reserve’s plan to raise interest rates this year.9

Housing starts rebound in June. Groundbreaking on new homes increased by 9.8% last month and new permits rose, boosting expectations of a housing market resurgence this year.10

Retail sales decline. U.S. retail sales unexpectedly slipped last month as Americans cut back on major purchases like autos and home goods. Though the decline could be seasonal, it raises worries that the economy might be lagging.11