economic indicators

When Will the Next Recession Arrive?

© Can Stock Photo / iDesign

We know the economy, like the markets, goes up and down. It expands and contracts, as naturally as the tides come in and go out, or day gives way to night. Although much in life is unpredictable, it seems worthwhile to consider where we might be in the economic cycle.

The collapse of one or more of four major economic sectors has long been a factor in recessions. Home building, auto sales, capital investment by business, and inventories have been susceptible to booms and busts. Currently, three of these remain below long-term averages while auto sales seem to be at a sustainable pace.

LPL Research recently examined the Leading Economic Index and concluded that ‘plenty of gas remains in the tank’ for a growing economy. The index is based on ten separate data points, which we find have a history of usefulness: average weekly manufacturing hours; average weekly new claims for unemployment insurance; manufacturer’s new orders for consumer goods and materials; the Institute for Supply Management Index of New Orders; manufacturer’s new orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders; building permits for new private housing units; stock prices for 500 common stocks; the Leading Credit Index; the interest rate spread (10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds rate); and average consumer expectations for business conditions. We concur with LPL Research.

The bond market gives us hints about the possible direction of the future through the yield curve, which remains pointed in the right direction for continuing expansion. So the fundamentals for continuing economic growth seem to be in place.

Do we have worries or concerns? Shoot, yes. The world is an uncertain place. There are political risks as long-standing relationships with our allies change, and potential new rules about trade and taxes promote uncertainty.

As long term investors, we do not need to fear recessions—we need to be ready to take advantage of any bargains that may result. We have taken steps to try to mitigate risk, although there are no guarantees against unwanted and unexpected volatility.

Bottom line: we expect continued growth in the economy, but we will try to be ready for anything. If you would like to discuss how this applies to your situation, please write or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

Investing in mutual funds involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Government bonds and Treasury bills are guaranteed by the US government as to the timely payment of principal and interest and, if held to maturity, offer a fixed rate of return and fixed principal value.

Are You Getting Your Piece of the Pie?

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Elenathewise

The Federal Reserve provides us with a quarterly report of household net worth. The latest number is $89 trillion, up 59% from the financial crisis year of 2008. I don’t care who you are, that’s a lot of wealth—and a nice increase.

The distribution of our wealth from person to person is the subject of some political debate, which we will leave to the politicians. It always has made sense to us to focus on the things within our control; let’s see what we can learn from the numbers.

Our $111 trillion of assets includes homes, pensions, stock, money in the bank, mutual funds, small business ownership, and bonds.

We owe $22 trillion, most in the form of mortgage debt but also including consumer debt like auto loans and credit cards.

Net worth is simply the value of our assets minus our liabilities, or what we own minus what we owe. $111 trillion minus $22 trillion is our $89 trillion in net worth.

Here are the pertinent points, as we see them:

1. Having wealth in different forms is a good thing, a form of diversification. We the people have money in the bank, different kinds of investments, homes and businesses.

2. Debt can make sense when it helps us own assets of enduring value that we can afford to pay for over time. $22 trillion is a lot of debt, but it helps us to own $111 trillion worth of homes and businesses and other assets.

3. Since debt or liabilities are subtracted from assets to determine our net worth, it makes sense to minimize debt over time. One who pays off a car loan and then keeps putting the payment amount in savings each month might get by with a smaller loan the next time a vehicle is purchased.

4. Because assets are the starting point for determining net worth, one should seek to invest effectively for growth and income over time. Money does not grow on trees, but it may grow over time.

Our $89 trillion net worth is a very large amount of wealth for us as a society. The decisions we make play a big role in determining whether or not we each get our piece of the pie. We have written about Four Habits for Financial Success which might help, and we encourage you to call or email if we can be of service.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

The Next Recession is Coming, Continued

Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis
Federal Reserve of St. Louis

Once again it is time for our quarterly assessment of economic conditions. Is the economy growing or shrinking? This is the fundamental question.

The next recession is always out there, of course, as is the recovery which will follow it. The excesses that build up in good times lead to imbalances that get corrected by economic downturns. But what are the current indications?

• The Index of Leading Economic Indicators is supposed to point to the direction of the economy in the months ahead. It has remained solidly in positive territory.
• The bond market speaks to us about economic conditions through the yield curve. Although it has flattened somewhat recently, it remains in growth mode.
• The Current Conditions Index from LPL Research remains in positive territory.
• The “Overs,” a proprietary LPL measure of potential over-spending, over-borrowing, and over-confidence, point to continuing expansion.
• Details on the LPL Research work are available here.

Economic news is always mixed, and can always be better. But jobs and incomes and spending continue to grow in fits and starts. The weight of the evidence says we are doing OK, at least.

We do have challenges. Policy makers attempt to manage the economy from above, using a philosophy that was discredited long ago. Their interventions create distortions which we monitor carefully. Much of our work involves avoiding the problems created by people trying to “help us.”

We are on the job, doing the best we can to preserve your interests and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Call or email us if you have questions or comments.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

Cars and Trucks, Philosophy and Money: A Research Case Study

© www.canstockphoto.com / Apriori

How do YOU get where you want to go? Transportation. We are invested rather fully in automakers and related companies, so we pay a lot of attention to this vital sector of the economy.

Many companies in the sector are reaping handsome revenues and profits, paying generous dividends, and yet the valuations in the marketplace do not reflect the good results. Some say this is because vehicle sales are at a peak, 17 million units a year, so stock prices reflect a future decline in revenues and profits. Others forecast new sales records ahead for the industry, with rosier outlooks. Who is right?

With 260 million light vehicles in the US fleet, it seemed to us that 17 million, or one-fifteenth of the fleet, was clearly a sustainable annual sales pace. After all, replacing 1/15th of the fleet does not seem excessive.

But we know the story is a little more complicated than that. We wanted to see how annual sales compared to fleet size through recent history. We looked back at annual sales data from Wards Auto and annual fleet size from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation. It turns out that the current rate of about 6% annual-sales-to-fleet ratio is in the middle of the 4 to 8% range that has prevailed over the last 25 years.

Annual sales are made up of two things: changes to the size of the fleet, and replacement for existing vehicles in the fleet. Annual sales equal the change in the fleet plus a replacement factor of 5.5% of the fleet, on average, over the past twenty five years. This means that we are replacing 1/18th of the fleet every year.

We immediately wondered if replacing 1/18th of the fleet makes sense—eighteen years is a long time to replace the whole fleet! But if that replacement rate held steady for many years, the average age of the fleet would not be eighteen years, but only half that—nine years. With the current actual average age at eleven years (Ward’s data), this makes sense.

What does it all mean? When you figure a replacement rate of 5.5% plus a fleet growth rate equal to population growth, or use the average fleet growth rate of 1.2% over the last twenty-five years, you find that annual average sales might be in the 16.5 million to 17.5 million range going forward.

The upshot is that the current sales rate may be near the actual equilibrium pace, with future years coming in higher or lower depending on economic and other factors. We reject the notion that current sales are at an unsustainable peak, while acknowledging they will go up and down.

We know the future rarely follows a straight line from the present, though. Think of the dramatic evolution that the automobile has undergone in our lifetimes: fuel injection, catalytic converters, four wheel drive, air bags, onboard computers… what’s next? The work of understanding the world is never done, and we will always be researching and studying to further our knowledge.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

The Next Recession is Coming… Again

chart from research.stlouisfed.org

Regular readers will recognize this headline. The next recession is always coming. Human nature being what it is, the economy will always have cycles just as the world will always have seasons. The excesses that build up in good times lead to imbalances that get corrected by economic downturns.

The most notable feature of the current economic expansion is its slow, plodding pace. Most people with jobs or in business are familiar with one of the reasons for this: unprecedented expansion of the regulatory state. Our shop and many others in many lines are coping with new kinds of nonsense that hampers production or service. (We are not arguing for a Darwinian, regulation-free society, of course.)

The silver lining in our plodding economy is the lack of a boom in any major sector that could create a big downturn. New home construction has not really exceeded the sixty-year average. According to the National Auto Dealers Association, vehicle sales–while near a record–only replaced 1/15th of our vehicle fleet last year. It seems to us that the peak in auto sales lies ahead of us. Capital spending and business investment, which has at times gotten too inflated in the past, has remained extremely subdued.

Energy, of course, did boom—and then busted. But our diverse and dynamic economy has largely absorbed the job losses, and consumers and businesses are enjoying unforeseen low gasoline and energy prices. Corporate earnings have not been great, but should strengthen in the quarters ahead.

The Index of Leading Economic Indicators points to near-term trends in economic growth, and it has flashed a steady positive reading for years. The bond market speaks to us about economic conditions through the yield curve, which remains encouraging and positive. LPL Research publishes a Current Conditions Index which measures economic vitality right now—and it has remained in positive territory. LPL Chief Economist John Canally draws mostly comforting conclusions from the latest labor market statistics (ht.ly/v7Co3003MvP )

So yes, the next recession IS coming. We just do not think it will arrive soon. Our plodding plow-horse recovery continues, no boom—but no bust either. This is good news for investors.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

The Next Recession is Coming, pt 2

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / albund

Regular readers will recognize this headline. The next recession is always coming. Human nature being what it is, the economy will always have cycles just as the world will always have seasons. We humans are great at this: taking a good thing too far. The excesses that build up in good times lead to imbalances that get corrected by economic downturns.

Because investment trends are based loosely on what is going on in the real economy, it makes sense to think about where we might be in the economic cycle. So from time to time we report to you the state of the economy as we see it, with an eye on that next recession. Hat tip to LPL Research, people who do a lot of work on topics we need to know about.

In his latest report, LPL’s chief economist John Canally looked at the current fears in the marketplace and compared them to the groundhog. Many people pay attention to the groundhog, but he actually isn’t worth a darn at weather forecasting. Likewise with the drop in the price of oil, the rise of the dollar, some shrinkage in one sector of the economy—people are paying attention, but these things are not good at forecasting recessions.

Canally also compares the current situation to the 2007 economic and market peak and how things look for consumers. The savings rate is more than double, the mortgage rate is better by a third, household debt is a lower percentage of income and falling, and gasoline prices are….well, you know. Bottom line, we’re in pretty good shape.

Did you know the bond market provides a recession forecast that has worked very well since 1950? The bond market speaks through the yield curve, a simple measure of whether shorter term rates are higher or lower than longer term rates. When short term interest rates get above long term rates, there has always been trouble ahead. LPL’s Anthony Valeri just released a study concluding that the yield curve is not indicating recession.

We’ve never had a recession in recent history that was marked by strong jobs growth. And here we are, with a record 64 straight months of jobs growth. Nor has a drop (or a crash) in the price of oil ever precipitated a recession. The oil price drop is a mixed bag: the energy industry has been hit hard with job losses and reduced corporate earnings. But the losses to energy are gains to the rest of us.

So yes, the next recession IS coming. We just do not think it will arrive soon. Our plodding plow-horse recovery continues, no boom—but no bust either.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.