The Weekly Rap! Government Rhetoric, the Economy and other stuff. 5/13/16

The National Debt is currently: $19,268,001,132,587.00  is Higher by another 8 BILLION in the last week.  The interest pay-out alone on the debt is 233 Billion per year!  I post this so we will be aware of what we are leaving to our children.

Brace yourselves folks, it’s Friday the Thirteenth!  Stocks slid this morning Friday, putting major indexes on track for their longest weekly losing streak since January.  Energy and financial shares in the S&P 500 led the declines. Indexes had wobbled earlier in the session after an upbeat reading on retail sales, which contrasted with gloomy earnings reports from department stores earlier this week.

The Dow is lower by 185 points at 17,535.  The S&P 500 is at 2,045.  Gold is trading at $1,274 an ounce, while oil futures at $46.14 a barrel.  Gas prices, (Regular in El Dorado Hills, Costco, AM/PM), are at $2.33/Gal.

The FNMA 30-year fixed 3.0% coupon (interest rates at which banks sell their loans into Fannie Mae), containing 3.25% – 3.625% mortgage rates, the benchmark or how rate sheets are priced these days is currently trading at 102.78.  Our current trading range is about 102.00 to about 103.00.  Each .50 change in the price of the security translates to about 0.125 in rate.  Basically the change in the price of the security translates to the price (or points paid or credited) of the mortgage rate.  The higher the number (price), the lower the rate.  

Does anyone wonder, or care, why we as a nation are promoting a candidate, Donald Trump, that has no political experience whatsoever and another that is promoting Socialism?  Well just look at the last ten years.  We’ve had a financial meltdown where we almost saw the banking system become nationalized.  Wall Street firms fell (and yes Merrill Lynch fell).  We elected a President who won the Nobel Prize is his first few months of office and for what I’m not sure.  Our government can’t balance the budget and has had to raise the debt ceiling many times (BTW isn’t that why we call it a ceiling?).  And we haven’t grown our economy at more than 2.00% in the last eight years.

Donald Trump said in an interview that economic conditions are so perilous that the country is headed for a “very massive recession” and that “it’s a terrible time right now” to invest in the stock market, embracing a distinctly gloomy view of the economy that counters mainstream economic forecasts.  I for one have been saying this for some time now.  The writing is on the wall.  We can’t continue to have next to zero interest rates and no growth in the economy forever.  The issue is that no one wants to hear anything negative.  So we’re constantly fed positive news.  Hey, you can twist just about anything positive.

The Federal Reserve’s decision about interest rates in June will be heavily impacted by the drift of its forecasts for the economy.  The Fed Gods ought to be reluctant to raise short-term interest rates at the meeting if they are also reducing their forecasts for growth and inflation or raising their forecasts for unemployment. Why raise rates if you’re becoming more pessimistic about the economic outlook?

The Wall Street Journal’s latest survey of private economists suggests that when officials reconvene in a month the position the Fed might find itself in is one of a “conundrum”  Does anyone remember that term as used by Alan Greenspan?   Forecasters surveyed in the past week have reduced their projections for 2016 growth in GDP since March and they have trimmed other projections for growth, inflation and hiring.  Their 2016 GDP growth forecast has gone from 2.4% in March to 1.9% in the latest May survey.  The forecast for 2017 growth was snipped from 2.3% to 2.2% since March.

The WSJ survey shows expectations for inflation have come down as well since March. The projection for the year-over-year change in the Consumer Price Index in December is down to 1.7% in May from 1.8% in March and 2.1% in December. The 2017 forecast was trimmed to 2.2% from 2.3%. Forecasts for the unemployment rate in December 2016 and December 2017 were nudged up to 4.7% from 4.6% in March.  These aren’t big shifts, but they’re all going in the wrong direction. Barring a big shift in economic data between now and mid-June, the hurdle looks increasingly high for a June rate increase.

A measure of small-business sentiment, The National Federation of Independent Business’s optimism index, rose 1 point to 93.6 in April, snapping a three-month losing streak that took it to a two-year low, the group said Tuesday.  Most of the index’s sub-gauges rose or stayed neutral. Only one, the index that tracks views about the future path of the economy, slipped.  The current political climate is to blame for small business owners’ pessimism, NFIB said in a release.  “There is no leadership in Washington, no articulations of a path to a better future, and no evidence that policy-making is focused on promoting economic growth or job creation,” wrote the group’s chief economist, William Dunkelberg.  And respondents don’t think that will change after the election. The index touched a cycle high of 100 in December 2014. Its current reading is well below the 42-year average of 98.

Good news for once, our government ran a budget surplus of $106.4 billion in April, the Treasury Department said Wednesday.  After narrowing for four straight years, the deficit for the current fiscal year looks set to see an increase of red ink.  April is an important month for the deficit as it contains highly unpredictable annual tax payments and refunds.  The bigger picture though is our “politicians” are still spending more money than we are making.  See our National Debt above.  It has doubled is just the last ten years! Donald Trump has insisted that he would be able to get rid of the nation’s more than $19 trillion national debt “over a period of eight years.”  Whether or not he can accomplish this, at least he’s addressing the problem.  I’ve heard no other politician even mention taking down the debt.

Sales at retailers posted the biggest increase in April in a year, offering the hope that our economy is rebounding after a weak first quarter.  Retail sales rose 1.3% last month, spearheaded by big gains among auto dealers, gas stations and Internet retailers, the Commerce Department reported Friday.  Every segment of the retail industry saw improved results except for home centers whose sales were hindered by unusually damp and rainy weather.  Then again we’ve seen this year over year and nothing has changed to make me feel that we’re going to have a banner year.

Producer prices rose 0.2% in April after two straight declines, but inflation at the wholesale level remained largely absent in the broader economy.  The cost of services edged up 0.1% in April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said this morning.  Goods rose 0.2%, led by surge in scrap metal prices and higher energy costs.  Food prices fell 0.3%, though.  The wholesale cost of eggs sank by one-third as farmers rebuild flocks depleted last year by the threat of disease.  Wholesale prices are unchanged in the past 12 months.  Stripping out food, energy and trade margins, so-called “core” producer prices rose 0.3% in April.  Over the past year core prices have risen just 0.9%. That’s the same as in March and February.

Consumer sentiment surged in early May as Americans’ views of the future brightened.  The University of Michigan’s index surged 7.6% to 95.8.  Most of the gain was due to the expectations index, which soared 12.8% to 87.5, it’s highest in nearly a year. The current conditions component also rose, by 1.8%, to 108.6.  The largest gains were centered in lower-income and younger households, who may be more sensitive to income gains and the jobs outlook, the Michigan researchers noted in a release.

On the Employment front:  The number of available jobs rose to an eight-month high in March, in what could be a sign that companies are struggling to find talent to fill the positions they need — but that financial-market turbulence hasn’t deterred firms from expanding.  The Labor Department said there were 5.76 million job openings in March, up from 5.61 million in February.

The sector with the largest number of open jobs is the professional and business service sector, with 1.23 million open slots, a 124,000 gain from March. The number of job openings in the construction sector edged up to 210,000, the highest level in nearly nine years, before the Great Recession that wrecked the housing sector.  The low-paying retail sector had 35,000 fewer open jobs in March, though another low-paying field, leisure and hospitality, had 29,000 more jobs to fill.

The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits in early May rose for the third straight week and hit a 14-month high, reflecting an unusual surge in New York state and perhaps adding to evidence that the U.S. labor market may have softened.  Initial claims climbed by 20,000 to 294,000 from May 1 to May 7, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The last time initial claims were that high: Feb. 28, 2015.

Wall Street is sure to pay close attention to jobless claims over the next few weeks to see if the softening trend continues. Even after 46,000 increase in the last three weeks, however, initial claims are still very low. They’ve held below the key 300,000 level for 62 weeks, the longest streak since 1973.

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Bill Bartok

Mortgage Advisor MLO# 445991

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