Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stock Rally in Beginning of Month Ignored Economic Reality

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

U.S. stocks had an impressive rally the first four days of the month and this is generally a bullish indicator.  The rally took place with a backdrop of really ugly economic news however and that is not bullish. Weakness has a way of coming back to haunt the market as European bank news is demonstrating today.

U.S. economic reports for the last few months have been generally bad to awful. Nothing changed last week. While the ISM manufacturing index went up, this supposedly occurred because of a big increase in manufacturing jobs (the inflation component of the report was the actually the biggest gain, but the mainstream media somehow didn't report this negative news). This gain was not corroborated by the government's August employment report, which showed a drop in manufacturing jobs, nor by anecdotal evidence or anything else taking place on the planet earth. The stock market of course rallied strongly on the news.

The ISM non-manufacturing index, which measures the almost four times bigger service sector, didn't get nearly as much media coverage. It barely remained in positive territory. The inflation component, also the highest number in this report, was chiefly responsible for the number not going negative and indicating contraction.  Two components of the report were clearly in contraction however - exports and employment. The service sector losing jobs is a big negative for the overall U.S. economy.

Also lost in the stock buying frenzy was August car sales. They were down 21% year over year. This followed the 27% monthly drop in existing home sales in July and the 33% drop in new home sales in May. Last August was the peak of the Cash for Clunkers program. The numbers for car sales and home sales both demonstrate what happens when government incentives are no longer available in a market. While new homes sales fell to the lowest level ever recorded, August car sales were only at a 28-year low. For those who don't recall, 1982 was when the previous double-dip recession took place.

Government stimulus programs didn't fix the housing and car markets, but merely made them look better. This works for a while, but reality eventually rears its ugly head. A report from Europe today said that "the continent's major banks have more potentially risky government debt on their books than was disclosed during stress tests earlier this year." This wasn't exactly a piece of information that required the skills of Sherlock Holmes to uncover. At the time of their release, the stress tests were roundly criticized as being a phony PR gambit that set the bar so low that any bank not declaring insolvency in the next week would pass. Stocks of course went up on the news back then and today they are going back down.

Economic reality will eventually be reflected in the stock market. As I have said many times however, it's not the economy that drives the stock market in the short term, but liquidity. The Fed obviously kept pushing the 'flood the financial system with liquidity' button in early September. What happens when they stop doing this? See the homes sales and car sales numbers for a hint of how stimulus withdrawal impacts a market.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

1 comment:

Xiao Chen said...

Hi Daryl,

Thanks for your great post. Your mention about car and home sales certainly remind readers what they should pay attention other than what they read on the news. Based on posts like these, I'd love to extend you an invite to join the Wikinvest Wire (www.wikinvest.com), an exclusive, invitation-only blog network. If you are interested, please contact me at xiaochen@wikinvest.com.

Xiao Chen