Boomers are changing what we know as “retirement” homes

Boomers are changing what we know as “retirement” homes

One of the key tenants of our Aging of the Population investing theme is the growing cohort and its associated demands and needs will have a profound impact on a number of areas. That includes housing and a  senior housing expert at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care (NIC) believes boomers, some now in their early 70s, will transform the industry. We could not agree more and it means retirement housing developers will need to adapt to their new customers’ changing expectations about the good life in retirement.

Traditionally, the language of retirement is “I’m done,” says Kramer. “You disengage from society.” But the language of boomers entering their retirement years is very different. “It’s ‘What do I want to do next?” says Kramer. He expects 40% to 50% of residents in retirement housing complexes in the future will be working, launching their second and third careers.

Boomers believe the elder years should be a time of the 4 E’s: engagement, enrichment, experience and enjoyment. “It’s the purposeful years,” says Kramer. “Boomers won’t want to be in an age ghetto.”

There are opportunities to be had in part due to our Digital Lifestyle and Digital Infrastructure investing themes:

…Kramer’s first prediction about the future of retirement living: It’ll be intergenerational.

The silos of segregated retirement communities will come down, Kramer believes. It’s not that he expects the young and the old to live on the same floor or even in the same building, by and large, though.

The second big change Kramer sees coming: With increased longevity, medical care will increasingly come to where the frail elderly live. The reason: advances in information technology.

But there are also challenges to be had as well, one of which speaks to the intersection of our Aging of the Population and Middle-Class Squeeze investing themes:

For one thing, he says, its customers will demand more, and better services. That will mean attracting qualified labor and talented people.

The other major challenge: addressing the needs of the middle-income, middle-market segment. The private sector favors building communities for the well-off aging population; foundations focus on serving low-income elders. Very little attention has been paid, however, to older middle-class people who want good services but aren’t flush with money.

Source: This is how the boomer generation will influence retirement homes – MarketWatch

Divvy looks to disrupt home buying, but is it a good thing right now?

Divvy looks to disrupt home buying, but is it a good thing right now?

As we have noted more than a few times here at Tematica, pain points tend to give way to solutions and in some cases, those solutions may disrupt the existing convention. That is what we are seeing here with Divvy as it looks to upend the existing model for buying a home, giving Middle-class Squeezed consumers an opportunity to buy a home of their own over time. An installment plan if you will on which Divvy makes a fee. With housing prices at multi-year highs, Divvy could help foster new household formation, which tends to have a positive ripple effect on the economy.

My concern, however, is what does the current rising rate environment mean for Divvy consumers and how does Divvy handly foreclosures? A reasonable question given that Divvy is looking to enable home purchases by folks with a credit score as low as 550. This Disruptive Innovator sounds great and probably is when the economy is growing robustly and wages are expanding. In the current one that is characterized by rising inflation and subsequent interest rate hikes, that probably isn’t the case.

Homeownership startup Divvy announced that it has raised $30 million in equity and debt from Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from seed investors Caffeinated Capital, DFJ and PayPal Co-founder Max Levchin.

The San Francisco-based startup has created a gradual homeownership program that allows buyers to purchase a percentage of any home (between 2 percent and 10 percent) and buy more ownership over time. The buyers only pay rent on the portion they don’t yet own and can buy the entire home at any time.

“At Divvy, we believe everyone deserves the opportunity to own. The only way to break the cycle and get families onto the property ladder is to rethink housing,” the company wrote in a blog post.

Buyers must put down at least 2 percent for a down payment, with Divvy picking up the rest of the tab. The company then collects a monthly amount that includes both market-rate rent and an equity payment until the residents have a 10 percent stake in the home.

According to reports, by partnering with Divvy, tenants — some of whom have credit scores as low as 550 — can boost their scores and eventually secure  a mortgage through the Federal Housing Administration, which requires a credit score of at least 580. According to Divvy CEO Brian Ma, the company wants residents to reach this goal within three years, after which the company will sell and transfer the property over to them.

Source: Divvy Investment Disrupts Homeownership Model | PYMNTS.com

A Middle-class Squeeze recipe: Flat real wage growth with prices poised to move higher

A Middle-class Squeeze recipe: Flat real wage growth with prices poised to move higher

We’ve been witnessing inflationary pressures in the monthly economic data over the last several months. Some of this has been higher raw material due in part to trade tariffs and other input costs, such as climbing freight costs, as well as the impact of increased minimum wages in certain states. Habit Restaurant (HABT) noticeably called out the impact of wage gains as one of the primary drivers in its recent menu price increase.

This June 2018 earnings season, we’ve heard from a growing number of companies – from materials and food to semiconductor and restaurants –  that contending with inflationary pressures are looking to pass it through to consumers in the form of higher prices as best they can. The thing is, wage growth has been elusive for the vast majority of workers, especially on an inflation-adjusted basis. Keep in mind that is before we factor in the inflationary effect to be had if these escalating rounds of trade tariffs are in effect longer than expected.

As these price increases take hold and interest rates creep higher, it means consumer spending dollars will not stretch as far as they did previously.  Not good for consumers and not good for the economy but it offers support for the Fed to boost rates in the coming quarters and keeps our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme in vogue.

 

U.S. average hourly earnings adjusted for inflation fell 0.2 percent in July from a year earlier, data released on Friday showed, notching the lowest reading since 2012. While inflation isn’t high in historical terms, after years of being too low following the 2007-2009 recession, its recent gains are taking a bigger bite out of U.S. paychecks.

“Inflation has been climbing and wage growth, meanwhile, has been flat as a pancake,” said Laura Rosner, senior economist at MacroPolicy Perspectives LLC in New York. “In a very tight labor market you would expect that workers would negotiate their wages to at least keep up with the cost of living, and the picture tells you that they’re not.”

Source: American Workers Just Got a Pay Cut in Economy Trump Calls Great – Bloomberg

Silver Screen

Coming soon to theaters: higher prices. Movie theater operator Cinemark Holdings Inc. plans to pass costs along to customers, partly due to seating upgrades.

“Our average ticket price also increased 3.7 percent to $8.08, largely as a result of inflation, incremental pricing opportunities associated with recliner conversions, and favorable adult-versus-child ticket type mix,” said Chief Financial Officer Sean Gamble. “As we’ve continued to roll out recliners, our general tactic has been to go forward with limited pricing upfront and then when we see the demand opportunity increase there, and I’d say there’s still — we still believe there is further opportunity as we look to the back half of this year and forward in that regard.”

To be fair, movie ticket prices have been marching steadily higher in recent years. But theaters aren’t the only ones planning to pass on costs.

Sugar Boost

The maker of Twinkies and Ding Dongs wants to charge more for its sugary snacks.

“We will implement a retail price increase and incremental retailer programs to help offset the inflationary headwinds we and others in the industry are experiencing,” Hostess Brands Inc. Chief Executive Officer Andrew Callahan said on a call, explaining that the company is researching how to do so without choking off growth. The majority of the change will come in 2019, he said.

Bubble Wrap

Sealed Air Corp., the maker of Bubble Wrap and other packaging materials, is trying “to do everything we can operationally to keep our freight costs low,” Chief Financial Officer William Stiehl said in apresentation. “Where I’ve been very happy with the company’s success is our ability to pass along price increases to our customers for our relevant input cost.”

Steel Prices

Tariffs are hitting home at Otter Tail Corp.’s metal fabrication unit BTD, but leadership doesn’t sound especially concerned. Thank pricing power.

“We do not anticipate higher steel prices from tariffs having a significant impact on BTD’s margins as steel costs are largely passed through to customers,” Chief Executive Officer Charles MacFarlane said on a call. “BTD is working to enhance productivity in a period of increased volume and tight labor markets.”

Tariff Tag

The trade impact pass-through is equally real at semiconductor device maker Diodes Inc.

“Products that we import into the U.S. from China, all of those products are going to be ultimately affected by the tariffs,” Chief Financial Officer Richard White said on a call. Between U.S. levies that began July 6 and additional rounds planned to follow, “it’s about $3.6 million per quarter, but we plan to pass these tariff charges on to our customers.”

Home Costs

Housing developer LGI Homes Inc. is “consistently” seeing sales price increases as costs bump higher — a sign that pricing power exists even in big-ticket markets like housing.

“We’re able to and need to raise our prices to keep our gross margins consistent,” Chairman Eric Lipar said on a call. “In the market that we’re in, which I’d characterize as a good, solid, strong demand market with a tight supply of houses and the labor challenges, the material challenges that we all face, we see at least for the next couple quarters, that trend continuing. Prices are going to have to increase on a same-store basis if you will in order to offset increased costs.”

“We’re dealing with a higher monthly payment for the buyer now because of the rising interest rates from nine months ago. Demand seems to be there,” he said, adding that the company may need to examine ways to address the situation. “Rather than reducing the price, we may have to look at smaller square footages. The buyer may have to choose.”

People Problems

Not everyone is finding opportunities to pass along costs: Civitas Solutions Inc., a health and human services provider that caters to those with disabilities and youth with behavioral or medical challenges, is seeing slimmer margins.

“The number of people that are exiting the company are still a concern to us and I think it’s driven largely by the full, robust economy,” Chairman Bruce Nardella said on a call, citing workers seeing opportunities to leave to get higher wages. “Over the last two years, our margins have eroded because of that labor pressure.”

Pizza Pain

As if a leadership feud and sales slump weren’t problematic enough, pizza chain Papa John’s International Inc. also has to deal with wage pressures and rising costs. It’s responding by attempting to eke out efficiency gains, rather than by raising prices, to defend its margins.

“We have employed third party efficiency experts to review the potential for improvements within our restaurants,” Chief Executive Officer Steve Ritchie said on a call. “They are also conducting time and motion studies. Their work will directly supplement the work we are doing within our restaurant design of the future.”

Addressing Pressures

As some companies maintain profits by pushing costs to customers, Flowers Foods Inc., the maker of Tastykake pastries and Mi Casa tortillas, is finding work-arounds. It increased prices in the first quarter to help offset input inflation, but has also eaten some of the cost.

“Our margins were impacted by inflationary pressures from higher transportation cost, a tight labor market, and increasingly volatile commodity markets,” Chief Executive Officer Allen Shiver said on a call. “To address these inflationary pressures, we are aggressively working to capture greater efficiencies and cost reductions.”

 

Source: Inflation Is Coming to Theater Near You as U.S. Companies Flex Pricing Power – Bloomberg

Aging Americans find Social Security benefits buy 34 percent less than in 2000

Aging Americans find Social Security benefits buy 34 percent less than in 2000

A new report released by the Senior Citizens League showcases the intersection of our Aging of the Population and Middle Class Squeeze investing themes as it reveals “a 4 percent loss in Social Security buying power from January 2017 to January 2018 and a 34 percent decrease since 2000.” Talk about a major ouch for those Middle Class Squeezed Americans that rely on Social Security to make ends meet.

One of the other culprits called out is the list of fast growing expenses for retirees, which includes housing and medical costs such as home heating costs and real estate taxes as well as out of pocket prescription drug costs and Medicare Part B monthly premiums.

We see this thematic intersection as another reason to think slower by older Americans will be an impediment to the economy over the coming years. Remember, the first Baby Boomers are turning 70, which means this will be an economic headwind over the next decade plus.

 

If you feel like your Social Security check doesn’t stretch as far as it once did, there’s a likely explanation for it.Since 2000, the buying power of monthly benefits has fallen by more than a third, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Senior Citizens League, an advocacy group based in Alexandria, Virginia.

In other words, the cost of goods and services common among retirees have collectively risen faster than the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, that Social Security recipients get every year.

“People who recently retired might have seen only a [small] decrease in buying power,” said Mary Johnson, a policy analyst for the Senior Citizens League. “But those retired for a long time are feeling the cumulative effect of this.”

About 47 million older Americans receive Social Security. Overall, the benefits comprise about a third of income among those age 65 or older, according to the Social Security Administration.

The annual report from Johnson’s group examines the costs that typically comprise household budgets of older Americans and compares their price change with annual COLAs. Based on those comparisons, the research found a 4 percent loss in Social Security buying power from January 2017 to January 2018 and a 34 percent decrease since 2000.

While COLA increases since 2000 cumulatively have equaled 46 percent — matching inflation over those years — typical retiree expenses grew by 96.3 percent, the study shows. Of the 39 costs analyzed in the report, 26 grew faster than the percentage increase in COLAs from 2000 to 2018.

Source: Social Security benefits buy 34 percent less than in 2000, study shows

US Housing market plauged by lack of housing supply and capable buyers as prices climb

US Housing market plauged by lack of housing supply and capable buyers as prices climb

Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins has been rather vocal on the two issues hitting the domestic housing market – a lack of supply and escalating prices that are shrinking the pool of potential buyers.

While one would think homebuilders would respond with more affordable housing, they are also contending with increases to their own cost structure as commodity prices for steel, aluminum, copper and lumber rise. Some of that increase can be traced back to tariff and trade talks, but given limited supply of these materials there is also the Rise of the New Middle Class factor as well.

Usually when there is a paint point such as this, there is or tends to be an eventual solution. This has and will hold true as well, but it likely means the housing multiplier effect on the economy won’t be what it was in the past… and that’s not counting the demographic impact to be had associated with our Aging of the Population investing theme.

Lest I forget, prospects for continued housing price increases will add wood to the inflation hawk fire. Team Tematica will be looking for signs of this not only in the regular data we watch, but also in the Fed’s comments.

 

After losing over a third of their value a decade ago, which led to the financial crisis and a deep recession, U.S. house prices have regained those losses.

But supply has not been able to keep up with rising demand, making homeownership less affordable.

Annual average earnings growth has remained below 3 percent even as house price rises have averaged more than 5 percent over the last few years.

The latest poll of nearly 45 analysts taken May 16-June 5 showed the S&P/Case Shiller composite index of home prices in 20 cities is expected to gain a further 5.7 percent this year.

That compared to predictions for average earnings growth of 2.8 percent and inflation of 2.5 percent 2018, according to a separate Reuters poll of economists. [ECILT/US]U.S. house prices are then forecast to rise 4.3 percent next year and 3.6 percent in 2020.

A further breakdown of the April data showed the inventory of existing homes had declined for 35 straight months on an annual basis while the median house price was up for a 74th consecutive month.

Source: U.S. house prices to rise at twice the speed of inflation and pay: Reuters poll | Reuters

Millennials increasingly cash strapped as incomes are hit by rent costs

Millennials increasingly cash strapped as incomes are hit by rent costs

No wonder younger Americans are taking longer to leave the family nest – it’s expensive out there! While growth rates in rents have slowed this year compared to the last few, Freddie Mac’s April Outlook report said that higher housing costs and younger adults’ decisions to delay buying have led to an uptick in apartment sharing and multigenerational households, thereby delaying the formation of new households. That’s a serious headwind to the economy given the mutiplier effect of housing on the economy.

Odds are this means the housing market will continue to face consumer spending headwinds as upcoming Fed rate hikes make the cost of owning a home even more expensive. Freddie Mac’s economists say that mortgage rates should edge upwards this year and in 2019, hitting 4.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018 and 5.4 percent a year later. Meanwhile, potenial homeowners struggle to save for the down payment given disposalbe income that is being hit by rent costs as well as servicing student debt costs and rising living costs.

This likely means the slowdown witnessed thus far in 2018 for rent growth will be a temporary one. While others watch for a would be rebound in the domestic housing market, we’ll be watching new apartment construction and what it may mean for rental rates, and discretionary consumer spending.

 

Younger adults are spending a stunning amount of money on rent — $93,000 by age 30, according to a new study. More important, rent sucks up about 45% of their income during this first, critical decade in the workforce. That leaves precious little left over to save for a down payment and work towards entering that second phase of adulthood — household formation.How does that compare to earlier generations? Not well.

Researchers at RentCafe who crunched numbers available from the U.S. Census say that, yes, on this front, things are harder for today’s 30-somethings.

GenX adults spent only 41% of their income on rent by age 30 ($82,000, inflation-adjusted) while Baby Boomers spent just 36% (about $71,000).

Things are not looking up for the next generation, sometimes called GenZ, either. RentCafe estimates that they’ll spend just more than $100,000 on rent by age 30, or nearly half their expected income during their 20s.

Source: Millennials spend a large percentage of income on rent

Consumer Confidence & LEI’s Flash Warning

Consumer Confidence & LEI’s Flash Warning

Consumer Confidence for September declined a bit more than expected, falling to 119.8 from 120.4, versus expectations for a decline to 120. While that doesn’t sound all that meaningful as it is still well above the long-term average of 93.9, we see something occurring beneath the headlines that warrants further attention and is particularly concerning – relative confidence levels by age group.

 

As one would expect, confidence among younger consumers is almost always better than amongst older consumers, (less time alive means less time for regrets and a perception of more time to accomplish one’s goals) which is why this month’s Consumer Confidence report is so remarkable. This month middle-aged consumers, those 35-54 years of age, have a higher level of confidence at 128.2 than younger consumers, those under 35 years of age, who have dropped to 120.9 from 126.6. This divergence is quite rare, but even more concerning is the magnitude of the reversal. Going all the way back to 1980, the negative 7.1 spread in confidence between those middle-aged and those in the younger cohort has never been greater. The low rates of household formation coupled with the well above average rates of college grads living with mom and dad put the Millenial generation deep in our Cash Strapped Consumer investing theme.

 

We also saw something with respect to confidence levels by income that could be a concern for the current administration. While confidence levels for consumers with incomes over $50,000 and those with incomes under $35,000 rose, confidence for consumers with incomes between $35,000 and $50,000 dropped to the lowest level since last October. Given that a large portion of President Trump’s base is in that cohort, don’t expect to see an improvement is his approval ratings anytime soon.

For investors, this means that President Trump may have an even more difficult time passing the legislation he promised on the campaign trail. Low approval ratings make it less appealing for legislators to reach across the aisle and increase the perceived potential risk versus reward for those in his own party to be staunch supporters of any Trump-led legislation. Repeal/replace of Obamacare and tax reform, let alone that much-promised infrastructure spending is more challenging when fewer and fewer support the current administration.

 

The Consumer Confidence report also revealed weaker plans to spend, with autos falling to a 14-month low and housing dropping to 6.9 from 7.3. On the other hand, the trend to remodel versus trade up continues as plans to buy a major appliance jumped to 54.0 from 50.5, the highest level since May 2009. This bodes well for shares of Home Depot (HD) and Lowe’s (LOW).

 

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) gave us ample cause for concern as 50 of the 85 variables it measures across the national economy were in contraction mode for August with the 3-month moving average dropping to -0.04 in August from +0.15 in June. Personal Consumption & Housing was in the red at -0.06 and has now been negative for 123 consecutive months – more evidence of our Cash Strapped Consumer.

 

Finally, the ECRI leading index smoothed growth rate has fallen for seven consecutive weeks, stalling last week after having growth at nearly a 12% pace at the beginning of 2017. We haven’t seen growth this weak since March of 2016.

 

The bottom line is we see a continued disconnect between sentiment, the hard data and the market’s enthusiasm coupled with a profound “meh” when it comes to political and geopolitical risks. However, as we noted earlier, expensive stocks can get more expensive and the market isn’t giving us any signs of an imminent reversal, particularly as we see an increasing number of stocks moving above their 50-day moving averages.

Aging America Faces A Changing Economy

Aging America Faces A Changing Economy

This morning an article in Investor’s Business Daily focused on one of our investing themes, the Aging of the Population and its impact on economic growth and certain sectors of the economy. Combining the headwind of a growing portion of the population moving into the sunset years with massive levels of student debt, the housing sector looks to have some serious headwinds in the coming years.

The recent level of mortgage purchase applications has recently hit a six-year low as we head towards the 98th month of this expansion. While the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment survey reported today that the headline index rose to 97.6 versus expectations for 94 with sentiment amongst those of 55-years of age reaching the highest level since November of 2000, Homebuying Plans are at a 6-year low.

The graying of the U.S. population will have far-reaching consequences well beyond rising demand for earlier restaurant reservations!

Yet what some have called “secular stagnation” or “the new normal” is largely about America — along with much of the rich world — turning gray. Aging has cut 1.25 percentage points from both trend GDP growth and the neutral real interest rate in the U.S. since 1980, with most of that coming since the early 2000s, according to Federal Reserve researchers.

To put it into perspective,

In 20 years, the whole country will look like Florida — only older. Now 20% of Floridians are 65 and older vs. 15% for the country as a whole. Two decades from now, 21% of Americans will be seniors, according to Social Security Administration projections.

This has implications for the spending plans of politicians in that,

A decade ago, 3.3 workers paid into Social Security for every beneficiary. By 2037, that will fall to 2.1 workers. The situation is already far worse for local governments like Chicago, which has 47,000 retirees drawing pensions and only 34,000 current government workers (excluding Chicago Public Schools).

Those heading into retirement may find their nest egg isn’t quite what they’d been told to expect.

Despite an eight-year bull market, unfunded state and local pension liabilities have ballooned to an estimated $4 trillion.  Moody’s figures that the total value of benefits promised to current and future U.S. retirees but not paid for tops $23 trillion — bigger than gross domestic product. That includes unfunded promises for federal employees ($3.5 trillion), Social Security ($13.4 trillion) and Medicare’s Hospital Insurance program ($3.2 trillion).

The who, what, where and how much of spending in the coming decades in the country will look very different from in decades past.

Source: 50 States Of Gray: Aging America Faces Retirement Benefit Battles, Even-Slower Economic Growth | Stock News & Stock Market Analysis – IBD

Falling Dollar as Trump Trade Tumbles into Investor “Meh”

Falling Dollar as Trump Trade Tumbles into Investor “Meh”

The U.S. dollar got hit hard again today as the Trump Trade continues to reverse and investor sentiment becomes more neutral – a big “Meh.”

The U.S. dollar is continuing its steep decline today as the AMEX U.S. Dollar Index makes new lows for 2017 and is nearing the lowest point over the past year, pushing down towards 94.

^DXY Chart

This represents not only an unwinding of the so-called Trump Trade, but speaks to how weak economic data has been coming in relative to expectations, (we’ve talked about this extensively which you can read about most recently here and here) AND relative to what we are seeing outside of the country. This decline has been driven primarily by the euro, the Mexican peso and the Japanese yen.

The dollar fell as the European Central Bank President, Mario Draghi, delivered a talk conveying more optimism for the European Union, citing growing political tailwinds, and the emergence of reflationary pressures. This came as Monday’s Durable Goods report showed the American economy is treading water, with Shipments and New Orders both dropping 0.2 percent month-over-month versus expectations for 0.4 percent gains. Core Capex has basically stagnated since February and despite all the euphoria in tech stocks, booking for new computers and electronics also declined 0.2 percent month-over-month and has now declined in 3 out of the past 4 months, which translates into a 6.5% decline on an annual basis: a long way from the 10 percent annual growth rate we saw at the start of 2017.

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index declined in May, the second decline in the past 3 months with the 3-month moving average essentially flatlining.

Looking over at France, with the recent win by Macron the economy there is looking much more upbeat as single-family housing permits rose 17 percent year-over-year versus 6 percent in the U.S. Single-family housing starts rose 19.4 percent in France and 8.5 percent in the U.S. In addition, mortgage purchase applications in the U.S. have fallen in 6 out of the past 7 weeks.

In Germany, the lfo business sentiment index recently hit a record high and across the Eurozone a collective sigh of relief can be heard as Italy is addressing its NPL (non-performing loan) problems. The latest was with a mix of state bailout, to the tune of €17b, on Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca that has equity and junior bondholders wiped out, protecting only senior note holders and depositors. More is likely to follow.

Looking at yesterday’s Consumer Confidence Survey, while the overall index rose from 117.9 to 118.9, it didn’t make up for the decline of 7.3 during April and May. That’s not terribly concerning, but this other bit in the details is. While the index for the Present Situation rose from 140.6 to 146.3 and is at the highest level since June 2001, Expectations fell again for the third consecutive month and are now at the lowest level since January. This type of divergence typically precedes a recession and if we look at these moves over the years, a recession typically hits 9 months after Expectations peak. That peak, so far, looks to have been in March.

Yes, but those Fed guys sound oh so confident despite tightening into an economy with slowing growth, declining inflation, weakening credit growth and a flattening yield curve.

  • Since World War II, the Fed has engaged in 13 tightening cycles
  • During 10 of those cycles, the economy slid into a recession
  • In the 3 where a recession did not occur, GDP growth fell by 2 to 4 percent. With current GDP growth struggling to get above 2 percent, that’s worth noting.

Meanwhile, the equity market is mostly yawning.

The VIX has now dropped below 10 eight times in 2017. To put that into perspective, in the 22 years from 1994 through the end of 2016, the VIX saw that level all of 7 times!

VIX Chart

In the past month, short position contracts on the VIX have doubled to now sit at a record level.

Over in the bond market, the view of the economy isn’t all that rosy. As of June 20th, the net longs on the 10-year Treasury hit a level we haven’t seen since December 2007.

Today’s AAII Investor Sentiment report showed that neutral sentiment is at its highest level since last August at 43.4 percent while bullish sentiment declined from 32.7 percent to 29.7 percent. This market is seriously astounding with a record 130 consecutive weeks where half the investors surveyed were not bullish, while we’ve had such a smooth melt up in the first half of 2017. Only one other year have we seen even less of a pullback during the first half! Meanwhile, the Bears are also scratching their heads with bearish sentiment falling from 28.9 percent to 26.9 percent, the lowest level since the first week of the year.

With economic data coming in well below expectations while the market has continued its melt up (today notwithstanding) despite bonds telling a worrisome tale with falling long-term rates and a flattening yield curve, it is no wonder investor sentiment is increasingly a neutral “meh..” or perhaps more of an “Eh…?”

 

Consumer Sentiment Closer to Economic Reality than Blankfein?

Consumer Sentiment Closer to Economic Reality than Blankfein?

The CEO and Chairman of Goldman Sachs (GS), Lloyd Blankfein, is arguably one hell of a sharp fellow, which leads us to believe there are reasons behind this that go beyond a straightforward assessment of the economy.

Perhaps consumers see something different than what we hear in the mainstream financial media. The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index dropped to 94.5 in June, which was well below expectations for 97.1.

Let’s start with a look at the Citi Economic Surprise Index, better known at the “CESI,” which has hit a multi-year low.

While US stocks look to have decoupled recently from this measure.

But we’re sure that stock prices aren’t anything to worry about. 🙄

The Cyclically-Adjusted Shiller P/E ratio today sits at 29.95, just shy of the 32.54 peak from 1929. The fact that this metric has only been at these levels twice in history, just prior to the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and again before the bursting of the DotCom bubble, is likely immaterial – so say those who derive their paychecks from investors staying fully invested. 🙄🙄

One other thought for those so inclined, in 1929 the Fed rate was at 6 percent – that’s a lot more room to move than we have today.

As we head into the summer driving season, US crude oil stockpiles declined much less than expected while gasoline inventories have actually increased over the past two weeks versus expectations for a decline. Gasoline stockpiles are now above the 5-year average for this time of year as gasoline demand has unexpectedly fallen to well below last year’s level.

According to a recent Bloomberg study, back in March, 31 percent of economists were boosting their GDP forecasts. Today 27 percent are cutting them.

US CPI recently disappointed to the downside, coming in at 1.87 percent versus expectations for 2 percent. Core CPI came in at 1.73 percent versus expectations for 1.9 percent and the 3-month moving average of year-over-year change for Core CPI indicates that this key measure of inflation is rolling over to an impressive degree. This puts that Fed rate hike into a different light!


Used car and truck prices have rolled over hard and are continuing to drop significantly.

Housing has also rolled over, both for multi-family…

and single family…

 

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, housing starts declined 5.5 percent in May, after falling in April and March. Building permits fell 4.9 percent.

The cost of putting a roof over one’s head rolling over has rolled over as well.

The cost of medical care has also rolled over.

While retail sales growth is still pretty decent, it has been declining since early 2015.

Restaurants and bars are having a hell of a tough time, with their businesses experiencing a more severe decline, over the past two years.

Manufacturing inventories remain frustratingly elevated. That is basically capital sitting on the shelves, earning nothing and in many cases wasting away.

 

With elevated inventory levels, not a big surprise to see that U.S. factory output fell in May as manufacturing production dropped 0.4 percent, the second decline in the past three months. Overall factory output was lower in May than in February. Output fell across a wide range of industries, from motor vehicles and parts production to fabricated metal. Manufacturing capacity utilization fell 0.3 percent in May with overall industrial capacity utilization falling 0.1 percent. Where’s the accelerating growth?

There is some good news for a segment of the economy. Online sales continue to command a greater and greater portion of retail sales as our Connected Society intersects with the Cash Strapped Consumer where online shopping is not only fun from one’s couch, but it is a lot easier to compare prices and get the best deal for families concerned with watching their pennies in an economy with weak-to-no wage growth.

The bond market is not telling a tale of accelerating growth, with the 30-year Treasury yield now back where it was in November.

30 Year Treasury Rate Chart

While the 10-2 Year Treasury yield spread is back down to where it was in late 2007.

10-2 Year Treasury Yield Spread Chart

The 30-10 Year Treasury yield spread is also showing a flattening yield curve – more signs of an economy that is do anything but accelerating to the upside.

30-10 Year Treasury Yield Spread Chart

Finally, we have the Bloomberg Commodity Index heading back towards those lows from early 2016, not exactly an indicator of accelerating demand.


Here at Tematica, we are a fairly jovial bunch, with innately optimistic personalities, but we let the data first do the talking and that data is giving us a plethora of warning signs.

Turns out, we aren’t alone in our skepticism as the New York Federal Reserve now expects the economy to grow at an annualized rate of just 1.9 percent in the second quarter!