The Independent Market Observer

6/28/13 – Productivity and the Deficit

June 28, 2013

Not a lot of urgent economic news today, thank goodness. The recovery continues, with more good news and an increasing percentage of data points coming in above expectations. The Fed continues to emphasize that it has not and will not pull back in the immediate future, and stock markets are responding.

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6/27/13 – Volatility and Your Investment Results

June 27, 2013

Over the past three months, we have seen quite a bit of volatility. What we’ve been talking about the past week or so has been downward volatility—the drop following the Fed meeting and Ben Bernanke’s press conference. This is what most people mean when they talk about market risk, and what upsets people.

Understandably so. I would argue, though, that the run we had from November up until late May—an almost uninterrupted ascent of the market indices—was also an example of volatility that should have worried us even more.

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6/26/13 – Economic and Market Normalization Continues

June 26, 2013

Seems like the central banks’ soothing is working. U.S. markets were up yesterday, and international markets are up broadly today. Even the narrative has changed, with neither of the major papers dealing with the central banks or the markets on the front pages, and the only real discussion in the Wall Street Journal being “A Hawkish Signal Bernanke Didn’t Send.” Got that? Nothing to see here. Move along.

I don’t usually focus on short-term market movements, but one of the things I found interesting yesterday was that, even as rates ratcheted up through most of the day, U.S. stock markets rallied. Although one day is far too short a time to draw conclusions, at least at that scale we have demonstrated that equity markets can do well while rates increase. We also have historical evidence that this is the case, over much longer time periods.

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6/25/13 – Central Banks to Market: “We Are Still Behind You!”

June 25, 2013

The volatility continues, with another decline yesterday in stock markets worldwide. And yet, in the U.S. at least, after a large drop at the open, markets slowly recovered through most of the afternoon before slipping again at the close. For today, most markets are in the green, and U.S. market futures are up as I write this.

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6/24/13 – The China Risk Starts to Hurt Worldwide

June 24, 2013

One of the risks I pointed out the other day was China. As one of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world, China matters for a lot of reasons—mainly, at this point, because it was the only one that seemed set to power forward and take the lead in the global recovery. I’ve long had my doubts about this, but that was the general consensus.

Last week, Chinese interbank borrowing rates—the cost that banks pay to borrow money from other banks—spiked, reportedly due to a cash shortage. Chinese banks called on the People’s Bank of China to inject more cash into the system and ease the shortage.

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6/21/13 – Worrying About the Stock Market

June 21, 2013

Yesterday saw the largest one-day drop in the financial markets since last year’s election, following a significant drop the previous day. Peak to current, the S&P 500 is down more than 5 percent. What is going on here?

The easiest, and substantially correct, explanation is that markets hate uncertainty. When the Fed announced plans to taper its stimulus program, as clear as it tried to be, it forced the financial markets to recognize that one constant over the past several years—the government’s commitment to stabilize the economy—was being dialed back. Never mind that the Fed’s reason for pulling back was that the economy was improving. The fact that a change was occurring was enough to make investors reconsider—and pull back themselves.

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6/20/13 – The Beginning of the End (of QE)

June 20, 2013

No prizes for guessing today’s topic. The Federal Reserve’s meeting ended yesterday with the usual statement and press conference by Ben Bernanke. But, as you could see from the market reaction, what was discussed was far from the usual.

For anyone who missed it, the Fed released a statement, which Bernanke amplified in his press conference, that a pullback from the bond purchasing program is indeed in the works. He even gave a target for when the Fed plans to start pulling back: at an unemployment rate of around 7 percent. To further support this, the Fed released more cheerful economic projections that suggest the pullback would start around the end of this year or so. The financial markets promptly sold off.

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6/19/13 – Can the Housing Recovery Survive Rising Interest Rates?

June 19, 2013

I speak regularly to groups of advisors and clients, and a question that has come up several times recently is whether the housing recovery can survive rising interest rates. In other words, as rates rise, will we see average housing prices level off or even start to decline again?

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6/18/13 – An Updated Look at the Risks

June 18, 2013

Yesterday, we talked about the big picture and why the longer-term outlook for the U.S. is actually quite bright. I mentioned in passing that there are some shorter-term risks between here and there, and I wanted to spend some time today catching up on those.

The big one in the papers today is China. As you know, I’ve been very concerned about China for a long time. Most recently, I wrote about the decline in wage competitiveness and about some of the risks to the financial system, discussing in both posts the increasingly tense regional security environment in Asia.

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6/17/13 – An Updated Look at the Long Term

June 17, 2013

Many of my posts over the past several weeks have focused on immediate, here-and-now issues—or, at most, ones we’ll be seeing over the next couple of months. With summer here (finally!) and sunshine cheering me up, I thought I’d take another look at the medium- to long-term future—which was good the last time I looked, about two years or so ago, and which has since gotten even better.

Two years ago, when I first gave a presentation on the longer-term outlook for the U.S., I identified several key issues: capital, raw materials/resources, manufacturing, energy, geography, markets, and labor. The U.S. was in a relatively superior position compared with its competitors in all of those areas, except for capital.

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6/14/13 – Price Discovery and Risk

June 14, 2013

This is the last piece (for the moment) on the reemergence of price discovery in the market and what it means. We have talked about how market-based pricing of interest rates may affect the fixed income and stock markets, but what about other areas? And what about the wider effects of the retreat of central banks from economic manipulation?

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6/13/13 – Price Discovery and Stock Market Volatility

June 13, 2013

Yesterday, I wrote that rising interest rates are the result of investors trying to discover what the real, market-set interest rate levels might be once the Fed starts pulling back from its stimulus program. Rate-setting by the Fed will be replaced by rates set by the market—and no one knows what they will look like.

What we do know is that rates will be higher. After all, if you remove a significant buyer from the market, demand will go down and so will prices. Lower prices for bonds will mean higher interest rates. What no one knows is exactly how much higher.

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6/13/13 – An Update on the Closed-End Space

June 13, 2013

Guest post from Peter Essele, senior investment research analyst

After the strong sell-off recently in the closed-end market, I figured it’s a good time to revisit an ongoing theme we’ve covered.

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6/12/13 – Rising Interest Rates and Price Discovery

June 12, 2013

There have been two big stories in the markets recently: rising interest rates and stock market volatility. I think these two themes are actually connected by a deeper factor—the reemergence of price discovery in the financial markets—and it is that we should be focusing on, as the underlying story will drive future developments.

Price discovery is the prime function of markets. The idea is that, in a free market with willing buyers and sellers, the price that emerges will reflect the actual, most economically efficient allocation of resources. When markets are not free, the price that emerges won’t necessarily result in economic efficiency.

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6/11/13 – Financial Services Under Fire

June 11, 2013

One of the sectors that investors are looking at closely now is financial services. The idea is that, as the economy recovers, banks and other such companies will be well positioned to profit. In fact, the argument goes, they will be well positioned to return to the profit levels of the mid-2000s.

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6/10/13 – One Year Later

June 10, 2013

It was a year ago that we launched this blog, and I thought it would be interesting to consider how the world has changed since then. Day to day, changes may be small, but, over a year or more, they can add up to something much bigger. (I’m going to try something different with this post and say it mostly with charts. Let me know what you think in the poll at the end of the post.)

Employment and wages

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6/7/13 – First Thoughts About Amsterdam

June 7, 2013

I really like Amsterdam. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I’ve never taken to a city like I have this one. Part of it is just that the city seems to work. The trams run on time and have an easily understood layout. The streets and canals are reasonably clean. The people are all clean and healthy, at least as far as I saw. They are also, by and large, courteous and helpful to the traveler.

Another plus was the weather. We really lucked out—it was sunny, warm, and pleasant the whole time. There were lots of very nice playgrounds, which got the five-year-old-boy vote. And there were small boats for rent on the canals, another bonus for Jackson.

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6/6/13 – Should Investors Worry About a Student Loan Debt Crisis?

June 6, 2013

Guest post from Sean Fullerton, investment research analyst

Every so often, articles surface about the rising level of student loan debt and the risk it poses to the economy. The implication is often that the crisis brought on by excessive mortgage lending could be echoed by a similar crash in education-related debt. To examine these claims, let’s first look at some scary figures surrounding student loan debt.

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6/5/13 – U.S. Treasury Refinancing Risks

June 5, 2013

As of the end of 2012, the average maturity of U.S. debt was around five years—65 months to be exact—up considerably from the October 2008 trough, and the longest average maturity in a decade, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Treasury intends to continue extending the maturity, with a goal of around 80 months in 2022.

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6/4/13 – Book Review: Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)

June 4, 2013

Not long ago, I reviewed William Poundstone’s Fortune’s Formula, a very good and relevant book about the common mathematical roots of gambling and investing, which I originally picked up as part of my poker-playing research.

Poker is based on probability and, to a much greater degree, on psychology. I did all right in my poker playing, ending up well in the black, but ultimately became much more interested in the markets, which is why I’m doing what I do now.

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6/3/13 – June 2013 Market Thoughts Video

June 3, 2013


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6/3/13 – Newsflash: We Are at War—And Have Been for Some Time

June 3, 2013

One of the questions I’ve been getting lately has been about rising geopolitical tensions and what that means for investing. Recently, the focus has been on North Korea, but, with the Israeli strikes in Syria, that should be coming up as a topic soon.

My usual response, which isn’t meant to be flip, is that I’d be more worried if things were quiet. If they’re making noise, we at least kind of know what they’re thinking.

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