The Independent Market Observer

Unsustainable Trends: A Closer Look at Limits

November 28, 2014

We talked the other day about the power of compounding and how it can be used to help determine whether trends are sustainable. The idea is that the compounded returns will at some point run into a limit that can’t be surpassed.

It sounds simple, but the idea of limits actually isn’t so clear. In many cases, the real issue isn’t a physical limit, but an economic and technological one.

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U.S. Economic Growth Continues

November 25, 2014

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you important news: the U.S. economy is still growing—and faster than many expected.

I hesitate to highlight this, as I fear I'm starting to come off as a perennial optimist, even a cheerleader, for the economy. But it’s important to consult the data, good and bad alike, and there have been plenty of positive developments lately. 

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What Makes an Unsustainable Trend?

November 24, 2014

I wrote last week about trends that can’t continue and noted that I would be looking at more of them through December. First, though, it makes sense to consider exactly what it is that makes a trend unsustainable.

Why can’t something go on forever?

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Housing Market Closes In on Normal

November 21, 2014

As the industry that led us to disaster in 2008, housing has had a long road back. You can make a good argument that, until the housing market returns to normal, the economy hasn’t really recovered. While not a defining indicator, a healthy housing market is a necessary condition for recovery.

I last looked at housing in June, so it’s time for an update. The news is actually quite good, despite some of the headlines recently. 

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Expressing Gratitude for the Good That Comes Our Way

November 20, 2014

I have two reasons for writing a post on gratitude today: The first is that I have much to be grateful for (I plan to write a longer post about this next week as we approach Thanksgiving), and the second is that I have been in meetings all day and am too short on time to finish the housing market post I had planned. You’ll get that tomorrow.

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3 Trends That Won’t Last Forever

November 19, 2014

“If something can’t go on forever, it will stop.” — Herb Stein

When you think about it, we really do live in an age of miracles. Less than 24 hours ago, I was in London, but I slept in my own bed last night and am back at work in Boston today. While in Europe, I kept in touch with my family via video-call and simply pulled out my credit card to pay for things. It was all astonishingly seamless.

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The U.S. and Europe: An International Perspective

November 18, 2014

For the past two days, I’ve been in London at a J.P. Morgan European investment summit, and a fascinating time it has been.

As investors, it's not so much the things we don't know that we need to be mindful of, but the things we don’t even know we don’t know. For Americans, how things really are in the rest of the world can easily fall into that category, so it’s been interesting to get some international perspective over the last couple of days.

Here are three of my key takeaways.

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Japan Falls into Recession

November 17, 2014

The big news today is that, after two consecutive quarters of declining growth, Japan has fallen into recession. The Japanese economy was down 1.6 percent in the third quarter, following a 7.3-percent decline the previous quarter.

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A Deep Look at Corporate Profit Margins

November 14, 2014

Along with being aware of external problems, investors need to acknowledge one of the pending headwinds for the U.S. stock market: the potential for corporate profit margins to decline.

Today, I want to summarize a great analysis by Baijnath Ramraika and Prashant Trivedi, which suggests that margins can’t continue to climb.

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What Would Another Asian Crisis Mean for the U.S.?

November 13, 2014

One problem I have with satellite radio is that it makes me confront my own mortality every day. Let me explain. When a song comes on, I think, Oh, I remember that; it must have come out about five years ago. But when I look at the screen, the song is invariably from the 1990s or (in particularly bad cases) from the 1980s. Perhaps I’m not as young as I feel.

That said, a bit of perspective—which is a kinder word for age—is beneficial in the economics and investing game.

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Thoughts on Japan, China, and the Eurozone

November 12, 2014

I’m currently reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman—a great book on how we make decisions, and how we can learn to make better ones. Its assertions are shocking, and even insulting, but they’re all the more useful for it. (Look for a full review here soon.)

One of Kahneman’s points is how bad we are at remembering what we thought at a given time—and how we tend, in retrospect, to think we were much more prescient than we actually were.

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Wage Growth

November 11, 2014

I mentioned yesterday that employment numbers are much stronger than most people are giving them credit for. The one exception is wage growth, which, as a statistic, has some weaknesses.

Today, I want to talk about those weaknesses and look at some numbers that paint a rosier picture.

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The October Employment Report: More Good News

November 10, 2014

The October employment report released Friday offered another round of good news for workers and the economy as a whole.

For a couple years now, I’ve been emphasizing the positive direction of employment trends and noting that progress is accelerating, and it’s great to see the data showing that traction.

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Problems Abroad: What to Worry About

November 7, 2014

As we discussed yesterday, economic slowing in the rest of the world, while certainly a headwind for the U.S. economy, isn’t really something to worry about. U.S. economic data—3.5-percent growth last quarter, plus another month of more than 200,000 jobs created—seems to support that.

But unlike economics, where U.S. exposure is relatively small, our political and institutional exposure is intense. Here are some examples of problems abroad that should seriously worry us. 

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Could Problems Abroad Derail the U.S. Economic Recovery?

November 6, 2014

Last night, I gave a talk to a group of clients about the strengthening U.S. economic recovery. Interestingly, most of the questions focused on the rest of the world and the risks we face as a result of serious economic issues elsewhere.

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Market Thoughts for November 2014

November 6, 2014

In my latest Market Thoughts video, I provide an update on the market’s recent drop and subsequent recovery, as well as discuss risks, the end of the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying program, and more potential good news for the market.

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A Trend to Watch in the Oil Market

November 5, 2014

As expected, the midterm election resulted in the Republicans gaining control of Congress. Despite all the ink and hot air expended on it, though, the election isn’t the most important news right now. The bigger story is the slump in the oil market as Saudi Arabia cuts prices for U.S. buyers.

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Election Day: What to Expect If the Republicans Win

November 4, 2014

After months of debate, millions of dollars spent, and hundreds of thousands of TV ads (and that’s just here in Boston over the past week), Election Day is finally here. When all’s said and done, will it actually make any difference?

Maybe not as much as partisans on both sides would hope, but yes, it will.

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Economic Risk Factor Update: November 2014

November 3, 2014

It’s time for our monthly update on risk factors that have proven to be reliable indicators of economic trouble ahead. As expected, the data hasn’t changed much from last month—it remains encouraging in almost all areas and, in many cases, has continued to improve—but it’s still important to keep an eye on things.

Heading into November, the economic forecast remains good after a news-heavy October.

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