The Independent Market Observer

Monday Update (on Tuesday): Housing Strong, Business Slow

May 31, 2016

Last week’s data was more mixed than in recent weeks, with continued positive news in the housing market offset by weaker-than-expected results in business investment. On balance, both the strong trends in consumer demand and the relative weakness in business continue, and the economy was shown to have done better in the first quarter than was originally thought.

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Memorial Day Reflections

May 27, 2016

I’ve been struggling all morning, trying to decide what to write today. I could talk about oil prices. I could talk about the relationship between consumer confidence and wage growth (not as strong as you’d think). I could talk about the real risks we face as investors and what we should be worrying about.

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Important Vs. Urgent in Investing

May 26, 2016

I’m on the road today, traveling home from the Commonwealth Winners Circle conference in California. Besides hanging out with one of the nicest groups of people on the planet—the Commonwealth community—I got to have some fairly deep conversations about what financial advisors need, what investors need, and the problems both face in preparing for the future.

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Wage Growth and Spending: A Big-Picture Look

May 25, 2016

Recent good news on confidence, spending, and wage growth is real, but it occurred to me looking at my recent posts that I’ve neglected something important: context. Let’s take a look at the bigger picture when it comes to wage growth.

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The Real Story Behind a Fed Rate Increase

May 24, 2016

Another Federal Reserve official, Philadelphia Fed president Patrick Harker, has weighed in on rates, projecting two to three hikes over the rest of 2016, including a June increase. Much of the commentary on his statement and those of other Fed members has focused on the potential effects on the stock market—specifically, the risk that higher rates may pull the market down.

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Monday Update: Better Data Continues

May 23, 2016

Once again, last week’s news was mostly positive, with housing starts and sales beating expectations, industrial production and manufacturing up, and the Fed releasing a surprisingly upbeat set of minutes that painted the U.S. economy as well along the road to recovery.

Combined with the positive results from previous weeks, this good data continues to support a recovery in growth for the second quarter.

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Wall Street’s Songs of the Summer

May 20, 2016

With Memorial Day quickly approaching, it’s about time to break out the boom box and cue up the songs of summer. As a 50-year-old economist, I’m not exactly on the cutting edge of pop culture, so I consulted my younger and (much) hipper friends and colleagues, along with several websites.

Surprisingly, some recent Top 40 hits have a lot to say (intentionally or not) about the economy and the stock market.

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Worried About the Election? Don't Revamp Your Portfolio Yet

May 19, 2016

Recently, several people have asked me what investors should do in their portfolios to prepare for the presidential election. One went so far as to contemplate going to cash around August, just in case.

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5 Economic Research Tools for the Everyday Investor

May 18, 2016

Yesterday, we talked about managing your biases. Today, let’s look at some research tools that can help you do just that.

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Managing Your Biases

May 17, 2016

Bias is a fact of life. Our view of the world is colored by preconceptions, limited or mistaken information, and recent experience. On top of that limited and distorted impression, we then have to deal with a number of well-known systemic flaws in how we think, as discussed in Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

I’ve been thinking a lot about biases recently, with an eye to how to mitigate their effects.

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Monday Update: Consumers Surprise to the Upside

May 16, 2016

Last week’s data was surprisingly positive, with both retail sales and consumer confidence beating expectations substantially, accompanied by upward revisions to past months. As consumers account for about two-thirds of the U.S. economy, this is extremely positive news.

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Strong Retail Sales Show Consumers Can Spend—If They Want To

May 13, 2016

After yesterday’s discussion of wage growth, today’s data on consumer spending and confidence makes for a good follow-up.

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Thoughts on Wage Growth

May 12, 2016

This will be a short post, as I’m at the Commonwealth Leaders Conference in Hawaii this week. (Tough job, I know, but someone has to do it.)

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Black Swans and Wildfires

May 11, 2016

In a recent post, I wrote that oil prices are subject to much more risk on the upside than many people think. Sure enough, plenty of readers responded with reasons why I was wrong, insisting that prices couldn’t rise higher.

They might be right, of course, but recent events suggest the risk on oil prices remains much more to the upside than many believe.

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Economic Risk Factor Update: May 2016

May 10, 2016

Once again, it’s time for our monthly update on risk factors that have proven to be good indicators of economic trouble ahead. The news this month is good. Some potentially worrying downward trends have continued to reverse, suggesting that the weakness of the past couple of quarters is abating.

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Monday Update: Economic Data Mixed But Improving

May 9, 2016

Last week’s news was mixed but more positive than we’ve seen recently, suggesting that the economy continues to stabilize and may be starting to improve.

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How to Sell High and Buy Low

May 6, 2016

After Wednesday’s post on why many investment portfolios are doing badly, the natural follow-up question is, how do we get them to do better? Everyone, me included, would like to be able to buy into asset classes that will do well and avoid those that won’t.

If only it were that simple.

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The Presidential Race: Uncertainty Left and Right

May 5, 2016

The Indiana primaries giveth, and the Indiana primaries taketh away.

On the one hand, after Donald Trump’s victory there pushed both Ted Cruz and John Kasich out of the race, we now know who the Republican nominee will almost certainly be. On the other hand, Bernie Sanders’s victory extends the Democrats’ primary process further. Although Hillary Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite, that race isn’t over yet.

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Why Are My Investments Doing Badly?

May 4, 2016

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about investment performance. Many people are reviewing their results, comparing them with what they expected and have received in the past, and asking themselves, Why are my investments doing so badly?

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Monthly Market Risk Update: May 2016

May 3, 2016

It’s time for our monthly look at market risk factors. Just as with the economy, there are several key factors that matter for the market, in determining both the risk level and the immediacy of that risk. Although the recent pullback is largely in the rearview mirror, given valuations and recent market behavior, it's still useful to keep an eye on these factors.

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Monday Update: Spring’s Not Here Yet

May 2, 2016

Once again, last week’s economic news was disappointing overall, with a few bright spots.

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Market Thoughts for May 2016 [Video]

May 2, 2016

Following a strong March, markets suffered a pullback in early April after analysts cut forecasts for first-quarter earnings growth and worries about the economy resurfaced. Though markets recovered, we were left wondering: was the pullback a sign of things to come, or will we see markets continue to move along?

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