Am I the only one who finds Friday’s GDP report of 1.2% annualized growth worrying? Especially when combined with a drop in consumer sentiment?
What’s bothering me?
The deeply disappointing second quarter GDP number was only as good as it was because consumers kept up a spending binge. Think what second quarter GDP growth would have looked like if household consumption, about 70% of U.S. economic activity, had’ t grown at a 4.2% annualized rate in the quarter. The largest increase in household consumption since the end of 2014 added 2.8 percentage points to GDP growth.
In other words without this growth in household consumption, GDP growth in the second quarter would have been negative. Not surprising since businesses continue to pull back on their spending. Spending by companies on equipment, structures and intellectual property, decreased by an annualized 2.2%. That follows on a 3.4% drop in the first quarter. Spending on equipment has now tumbled for four of the last five quarters.
You really can’t blame companies for not wanting to spend. From where they sit it’s hard to justify spending on expanding production. So far in the second quarter earnings season, 363 of the 500 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 have reported. On the basis of these results we’re headed for a 3.2% year over year drop in earnings for the quarter. That’s better than Wall Street analysts were expecting at the start of earnings season, but the trend, if it holds up, would still be the fourth consecutive quarter of negative earnings growth. (Revenue is down, so far, by 0.1% year over year.)
The results of the University of Michigan’s survey of consumer sentiment added some caveats to that strength in household spending. While consumers remain confident about the current economy, their attitude about the future is turning increasingly negative. The gap between positive attitudes toward the present economy and darker future expectations is the widest since 2006. The gap, which has, sometimes, signaled a coming recession, is a relatively strong indicator of the strength of future consumer spending. People tend to spend less, for obvious reasons, when they are less confident about the future than they do about the present economy.
Given that consumer spending is about all that is propping up GDP growth right now, I find this picture troubling.
I’d find it less troubling, however, if I saw signs that other investors and traders were worried about this picture.
But I don’t see a sign of worry anywhere on the horizon.
The CBOE VIX index, which reflects fear/complacency in the stock market based on how much traders and investors are willing to pay for options to hedge risk in the S&P 500, is way, way, way toward the complacent end of the scale. The VIX closed at 11.87 on Friday, down another 6.7%, and much closer to the 10.88 that marks the 52-week low on the VIX than to the 53.29 52-week high.
Technicians that I respect and follow, such as Jim Stack at InvesTech (https://www.investech.com) aren’t seeing warning signs from their indicators either. Yes, the market is over-valued on a PE basis, but momentum indicators point to a continued extension of this bull market rally.
Markets are often said to climb a wall of worry.
Right now I can’t find a molehill of worry let alone a wall.