Morale among American consumers —I prefer "people"— worsened earlier this month by generation-high inflation and a major war in eastern Europe.
The latest University of Michigan survey showed overall consumer sentiment falling in March for the fifth time in the last six months to an almost 11-year low.
These days, on top of a dreadful and frustrating two-year Covid malaise, everyday Americans are asking, "Why does anything matter?"
The Michigan numbers show the public mood souring over inflation worries have totally surpassed other indicators that show an otherwise strong (albeit volatile) economy.
The mood also bodes particularly ill for members of Congress and state houses hoping not to be, well, unelected.
Inflation raged on in February, driving consumer price increases to a place we haven’t been to in four decades.
The latest numbers include a paucity of signs that inflation us leveling off, muchless subsiding.
What’s more, they largely exclude the impact of Russia’s invasion on oil, gas and other global commodity prices.
Most economists and WallStreeters, the Biden administration and members of Congress—especially Democrats—have been counting on inflation peaking early this year.
Unfortunately for them—not to mention consumers and businesses—the numbers are suggesting persistently high inflation for the foreseeable future.
Prices at the gas pump are soaring toward an all-time high, but drivers appear to be saying, oh well—for now anyway.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell told Congress on Wednesday that he supports a quarter-percent increase in the Fed’s benchmark short-term interest rate when the Fed meets in less than two weeks.
Powell did open the door to a bigger hike, like the half-percent increase called for by most of his colleagues, but only if inflation doesn’t noticeably decline this year—as the Fed expects it to.
Most other Fed officials have vocally supported a 25-basis point rise.
Felix Salmon writes that until last weekend, Russia's invasion of Ukraine looked quaint, with “columns of tanks, prisoners of war [and] bombed buildings.”
As a new week unfolds, however, the U.S., Canada and Europe on one side and Putin on the other have rolled out their respective nuclear options—the former three financial, the latter literal—although neither has actually been used.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. This is no longer just about Ukraine. It’s quickly evolved into a full-blown confrontation between nuclear powers.
Salmon fears if the conflict continues to escalate like a hundred-yard sprint, the unthinkable could quickly become a reality.
Catherine Clifford writes that Europeans had already been suffering under high energy prices in the months leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Those prices, and others, surged after Russia crossed the Ukrainian border, with international benchmark Brent crude oil breaching the $100 per barrel mark for the first time in 8 years.
Natural gas prices were at least 6.5% higher after the invasion and were up about 2% as of midday Thursday.
And on Tuesday, Germany halted the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which was intended to double the flow of Russian gas directly to Germany.
Sad to say, but the European Union is heavily dependent on Russian energy sources, which Clifford says is becoming “increasingly unsustainable.”
The EU, however, is reportedly planning energy independence from Russia. That plan was expected to be announced by the European Commission next week.
Does transparency promote equity? More to the point, does pay transparency promote pay equity?
That’s the goal in California, where a state senator introduced a bill last week that would require employers to disclose salary ranges for jobs they’re trying to fill and to report employee and contractor pay data to the general public.
Pay transparency laws are being seen by equal pay advocates as the next key policy in closing gender and racial pay gaps.
They’re saying it means the next time you’re looking for a job, you might know how much it actually pays—before you’re hired.
Emily Peck reports that a similar law went into effect in Colorado last year, while another is about to start in New York City in May.
Peck says California already requires employers to disclose salary ranges, but only if asked by a prospective candidate.
Jessica Stender, policy director for Equal Rights Advocates, says, "I think the tide is turning in terms of support for stronger pay equity laws."
She noted that employers in the UK have had to disclose pay disparity data for some time now—helping to narrow certain gaps.
Is a new Gold Standard coming to town? If one is, it’s likely to be in Europe. So says independent financial writer Jan Nieuwenhuijs.
The gold analyst writes in The Gold Observer that Europe is the most likely to take the initiative—as opposed to the U.S.—because revaluing gold “would damage the dollar’s status as world reserve currency.”
The euro, on the other hand, as the second most liquid currency in the world, “would enable the eurozone to revalue gold without devaluing much against other currencies and commodities.”
The more debt is being accumulated on the balance sheets of European central banks, the more likely they will revalue gold to write off this debt.
Here’s the gist of Nieuwenhuijs’ thinking: The ratio of government debt to GDP in many countries is at record highs. And no country, leader or economist has proposed a strategy to lower those debt burdens.
He points to the primary tools that governments can lower their debt to GDP levels:
Merriam-Webster defines “discount” as “a deduction from the usual cost of something, typically given for prompt or advance payment or to a special category of buyers.”
The Federal Reserve’s “discount rate” is the interest rate charged to commercial banks (yes, they’re special) and other depository institutions on loans they receive from their regional Fed bank's discount window.
Neil Irwin reminded us yesterday morning that a lot of hopes are riding on inflation easing this year. But it hasn’t happened yet—or over the last year.
Consumer prices surged more than expected over the past 12 months, suggesting a bleak outlook for inflation and increasing the likelihood of more than a few interest rate hikes this year.
The CPI (all urban index) rose 7.5% in January over a year ago, the Labor Department reported yesterday—the highest since February 1982. Economists were expecting an increase of 7.2%.
The so-called core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, increased 6%, compared with the estimate of 5.9%—its highest since August 1982.
The surprising pace of recent job growth may be catching recent headlines. But, as Neil Irwin points out, other details contain the biggest implications for markets in the months ahead; namely, wage growth.
Last week’s article highlighted the World Gold Council’s outlook for gold this year. All in all, things look potentially promising from their vantagepoint. So, hang in there.
In its own 2022 Outlook, too big to fail Goldman Sachs gives the probability of a recession this year as a modest 10%.
In coming to that conclusion, GS looks at three factors that have caused recessions in the past:
The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) is out with the “Chart Book: Tracking the Post-Great Recession Economy.”
This ongoing study is a comprehensive, insightful look at how our economy has fared since the financial crisis that began in late 2007.
Global demand for gold skyrocketed to a two and a half year high in the 2021’s 4th quarter, resulting in a 10% full-year increase over 2020.
According to the World Gold Council’s latest report, total 2021 demand for gold (excluding Over the Counter) increased to 4,021 tons (502,625 oz.).
Thanks for that goes largely to 4th quarter demand jumping nearly 50%, and the result was the recovery of much of the pandemic-related losses of 2020.
The WGC noted that demand for gold in the consumer-driven jewelry and technology sectors recovered throughout the year — in line with economic growth and sentiment.
Global central bank buying also was far ahead of 2020’s pace. Investment demand was mixed because of high inflation competing with rising yields for investor attention.
The year ended similar to how it began, with interest rates and inflation jockeying for attention as the key driver of gold.
But unlike the 1st quarter, inflation was a more dominant factor than interest rates as 2021 came to a close. “This helped gold make up some of the ground it had lost in the early part of the year," the report said.
Neils Christensen added, “The gold market has once again proven itself that it is a global market that is more robust than just investment demand.”
Here are some of the report’s highlights:
After a trading day that saw the steepest drop in the S&P 500 since 2008, briefly dropping into correction territory with a big sell-off — and then saw it actually close UP 0.3% — the word that comes to mind, besides Whew, is Volatility.
A lot of it.
Since the beginning of the year, the CBOE VIX Volatility Index is up about 74% — having risen from a more modest 17.60 to 29.90 at the close today.
In fact, over the past two years, market volatility has more than doubled, and that is something precious metal investors should be paying attention to.
Without getting too technical, the VIX signals the level of fear or stress in the stock market — using the S&P 500 index as a proxy for the broad market — and thus is widely known as a “Fear Index.”
The higher the VIX, the greater the level of fear and uncertainty in the market; levels above 30 indicate a lot of investor fear and enormous uncertainty.
Five years ago, Meera Shawn wrote in Market Realist, “Notably, we often see that an increase in volatility can lead to a rise in gold.”
Other studies also confirm a positive correlation between the VIX and gold prices but are too detailed to summarize in this article (e.g., Gorbel & Jeribi 2021, Klein et al 2018, Bauer & Lucey 2010).