U.S. dairy cows have been busy pumping so much milk that 2016 output is expected to reach a record, according to the Department of Agriculture. Inventories are becoming burdensome at processing plants in some regions, and sellers are “struggling to find a home” for supplies, the agency said. Consumers are benefiting: they’re paying the lowest prices for retail milk in six years, government data showed Tuesday.
: Americans’ confidence in the economy retreated in April, with Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index averaging -14 for the month, down from -10 in March. The April average ties with September 2015 as numerically the worst since confidence started climbing toward positive territory in late 2014 and early 2015 after gas prices began to decline. The high point in confidence in Gallup’s eight-year tracking trend occurred in January 2015, when the monthly index averaged +3, while the low point was -60 in October 2008. Interestingly, Americans’ confidence in the economy is influenced to a significant degree by political considerations, namely the match between an individual’s party identification and the party of the U.S. president. As such, Democrats have consistently had greater confidence than independents and especially Republicans during Barack Obama’s presidency. All three party groups showed slight drops of between two and four index points in April compared with March. The April U.S. Economic Confidence Index score was +10 among Democrats, -15 among independents and -38 among Republicans. (Source: Gallup)
The IMF last week made its second cut to global growth forecasts, predicting a rate of +3.2% this year and +3.5% in 2017, having previously forecast 3.4% and 3.6% respectively. They noted that downside risks to the global economic outlook have increased since October, “raising the possibility of a more generalized slowdown and a sudden pull-back of capital flows.” Looking at the graph below showing the countries expected to be the worst performers, it’s pretty easy to draw some conclusions as to what the main trouble are – plummeting oil and commodity prices are a consistent theme for nearly all of the worst performers, joined by fiscal mismanagement and political turmoil.
U.S. stocks have enjoyed their sixth straight week of moving higher, while oil prices have now erased all of their gains on the year. Ironically, oil rig counts here in the U.S. are at the lowest levels since Baker Hughes started counting oil rigs back in 1944. The trade clearly seems tripped up by the glut of global oil production. Recent comments from Saudi Arabia saying they would only freeze production if all major oil producers, including Iran, commit to doing the same. Iran has steadfastly maintained they will not entertain a freeze until their crude production reaches pre-sanction levels of 4-million barrels per day. Over the weekend, Iran’s oil minister announced the country’s oil and gas condensate exports have now surpassed 2-million barrels per day for the first time since sanctions were lifted. That works out to an increase of around +250,000 barrels per day since March 1. In other words the world is still swimming in a glut of supply while Iran is in the process of trying to add more barrels. Traders here at home have been digesting a wave of economic data as of late, which most argue has been fairly positive. I have to admit myself, while I remain a bit apprehensive in regard to being an outright raging stock market bull, there is evidence and recent talk that the “shallow manufacturing recession” is starting to subside. Remember we had manufacturing numbers expanding for the first time in seven months last week. More positive news is the fact the U.S. dollar continues to weaken in 2016 on talk from a apparently more dovish Fed. Pending U.S. home sales are also starting to increase, and mortgage purchasing applications most recently are up over +20% compared to last year. Keep in mind mortgage rates haven’t made new lows in over 3-years, but purchasing applications are picking up momentum, meaning perhaps the housing market is stronger than many are currently forecasting? Another positive is the fact even though gas prices at the pump have risen form an average low of $1.69 per gallon to now over $2.05 per gallon, our average four-week usage year-over-year is up +5%. There’s also evidence that Consumer Spending is starting to gain a bit more traction. Like I said, I’m not wildly bullish, in fact I still only have about 30% of my current portfolio invested in long equity positions, but I do believe some of the fear has been eliminated or at least temporarily subsided as the market evolves and adjust to the changing dynamics. To some degree the dollar strength feels like it has been digested, the commodity price slide has somewhat stabilized, and consumers are starting to spend a bit more of their energy savings in the economy. The week ahead will bring a much lighter economic calendar, but with heavier focus being placed on the U.S. Fed. We will hear multiple speeches form Fed Presidents and key members, as well as digesting on Wednesday the “minutes” from their recent March meeting. On Thursday there’s a historic event in New York featuring Fed chair Janet Yellen and all her living predecessors: Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke. Don’t be surprised if this weeks Fed rhetoric helps push the market even higher…
The American Farm Bureau Federation’s Spring Picnic Marketbasket Survey decreased from last year thanks to lower prices for several foods, including salad, orange juice, shredded cheddar, ground chuck, sirloin tip roast, vegetable oil, white bread, ground chuck, deli ham and orange juice. The informal survey shows the total cost of 16 food items that can be used to prepare one or more meals was $53.28, down $.59 or about 1 percent compared to a survey conducted a year ago. Of the 16 items surveyed, ten decreased and six increased in average price. Egg prices are up sharply from first quarter of 2015, a year ago but are down even more sharply from the third quarter of 2015. This shows the effect of the HPAI (High Pathogenic Avian Influenza) event last year. Prices on the beef items in the marketbasket – ground chuck and sirloin tip roast – peaked in early 2015 at record high levels. Since then, a combination of increasing beef production, weaker exports, and lower competing meat prices have led to modest price declines. Dairy product prices also remain relatively low. At $4.29 for a one-pound bag, shredded cheddar cheese price is at the lowest price in this survey since the third quarter of 2012. The whole milk price rose almost 3 percent from the third quarter of last year, but that third quarter price was the lowest price in the survey since 2010. (Source: American Farm Bureau Federation)