August 22, 2016, 4:30pm EST
As we head into the end of August, people continue to parse every word and move the Fed makes. Yellen gives a speech later this week at Jackson Hole (at an economic conference hosted by the Kansas City Fed), where her predecessor Bernanke once lit a fire under asset prices by telegraphing another round of QE.
Still, a quarter point hike (or not) from a level that remains near zero, shouldn’t be top on everyone’s mind. Keep in mind a huge chunk of the developed world’s sovereign bond market is in negative yield territory. And just two weeks ago Bernanke himself, intimated, not only should the Fed not raise rates soon, but could do everyone a favor — including the economy — by dialing down market expectations of such.
But the point we’ve been focused on is U.S. market and economic performance. Is the landscape favorable or unfavorable?
The narrative in the media (and for much of Wall Street) would have you think unfavorable. And given that largely pessimistic view of what lies ahead, expectations are low. When expectations are low (or skewed either direction) you get the opportunity to surprise. And positive surprises, with respect to the economy, can be a self-reinforcing events.
The reality is, we have a fundamental backdrop that provides fertile ground for good economic activity.
For perspective, let’s take a look at a few charts.
We have unemployment under 5%. Relative to history, it’s clearly in territory to fuel solid growth, but still far from a tight labor market.
What about the “real” unemployment rate all of the bears often refer to. When you add in “marginally attached” or discouraged job seekers and those working part-time for economic reasons (working part time but would like full time jobs) the rate is higher. But as you can see in the chart below that rate (the blue line) is returning to pre-crisis levels.
In the next chart, as we know, mortgage rates are at record lows – a 30 year fixed mortgage for about 3.5%.
Car loans are near record lows. This Fed chart shows near record lows. Take a look at your local credit union or car dealer and you’ll find used car loans going for 2%-3% and new car loans going for 0%-1%.
What about gas? In the chart below, you can see that gas is cheap relative to the past fifteen years, and after adjusted for inflation it’s near the cheapest levels ever.
Add to that, household balance sheets are in the best shape in a very long time. This chart goes back more than three decades and shows household debt service payments as a percent of disposable personal income.
As we’ve discussed before, the central banks have have pinned down interest rates that have warded off a deflationary spiral — and they’ve created the framework of incentives to hire, spend and invest. You can see a lot of that work reflected in the charts above.
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