The Economy: After being dissed and dormant for a decade, inflation is front and center for financial markets. Concerns are being voiced by many. Fed members are among the loudest. Is inflation real or is the Fedspeak a stalking horse? Only your hairdresser knows for sure. While technology has driven labor and hardware costs down, a comparison of basic items in the grocery stores shows price increases of 40% or more over the past decade. The “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” crowd is complaining that economic numbers don’t measure the appropriate output. One recently asked how we could have tight labor markets with no wage growth. The cry is that the laws of supply and demand don’t seem to apply in the Goldilocks Economy. Meanwhile, stocks are off their January highs and moving sideways. This breather is either the calm before the storm or the pause that refreshes. Regardless of the metrics, the only thing that matters is whether you can sleep at night. Watch inflation; watch the Fed.
Food for Thought: China has a new Emperor. It took a few years after the death of Emperor Mao. But the song remains the same: a thousand years of dynasties with the occasional disruption. The Qing Dynasty ended in 1912. More than three decades of internal strife between warlords followed. Then the communist warlord Mao Zedong assumed The Mantle. A new Imperial Chinese dynasty was born: the Communist Dynasty. Now a successor to Mao has emerged: Emperor Xi. Likewise Russia. The Romanov Dynasty ended in 1917. Eventually the warlord Stalin emerged as the new Tsar. Then Brezhnev and now Tsar Putin. Triumvirate Great Power politics reignited. Will Turkey make it a fourplay? The investment opportunities are countless.
Music of The Week: Atlantic 5 Jazz Band’s “Bar Music Moods – The Piano Edition Vol. 1”
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The Economy: Politics continue to trump economics; though the numbers continue to show an economy expanding below expectations. August which is supposed to be the sleepy month of vacations has turned out to be action packed. The latest episode of House of Cards opened with the rush to World War 3; narrowly averted when the NOKO Doughboy blinked or The Donald turned a blind eye to further threats; your choice. Financial markets had a fit then recovered from the head-fake. Next up The Charlottesville Brawl and subsequent slugfest masquerading as a press conference. This was followed by the orchestrated exit of business leaders from the administration’s lineup. Two national business advisory councils were then dissolved and the rumor was that Trump’s chief economic advisor, Gary Cohn, was going to resign. Instead, Friday saw the White House departure of Steve Bannon who vied with Vladimir Putin for the administration’s title of “Master Puppeteer.” Again, markets spasmed into another head-fake. Stay on vacation; The Circus will still be in town when your return.
Food for Thought: Just when you hoped that your money would become more interesting, your dreams have been shattered by more fun and games. Except for checking your parachute there’s little to thrill with markets again near all-time highs and Kumbaya sung from every bank, brokerage firm and advisor. This week sees the Jackson Hole confab for the Master of The Universe Wannabes. Super Mario Draghi will croon “I’m Just a Gigolo.” Yellen will speak on “Financial Stability.” Interest rates will be lower for longer and come September there will be more kicking the can down the road because shrinking the Fed balance sheet will be cause for the Fed to sing A Cappella, AC/DCs “Highway to Hell.”
Music of the Week: Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”
The Economy: We’re the quintessential optimists so it’s with the risk of sounding like Chicken Little, that we again note the economic data is weak to mixed. The manufacturing sector is worrisome. Earnings season has ended with the note that corporate profits declined. Higher sales of cars and trucks are due in part to subprime auto loans. (Yep, subprime loans, the red-headed-bastard-sons of the Financial Crisis and subsequent Great Recession) Compounding this fog of uncertainty is the recent spate of terrorist activities. The Beirut bombing, the Russian airline bombing and the assault on Paris have heightened the sense of worry. The Fed released the minutes from their last meeting today. They were interpreted as being hawkish and in favor of interest rate Liftoff in December. Financial markets were ecstatic. But lost in the excitement is that fact that the minutes are pre-terrorist attacks. So we remain skeptical that we’ll see Liftoff in December. The much anticipated 25 basis point (1/4%) hike shouldn’t have much of an impact. It’s the unanticipated consequences that are causing the willies. After a decade of zero interest rates, no one knows what those consequences will be. Now that France has declared war on ISIS those consequences are more unknowable.
Food for Thought: The Russians have had boots on the ground in Syria for more than 40-years. To say that Putin and Company preempt the U.S. in Syria would be a gross understatement. In the aftermath of the Paris attack, the French are reaching out to Russia as an ally. With this diplomatic caress, Russia is on its way to being rehabilitated. Sanctions will quietly go away. Putin, bare-chested astride his white charger, crossbow in hand shooting whales, is the man of the hour.