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Q2 EPS, LIBOR-OIS Spreads Narrow, July Retail Sales, Initail Jobless Claims

Second quarter earnings can be best characterized as light on revenue but strong on cost cutting, leading to better than expected EPS. The more positive bottom line results have helped fuel the equity market rally over the last couple of months.

Meanwhile, Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) — The LiborOIS spread narrowed to a level former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said he regarded as “normal,” adding to evidence the freeze in credit markets is thawing. Clearly credit market stabilization has been a major driver of the equity market rally.

While the rally has been a nice reprieve from the bear market the question remains what will compel the markets higher in Q3 and Q4. With credit back to normal that driver is off the table and cost cutting/belt tightening can only work to improve EPS for a short period of time. Revenue must accelerate in the 2nd half of the year for this bear market rally to turn into a bonafide bull market.

With that thought in mind I am publishing the next two stories. If the consumer can’t find a job then spending will not return and revenue will continue to be disappointing. I fear this will result in a resumption of the down trend in the back half of the year.

Of course, these are long term questions and as my Mom always says “you must live the questions; the answers reveal themselves.” “Living the questions” in this case means trading the trend while keeping your eyes open and your mind alert.

ECONX July Retail Sales Disappoint
The July Retail Sales report is a disappointment and yet another reminder, in the midst of a rising stock market, that the consumer isn’t all he/she used to be due to weak wage growth, depressed asset prices, and concerns about job security…

For the month retail sales were down -0.1%. Excluding autos, they were down -0.6%. Both figures were well off the consensus forecasts that called for increases of 0.8% and 0.1%, respectively. The government doesn’t provide any context behind the numbers, but with broad declines in most sales categories, it is clear that consumers weren’t doing a lot of discretionary spending.

There will be a tendency to dismiss the weakness as being the result of consumers delaying purchases to take advantage of tax-free holidays that got pushed into August this year. There will likely be some makeup in August, but there is still no other way to read the July data than to consider it a disappointment. To the latter point, retail sales, excluding autos, gasoline station, and building materials, which is a measurement that flows into GDP estimates, was down for the fifth straight month.

ECONX Initial Claims Still Way Too High

Initial jobless claims for the week ended August 8 increased to 558,000 from a revised 554,000 in the prior week. The current number lifted the 4-week moving average to 565,000 from 556,500. Continuing claims, in contrast, fell 141,000 to 6.202 million. That dropped the 4-week moving average for the series to 6.259 million from 6.287 million. There is cold comfort in the drop in continuing claims since it most likely reflects people losing benefits. To be sure, there isn’t much hiring happening… Separately, while the trend in initial claims has been better of late, a reading north of 500,000 at this point is still downright bad and still well above prior recession levels when the 4-week average for claims was closer to the 400,000-450,000 range. The labor market is weak and these figures aren’t a great portent for consumer spending activity.

About Bret Rosenthal

Interpreting the news that moves markets. Principal of RCM, LLC, and founding partner of the Fortune's Favor Family of Funds
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