Category Archives: Economic Indicators

August Consumer Prices, Real Earnings and Weekly Jobless Claims

KEY DATA: CPI: +0.2%; Over-Year: +2.7%; Ex-Food and Energy: +0.1%; Over-Year: 2.2%/ Real Earnings: +0.1%; Over-Year: +0.2%/ Claims: -1,000

IN A NUTSHELL: “Inflation may have moderated in August, but inflation-adjusted wages are still going largely nowhere. ”

WHAT IT MEANS: Inflation pressures have been building this year so it was nice that they didn’t accelerate further in August. The Consumer Price Index rose at a decent but not threatening pace even when you exclude the volatile food and energy components. The good news in the report is that medical care costs declined. I guess the repeal of the ACA is doing what was expected. Oh, that’s right, it wasn’t repealed. My mistake. The likelihood is that the drop was a random occurrence and we will start seeing those costs accelerate soon. There was also another sharp decline in apparel prices. If the market was flooded by a surge of imports intended to beat potential tariffs, the drop is not likely to last. On the upside, shelter costs were up solidly and look like they will continue to rise. Gasoline prices were up, as anyone who drives a non-electric vehicle knows. (When are those cheap Teslas going to become readily available, I think I could use one.) But food costs were largely flat, though the all-important cakes, cupcakes and cookies component was down significantly. Time to get off my no-chips, no-cookies diet.

The race to see which can rise faster, wages or prices, remains largely a tie. Earning rose a touch more than consumer costs in August and that was the good news. The bad news is that inflation adjusted wages, which is a measure of spending power, has barely budged since August 2017. Consumers are spending more, but there are limits to their ability to keep emptying out there wallets. We are likely to see a slow but fairly steady moderation in demand for the rest of this year despite the impacts of the tax cuts. Consumption is where the distribution of the tax cuts matters the most and given the concentration of benefits on upper income households, there is not that much more that most families will have to spend unless wage gains pick up significantly.

Weekly jobless claims fell again and the level is so low that it risks making the indicator irrelevant. The Department of Labor should simply say that just a few people applied for unemployment insurance and be done with it.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The FOMC is meeting in less than two months and the August moderation in both consumer and wholesale inflation will do nothing to change the belief of just about everyone that watches the Fed that rates will go up at the end of the meeting. The Fed’s inflation and full-employment targets have been met so it is time to get back to a neutral Funds rate. While there may be little agreement on exactly what that is, it is probably at least 3%. That means we have four or more rate hikes to go. But the Fed will only stop at neutral if inflation and growth don’t look like they are getting out of hand. Right now, both are running a little hot but are nowhere near boil. With the full impacts of the tax cuts still to be seen, I expect the funds rate to exceed 3%, in part because I believe the neutral rate is above 3% and also because I think we are headed to an inflation rate in the 2.5% to 3% range. But it may take inflation above 2.5% for an extended period before investors realize that rates may go higher than they think or hope.

August Employment Report

KEY DATA: Payrolls: +201,000; Revisions: -50,000; Private: +204,000; Unemployment Rate: 3.9% (Unchanged); Wages (Month): +0.4%; Over-Year: 2.9%

IN A NUTSHELL: “Job growth remains solid but more importantly, we are finally seeing the tight labor market show up in rising wages.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The labor market is tight but businesses are finding ways to get the workers they need. Job growth in August was solid once again. Indeed, it was slightly above expectations. But before you start saying we shouldn’t listen to economists, keep in mind that the July gain was revised downward by 10,000 and the June increase by 40,000. If you look at the three-month average, which is what I always argue should be done, the economy added 185,000 per month. That is pretty close to what most economists think is likely to be the pattern for a while. With the labor force participation rate not rising and the labor force growing only moderately, it will be hard to replicate the above-200,000 job growth gains we had recently. That was an aberration.

As for the details, there were strong increases in construction, transportation, wholesale trade, health care, restaurants and professional and technical services. Most of those are high-paying industries. However, there were declines in manufacturing, retail (there was a huge decline in clothing stores) and information. The government shed a few workers.

As for the unemployment rate, while it remained at 3.9%, it was just a rounding issue. It was 3.85%. It should be down next month.

But the key number was the average hourly wage, which was up sharply. It needs to keep rising if the inflation-adjusted wage, which is a better measure of purchasing power, is to increase at a decent pace. Inflation is accelerating and that is largely offsetting the wage gains.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Has Godot finally arrived? We have been stuck on the bench wondering when, if ever, the strong economy, low unemployment rate and supposed lack of qualified workers would cause wage gains to accelerate. Well, that time may have come. Job growth is probably as good as it can get given the tightness in the labor market. Even the “really stupid” unemployment rate (others call it the “real” unemployment rate) is signaling tightness, dropping to its lowest level since April 2001. The only time it was below the current rate was for about a year and a half at the peak of the dot.com bubble. With the tax cuts and spending increases creating a sugar high, there is little reason to expect labor demand to moderate over the rest of this year or even in the first half of next. The unemployment rate could approach the 3.5% level that was hit only during the Viet Nam and Korean Wars, when many young adults were not in the labor force but in the military. In other words, no matter how you measure it, the reserve army of the unemployed, underemployed, otherwise employed or uninterested in being employed is just not very large. The lack of workers and the accelerating wage gains reinforce the Fed’s belief that it has to continue its rate its normalization process unabated. The next meeting is September 25-26 and a rate hike is as close to a certainty as you can get when talking about the Fed. It is hard to believe that wage and price inflation will decelerate anytime soon, so a December increase and three or four next year are highly likely. Investors are wishing and hoping that does not happen, but they also want strong economic and job growth. They better watch what they wish for as they just may get it, as well as all the issues a strong economy and tight labor markets create.

August NonManufacturing Activity, Private Sector Jobs, Layoffs and Weekly Jobless Claims

KEY DATA: ISM (NonManufacturing): +2.8 points; Orders: +3.4 points/ ADP: 163,000/ Layoffs: 38,472/ Claims: -10,000

IN A NUTSHELL: “Economic momentum remains strong, even if third quarter growth may be somewhat less robust than in the spring.”

WHAT IT MEANS: “When supply managers talk, economists listen”. No, purchasing professionals are not EF Hutton, but they are at the forefront of the economy. Well, this week they opened up and it looks like business conditions are really good. On Tuesday, the Institute for Supply Management reported that manufacturing activity rose solidly in August, led by surging orders. Today, they released their non-manufacturing numbers and they show that the service sector is booming as well. New order rose sharply, causing employment to rise. Despite a sharp rise in activity, deliveries slowed and order books swelled, indicating that this sector should continue to expand solidly for months to come.

Tomorrow is Employment Friday (my name) and prior to that release we get the ADP estimate of private sector job gains. The employment services firm number came in lower than expected. There was a robust job increase in manufacturing but a moderate increase in the services component. While mid-sized firms added workers like crazy, large and small firms hired more cautiously. It looks like there was a good summer tourism season as leisure and hospitality payrolls surged. Keep in mind, this report tends to do a good job of following the government numbers over time, but in any given month it can be off significantly. ADP’s estimates of private sector job gains over the last six months averaged 187,000. This seems more reasonable than the roughly 230,000 that we will likely average once the August numbers are released.

Challenger, Gray and Christmas found that layoffs were up in August, when compared to both this July or August 2017. This was the third month this year that layoffs were higher than the year before, which is quite odd given how strong the job market has been. Keep in mind, these are announcements, not actual cuts and they don’t indicate where in the world the downsizing will occur.

Jobless claims fell to the lowest level since November 1969. When you adjust for the size of the labor force, it is the lowest on record. It is hard to believe how few people are being cut given these data include not just typical layoffs but also business closings and downsizings. It is clear the last thing firms want to do is let people go and that is the clearest sign that the labor market is drum-tight.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The data are clear: This economy is soaring. Yes, the widening trade deficit and weakening vehicle sales point to more moderate headline third quarter GDP growth. But when it comes to the business sector, there seems to be little or no marked slowdown at all. The issue is not where we are now, but how do we sustain the current growth pace through next year. That will depend upon better consumer spending, which means wage increases will have to accelerate, and stronger business capital spending, which means some of the money will actually have to start buying machinery, equipment and structures. That could happen, but as the saying goes, “we shall see”. I expect the August job gain will be in the 185,000-range. Firms are finding people to hire and holding onto employees, but payroll increases above 200,000 is not likely sustainable.

August Consumer Confidence and June Housing Prices

KEY DATA: Confidence: +5.5 points; Expectations: +5.2 points/ Home Prices: +0.3%; Over-Year: +6.2%

IN A NUTSHELL: “Consumers remain exuberant and that bodes well for continued solid spending in the months to come.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Maybe the 4% growth we saw in the second quarter will not be sustained, but that doesn’t mean growth will falter significantly in the near future. The Conference Board reported that its consumer confidence index rose in August to the highest level in nearly eighteen years. The details of the report were generally upbeat. A rising proportion of the respondents think business conditions are good and that it is getting easier to find a job. Actually, it is hard to understand why over twelve percent of the respondents still think jobs are hard to get, but that is a different story. The strong job market, coupled with improving expectations about the ability to find a job fed through into increased belief that income will rise. Still, just over twenty-five percent think they will see their incomes increase in the next six months, which is somewhat disconcerting. It shows that workers may think labor market conditions are strong but they still don’t expect to benefit from that situation. Unfortunately, if workers think their incomes will remain stagnant, they don’t tend to spend more.

With housing sales ebbing, it should not be surprising that the surge in prices is fading as well. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index rose modestly in June. Over the year, prices are still going up solidly, but it looks like the rate of gain may have peaked. As for metro areas, I guess gambling on housing remains fun as the fastest increase in prices over the year was in Las Vegas. Seattle and San Francisco are not that far behind, but the rise in costs in those two areas seems to moderating.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: As long as consumers are confident, and they really are right now, they will continue to spend money. So there is little reason to expect that the economy will falter the rest of the year. Something significant would have to happen to put the brakes on growth. But the question remains as to whether strong growth can be sustained. Workers are just not seeing wages rise and now there seems to be a growing trend toward promoting people without any salary bump. Boy, that sounds like a strange way to reward people. Congratulations, you did a great job, you now have more responsibility but your pay is the same. And businesspeople, economists and Fed members wonder why productivity is going nowhere. Do they really think that making people work more for the same pay creates an incentive to work harder? There was always a feedback between wages and productivity. If you worked harder and produced more, your pay increased. So why work harder if you don’t get paid more. Maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t think workers are dumb and are falling for the promotion trick. I think they just start looking for a way out. In any event, the high levels of confidence will likely be read as a positive for the economy. But the fact that relatively few workers think their pay will rise is something that should not be dismissed. It puts a damper on the willingness to spend.  

July Durable Goods Orders and Fed Chair Powell’s Comments

KEY DATA: Orders: -1.7%; Excluding Aircraft: +1.3%; Capital Spending: +1.4%

IN A NUTSHELL: “The Fed Chair expects more rate hikes because of the strong economy and strong business investment supports that view.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The tax cut provided created huge increases in profits and it looks likes firms are starting to spend their earnings on capital goods. Durable goods orders seemingly cratered in July but forget the headline number: The drop was due to large declines in both private and defense aircraft orders, which bounce around like super balls. Excluding aircraft, demand for big ticket items surged, led by sharp increases in machinery, computers and vehicles. The gains, though, were not universal. Demand for communications and electrical equipment was off. Still, private sector capital spending jumped and is up over 7% since July 2017. That indicates firms are finally using at least some of their newfound largesse to bolster production and productivity. That bodes well for continued solid growth this year.

The annual Jackson Hole Fed conference is underway and Fed Chair Powell talked today. It is easiest to summarize his views on future rate hikes by presenting his own words: “… if the strong growth in income and jobs continues, further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will likely be appropriate. … The economy is strong. Inflation is near our 2 percent objective, and most people who want a job are finding one. My colleagues and I are carefully monitoring incoming data, and we are setting policy to do what monetary policy can do to support continued growth, a strong labor market, and inflation near 2 percent.” In other words, it will take a clear and significant slowdown to cause the Fed to slow or stop the rate hikes.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: With businesses finally starting to invest heavily, the second leg of the tax cut-induced strong growth is taking place. The expansion is likely to moderate as consumer spending settles down, but it should still be quite solid. That is why most economists, including myself, have said we still have one year – or more – of really good growth before the sugar high wears off. If that is the case, then there is no reason for the Fed to stop normalizing rates and shrinking its balance sheet. Next summer, conditions might be different and a slowdown in the process might be possible. Thus, it is likely that a minimum of four more rate hikes will occur over the next year. And if growth does not decelerate significantly, if inflation creeps upward and stays above the Fed’s target, then additional rate hikes should be expected. What that does to investors’ thinking is anyone’s guess. But they might want to focus on something the Fed Chair said: “I would also note briefly that the U.S. economy faces a number of longer-term structural challenges that are mostly beyond the reach of monetary policy. For example, real wages, particularly for medium- and low-income workers, have grown quite slowly in recent decades. Economic mobility in the United States has declined and is now lower than in most other advanced economies. Addressing the federal budget deficit, which has long been on an unsustainable path, becomes increasingly important as a larger share of the population retires.”  

July Existing Home Sales

KEY DATA: Sales: -0.7%; 1-Family: -0.2%; Condos: -4.8%; Prices: +4.5%; 1-Family: 4.6%; Condos: 3.2%

IN A NUTSHELL: “The slowdown in the housing market continues.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The housing market has hit a rough spot. Existing home sales fell in July, the fourth consecutive month that demand was off. The level of home purchases was the lowest in over two years. Condo sales, which had been holding up, joined single-family units in the downward trend. Looking across the country, sales rose nicely in the West but were off sharply in the Northeast and declined modestly in the South and Midwest. As for prices, the rise is also trending downward. Condo price gains are modest, but the single-family price increase was not a whole lot faster. The deceleration in prices is occurring as inventory is finally expanding, even if it edged down a touch in July. Unfortunately, supply is still quite low on an historical basis.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Rising prices and increasing mortgage rates, coupled with limited supply, are reducing affordability and slowing home sales. It is hard to believe those limiting factors will change anytime soon. Tomorrow we get new home sales and they were weak in June. Another decline would add to the belief that the housing sector may restrain growth not only in the third quarter but going forward. The markets are setting records as business fundamentals are strong, but investors need to start looking outward. Right now, job gains are solid but income increases are limited and that does not bode well for sustained strong consumer spending growth. There is uncertainty about the impacts of tariffs and how long they will last. Businesses continue to spend most of their tax gains on stock buybacks, dividends and mergers and acquisitions, rather than buildings, machinery, equipment or software. That raises questions about improved productivity. So, the beat goes on in the markets and while the economic fundamentals are solid, it would be nice if we start seeing better wage growth and more money piling into capital spending. The Fed, meanwhile, has to deal with the economic strength and the political pressures coming from presidential tweets. In order to maintain credibility, additional rate hikes and balance sheet reductions are likely.

July Retail Sales, Industrial Production, Second Quarter Productivity and August Home Builders Index

KEY DATA: Sales: +0.5%; Excluding Vehicles: +0.6%/ IP: +0.1%; Manufacturing: +0.3%/ Productivity: +2.9%; Labor Costs: -0.9%/ NAHB: -1 point

IN A NUTSHELL: “The solid manufacturing sector and continued consumer spending hold out hope that third quarter growth will be good, though maybe not great.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Factors that drive and restrain growth are creating major uncertainties about the economy and even the data are unclear. Consider retail sales, which rose solidly in July. But that came after a sharp downward revision to the June numbers. That raises the possibility second quarter growth could be revised downward as well. The biggest increases were for food, both at home and at restaurants, gasoline and in department stores. Prices are rising in most of those categories. As for department stores, are sales really surging? There were strong online sales, which was not surprising given Amazon’s increase at its Prime Day sale. This was a good report, but it isn’t adjusted for inflation, so it is not clear just how fast consumer spending is growing, especially since vehicle sales were down in July.

One area which continues to do well is manufacturing. Output rose moderately in July after a robust production spurt in June. Rising vehicle assembly rates helped, but given the fall off in demand, that may turn around quickly. Still, most manufacturing sectors posted production gains, so this sector remains solid. Slowdowns in the mining and utility sectors reduced overall output gains.

With growth booming in the second quarter, it should not have been a surprise that productivity jumped by the fastest pace in over three years. Manufacturing productivity gains remain somewhat sluggish. While production surged, hourly compensation lagged well behind and that led to a sharp decline in labor costs. At least in part, the strong profit gains reflected those cost controls. Unless more of those profits find their way into compensation, the solid retail sales numbers may not be sustainable.

Homebuilders are not a happy bunch these days. Interest rates and input costs are rising while demand is moderating. Thus, the decline in the National Home Builders Associations index was expected. The level is the lowest in a year and is a warning that this component of the economy may continue to restrain growth.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The problems in Turkey are the focus of attention right now and rightfully so. We just don’t know how long the crisis will go and what kind of contagion effect will be created. This uncertainty is causing some rush to safety. Meanwhile, back in the United States, the economy may be moderating, but not faltering. Still, the president’s economists at the Office of Management and Budget just downgraded growth for this year and Congress’s economists at the Congressional Budget Office recently projected a sharp moderation in growth next year and a further slowdown in 2020. The CBO’s forecast is very much in line with most private sector forecasts. At the same time, most inflation forecasts are for the rate to exceed the Fed’s target of 2% for a number of years, though not significantly. But it takes the slowing growth to keep inflation from getting even hotter. The Fed continues to face an economy that has strong growth, rising prices but economic uncertainties, especially when the trade situation is factored in. Unless Turkey unexpectedly creates major economic and financial problems, there will be time to slow rate hikes down next year, so two more rate hikes remain the likely course of action.

July Import and Export Prices and Small Business Confidence

KEY DATA: Imports: 0%; Nonfuel: -0.3%; Exports: -0.5%; Farm: -5.3%/ NFIB: +0.7 point

IN A NUTSHELL: “The strong dollar is helping keep import costs down, though it improves the competitiveness of foreign companies.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The dollar has been rising sharply, increasing about eight percent since its bottom early in the year. That is now showing up in softer import prices, which were flat in July despite a rebound in energy costs. Imported food prices were down solidly, as were capital goods and vehicle prices. Consumer durable good costs were up, possibly because of sharp increases in the prices of goods from Canada and Asia that have been subjected to tariffs. We can also see the impact of the trade skirmishes on export prices. Agricultural products suffered a huge drop in prices, as they are the targets of foreign tariffs and are starting to lose markets.

While the trade war may be battering some industries, small businesses seem to be as happy as they have ever been. The National Federation of Independent Business’s Index jumped in July to its second highest level on record. The record was set in July 1983, thirty-five years ago, which says a lot. Small business owners are hiring and looking for more workers, though the inability to find qualified workers remains a major problem. The confidence of small business owners can also be seen in the rise in the plans for capital spending.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The economic expansion has reached into the small business sector, which now may be the most optimistic of any group. That is a positive indicator of near-term growth, as these firms don’t tend to make multi-year decisions. The strong hiring expectations should form a base for job gains. But these firms are starting to be pressured by the lack of workers and their compensation costs are rising. That may be good for their workers but not necessarily for their bottom lines and that could limit hiring. It is hard to pay a current workers less than a new worker, so pay increases reverberate through the small business quickly and extensively. Still, the small business optimism is good to see. On the other hand, the impacts of the trade skirmishes are not good to see. Tariffs may have been put on some products but a decline in the value of the dollar affects all imports, making all foreign firms in all industries more competitive. Also, the tariffs are essentially a sales tax that U.S. consumers have to pay. That is true not just for products imported into the U.S. Some of our exports, such as farm products, that go to other countries, face tariffs there. When they are turned into finished goods and sent back to the U.S., they face tariffs a second time. Who pays those costs? Consumers. So look for retail inflation to start accelerating as we move through the year. For now, though, the soft import price index provides some respite for the markets as investors didn’t see a surge in import prices that would spook bondholders or the Fed.

Second Quarter GDP and July Consumer Sentiment

KEY DATA: GDP: 4.1%; Consumption: 4%; Business Investment: 5.4%; Consumer Prices (Quarterly): 1.8%; Over-Year: +2.8%/ Sentiment: down 0.3 point

IN A NUTSHELL: “The economy surged in the spring, led by business and consumer spending.”

WHAT IT MEANS: As expected, we got a big number for second quarter growth. The pace was the fastest since mid 2014, when second quarter growth was 5.1% and the third quarter expanded at a 4.9% rate. Most importantly, the gains were broad based. Consumers spent like crazy, especially on durable goods. Businesses also invested, especially on new buildings. A surprisingly large reduction in inventories restrained growth and that may have to be rebuilt going forward. Final sales to private domestic purchasers, a proxy for non-government, non-foreign demand, were up robustly as well. Export growth surged, likely in order to get ahead of the trade war and federal government spending ballooned. While the federal government tended to subtract from growth during the first half of the decade, it is now helping lead the way forward. On the inflation front, consumer price gains eased over the quarter, though it did accelerate when looking at the year-over-year numbers. The Fed considers both numbers when it evaluates what is happening to inflation.

One more sign that consumers will keep spending came from the University of Michigan’s July Consumer Sentiment Index release. The index fell minimally, which was surprising given all the trade war news. Indeed, it was reported that the share of respondents indicating that tariffs would have a negative impact surged in July and it was across all political groups, not just Democrats. It is hardly clear, though, that those fears will actually translate into changes in spending habits. I doubt it.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: This was a strong number that probably disappointed those who were looking for a number well above 4.5% – and many were. For those, I suggest chilling. The data will be revised, though I would not be surprised if the next number isn’t a little less robust. The huge increase in exports, which added greatly to growth, may not have been sustained in June and the June numbers were largely unavailable when this report was created. We get the June trade report at the end of next week. Looking forward, consumer spending will likely be good but not nearly as strong as in the second quarter. If the reports from the vehicle makers are to be believed, sales may be softening. (The July numbers come out next week.) With confidence high, the slowdown is not likely to be great. However, there is room for business spending to increase faster, especially on machinery, intellectual property and inventory rebuilding. On the trade front, it is all about the farmers and whether they can sustain their exports. Soybean exports exploded in the spring, as sellers tried to get things out to beat the trade war, and that could turn down sharply this quarter, slowing growth significantly. Other agricultural product sales may also have been curtailed. Putting it all together, the spring quarter could be the high water mark for growth. That said, there is every reason to expect that growth in the second half of the year will still be in the 3% range, a very solid pace. Investors should be happy but not exuberant over this report. It contains good news and some cautionary data. As for the Fed, inflation is not accelerating sharply and growth is strong but maybe not sustainable. I expect the Fed to raise rates again in September and if third quarter growth is in the 3% range, as I have, it is likely to hike again in December, especially if the strong growth causes inflation to continue to slowly accelerate.

June Existing Home Sales

KEY DATA: Home Sales: -0.6%; Over-Year: -2.2%; Median Prices (Over-Year): +5.2%

IN A NUTSHELL: “With supply limited and prices and mortgage rates rising, it is not surprising that housing sales are softening.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The key housing market is suffering from a major case of agita. Existing home demand, which makes up nearly ninety percent of all home purchases, declined again in June. That was the third consecutive monthly drop. Over the year, sales were off for the fifth month in the last six. In other words, demand has largely flatlined. In June, the decline was limited by a sharp rise in the Northeast that nearly offset drops in the South and West. Demand rose modestly in Midwest. Worse, there are some warning signs that indicate the market is not balanced and could be facing problems going forward. Sales of the units costing $250,000 or less are down quite sharply over the year, those in the middle, between $250,000 and $750,000 are up modestly while the highest priced homes are selling strongly. Entry-level buyers are having issues finding and affording homes, especially since prices continue to rise sharply – they hit an all-time high in June. About the only good news in the report was the continued increase in homes on the market. They have risen for the last six months. That said, the inventory level is still way too low.

In a separate report, the Chicago Federal Reserve’s National Activity Index rebounded in June and is now showing that that strong growth should continue. Not surprisingly, it was led by a jump in the production components of the index. Manufacturing is doing well and should support the economy for months to come.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The overall economy is in great shape, but there are a few cracks in the armor. Those “weaknesses”, though, are being created, in part, by the strong growth. Rising interest rates and the surging cost of construction that are the direct result of the solid economy, are forcing up home prices and reducing affordability for the key entry level home buyers. The percent of all homes sold to first-time buyers is down from June 2017 and that segment makes up nearly a third of all sales. As I always say, no good economy goes unpunished and right now, it is the housing market that is suffering. As for investors, it is all about growth and earnings, which so far are generally really good. It would take an awfully bad situation for a company’s after-tax earnings to falter given the huge tax cuts. And the strong demand should be creating some decent top-line numbers. As for the president’s tweets and their impacts on the markets, they wilder they get, the less investors seem to take them seriously. Another favorite saying of mine is that the markets may be efficient but that doesn’t mean they are rational. When it comes to the tweets, they may just be doing the right thing – at least for now.