Blog

It was a light week for economic news, but one of the most significant announcements came from the National Federation of Independent Business. It described the latest reading from its small business optimism index as a "significant" decline. Major contributors were poor job creation and consumer confidence, as well as declining capital investment plans and earnings trends. Only 1 in 10 components improved last month, according to Econoday.

The financial services industry defines success quite simply in terms of returns – specifically by how much higher the winner’s returns are relative to all those others out there. With returns as the cornerstone of measuring success, the industry spends millions and millions of dollars bettering its methods of comparing the returns of investment choices, managers, and advisors in hopes that in selecting the best, their clients will be better served.

News this week has been mixed, but there have been some bright spots to celebrate. The beleagured housing industry may finally be turning around. The manufacturing sector had a couple pieces of good news well. If you work in the White House or among the Democratic leadership, yesterday's surprising announcement from the Supreme Court that the President's health care bill had largely escaped overturn was undoubtedly a bright spot.  And today we are greeted with news that Europe's leaders have found a way to avert a Spanish banking collapse.

US equity markets are off their May lows by about 4.5% to 5% depending on the index while economic releases continue to show the economy slowing. These reports and news from Europe and Washington's ambivalence over the approaching fiscal cliff all keep a pretty tight lid on short-term optimism.

Europe is unraveling and signs are mounting that the global recovery is in jeopardy. A Chinese purchasing managers’ index showed manufacturing grew less than estimated last month in that country, the weakest production growth since December. Manufacturing, the stalwart of the US recovery, grew at a slower pace in May in response to weakness in the global economy. A similar gauge of manufacturing in the 17-nation euro zone fell to a three-year low of 45.1 in May. And unemployment in the US unexpectedly increased providing further evidence that the labor-market recovery is stalling.

Ancient Greece is known as the cradle of western civilization. But today, the bough on which it rests threatens baby, cradle and all. How does a country barely 3% of the Euro economy, ($318B compared to $425B for NC) with a population roughly the size of North Carolina's (10 million) threaten an entire global economy?

Stock market averages continued down for their third week to levels last cleared in January. The S&P average, which peaked 13% above its January 3rd open is now up only 3.8% trimming more than a trillion in market value in May. The Vanguard Total Market is up 2.4% year to date. Yields on the 10-year US Treasury have tumbled from about 4% just two years ago when Greece's debt crisis began to 1.73% today. The 7-10-year Treasury is up 21% (not counting interest) over the same period.

A bumper sticker caught my eye this morning, and quite nearly my front bumper, as the car's driver inserted himself ahead of me. The sticker read "I'm Not Speeding - I'm Qualifying," an obvious reference to NASCAR, which was born in these parts. It occurred to me what a fitting description of market traders at today’s large banks, if not the banks themselves.

Unless you are Lance Armstrong (or my son-in-law), as your bike slows down, balance becomes increasingly challenging. That's the picture of where our economy is now - its slowing and investors wonder whether we can stay up or fall back into recession.