Blog

Take the most contentious and bitterly fought election in modern history and blast it ubiquitously over satellite radio, regular radio, internet news and chat forums, your home phone, television with their endless supply of ‘spin-meisters,’ interlaced with ads uglier than yesterday’s, and you wind up pretty sour.  Try to take a break from it and you will be reminded once again by yard signs, public banners, and conversations in churches, clubs, barber shops, salons, coffee shops, delis, bars, and sporting events.  The election by its nature has reminded us of the country’s problems, the information age, but its nature, has made it virtually impossible for us to reflect without distraction. 

Aside from the ugliest political climate in recent American history, inflation worries of are beginning to rival those of oil concerns among those who are paid to prognosticate and pontificate.  The Consumer Price Index with volatile food and energy removed from the calculations was three times higher in September than in August.  The year-over-year measure was up 2.0%.  Record high oil prices are working their way into the prices of more goods and services.  The longer they remain high the more damage they can do.  Higher gasoline prices are almost a given at this point. 

Is it just me or do we all seem more pessimistic than usual these days?  The optimism over the economy back in the early summer, somewhat reinvigorated by the optimistic tones of the two Presidential conventions, now seems to be giving in to a dark and mean time.  Granted, we are amidst an emotional crescendo in the final weeks of a contentious and dirty political race.  But what will be the ultimate cost?  Will optimism return after the election?  If not, what of the economy?

Good riddance to the third calendar quarter which ended yesterday with the S&P 500 down .70% and the NASDAQ down 7.24%.  The worst of the declines came in July and were caused in part by rising crude oil prices as well as disruptions caused by four major hurricanes in the South and East.  Investors spent all of July and half of August ratcheting down their expectations for growth; as car sales, home sales, consumer confidence, and consumer spending all weakened. 

This week’s batch of economic news continued mixed as it has been for the last few weeks.  A clearly good signal came today though, in the government’s report of Durable Goods Orders.  It showed that the nation’s manufacturing economy is gaining strength.  With the volatile transportation segment removed, durable goods increased a whopping 2.3%, almost tripling economists’ estimates for the month.  Manufacturing accounts for a third of the U.S. economy and remains the “engine of the global economy,” according to Bloomberg News.  Our manufacturing segment alone exceeds the individual gross domestic product of all but four nations: the U.K., Germany, Japan, and the U.S.  American factories shipped more than half of the world’s global exports in 2003.  

The slow-down of the second quarter appears to be behind us.  Retail sales, excluding autos, rose for the fourth month in August.  Consumers remain cautious largely due to oil prices, but they continue to spend nevertheless.  Same-store retail sales were up 1% in September.  Consumer spending, which represents two thirds of the economy, rose at a 1.6% rate during the second quarter.  The consumer should remain healthy as the acceleration of job growth numbers will continue to improve income and confidence. 

Treated almost with a superstitious caution, the “I” word is avoided in conversation and print almost to the extent that it is feared by financial investors.  To say it is to give it credibility and the spread of that belief might even cause it.  If a single company is successful in passing on price increases to customers so that others follow, then industries, then sectors, then, ba da bing INFLATION!

U.S.employers added 144,000 workers to their payrolls in August.  The increase represented the largest since May and the first increase since March.  The increase follows a revised 73,000 jobs created in July which was more than twice the number originally estimated.  Manufacturing is also showing renewed strength as that sector added 22,000 jobs, 16,000 more than July’s revised rate of increase. 

The U.S. Economy grew at a 2.8% annual rate in the second Quarter as higher oil prices dampened consumer demand and as imports of record amounts of foreign goods created a record trade deficit.  Corporate profits after taxes, reported for the first time today, rose 17.9% in the 12 months ended in June.  Business investment in equipment and software was revised up to the strongest pace since the third quarter last year.  Consumer spending was revised upward in this report from last month’s preliminary number of 1% to 1.6%.  

Oil futures are now above $49.00 per barrel nearing the record highs (inflation-adjusted) reached during the oil embargo of the 1970’s. Iraq’s shipments have dropped about 1 million barrels a day from 1.8 million in April.  Oil prices have set records every day save one since July 30.  World oil traders are concerned that the reduced supply fromIraq,Russia, andVenezuelacannot be offset by other OPEC countries which are producing at full capacity. Saudi Arabiais the only country with capacity to offer and their oil minister said yesterday that they were prepared to pump as much as they could.