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. 

Rising oil prices continue to drain optimism from the equity markets and from corporate managers.  Over 80% ofU.S.companies have reported their earnings now and on average they are up 40% over last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.  Advanced Industrial Equipment (1,974%), Coal (1,532%), Internet Services (946%), and Communications Technology (588%) are the leaders so far.  But while the latest earnings reports are generally good, managers such as Cisco’s John Chambers appear less certain about the future.  They say that their customers seem less enthused than they were earlier in the year.  The so-called energy tax appears to be having some degree of economic impact. 

The U.S. economy slowed to a 3% rate in the second quarter according to the government report just released.  The slower than expected growth was the result of rising energy prices and the weakest pace of consumer spending in three years.  Consumer spending which represents 70% of the economy increased only 1% after rising 4.1% during the first three months of the year.  The slowdown in GDP follows an upwardly revised 4.5% growth rate for the first quarter.  The bond market responded favorably to the news as the inflation pressures fall with slower growth.  

We are in the midst of earnings season once again.  This time, however, analysts’ projections may be catching up to the actual pace of company earnings being reported.  In more cases than in previous quarters, analysts have been a little too optimistic about the actual pace of growth.  But we should not lose sight of the fact that the actual rate of earnings growth is still quite good.

Perhaps the Fed has been correct in its view of the economic recovery and the patience they have demonstrated in raising rates.  Many have criticized their reluctance to raise rates faster feeling that it is important to achieve what they believe are market neutral rates sooner rather than later.  But maybe they have it right after all and have chosen the correct pace for rate hikes.  Too fast a pace might choke the recovery. 

One of the major economic trends we have discussed in earlier Briefs has been that of outsourcing.  I’m not referring to the politically-charged concept of ‘moving jobs overseas,’ but to the process whereby a business transfers to more efficient providers those functions over which it does not have particular expertise or are not mission critical.    

This week produced a huge number of economic reports, in part because some were delayed from last week’s day of national mourning.  For the most part, the reports showed substantial gains in both the momentum and the breadth of this economic expansion.  Not only is it real, it appears to have significant staying power.  Here are some of the highlights:

Hundreds of articles have appeared this week about the life and presidency of this charismatic and adored man, Ronald Reagan.  The one below reveals a unique and intimate view of the man’s character and his thoughtfulness.  It is reprinted with permission from its author Andrew Ferguson of Bloomberg News, in its entirety.

Before getting to the economics and financial happenings of the week I wanted to share a story with you. In the wake of Memorial Day and the dedication of the WWII Memorial it is timely in that it honors some of the unsung heroes of World War II. About a month ago my mother received a letter from a serviceman she met in Fayetteville, NC some 62 years earlier. He and his wife were traveling back to their Chicago home after spending the winter in Florida. He wanted to stop by to catch up and especially to say thanks for her contributions during a difficult time in his life and in the lives of so many servicemen.

Yesterday, the Commerce Department revised upward its estimate of how fast the economy grew in the first quarter of this year by two tenths of a percent.  The report also showed that corporate profits jumped 31.6% in the quarter ended March, the biggest increase since the first quarter of 1984.