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OP-ED: Where Do We Go From Here?

Published July 8, 2022

William RutherfordWhere have we been and where do we go from here?

Where is here and how did we get there?

There is a toxic brew of rising inflation and a slowing economy. It could be called stagflation.

The U.S. economy, guided by Federal Reserve policies, has lurched from one side of the boat to the other. It appears as though the Fed is unable to chart a straight line of growth, so when encouragement is needed, it does too much, and when a slowdown is needed, it also does too much.

The financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 was caused when the Fed, following an easy money policy, overheated the economy. Then, as a result of too much stimulus, inflation predictably followed. A reasonable dose of inflation is OK; the Fed itself has set a target rate of about 2 percent per year. But the Fed overshot their target by a wide margin and inflation slipped the bounds of the Fed and ran wild. We are in a similar, although not yet as extreme, situation today.

Then and now, easy money policy resulted from a desire to have a robust economy. Back then the housing market was stimulated by ultra-loose mortgage lending standards under Fed chairman Alan Greenspan. Variable mortgage rates promised cheap interest rates. Recently the approach was to bring interest rates to near zero, with mortgage rates reaching historic lows. Perhaps, in the background, there was a desire for low interest rates to make the increase in the national debt from the massive fiscal stimulus of the COVID lockdown easier to service.

Whatever the reason the result was cheap money and runaway inflation.

The Russian invasion of […]

July 8th, 2022|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Where Do We Go From Here?

OP-ED: Investment Quandary In Inflationary Times

Published June 10, 2022

William RutherfordSell in May and go away? There is no fun until the Fed is done. Is a June swoon on tap?

All these adages come to mind in the current market environment. So, what should an investor do when considering these pearls of wisdom?

Jamie Dimon, CEO and board chairman of JPMorgan Chase, America’s largest bank by assets, recently cautioned investors to batten down the hatches. Mr. Dimon says the Federal Reserve can’t do all the things expected of it, so a hurricane is coming. It is probably good advice in any market, and certainly now. This economic environment seems more fraught than usual, with inflation, rising interest rates and a European war all contributing to a witch’s brew.

The Fed has its recipe for a solution using the tools at its disposal: raise interest rates and tighten the money supply by reducing bond purchases. It sounds like an old recipe tried before. In the late 1920s, the administration’s policy was to tighten money to fight inflation, which resulted in people losing their livelihoods and standing in food lines for bread. When confronted with the effects of his policies, President Hoover claimed that in the long run his policies were correct.  He was challenged with a riposte: “People don’t eat in the long run.” Both points of view were correct.

The Fed will have to continue to tighten the money supply. The money supply increased exponentially during the pandemic and was too easy for too long, enabling inflation to get the upper hand. The response to the monetary stimulus was overly late in coming. Now the Fed is determined to squeeze inflation out of the system, […]

June 13th, 2022|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Investment Quandary In Inflationary Times

OP-ED: Will The Federal Reserve Save Or Strangle This Market?

Published May 6, 2022

William RutherfordBull markets don’t die of old age. According to an oft used axiom, “they are murdered by the Fed.” The Federal Reserve has to get its policy just right in order to avoid killing the market. The problem is that getting it just right – like for Goldilocks, “not too hot, not too cold” – is akin to a fairy tale.

Coming to the end of a long-term bull market the Fed faces many challenges in carrying out its dual mandate of full employment and inflation control. Fed Chair Jerome Powell addressed this in his recent report on the vote by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to increase interest rates by 50 basis points, saying the Fed governors will continue to evaluate employment and inflation data before they commit to the timing and amounts of future raises.

Currently, inflation is running much higher than the Fed target rate of about 2 percent, yet its tools for fighting inflation are limited. With inflation running hot, the Fed has opted for a moderately aggressive interest rate policy, with more rate increases forecast. Such actions are challenging to the market and threaten economic growth. Without the rate increases, however, inflation will go unchecked.

Inflation can be a serious threat to the economy and economic growth, as history has shown. Runaway inflation, such as seen by Germany in the late 1920s and early 30s, can have serious social and political dislocation effects in a country. Revolutions have been fought over the price of bread. The resulting political instability has allowed demagogues to come to power.

Government spending is a strong contributor to inflation. The only thing the Fed can […]

May 9th, 2022|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Will The Federal Reserve Save Or Strangle This Market?

OP-ED: I Came To A Fork In The Road, So I Took It

Published April 8, 2022

William RutherfordThe market has come not just to a fork but a crossroads.

On the one hand, there is a war in Europe that is roiling stock markets everywhere.

On the other, we have inflation leading the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.

The war

Vladimir Putin’s declaration of war on Ukraine not only caused specific damage but also upset markets across the globe. In creating chaos in financial markets and on the ground, the war is threatening to undo the global connections created since World War II. Mutual defense pacts and commercial agreements have been tested.

As of this writing, it is not clear if the war will become a global conflict. Spread could happen if the U.S. or other NATO members and Russia come into direct conflict.

Ukraine would like the U.S. to take a more active role in the conflict, but the U.S. has so far been reluctant to escalate the situation. China remains a wild card.

At this moment, China and Russia appear to be friends. That could change. They have had border conflicts in the past. Furthermore, the price of friendship with Putin’s pariah state could be higher than the Chinese want to pay. However, China aspires to be the global leader, upending the role the U.S. has enjoyed since World War II. So, if the Chinese see an opening to further their ambition, they might take it. The U.S has made it clear that it wants China to stay out of the fray. The U.S. is not as persuasive as it once was.

If the war does spread, we can expect it to become a long and protracted struggle. Can Ukraine survive in such a […]

April 12th, 2022|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: I Came To A Fork In The Road, So I Took It

OP-ED: Market Plummets Amid Inflation; Russian Invasion Complicates Outlook

Published March 11, 2022

William RutherfordAs if the Federal Reserve, struggling with elevated inflation, did not have enough on its plate, there is now a war in Europe after 83 years of peace.

Historically, Europe suffers a war about every 50 years or so. Countries there just don’t seem to be able to keep the peace. Too many countries and not enough space. However, after the horrors of World War II, with the threat of atomic Armageddon and the benefit of the American nuclear umbrella, Europe found a way to peace. That interlude was broken when Russia invaded Ukraine. Why Ukraine and why now, you may ask?

Ukraine is a rather large territory by European standards and therefore provides more living room. Hitler found it inviting in his search for Lebensraum. Putin finds it so now too; plus Ukraine is a breadbasket for Europe, and provides many commodities that Russia finds attractive.

Ukraine has historically shipped these commodities from its 18 port cities on the Black and Azov seas, which Putin is currently blockading and attacking. If he is successful in taking them, Ukraine will be blocked from shipping its products directly to buyers. Putin’s invasion and appropriation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, unopposed by the West, was his first step in implementing this strategy. According to Reuters, Ukraine in 2022 was predicted to account for 12 percent of global wheat exports, 16 percent of corn, 18 percent of barley and 19 percent of rapeseed, with much of it going to middle eastern countries already hard-hit from diminished food supplies.

Ukraine also houses several nuclear plants, including the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, which like Chernobyl, is just across […]

March 14th, 2022|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Market Plummets Amid Inflation; Russian Invasion Complicates Outlook

OP-ED: Take Courage: It’s The Year Of The Tiger!

Published February 11, 2022

William RutherfordThe market finally hit a pothole, falling in and almost breaking an axle. Rising interest rates, elevated inflation and a hawkish Federal Reserve rattled the market in January; big tech stocks were the hardest hit. In intraday trading during the month, according to the New York Times, the Nasdaq fell 18.5 percent from its November high and 16.3 percent for the month. There was some recovery, however; by the end of January the Dow Jones was down 3.3 percent, the S&P was down 5.6 percent and the Nasdaq was down 8.98 percent.

The market had lived in fear of the Fed for some time. But when the minutes of the board’s December meeting were released, suggesting a more hawkish tone than was expected, the market bears stepped on the accelerator. The Fed minutes suggested that interest rate increases would come sooner than market pundits anticipated. The minutes also warned that the Fed was considering reduction of its balance sheet, thus shrinking the money supply and so further tightening credit. Bond yields trended higher, to the detriment of both bond and equity markets.

2022 is the Year of the Tiger, according to the Chinese zodiac. The Year of the Tiger exemplifies courage and the routing of evil. The market started the year in need of a new tiger in its tank.

That the Fed was supporting higher rates and tightening of the money supply should have been no surprise to markets, as the Fed had been telegraphing these moves for some time. Nevertheless, the reality was hard for the markets to hear. Except for energy (up 17.07 percent), all industry sectors closed the month with losses.

The […]

February 15th, 2022|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Take Courage: It’s The Year Of The Tiger!

OP-ED: U.S. Market Turbulence Looming

Published January 7, 2022

William RutherfordIn spite of rising numbers of virus cases and threats of interest rate increases fueled by inflation, the market has powered forward. For the first time in five years, the S&P 500 outperformed the Nasdaq. The S&P in 2021 posted a 26.89 percent gain.

Still, the virus has been disruptive in various sectors of the economy. Especially hard hit were travel, leisure and entertainment. Technology companies benefited, as businesses sought to operate more efficiently.

The world appears to be having difficulty vanquishing the COVID-19 viruses, and as soon as we get an upper hand, a new strain crops up. Perhaps that is to be the way of the future. A knockout blow appears to be elusive.

The mutating virus also is causing problems for logistics and planning, and thus cost increases. Prices for many things are going up. For a long time, the Federal Reserve considered those price increases as transitory, but the board eventually capitulated and decided to raise interest rates to counter inflationary pressures. The market does not like inflation, but it doesn’t like higher interest rates either.

The Federal Reserve previously raised interest rates late in 2018, in the waning days of the longest-lasting economic expansion in U.S. history. It didn’t take long for the Fed to rethink its increases, and it was forced to roll back the benchmark rate all the way to zero, as the economy went into a shocking tailspin. So, are we to see a repeat of the prior experience? Some people think the Fed can tighten things multiple times before the economy suffers. So far, the markets have been holding up. The coming rate increase has been well […]

January 10th, 2022|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: U.S. Market Turbulence Looming

OP-ED: Stock Market Rises Amid Negative Atmosphere

Published November 5, 2021

William RutherfordThe S&P 500 rose 6.9% in October in spite of negative news, its best October performance in six years. Disappointing earnings from the likes of Amazon and Apple could not overshadow the strength of the overall market, with more than 80% of stocks meeting or exceeding earnings forecasts. Supply chain interruptions are the cause of revenue misses at both Apple and Amazon, costing Apple $6 billion in sales in the quarter. Interest rates ticked up, but the yield curve did not invert (when short term rates become higher than long term rates), which is usually a sign of a recession. No such sign is apparent.

In short, there are many reasons to sell stocks, but one good reason to buy: stocks are going up. With the market up strong for October, it is now entering the historically best three months of the year for stocks.

Even the pandemic seems to be winding down. Nationally new cases dropped below 75,000, less than half the rate in August. While no cymbals are crashing, the virus appears to be subsiding. Will it experience an uptick during the northern hemisphere traditional cold and flu season? Is the virus becoming endemic and we learn to co-exist? Time will tell. President Biden’s economic package has yet to affect the economy, but if the stimulus comes, it should have a positive effect, in spite of the massive tax offsets. Employment numbers in October exceeded expectations, with many workers trading up to higher paying jobs, thereby increasing their purchasing power. Increased purchasing of things as opposed to services has resulted in supply chain disruptions and increases in prices for things, reversing a […]

December 20th, 2021|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Stock Market Rises Amid Negative Atmosphere

OP-ED: Which Threat Do Investors Fear Most: The Virus Or The Fed?

Published December 10, 2021

William RutherfordA new strain of the coronavirus and rising interest rates are taking their toll on the market.

With the S&P 500 up 23.2 percent year to date through Nov. 30, the U.S. equity market hit a speed bump. At the end of November, the market dropped sharply, as fears about a new strain of the virus appeared. Although the market recovered in ensuing days, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell mentioned accelerated credit tightening and increased rates, just to put an exclamation point on the drop.

A new strain of virus is especially worrisome to the market because COVID has already demonstrated the damage it can do to the economy. Rising interest rates are negative for the market as well. It is often said that the job of the Fed is to take the punch bowl away at the end of the party. It is also said that bull markets don’t die of old age (ours is 11 years old), but that they are murdered in their bed by the Fed.

The Fed has been talking more about interest rate increases. Board members have removed “transitory” as a modifier for inflation. Increased virus activity could mean fewer workers and more friction in the supply system, resulting in more inflation. The Fed has pledged to give ample advanced warning for any rate increase. Fed futures are showing summer as a likely date for increased interest rates, so any rate increase signals should come soon.

The CPI reflected more inflation in November. The job market is tightening. The Department of Labor reported a 4.2 percent unemployment rate in November. Full employment is usually considered to be between 4 percent […]

December 13th, 2021|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Which Threat Do Investors Fear Most: The Virus Or The Fed?

OP-ED: Market Experiences A Bumpy Ride, With Inflation Looming

Published October 8, 2021

William RutherfordStocks ended the most recent quarter with the worst month since March 2020 but recovered some lost ground on the first day of the new quarter.

Plagued by a host of issues, the S&P suffered its worst month in over 10 years.

The virus continues to confront the economy with no end in sight. As this virus continues to circulate and mutate, it will wear on the country. Other viruses will follow, as they always have. Exhortations from the central government will not be enough. The impact of this virus on the workplace and schools adds uncertainty to the economy, making Federal Reserve and budget decisions harder.

Interest rates are rising. That makes bonds more attractive to hold and diminishes enthusiasm for equities, causing a big sell-off in tech stocks.

Logistics become harder as the virus roils the workforce. Supply chains, in general, are disrupted due to factory closures and skilled labor shortages around the world. In particular, microchips, a necessary product of manufacturing today, are not being produced in quantities needed.

Inflation is haunting efforts to plan for the future. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell concedes that inflation will be with us longer than expected. Even dollar stores, which advertise everything for a dollar, are becoming dollar-and-a-quarter or dollar-and-fifty-cents stores, as the costs of goods rise.

Elizabeth Warren, a prominent Democratic senator, threatens to oppose Chairman Powell’s renomination. The financial markets do not like uncertainty, and Powell is a known quantity.

Congress has experienced stalemates over the deficit and debt ceiling increases and so is unable to plan for the budget, and budget goals cannot be met. Capital markets are very worried about a failure to increase the […]

October 11th, 2021|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Market Experiences A Bumpy Ride, With Inflation Looming
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