The the sun beats out beads of sweat and the kids laze at home without school to worry about. It’s summer, the season of loafing. Typically this is the time of year when there’s work to be done and jobs are plentiful but the stock market takes a gentle pause.
Not last year, and not this year. The stock market is hitting new highs as investors find US securities the safest and most promising investment on the planet. But just like last year, the pace of job growth is still not accelerating beyond the roughly 190k jobs created every month. It’s a decent pace, but not what we need to claw out way out of the six year hole and bring back the boom. Barataria called that one completely wrong.
It’s past time to get serious about income inequality – or really the lack of opportunity for those who don’t have money to invest.
As we noted last year, the old adage “Sell in May and walk away” didn’t apply to the stock market in 2013. The S&P500 continued its climb more or less unabated through the year to the all-time highs it’s seeing today. In inflation adjusted terms, it’s still not as high as it was in 2000, meaning that we’re still not out of the long term bear market.
That doesn’t mean that investors aren’t giddy, however, as new highs are struck nearly every day. The VIX, or volatility index, has reached a low not seen since the crisis hit in 2008 and CNN’s valuable “Fear & Greed Index” is registering a very bullish “Extreme greed”. This year is shaping up to be like last year, at least at the start of the summer.
But it’s unreasonable to expect that this will last. Record high corporate profits have leveled out this year just as the pressure is up to perform even better than last year. That means that the market is focused on the short-term, yet again. It’s all about impressing investors and not actually expanding into new opportunities – which would involve hiring more people and expanding capacity.
Worse yet, the possibility of a genuine credit bubble bursting in China is growing all the time. That’s not good for the developed world because such an event will not slow Chinese hunger for exports. It will only affect their imports from other nations, most notably neighbors South Korea and Japan. As we’ve reported before it’s very much due this summer, with the only question outstanding how big it will be.
That won’t kill our economy, but it will slow things down. There will be yet another excuse for avoiding a real expansion in the economy away from the frothy bubble that Wall Street is genuinely starting to become. Investment money is clearly running ahead of the real opportunities for growth right now as our internal consumer economy won’t become a big driver until there is much more opportunity for workers.
And the genuine risk for investors is not priced into stocks. It’s being totally ignored.
That doesn’t mean there will be a collapse or another round of huge layoffs like the one from 2008-2010. But it does suggest that rather than build on the success of 2013 the economy is more likely to pause this year and proceed very slowly ahead at about the same pace. It’s not what we were looking for at all.
How does that figure into policy or politics in this election year? There is no doubt that the lack of opportunity for workers is already a major issue. That will likely grow going into November, especially if Wall Street does take a summer pause – or experiences a wave of real fear in the wake of a large scandal coming out of China.
If the Democrats want to take advantage of this they need to do a lot more than they have so far. Raising the minimum wage may be a good campaign issue, but more fundamental reform is clearly called for. If the money is staying on Wall Street, investors are going to have to pay a bigger part of the bill for running the nation and keeping the budget relatively in balance. And there are still looming problems with Medicare and Disability running out of money in the next few years that will have to be dealt with.
Despite a hot start, the summer will likely cool on Wall Street. This year won’t be a repeat of last year. But no matter what, it’s been hot enough already to point to a lot of changes being long past due.