Last Week and This Week in Economics, March 27, 2017

“Last Week and This Week in Economics”—an excerpt from today’s Sevens Report: everything you need to know about the markets in your inbox by 7am, in 7 minutes or less.

For all of 2017, better-than-expected economic data has helped to offset the decreased likelihood of pro-growth policies from Washington, and that continued last week as what little economic data we did receive was generally supportive for stocks.

The Sevens Report, March 27, 2017Looking at Durable Goods, longer-term readers know we ignore the headline and look straight for New Orders for Non-Defense Capital Goods ex-Aircraft (NDCGXA). That is the better measure of business spending, as the headline Durable Goods order is massively skewed by the timing of aircraft orders.

NDCGXA missed estimates in the Feb. report (-0.1% vs. (E) 0.5%), but the January data was revised higher (from -0.4% to 0.1%). So, that largely offsets the miss in February.

The March flash manufacturing PMI was a disappointment, as it missed estimates and hit a surprise six-month low at 53.2 vs. (E) 54.3. But while disappointing, the flash PMI forecasted weakness in February that didn’t appear in other national manufacturing PMIs, and even at 53.2, that’s still a decent absolute number (remember, anything above 50 shows activity accelerating). Point being, that one number doesn’t suggest a loss of momentum.

Looking at other data, February Existing Home Sales slightly missed estimates but February New Home Sales beat estimates. But, with housing it’s helpful to step back from the monthly data and observe the overarching trend, and that trend is stability. All the housing data confirms that so far. Higher mortgage rates are now causing a noticeable slowdown in the housing recovery, and that remains key un-sung support for the economy.

Turning to the Fed, there were multiple speakers last week, but the headliner was Fed Chair Yellen, who made no comments about the economy or policy during her speech. Other Fed members were on balance slightly hawkish, as many of them referenced hiking three or four times this year, but none of it was impactful enough to reverse the dollar or Treasury yield decline we’ve seen since the Fed’s dovish hike in March. Markets still have a June rate hike at about a 50/50 proposition, unchanged from last week.

Bottom line, all the focus was on politics last week, but economic data remains the unsung hero of 2017, and it continues to help offset growing policy headwinds via Washington.

This Week

This week will be another relatively quiet week from an economic standpoint, and once again the most important number won’t come until Friday.

That number is the Core PCE Price Index contained in the Personal Income and Outlays report. That’s important because it’s the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, and if the headline PCE Price Index breaks through 2.0% yoy (last 1.9%), and the Core PCE Price Index moves further towards 2.0% (last 1.7%), that may elicit a slightly hawkish reaction in markets.

Internationally, there are two notable reports to watch. First, Chinese Manufacturing PMI hits Thursday night, and while China remains on the back burner from a macro standpoint, any signs of economic slowing will surprise markets. Second, EMU Flash HICP (their CPI) comes Friday. The best outcome for European stocks is a Goldilocks number, where core inflation doesn’t rise much from the current 0.9% yoy pace, and as such doesn’t make the ECB think about ending QE prematurely. A Goldilocks number will be positive for European ETFs (HEDJ, VGK, EZU).

Bottom line, this will be another quiet week from a data standpoint, but the numbers need to confirm the acceleration of growth to continue to support stocks. From a risk standpoint, too-strong HICP or Core PCE numbers are the events to watch (they might make the Fed and ECB lean more hawkish).

Politically, there will be a lot of analysis on the shift towards tax cuts (we’ll do a primer this week), but nothing truly important is scheduled. Finally, on the international front, British PM May will formally trigger Article 50 to begin the Brexit process (although that shouldn’t cause much volatility).

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What to Expect in Tomorrow’s Jobs Report. March 9, 2017

Jobs Report Preview: For notable releases like tomorrow’s jobs report, the Sevens Report offers a “Goldilocks” outlook to give a few different scenarios: too hot, too cold, and just right.

This gives our subscribers clear talking points to explain the importance of the report to clients and prospects clearly and without a lot of jargon. As always, the Sevens Report is designed to help you cut through the noise and understand what’s truly driving markets—all in seven minutes or less and in your inbox by 7am each morning. Sign up for your free 2-week trial today and see the difference this report can make for you.

Wednesday’s ADP Jobs Report clearly put upward pressure on expectations for tomorrow’s government report. And, there’s good reason for that. Over the past five months, the ADP report has been within 10k jobs of the official jobs report (the one outlier was November, when ADP was 50k over the actual jobs report). So, yesterday’s 298k jobs blowout implies a big number tomorrow.

Given that, the major issue for tomorrow’s jobs report is simple: Will it cause the Fed to consider more than three rate hikes in 2017? If the answer is “yes,” than that’s a headwind on stocks. If the answer is “no,” then it shouldn’t derail the rally.

Getting a bit more specific, the only reason the dollar is still generally stuck at resistance at 102 (and below the recent high at 103), and the 10-year yield is still below 2.60% is because the market assumes that the Fed will still only hike rates three times this year.

If that assumption gets called into doubt via a very strong jobs and wage number tomorrow, we will see the Dollar Index likely surge through 103 and the 10-year yield bust to new highs above 2.60%, and then they will begin to exert at least some headwind on stocks.

So, tomorrow’s jobs report is potentially the most important jobs number in years, as it has the ability to fundamentally alter the market’s perception of just how “gradual” the Fed will be in hiking rates.

“Too Hot” Scenario (Potential for More than Three Rate Hikes in 2017)

  • >250k Job Adds, < 4.9% Unemployment, > 2.9% YOY wage increase. A number this hot would likely ignite the debate about whether the Fed will hike more than three times this year (or more than 75 basis points if the Fed hikes 50 in one meeting). Likely Market Reaction: Restricted for subscribers: Access today by signing up for your free 2-week trial.

“Just Right” Scenario (A March Rate Hike Is A Guarantee, But Three Hikes for 2017 Remain the Expectation)

  • 125k–250k Job Adds, > 5.0% Unemployment Rate, 2.5%-2.8% YOY wage increase. This is the best-case scenario for stocks, as it would imply still-stable job growth, but not materially increase the chances for more than three rate hikes in 2017. This is the most positive outcome for stocks. Likely Market Reaction: Restricted for subscribers: Access today by signing up for your free 2-week trial.

“Too Cold” Scenario (A March Hike Becomes in Doubt)

  • < 125k Job Adds. This would be dovish, and while the fallout would be less than previous months given the market’s focus on future growth, the bottom line is bad economic data still isn’t good for stocks. Dovish isn’t bullish any-more. Likely Market Reaction: Restricted for subscribers: Access today by signing up for your free 2-week trial.

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How Does Trump’s Approval Rating Impact The Stock Market? March 8, 2017

Leading Indicator Update: Showing Signs of Fatigue

An excerpt from today’s Sevens Report… Skip the jargon, arcane details and drab statistics, and get the simple analysis that will improve your performance.

At the start of the year, I said that beyond the normal economic data and fund flow data, we’ll be watching two other specific leading indicators:

  • Trump’s approval rating, and the
  • Semiconductor Index.

As a refresher, we watch Trump’s approval rating because it is an imperfect, but still effective, measure of political capital.

Earlier this year, we said that if his approval rating dips in the weeks and months following Inauguration Day, that won’t be a positive sign for corporate tax cuts (i.e. it will be stock negative). Conversely, if his approval ratings rise following his inauguration, the chances of tax reform will rise (i.e. it will be stock positive).

Turning to the Semiconductor Index (see chart on Pg. 1), we view semiconductors as a destination for incremental capital that comes off the sidelines or out of bonds.

It’s our proxy for money flows, or “chasing” into the US markets.

That reasoning here is based on watching the price action in semis and observing that they handily outperformed post election (implying they were a destination for capital coming off the sidelines), and we continue to believe that is the case.

LI #1: Trump’s Approval Rating Updated. The outlook here hasn’t been that positive, and the movement in the approval rating anecdotally confirms our opinion that the market remains too optimistic regarding corporate tax cuts in 2017.

Why is the president’s approval rating a leading indicator?

From a broad standpoint, Trump’s approve/disapprove gap has gotten worse since the inauguration, and we think that represents a slight erosion of political capital.

Last week, we saw a slight bounce following his speech to Congress, but the numbers look to be rolling over again.

I am particularly focused on his raw approval rating numbers (as opposed to just the spread between approve/disapprove). So, while the spread between approve/disapprove has gotten worse, the reason this leading indicator isn’t flashing negative for me is because Trump’s raw approval rating is still about the same as it’s been since the inauguration (about 44%).

However, if that raw number were to drop below 40%, I would view that as a material negative for pro-growth policies… and a potential negative for stocks.

LI #2: Semiconductor Index Updated. The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index, our loose proxy for incremental money flows out of bonds/other assets and into stocks, has until recently confirmed the 2017 rally.

The SOX rallied 9% from the first of the year till February 22, at which point the index stalled, and it’s traded side-way for nearly two weeks.

Going forward, support at 955.11 now is an important level to watch, as a break of that level would constitute a “lower low” on the charts.

Below that, support at the 20-day moving average at 947.25 has supported this index three times over the past few months. So, that also will be an important level to watch.

Bottom Line

Neither of these leading indicators have sent a non-confirmation signal of the rally at this point. Yet after confirming the rally earlier this year, both of these leading indicators are starting to wobble.

Again, we’ll be watching 40 in Trump’s approval rating and 955 and 947 in the SOX. If those levels are broken that will likely prompt us to become more defensive near term for stocks.

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Senate Math Primer. March 7, 2017

Senate Math Primer from the Sevens Report: One of the easiest ways to cut through the seemingly unending amount of political noise in the markets is to focus on the fact that there are only two important questions that need to be answered.

  1. Will Republicans agree on border adjustments and a corporate tax cut?
  2. Can that plan get approved in the Senate?
Senate in Session

Republicans have a simple 52 to 48 majority—but that’s not really that powerful.

We’ve already covered the first question from multiple angles in the full subscriber edition of the Sevens Report, but I think the second question is just as important.

In fact, part of the reason I’m covering this is because I get the sense that a lot of people think that once a plan has general Republican support it will automatically become law, because Republicans “control” the House, Senate and the presidency.

While the first and the last are truly under control from Republican leadership, the Senate is anything but.

Looking at the math, as mentioned yesterday, Republicans have a simple 52 to 48 majority—but that’s not really that powerful.

First, it’s well short of a filibuster-proof 60-person majority, and there’s zero chance eight Democrats will break with Republicans on Obamacare or corporate tax cuts.

That’s why both those issues have to be passed via a budget process called “reconciliation.” Reconciliation only requires a simple majority, so 52 to 48 would work.

But, it gets more complicated than that.

First, to say Republicans have a hard 52 votes on any issue is an overstatement. Senator Susan Collins of Maine (technically a Republican) acts much more like an independent. The same can be said for Alaska Senator Murkowski (she’s taking a hard line against supporting an Obamacare repeal that rolls back Medicaid expansion).

Then, there are Senators McCain and Graham. Both are solid Republican votes, but I think it’s fair to say they despise President Trump for multiple reasons. So while it’s unlikely they’d derail passage of Obamacare repeal/replace or tax cuts, they are going to be tough “gets.”

Finally, Rand Paul is more Libertarian than Republican, and he (and others) will have a hard line approach to any tax cuts that might increase the deficit.

Bottom line, while Republicans “control” the legislative and executive branches of government, the Senate is still a bottleneck in the legislative process, and getting Obamacare repeal/replace through the Senate by Memorial Day will be a tough task—never mind corporate tax reform by the August recess (remember, there aren’t even hearings scheduled for the Supreme Court nominee yet).

Again, I’m not trying to throw cold water on this rally, or the optimism fueling it. I’m just trying to keep everyone focused on facts, and the outlook for passage of major reforms through the Senate remains dicey at best.

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How Many Rate Hikes in 2017? Last Week and This Week: March 5, 2017

The Economics excerpt from today’s Sevens Report, which focuses on the most important financial news and takeaways for investors, financial advisors, and CPA’s, last week and this week.

Even uber-dove Lael Brainard supported potentially hiking in March.

Last Week:

The major takeaway from the economic data and Fed speak last week is that because of continued strong data and hawkish Fed speak, a March rate hike now is expected by the markets. Probability (according to Fed Fund futures) of a rate hike on March 15 rose from just over 20% two weeks ago, to over 70% at the end of this week… and that was a legitimate surprise for markets.

The reason that change didn’t cause a pullback in stocks is simple. Economic data last week showed continued acceleration in growth and inflation, and as such that helped cushion the blow from the increased rate hike expectations.

To that point, there were three big numbers from last week and they all beat estimates. February ISM Manufacturing PMI rose to 57.7 vs. (E) 56.4, February ISM Non Manufacturing PMI rose to 57.6 vs. (E) 56.5. And, the core PCE Price Index (the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) rose 0.3% in February, the biggest monthly increase since January 2016. While the core PCE Price Index rose 1.7% yoy, same as January, the headline PCE Price Index rose 1.9% yoy, just below the Fed’s 2% target and the highest level since February 2013!

Not every economic data point was strong last week (Pending Home Sales missed estimates as did Core Durable Goods. And, headline revised Q1 GDP was a touch light at 1.9% vs. (E) 2.1%). Still, the good data handily outweighed the bad data.

Bigger picture, it’s hard to understate how important continued good economic data has been for markets in 2017. Strong data has helped buy Washington more time on corporate tax cuts, and now it’s helping to cushion the blow from a potentially more hawkish Fed. Strong economic data continues to be the unsung hero of the 2017 stock rally, and it needs to continue given the increasingly bleak policy outlook, and potentially a more hawkish Fed. Frankly, watching and correctly interpreting economic data hasn’t been this important in years.

Looking at Fed speak from last week, it was almost universally hawkish. Clearly the Fed is trying to pave the road for a March rate hike. Fed officials Williams, Dudley and Powell all signaled that a rate hike could come in March, and even uber-dove Lael Brainard supported potentially hiking in March.
Then, as if there was any doubt left by the end of last week, on Friday Fed Chair Yellen basically said that if the jobs report is in line, the Fed is hiking rates (her exact words were more general, and a bit more eloquent, but that was her point).

Bottom line, the Fed appears to be sticking to its promise of three rate hikes in 2017, with the first likely coming in 10 days.

This Week:

Are Janet Yellen and the other members of the Fed supporting more rate hikes in 2017?

Jobs reports are always important economic releases but due to the potential for a March rate hike, this jobs report is even more important than normal because it will decide whether we get a hike next Wednesday.

As usual, it’s jobs week, so that means we will get the ADP report on Wednesday, weekly jobless claims on Thursday (which continue to hit levels last seen since the 1970s), and the official jobs report Friday.

I’ll do my normal “Goldilocks” jobs preview later this week, but the bottom line is that as long as this jobs re-port remains firm, the Fed will hike rates next week.

Outside of the jobs report, it’s actually a pretty quiet week, economically speaking.

In the US, the only other notable report is Productivity (out Wednesday). Low worker productivity has been a major downward influence on inflation, but it’s shown signs of ticking higher lately. A continuation of that trend will be slightly hawkish. Finally, looking internationally, China will be in focus as we get Trade Balance (Tuesday) and CPI/PPI Wednesday.

Data from China has been consistently decent (including last week’s February manufacturing and composite PMIs), so it’ll be a big surprise if the data suddenly turns south, but China remains a macro area to watch as any hints of a slowdown will make waves for global markets.

Bottom line, this week really is all about the jobs report. If it’s close to in line, the Fed will hike next Wednesday. And, if it’s hotter than expected, get ready for talk about more than three hikes this year (and that idea is a risk to stocks).

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If A Rate Hike Is Expected, Why Aren’t Rates and the Dollar Higher? March 3, 2017

Get the simple talking points you need to impress clients and prospects from the Sevens Report. Here is an excerpt from today’s full report.

If A Rate Hike Is Expected, Why Aren’t Rates and the Dollar Higher? 

If a rate hike is expected, why isn’t the dollar index higher?

That’s a fair question to ask, given two weeks ago there was no expectation of a May rate hike. Then, a week ago, there was no expectation of a March rate hike. Now, a March hike is fully expected.

Yet despite that relatively quick shift, as mentioned the Dollar Index still isn’t materially above 102, and still not close to the recent 103 high. Meanwhile, the 10-year yield is still decently below 2.60%.

The reasons we haven’t seen greater rallies in the dollar or yields are twofold.

First, a rate hike is not a foregone conclusion because of the jobs report next Friday. If it’s disappointing then a May hike makes more sense.

Second, the market still doesn’t believe the Fed is materially more hawkish. So, even if the Fed hikes now, the market still expects just three hikes the remainder of the year, which is what the Fed said in December.

The point is, the currency and bond markets still haven’t fully priced in a March hike yet, nor have they accepted the existence of a “hawkish.” Fed. However, if that jobs number is strong I believe we’ll see further upside in the dollar and yields.

But the big jumps in both will come when the market realizes the Fed is more hawkish than it currently expects, and that likely won’t happen until we see more inflation or proof of actual fiscal stimulus.

Regardless, barring an economic set back the trend higher in the dollar and rates is close to resuming, and investors should be positioned accordingly.

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How Far Could Stocks Go? Let’s Look at the Charts. March 2, 2017

How Far Could Stocks Go?

Stocks have screamed to all-time highs in recent weeks, and with new highs always comes the question of how far could stocks go? We like to regularly offer fundamental valuation updates as we did two weeks ago, but it is also important to outline what the charts are telling us as far as upside targets and key support levels for near-term price movements.

This stock market technical update is an excerpt from our March 1st Sevens Report. Claim your free 2-week trial today and cut through the jargon to specifics to support your client conversations. 

In the wake of the election there were a lot of very important technical developments. The two most notable were the shift from a bear market signal to a bull market signal in Dow Theory when the S&P was trading at 2165, and confirmation of that signal when the S&P broke to all-time highs November 21.

Currently, both the technical trend and upside momentum of the market continue to suggest the path of least resistance is higher for the medium term. That is the case in spite of the fact that there are countless fundamental uncertainties, most important are related to politics and fiscal policy.

Prices taken at market close on Feb 28.

Prices taken at market close on Feb 28.

In a situation like this, where technicals are largely divergent from fundamentals, many financial professionals and investors look for some direction as to how far stocks could rally from current levels and where a pullback would most likely pause if not reverse. So, we put together a few upside targets as well as downside support levels to watch for the S&P 500.

In a quick review, when any issue (stock, bond, commodity or currency) is trading in never-before-seen territory, there are only two ways to come up with targets in the direction of the new highs—measured moves, and likely areas of interest for options traders. The latter is relatively easy to figure out, as options volumes generally cluster around the big round numbers (in this case 2350 and 2400).


Tracking Measured Moves.

Measured moves, on the other hand, are a little more scientific. The idea behind a measured move is that if the market moved a certain distance against the dominant trend, it will more than likely move at least that far back in favor of the trend once it resumes.

  • Our next upside target is actually a combination of two measured moves and a likely area of interest for S&P option traders: 2450. On the daily chart, a measured move can be calculated from the late-October lows (2084) to the late-December digestion area (2271), which results in a measured move to 2458 in the S&P from current levels. In a supporting fashion, a measured move on the weekly chart can be calculated from the previous S&P highs of 2126 to the February ’16 lows of 1810. That results in a target of 2442.
  • This gives us an ultimate target window of 2442-2458, which encompasses a likely options trader target of 2450.

stock market charts, March 2

  • Bottom line, we are not suggesting that this bull market will end in the mid 2400s; however, for those looking to take profits, you likely will not be alone in doing so in that window around the 2450.

Support Levels

Turning to support levels, the February melt-up in stocks has left a large “volume gap” on the chart, which basically means stocks sprinted from around 2300 to 2360. Because of the velocity of that move higher, there were not many logical support levels created in the month of February. And a set up like that raises the odds that there could be a swift move back through that area.

  • There is an initial and minor area of support around 2343, where there was minor consolidation on February 16. This area will at least be noticed by technical traders and volume-driven algorithms.
    Secondary and more formidable support lies near the previous set of new all-time highs established in December in the band between 2270 and 2280. Here there will be buyer support from both bulls who missed out on the breakout as well as faster-money short sellers looking to book profits.

March 2, book profits

  • Our final support zone is derived from a weekly timeframe, and again at a previous all-time high of 2100, where the most consolidation occurred since the tech sell-off finally ended in 2002.

These levels are meant to provide you with a general idea of the most important technical levels on either side of the broader stock market right now. This information, we have heard in the past from advisor subscribers, is very useful in conversations with clients.

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Why It’s Time to Buy Insurance—Right Now! March 1, 2017

This is an excerpt from today’s Sevens Report. To get your free 2-week trial, sign up now!

The Practical Takeaway from Low Volatility

One of the bigger conundrums right now is that volatility in the stock market is plumbing multi-year lows despite the presence of multiple major and binary events that will resolve themselves positively or negatively in the coming months.

Some examples (just to name a few): When/if we will get corporate tax reform? Will the US institute tariffs? Will interest rates continue to move higher? Is inflation finally back?

Each of these events could easily cause a pullback in stocks of at least 10%, yet investors seem unimpressed. Case in point, the VIX recently hit 9.97, which is a multi-year low.

Now, the obvious question is… “Why is implied volatility so low?”

First, implied volatility is low because the macro-economic backdrop has been supportive, and stocks have relentlessly gone straight up since November. This has been the longest stretch without a 1% decline in decades.

However, there is a second reason.

The lack of volatility has invited investors and funds to sell options (specifically puts) and collect premium. Given the lack of volatility, that’s been a profitable strategy, and it has invited more competition.

So, more investors selling options (i.e. selling volatility and collecting premium) pushes the price down, and that’s why implied option volatility (which is what the VIX is based on) has dropped extra low.

Normally, this would catch my attention, but a conversation I had with a friend in the insurance business made me both intrigued and concerned that this inherent “complacency” is prevalent throughout the economy. Here’s why.

It's time to buy insurance.

I’ve almost never been an advocate of buying puts… yet buying puts to preserve market performance may not be a bad idea.

He said in his entire career, commercial and property insurance rates have never been lower than they are now.

And, if you think about it, I guess that makes sense.

I started my conversation with him because I asked my friend if my property insurance would go up because of Hurricane Matthew last year, and he said, “No way.”

He went on to tell me that the insurance companies are so flush with cash, they are just dying to write contracts to take in premium, and with so many competitors out there, it’s caused the price of insurance to drop sharply.

Empirically, that makes sense. With bond yields so low, insurance companies need to generate income and writing insurance over the past several years has been profitable (broadly speaking, we haven’t had any major disasters for the non-health insurance business).

But at this point, my friend remarked that it’s getting a bit ridiculous, as insurance companies are taking on a lot of exposure just to collect a little bit in premium (at least according to his experience).

Practical Takeaways

First, don’t assume that a low VIX means a drop in the stock market is looming. Implied volatility can’t get much lower, but it can stay down here for a while.

Volatility stayed around these levels for about two years in the ’93-’95 period, and again in the ’05-’07 period. Point being, low VIX is not a reason to expect a correction.

Second, insurance in the market (i.e. puts) is cheap, so we should consider buying insurance (i.e. buying puts).

As I said in Monday’s report, I’m almost never been an advocate of buying puts because I hate buying insurance.

Yet given we could easily see an air pocket open up in this market if corporate tax reform dies, or the Fed hikes rates in March, buying puts to preserve performance may not be a bad idea.

For less-experienced options investors, just buying near-the-money puts here might make sense.

For more experienced options investors, buying an at-the-money put and selling an out-of-the-money put may be attractive.

Here’s my logic. We think there’s strong support for the market around 2275, so as long as fundamentals are generally “ok,” we’d be ok buying the S&P 500 at that level.

So, we could sell 2275 puts (meaning we’d get put the stock at that level) and then use those proceeds to reduce the cost of an at the money put, say at 2370. That way, we’ve insured ourselves against any 5% or less drop in stocks, and also have the opportunity to buy the mar-ket cheaper at a level we’re comfortable with.

Third, actual insurance appears cheap, so I’m re-pricing life insurance and other insurance to try and lock in low prices.

Finally, generally, the idea that low yields and a chase for income is pushing both investors and insurance companies to increase exposure in exchange for reduced compensation is making my blood pressure go up.

As we’ve all seen, this can last for a long time, so it doesn’t mean a calamity is around the corner. Still, we all know that’s the kind of anecdotal behavior that leads to nasty consequences. Here’s to hoping it’s different this time.

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The Political Outlook for Stimulus is Darkening, February 28, 2017

This is an excerpt from today’s Sevens Report. The Sevens Report is the daily market cheat sheet our subscribers use to keep up on markets, seize opportunities, avoid risks and get more assets. Sign up for a free 2 week trial.

It’s obviously impossible to say “when” this will matter to stocks, but I want to make very clear to everyone that the political outlook for stimulus is darkening, and the chance of any pro-growth measures hitting the markets in 2017 are falling, quickly… and sooner or later that will be a problem for this market.

To that point, yesterday there were three separate areas where the outlook for fiscal stimulus darkened. First, while Treasury Secretary Mnuchin did a good job in both his major interviews (WSJ and CNBC) he didn’t add anything incremental regarding corporate tax cuts, and was downright vague on the idea of border adjustments, which is the key to corporate tax cuts.

Yes, he did say he expects a broad corporate tax reform bill by the August recess, but that’s just repeating what Speaker Ryan has said (i.e., nothing new). Bottom line, the outlook for corporate tax cuts in 2017 (and maybe at all) continues to get worse.

Paul Ryan

Speaker Paul Ryan has said he expects a broad corporate tax reform bill by the August recess. The outlook for corporate tax cuts in 2017 continues to get worse.

There were some additional headlines regarding this issue late yesterday afternoon when President Trump told Reuters he supported “some form of border tax.” Markets initially took this as a positive (implying he was supportive of border adjustments) but that’s premature because what he meant was unclear as his subsequent comments more implied he supported tariffs in some form (not the full scale border adjustments needed to pass corporate tax reform).

Beyond Trump’s comments, the major hurdle for border adjustments and corporate tax reform remains in the Senate. There is little support for that idea in the Senate currently, and until that chances, corporate tax reform is unlikely.

Second, Axios reported that Trump is punting infrastructure spending to 2018. That was treated as a notable headline yesterday, but we and others have been saying for weeks now that infrastructure spending never was on the table for 2017. So, while this isn’t an incremental negative for the market, it was a headline that we wanted to cover.

Third, as we’ve covered, the way things are looking right now Republicans must get the repeal/replace of Obamacare done before they can tackle corporate tax reform. Well, Politico reported that Republican Alaska Senator Murkowski won’t vote for any repeal/replace that reduces the Medicaid expansion. With just a 53/47 majority in the Senate, the chances of just getting 50 votes on a repeal/replace continue to dwindle, and by all reports Republicans remain fractured on how to handle the repeal/replace.

Now, I’m not pointing this out for political reason (you know I’m politically agnostic in this Report). The reason I am pointing it out is simple: No Obamacare repeal/replace, then no corporate tax cuts in 2017, and that’s a problem for stocks (how much of a problem will depend on economic growth, inflation and interest rates, but it’s still a problem).

Bottom line, I don’t want to sound like the boy who cried wolf, but I just want to point out consistently and clearly that the gap between market policy expectations and policy reality is widening—and again, that’s a risk that should not be ignored.

This is a volatile, politically sensitive investment landscape—you need the Sevens Report to stay ahead of the changes, and to calm worried clients.

The FOMC Expects a Rate Hike “Fairly Soon” – Here’s What We Think That Means. February 27, 2017.

This is an excerpt from today’s Sevens Report. You can get a free 2-week trial and see for yourself how the Sevens Report can give you fresh talking points for your client conversations, and help you outperform your peers. Read on to see our predictions for when the FOMC will announce the next rate hike.

There were only two notable economic events last week and neither were particularly positive for stocks (although they weren’t outright negatives). For weeks, the economic data has been supporting markets through consistent policy disappointment from Washington, so it’s notable that last week the data wasn’t particularly supportive, and incremental disappointment finally weighed slightly on stocks. Going forward, with policy outlook continuing to dim, data will need to be consistently good to further support this rally.

Last Week

Looking at last week’s data, the February flash PMIs (both manufacturing and service sector) were surprisingly disappointing. The flash manufacturing PMI declined to 54.3 vs. (E) 55.5, which was a surprise miss given the very strong Empire and Philly surveys from two weeks ago. The flash services PMI also missed estimates at 53.9 vs. (E) 55.9, again posting a surprise decline. Additionally, most of the details in these reports, including New Orders in the manufacturing PMI (which is a leading indicator), also fell. Meanwhile, the manufacturing input price index rose slightly while the selling price index declined slightly, implying margin compression in the manufacturing sector.

Now, to be fair, the absolute levels of these two PMIs remain high and by no means does the mild pullback imply a loss of economic momentum. However, the market needs consistently better data to offset the noise from Washington, and that didn’t happen last week.

The FOMC expects another rate hike "fairly soon," but it is unlikely to be in March 2017.

The FOMC expects another rate hike “fairly soon,” but it is unlikely to be next month.

The FOMC minutes were the other notable economic event last week, and while the minutes were taken as slightly dovish by the currency and bond markets, in reality they only confirmed that May is now (in our opinion) the next likely date for a rate hike.

The key phrase in the minutes was the FOMC expected another rate hike “fairly soon.” The reason that was taken as slightly dovish is because fairly soon isn’t the “next meeting” (that’s what has appeared in the FOMC minutes before the previous two rate hikes). The takeaway is that a March hike is unlikely, though that’s not incrementally dovish because the market wasn’t expecting a March rate hike anyway. If we get a strong inflation number this week and a strong jobs report Friday, odds of a March rate hike could creep closer to 50% from the current 22% (and that could be a headwind on stocks).

This Week

This will be a busy and important week for the economy as we get some critical data on growth and inflation, and if stocks can maintain this rally, the former needs to be strong and the latter doesn’t. The most important number this week is the PCE Price Index contained in Wednesday’s Personal Income and Outlays report. February CPI and PPI were both much stronger than expected, and if the Core PCE Price Index (which is the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) moves close to 2% (currently at 1.6%) then we will see expectations for a March rate hike increase, and that will send Treasury yields higher and send the dollar higher—and that will put a headwind on stocks.

The next most important number this week is the ISM Manufacturing PMI, out Wednesday. Normally, this would be the most important number of the week, but even if this confirms last week’s flash PMI and pulls back a bit from January, it’s still a very high absolute level and it will take several months of declines before anyone would get worried about activity in the manufacturing sector. Nonetheless, it is still a critical number and if it’s soft we could see a bit of stock weakness.

There are other notable reports this week including Durable Goods (today) and the services PMI (Friday). Finally, revised Q4 GDP comes Tuesday, and analysts are still looking for around 2% growth (Q4 GDP was 1.9% in the advanced look last month). As we said, all the data is important given strong data has helped offset growing policy worries, so these number meeting or beating estimates will be generally supportive. Bottom line, data needs to stay good and inflation needs to stay tame in order to support this market, because Washington policy expectations are a growing headwind.

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