Tag Archives: Russell 2000

NFIB Survey Trips Economic Alarms

Last week, I wrote an article discussing the August employment report, which clearly showed a slowdown in employment activity and an overall deterioration the trend of the data. To wit:

“While the recent employment report was slightly below expectations, the annual rate of growth is slowing at a faster pace. Therefore, by applying a 3-month average of the seasonally-adjusted employment report, we see the slowdown more clearly.”

I want to follow that report up with analysis from the latest National Federation of Independent Businesses monthly Small Business Survey. While the mainstream media overlooks this data, it really shouldn’t be.

There are 28.8 million small businesses in the United States, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, and they have 56.8 million employees. Small businesses (defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees) account for 99.7% of all business in the U.S. The chart below shows the breakdown of firms and employment from the 2016 Census Bureau Data.

Simply, it is small businesses that drive the economy, employment, and wages. Therefore, what the NFIB says is extremely relevant to what is happening in the actual economy versus the headline economic data from Government sources.

In August, the survey declined 1.6 points to 103.1. While that may not sound like much, it is where the deterioration occurred that is most important.

As I discussed previously, when the index hit its record high:

Record levels of anything are records for a reason. It is where the point where previous limits were reached. Therefore, when a ‘record level’ is reached, it is NOT THE BEGINNING, but rather an indication of the MATURITY of a cycle.” 

That point of “exuberance” was the peak.

It is also important to note that small business confidence is highly correlated to changes in, not surprisingly, small-capitalization stocks.

The stock market, and the NFIB report, confirm risk is rising. As noted by the NFIB:

“The Uncertainty Index rose four points in August, suggesting that small business owners are reluctant to make major spending commitments.”

Before we dig into the details, let me remind you this is a “sentiment” based survey. This is a crucial concept to understand.

“Planning” to do something is a far different factor than actually “doing” it.

For example, the survey stated that 28% of business owners are “planning” capital outlays in the next few months. That’s sounds very positive until you look at the trend which has been negative. In other words, “plans” can change very quickly.

This is especially the case when you compare their “plans” to the outlook for economic growth.

The “Trump” boom appears to have run its course.

This has significant implications to the economy since “business investment” is an important component of the GDP calculation. Small business “plans” to make capital expenditures, which drives economic growth, has a high correlation with Real Gross Private Investment.

As I stated above, “expectations” are very fragile. The “uncertainty” arising from the ongoing trade war is weighing heavily on that previous exuberance.

If small businesses were convinced that the economy was “actually” improving over the longer term, they would be increasing capital expenditure plans rather than contracting their plans. The linkage between the economic outlook and CapEx plans is confirmation that business owners are concerned about committing capital in an uncertain environment.

In other words, they may “say” they are hopeful about the “economy,” they are just unwilling to ‘bet’ their capital on it.

This is easy to see when you compare business owner’s economic outlook as compared to economic growth. Not surprisingly, there is a high correlation between the two given the fact that business owners are the “boots on the ground” for the economy. Importantly, their current outlook does not support the ideas of stronger economic growth into the end of the year.

Of course, the Federal Reserve has been NO help in instilling confidence in small business owners to deploy capital into the economy. As NFIB’s Chief Economist Bill Dunkleberg stated:

“They are also quite unsure that cutting interest rates now will help the Federal Reserve to get more inflation or spur spending. On Main Street, inflation pressures are very low. Spending and hiring are strong, but a quarter-point reduction will not spur more borrowing and spending, especially when expectations for business conditions and sales are falling because of all the news about the coming recession. Cheap money is nice but not if there are fewer opportunities to invest it profitably.”

Fantasy Vs. Reality

The gap between those employers expecting to increase employment versus those that did has been widening. Currently, hiring has fallen back to the lower end of the range and contrasts the stats produced by the BLS showing large month gains every month in employment data. While those “expectations” should be “leading” actions, this has not been the case.

The divergence between expectations and reality can also be seen in actual sales versus expectations of increased sales. Employers do not hire just for the sake of hiring. Employees are one of the highest costs associated with any enterprise. Therefore, hiring takes place when there is an expectation of an increase in demand for a company’s product or services. 

This is also one of the great dichotomies the economic commentary which suggests retail consumption is “strong.” While business remain optimistic at the moment, actual weakness in retail sales is continuing to erode that exuberance.

Lastly, despite hopes of continued debt-driven consumption, business owners are still faced with actual sales that are at levels more normally associated with the onset of a recession.

With small business optimism waning currently, combined with many broader economic measures, it suggests the risk of a recession has risen in recent months.

Customers Are Cash Constrained

As I discussed previously, the gap between incomes and the cost of living is once again being filled by debt.

Record levels of consumer debt is a problem. There is simply a limit to how much “debt” each household can carry even at historically low interest rates. In turn, business owners remain on the defensive, reacting to increases in demand caused by population growth rather than building in anticipation of stronger economic activity. 

What this suggests is an inability for the current economy to gain traction as it takes increasing levels of debt just to sustain current levels of economic growth. However, that rate of growth is on the decline which we can see clearly in the RIA Economic Output Composite Index (EOCI). 

All of these surveys (both soft and hard data) are blended into one composite index which, when compared to GDP and LEI, has provided strong indications of turning points in economic activity. (See construction here)

As shown, the slowdown in economic activity has been broad enough to turn this very complex indicator lower.

No Recession In Sight

When you compare this data with last week’s employment data report, it is clear that “recession” risks are rising. One of the best leading indicators of a recession are “labor costs,” which as discussed in the report on “Cost & Consequences Of $15/hr Wages” is the highest cost to any business.

When those costs become onerous, businesses raise prices, consumers stop buying, and a recession sets in. So, what does this chart tell you?

Don’t ignore the data.

Today, we once again see many of the early warnings. If you have been paying attention to the trend of the economic data, and the yield curve, the warnings are becoming more pronounced.

In 2007, the market warned of a recession 14-months in advance of the recognition. 

Today, you may not have as long as the economy is running at one-half the rate of growth.

However, there are three lessons to be learned from this analysis:

  1. The economic “number” reported today will not be the same when it is revised in the future.
  2. The trend and deviation of the data are far more important than the number itself.
  3. “Record” highs and lows are records for a reason as they denote historical turning points in the data.

We do know, with absolute certainty, this cycle will end.

“Economic cycles are only sustainable for as long as excesses are being built. The natural law of reversions, while they can be suspended by artificial interventions, cannot be repealed.” 

Being optimistic about the economy and the markets currently is far more entertaining than doom and gloom. However, it is the honest assessment of the data, along with the underlying trends, which are useful in protecting one’s wealth longer-term.

The Market Is Gunning For Its Early-2018 Lows

After last week’s powerful sell-off, the U.S. stock market opened much higher this morning, with the Dow up as much as 352 points. Mainstream investors and TV commentators were excited, as they usually are, that the sell-off may have created an excellent “dip-buying” opportunity. I wasn’t buying it one bit, however:

Last week, I wrote that “the market’s trend breakdown had been confirmed” because the U.S. market closed below its important uptrend line that began formed in early-2016. In my mind, this morning’s market pop was nothing to get excited about because the U.S. stock indices were still below their important trendlines (which are now resistance levels), which means that last week’s technical breakdown was/is still intact.

Shortly after my statement, the market erased its gains in one of the worst intraday reversals in years:

bounce chart

The sell-off of the last few weeks caused the S&P 500 to break below its uptrend line that began in early-2016. The next major technical support and price target to watch is the 2,550 to 2,600 support zone that formed at the lows earlier this year. I don’t expect to see much of a bounce until this zone is tested a bit more (the market may need to test the lows of this zone around 2,550).

S&P 500 Chart

At the close of trading last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average still had not broken below its key uptrend line yet, unlike the S&P 500, Nasdaq Composite, and Russell 2000. As of today, however, the Dow closed below this uptrend line, which is a worrisome sign. I would like to see a close below this line on the weekly chart for further confirmation.

Dow Chart

The Nasdaq Composite index continues to fall hard after closing below its uptrend line that began in early-2016 last week. The index will likely gun for its next price target, which is the 6,600 to 6,800 support zone that formed earlier this year. I don’t foresee much of a bounce until the Nasdaq has tested this zone.

Nasdaq Chart

The small cap Russell 2000 index broke below its uptrend line three weeks ago and has been testing the 1,475 support level. If the index breaks below the 1,425 to 1,475 support zone, it would give yet another bearish signal.

Russell 2000 Chart

I don’t expect much of a bounce until the respective U.S. stock indices test their early-2018 lows, which means that the markets are likely to go even lower in the short-term. Even if/when we get a bounce, it’s not much to get excited about because it is likely to only be a short-term technical bounce or relief rally rather than a sustainable phase of the bull market. I have been warning that we are in a dangerous stock market bubble (please watch my presentation to learn more), so the breakdown of the past few weeks means that the stock market bubble is in the process of popping – a very scary prospect.

Please review our Chief Investment Strategist Lance Roberts’ newsletter from this weekend to learn how we are positioning in this market.

We at Clarity Financial LLC, a registered investment advisory firm, specialize in preserving and growing investor wealth in times like these. If you are concerned about your financial future, click here to ask me a question and find out more. 

The Market’s Trend Breakdown Has Been Confirmed

On Wednesday, after the Dow plunged 608.01 points, I wrote a piece called “The #MAGA Stock Market Trendline Is Broken” in which I showed how the U.S. stock market’s sharp decline caused several major stock indices to break below their important uptrend lines that have formed in early-2016. I described this breakdown as a “very important change of trend.” On Thursday, the Dow rose 399.95 points and the S&P 500 rose 49.46, but I said that the market bounce did not negate the bearish technical developments that took place on Wednesday. Sure enough, the Dow fell 296 points or 1.2% on Friday, while the S&P 500 fell 1.7%, which confirms the technical breakdown under the important trendline that formed in early-2016 (I was waiting for a solid close below this level on the weekly chart).

This week’s sell-off caused the S&P 500 to break below its uptrend line that began in early-2016. The next major technical support and price target to watch is the 2,550 to 2,600 support zone that formed at the lows earlier this year.

S&P 500 Chart

Unlike the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average still has not broken below its key uptrend line. If the Dow closes below this uptrend line in a convincing manner on the weekly chart (possibly next week if the sell-off continues), the next important support level and price target to watch is the 23,250 to 23,500 zone that formed in early-2018.

Dow Chart

The Nasdaq Composite index closed below its uptrend line that began in early-2016. The index would need to close back above this trendline to negate the bearish technical signal. If the sell-off continues, the next price target to watch is the 6,600 to 6,800 support zone that formed earlier this year.

Nasdaq Chart

The small cap Russell 2000 index broke below its uptrend line two weeks ago and tested the 1,475 support level this week. If the index breaks below the 1,425 to 1,475 support zone, it would give yet another bearish signal.

Russell 2000 Chart

As someone who is warning about a dangerous stock market bubble (please watch my presentation to learn more), this week’s technical breakdown really concerns me. The U.S. stock indices discussed in this piece would need to close back above their trendlines to negate this week’s breakdown. There is a very good chance that the sell-off will continue until U.S. stock indices hit their support zones at the early-2018 lows, then they will bounce for a time, and attempt to break below their support zones. If and when the indices eventually close below their support zones, that would give yet another bearish signal that would likely foreshadow a decline to their 2015 highs (not that the bear market will stop there, but it’s the next step after a break below the early-2018 lows).

We at Clarity Financial LLC, a registered investment advisory firm, specialize in preserving and growing investor wealth in times like these. If you are concerned about your financial future, click here to ask me a question and find out more.