US retail sales and producer prices were basically in line with expectations but that does not undermine the fact that the data was very weak and confirms that the Federal Reserve will be cutting interest rates by 75bp next week. USD/JPY hit a 13 year low last night after news that the automaker bailout plan is not going happen before the new year. Everyone had hoped that the automaker saga would come to an end, but lawmakers are not letting that happen. On Wednesday, I said that USD/JPY could hit to a new 13 year. At that time, the currency pair was trading at 92.50-93.00. The possibility of the US taking interest rates below Japanese levels should keep the US dollar soft going into the Fed interest rate decision on Tuesday.
Consumer spending fell for the fifth month in a row while producer prices dropped for the second straight month. The two biggest inputs into GDP are retail sales and trade. Consumers cut back spending more aggressively in October and November which suggests that GDP growth could take a big dive in the fourth quarter, especially with the widening of the trade deficit.
GDP Could Contract by 4 to 6% in Q4
GDP could decline as much as 4 to 6 percent in Q4, which would be the largest contraction in growth since the 1980s. In the first quarter of 1982, GDP fell -6.4 percent. A 4 to 6 percent drop in GDP would not be out of the ordinary given the current conditions in the US economy. In the fourth quarter of 1990, GDP contracted by 3 percent and in the first quarter of 1991, it contracted by 2 percent. The currrent recession is worse than the one the US economy experienced in the 1990s, so a contraction in growth exceeding 3 percent would actually be expected.
The biggest drop in consumer spending came from gasoline station receipts. Prices at the pump have fallen more than 50 percent since the summer and gas stations are suffering as a result. The only silver lining in the retail sales report is the fact that not every sector saw slower sales. Electronics and sporting goods were in demand but this rebound after at least 4 consecutive months of softer spending is probably related to Black Friday sales.
BTW: EUR/GBP is at the brink of hitting 90 cents – a move that I called on Dec 8
Fresh concerns about the global economy have triggered sharp gains in the US dollar and the Japanese yen. Risk aversion continues to seep through the markets as the National Bureau of Economic Research finally admits that the US economy fell into recession in December 2007. The first trading day of the last month in the year has been exceptionally brutal with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling more than 635 points or 7 percent. Even President Elect Barack Obama’s nomination of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State has failed to help the markets.
Dollar Remains the Safe Haven Play, Bernanke Signals More Rate Cuts
There is no question that the meltdown in the equity market singlehandedly triggered the sell-off in the currency market today. Most people knew that the US economy was already in recession, but as reality hits with the official NBER announcement, investors bailed out of equities once again. In fact, we have seen a global flight to safety today with stock exchanges across Europe slipping more than 5 percent. The flight to safety has led to repatriation back into US dollars even though there is still more trouble ahead for the US economy. On day when manufacturing indexes across the globe hit decade to record lows, the US Federal Reserve was the only central bank to offer practical reassurance. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a speech today that further interest rate cuts are certainly feasible and even though their scope for conventional rate policy is limited, their other options include buying long term Treasuries or agency securities in substantial quantities.
Cyber Monday May Not Save the US Economy
Investors are looking to Cyber Monday in the hopes that retail sales may support the economy but even if consumers spent more this year than last, it is a result of discounts rather than underlying demand. Foot-traffic at the nation’s retailers on Black Friday was stronger than expected but many forecast that because the discounts were so deep this season, often reaching more than 50%, increased sales will not transfer into strong profits. The shopping event that transpired last Friday was more of an act of desperation by retailers than anything else. Industry groups, such as the National Retail Federation, note that weekend traffic fell-off significantly as buyers felt satisfied that they took advantage of all available discounts during Friday’s rush. In addition, more shoppers indicated that they were already done with their holiday shopping this year than last. Buyers also specified that gift purchases will be constrained to the younger audience, with older friends and family agreeing to forgo adult gifts. This type of behavior suggests that the momentum may be difficult to sustain for the remainder of the month.
Dollar Rally Should Continue
Here is the “In the Financial Papers Radio Broadcast” (Length: 09:21 minutes). The player should load automatically. Please let me know if you like it. Contact Kathy
In the Financial Papers:
– What Will Tip the US Economy Into Recession?
– Bernanke and Kohn Set to Talk this Week
– Citigroup Plans Another Round of What Could be Massive Layoffs