Some months ago, as the snow melted off the lawn, a rabbit appeared at the end of our back yard. Our twin shih tzus, Buddy and Bruiser, spotted the intruder and, barking furiously, headed off in pursuit. The bunny, having given our fearless duo a head start, then bounced off into the undergrowth, cotton-tail waving in the air, leaving them barking at each other as if to say “Where’d he go? Where’d he go?”
Next week, the Federal Reserve holds its fourth FOMC meeting of the year. After the meeting, they will release a statement, very likely communicating no change in policy. Fed Chair, Jerome Powell will likely emphasize the same message in his post-meeting press conference. However, for investors, the most important information will be delivered in numbers rather than words, as the Fed discloses the median forecasts of FOMC members in their June Summary of Economic Projections.
I recently read a book, entitled The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson, about a revolution in gene editing prompted by the discovery of something named CRISPR in bacterial DNA. I won’t delve into the details except to say that the book is a great read and made me appreciate, once again, the relative simplicity of the economic systems I spend most of my life pondering compared to the extraordinary structure and machinery within a single human cell.
The all-boys Catholic school where I spent my formative years was a traditional establishment. The air was thick with chalk dust and a steady tension between a rebellious student body and an establishment which resorted to corporal punishment to maintain discipline. However, a second line of defense for the authorities was the issuance of report cards every six weeks. Twice a quarter, the Headmaster would stride into the class room brandishing a batch of colored cards to be signed by parents and returned. A rare pink A-Card, containing all 8s and 9s would be a cause of domestic celebration. A B-Card, colored blue, would contain some 7s and would generally receive little comment from my parents. A green C-Card, was a more serious matter requiring more elaborate explanations at home. For most of my school career, it was B-cards, but the Headmaster seemed to enjoy my nervousness as he toyed with the cards before revealing my fate.
Last Friday’s April Jobs report was clearly much weaker than expected. On average, analysts expected a payroll job gain of 1,000,000, with the unemployment rate falling from 6.0% to 5.8%. In the event, non-farm payrolls rose by just 266,000 and the unemployment rate rose to 6.1%.
On May 22nd, my wife and I plan to eat dinner at a restaurant.
In normal times, such a news item would not exactly make the family headlines. But since the pandemic struck, we have taken a cautious approach and eaten at restaurants only once or twice and then only if outside dining was available. For the last six months, a New England winter has deprived us of even that option.
However, on Wednesday, Sari got her second shot and I get mine on May 8th. And so, two weeks later, I can already see myself perusing an oversized menu at a favorite restaurant. Everything will look good and my only problem will be maintaining some restraint. While the bread, the wine, the appetizers, the salad, the steak, the pommes frites and the molten chocolate cake will look equally appealing at the outset, I fear their cumulative implications for a digestive system which has only a distant memory of such bounty.
Memories of the great inflation of the 1970s have faded in the public’s consciousness. Half of today’s population wasn’t even born when inflation stalked the land and, in the decades since, the failure of inflation to reappear has naturally eroded interest in the subject.
On Friday, I had the privilege of speaking at the annual strategic investment symposium run by the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Sadly, like everything else over the past year, the conference was virtual and so I couldn’t revisit Charleston itself. Just to rub it in, the host let me know that it was sunny day in Charleston, with a high expected in the mid-to-upper 70s.
The economy is experiencing the first effects of a powerful double-dose vaccine of broad inoculation and fiscal stimulus. The reality is that forecasts remain very uncertain. The pandemic recession had no modern precedent and so we have no good road map on the speed at which the economy might naturally recover. In addition to this, we have no example of the impact of fiscal stimulus of this scale, aimed primarily at low and middle-income consumers. What we can say is that early signs show the recovery is accelerating, suggesting a faster return to “normal” than many had dared to hope a few months ago. While this is very good news in general, it brings with it challenges for investors in making sure their portfolios are positioned for the very different financial landscape of a post-pandemic world.