The Threatened Investor – by Justin Vaughn

(Justin Vaughn, Editor, Options Trading Report)

The Big News Friday…The release of the PCE (Personal Consumption Expenditures Index). The report, developed by the Commerce Department illustrates consumer spending, and it showed the trend is continuing to rise, up 1.8% from December, a compelling figure as it reflects the spending mood of the consumer. It also brings-to-bear that the inflation rate is reacting to the many interest rate hikes in attempting to dislodge inflation. Investors and traders now are anticipating stronger rate hikes, possibly up to 0.50%. As the Fed has said, combating inflation will require persistence and staying the course with necessary rate increases as needed. The PCE is a heavy contributor to the decision making board as recent history will collaborate. This latest report and the ongoing struggle to control inflation has ‘pushed’ the U.S. Treasuries yield much higher, with the 10-year note peeking at 3.994% after hitting 4% on Wednesday. The bond markets are a haven for steady returns in the unsteady market as yields rise when prices fall. As the ‘short’ month ended investors and traders were left looking for direction, and stymied by the heavy data released, further perplexed about inflation and the Federal Reserve’s new direction on rate hike. Seema Shah, chief global strategist at Principal Asset Management said, “The growing realization through February was that actually the U.S. economy is not responding sufficiently to the Fed hikes,” so far she noted. Ms. Shah added that “while the Fed had early success in bringing year-over-year inflation down from its peak of 9.1% in June to 6.4% in January, the next leg lower may be a harder battle.” Interestingly, the Shanghai Composite, the Japan Nikkei 225 ended the month on the plus side. Hong Kong’s Seng Index lost 9.4%, all bucking the New York Exchanges.

Stocks continued lower on Wednesday as stubborn inflation took center stage…again. Investors and traders are pondering the next hike, with many feeling that the economy may well require a stronger hike, back to 0.50% or even up to 0.75%. A rally Thursday afternoon drove stocks up to positive territory, stoked by exceptional quarterly results by Salesforce.

A Strong Labor Market is Finally Peaking…Hirings are beginning to slow, as the economy is digesting the general labor market. First signs are appearing in the non-corporate sectors, with job postings trailing positions. Two large recruiting firms, ZipRecruiter Inc. and Recruit Holdings both showed weakness for job openings, both suffering negative earnings the past quarter and anticipating down trends in coming quarters. The much awaited Labor Report of job openings numbers for January and payrolls is due out next week. “We’re seeing a pretty large pull back almost everywhere except personal care services and healthcare. But even those businesses are cautious and…mostly hiring for replacement and not head-count growth,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.

A Lithium Update…As electric vehicles continue to garner more sales in the automobile industry, supply concerns radiate through the sector. The world’s largest reserves of lithium rest in Australia, with 56%. Mining lithium and then shipping to China for refining is a very costly component, one that is cost concerning. Presently China refines 44% of all lithium refining in the world, (according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence) shipping ore in and shipping refined lithium out to buyers worldwide. A move is afoot to construct massive refineries in Australia in near term, streamlining supply and saving major costs in shipping, and eliminating the China connection. Australia’s major reserves certainly justify this cost saving venture.

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Randall W. Forsyth, Writer of UP & DOWN WALL STREET, Barron’s, “Blame it on Punxsutawney Phil. Since the furry varment poked his head out of his den on February 2, there has been a wholesale reassessment of the outlook for the economy and interest rates. Maybe it wasn’t his shadow that the famous groundhog saw, but instead many indicators that showed unseasonably hot economic readings with no cooling in inflation.”

President Joe Biden in Warsaw, on the first anniversary of the Russian-Ukraine war, Barron’s, “President Putin chose this war….He could end the war with a word.”

Diane Swonk, chief economist with KPMG, Barron’s ‘It’s still a story of an economy that is uncomfortably warm from the Fed’s perspective, even though it’s clearly shifting gears, said Ms. Swonk. “The hard part is, you don’t want a deep freeze. But on the other side of it, you can’t really afford a rolling boil, either. And we’re caught in between right now.”

Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist for LPL Financial, WSJ “The market is recalibrating and acknowledging that the path toward price stability is fraught with obstacles. The market is telling us to be careful with a Fed that has to vanquish inflation and hurt the economy to do it.”