Homebuilding continues to give a reasonably good account of itself, with housing starts at their highest level in nine years, after advancing at their fastest pace in six quarters in last year’s final period. Even so, building activity is only about half of what it was at the peak of the last housing up cycle.
In contrast to Dow 10k, which was breached almost 18 years ago, when the Dow broke through the 20,000 barrier on Wednesday, it stayed above that level – at least for now. But threats are ever present. The news media had reported that Trump has warmed up to the idea of a border tax, after appearing to have rejected the concept several weeks ago.
The consumer picture is mixed. On point, retail demand continues to strengthen for Internet related purchases, and auto and building materials dealers are seeing business turn brisk. But activity is lagging badly at brick-and-mortar department stores.
What will the Trump Era Bring? Will it be endless tweets, corporate callouts, currency wars, and tariffs? If that is the case, forget about equities. But if it is a pro-business and growth platform, with less regulation and substantial corporate tax reform, stocks will greatly benefit.
The employment picture remains reasonably bright. True, job growth is slowing, as one might expect given the length of the business up cycle, with employment up by 2.2 million in 2016, more than half a million below the comparable 2015 gain.
I arrived back home last night from a week’s family vacation to Maui. Local chatter was dominated by the closing of the last sugar cane processing plant in Hawaii in December (located in Maui), an industry that had been operating since the 19th century.
Expectations are high for the U.S. economy as we begin 2017. A strong showing by the stock market and surging optimism among both businesses and consumers form the basis for what many expect will be a much better year for the economy. This likely improvement would follow an undistinguished 2016, in which growth probably fell short of 2%.
Good, but not a terribly exciting labor market report. Although jobs fell 19k short of expectations (26k short on private payrolls), that shortfall was exactly offset by the 19k upward revision of the previous two months. The participation rate and unemployment rate both ticked up one tenth, the latter rising to 4.7%.
The old year ended with its share of hits and misses for the economy. On point, there was an upward revision, from 3.2% to 3.5%, in gross domestic product growth during the third quarter, as well as gains in the sale of both new and existing homes, a solid increase in consumer confidence, and a small rise in consumer spending.
Although the market won’t break 20,000 this year, 2016 has been quite a ride. In the third week of January I was speaker at the annual ETF Conference held in Ft. Lauderdale that attracts over a 1000 advisors and money managers. The bearishness was stifling.