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Not much wrong with the US economy

By Colin Twiggs
September 14th, 2015 6:00 p.m. AEST (4:00 a.m. EDT)

Advice herein is provided for the general information of readers and does not have regard to any particular person's investment objectives, financial situation or needs. Accordingly, no reader should act on the basis of any information contained herein without first having consulted a suitably qualified financial advisor.



Profit margins in the US are contracting, with the second quarter showing a 6.0% decine in profit per unit of real gross value added (Nonfinancial). Contraction of greater than 10% would be cause for concern, but we need to dig a little deeper.

Declining US Profit Per Unit of Real Gross Value Added (Nonfinancial)

Earnings per share for the S&P 500 Index declined for the last two quarters and is projected to decline for the next two quarters as well (Q2 which is 98.6% complete and Q3 2015).

S&P 500 Earnings Per Share

The sharp fall in index earnings is primarily caused by losses in the Energy sector. Other sectors are reasonably healthy.

S&P 500 Energy Sector - Earnings Per Share

Another cause for concern is bellwether transport stock Fedex. Commencement of a primary down-trend normally warns that economic activity is contracting. Freight revenue for the fiscal fourth quarter increased by only 1%, while ground revenue increased by 19%. Slower earnings growth due to a lag in fuel surcharges and integration challenges with the acquisition of TNT may both be weighing on the stock.

Fedex

The Freight Transportation Services Index, however, has turned upwards.

Freight Transportation Services Index

And the LoDI Index continues to climb.

LoDI Index
The LoDI Index uses linear regression analysis to combine cargo volume data from rail, barge, air, and truck transit, along with various economic factors. The resulting indicator is designed to predict upcoming changes in the level of logistics and distribution activity in the US and is represented by a value between 1 and 100. An index at or above 50 represents a healthy level of activity in the industry.

Spending on durables remains promising, with light motor vehicle sales rising.

Light Motor Vehicle Sales

And construction spending (adjusted for core CPI) climbing steeply.

Construction Spending

The ISM Manufacturing PMI Composite Index remains above 50, indicating expansion, but is softer than it has been for a while.

ISM Manufacturing: PMI Composite Index

The Leading Index from the Philadelphia Fed, however, at a healthy 1.57%, continues to project a healthy economic outlook.

Philadelphia Fed Leading Index

Despite the falling Fedex stock price and softer PMI, there does not appear to be much wrong with the US economy. The positives outweigh the negatives. Analysts' optimism about an fourth quarter upturn may be a little premature, but does not appear far off-track.



Economic theory is devoted to the study of equilibrium positions. The concept of equilibrium is very useful. It allows us to focus on the final outcome rather than the process that leads up to it. But the concept is also very deceptive. It has the aura of something empirical: since the adjustment process is supposed to lead to an equilibrium, an equilibrium position seems somehow implicit in our observations. That is not true. Equilibrium itself has rarely been observed in real life — market prices have a notorious habit of fluctuating.

~ George Soros: The Alchemy of Finance

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