It is a very busy news week. The Department of Justice is suing Alphabet, Inc. (GOOG – $136.07) in federal court for anti-trust violations. Republican US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy launched an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden alleging that his son, Hunter Biden, and the Biden family profited in business dealings with foreign entities while Biden was Vice President.

Jay Clayton, the former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, appeared at a hearing hosted by the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party that is studying whether China poses a risk to US financial stability. Clayton proposed that companies with market capitalizations above $50 billion or with China-based revenues or costs above $10 billion unveil their exposure to the world’s second biggest economy and explain how their operations would be affected in the event of a disruption in US-China economic ties. This could impact a number of large US technology and finance companies and is another example of how China is becoming an uninvestible region.

Simon & Schuster released a new, and some say scathing, book by Walter Isaacson on Elon Musk. Automakers and the United Auto Workers union are quickly approaching a Thursday night deadline to reach a deal, or 146,000 autoworkers could go on strike. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Russia to demonstrate the “strategic importance” of the two countries’ relations (and possibly to cut a deal to supply arms to President Putin). Morocco struggles to reach survivors from a recent earthquake that to date, has a death tool of nearly 3,000 people. At least 10,000 are missing in Libya after floods caused by a huge Mediterranean storm swept away a quarter of the eastern coastal city of Derna. Apple, Inc. (AAPL – $176.30) launched a new series of iPhones that include a new titanium shell, a faster chip, and improved video game playing abilities.

Inflation Matters

And despite all of this, the big story of the week will be inflation data. The CPI will be released Wednesday, the PPI on Thursday, and import/export prices on Friday. This week’s inflation data reports on the month of August, but we would point out that while headline inflation has been moving steadily lower for much of this year, energy prices have done likewise. However, after eight consecutive months of year-over-year declines in energy prices, WTI oil futures are up 10% YOY in September, to date. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the technical chart of WTI oil futures looks favorable and this suggests gains could continue in the weeks ahead. If they do, it would be a bad sign for September’s headline inflation number. A rebound in inflation could upset not only the consensus view of inflation, but Federal Reserve policy for the rest of the year. See page 3. In sum, we would not become complacent about inflation, and neither should the Fed. But according to a Reuters poll, the Federal Reserve will leave its benchmark overnight interest rate unchanged at the end of its September 19-20 policy meeting and probably wait until the April-June period of 2024 or later before cutting rates. In our view, next week’s FOMC meeting could bring some surprises.

The charts on page 4 are not new to readers, but they are important since they show that whenever inflation reaches a peak level like the 9% seen in June 2022, inflation has declined, but in concert with higher interest rates and a recession. Tighter monetary policy has been key to reducing inflation, and the tightening cycle typically ends with a real fed funds rate of at least 400 basis points. This suggests that even with a 3% inflation rate a typical fed funds rate would be 7%. And even if a 7% rate does not materialize, it does suggest that the fed funds rate is likely to move higher in September. We would not be surprised if it did. However, the CPI data for August is apt to set the tone for the next week and it will not include the recent rise in energy prices.

Household Haves and Have Nots

Quarterly data on household finances from the Federal Reserve shows that the net worth of households and nonprofits rose $5.5 trillion to a new record high of $154.3 trillion in the second quarter of the year. This increase came from a $2.6 trillion increase in the value of equities held directly and indirectly and a $2.5 trillion increase in the value of real estate. Keep in mind that not all households own equities or real estate, and therefore these increases accrue disproportionately to the wealthier households who benefited from rising stock and real estate prices.

The same release showed that household debt increased at a 2.7% annualized rate in the quarter to $19.6 trillion. Household equity ownership increased from 25% of total household assets to 25.6% of total assets at the end of the second quarter. This ratio peaked at 29.2% in June 2021, which was just ahead of the January 2022 market peak. See page 5.

The Federal Reserve released new monthly data on consumer credit. Consumer credit made headlines recently when credit card debt exceeded $1 trillion for the first time. July’s numbers show that consumer credit continues to grow but at a decelerating rate. Whereas revolving credit grew at a 16% YOY pace in January, this dropped to a 10% YOY pace in July. See page 6. Credit card debt rose as the savings rate declined this year which could be a sign that household finances were becoming stretched. Retail sales also slowed in 2023 despite the pent-up demand in the auto sector. In general, we expect credit balances to decelerate further given that the interest rate on credit cards rose from 16.65% in July 2022 to 22.16% by July 2023.

Income and poverty data released by the US Census Bureau this week showed the child poverty rate — based on a supplemental measure that adjusts for government benefits and household expenses — jumped from 5.2% in 2021 to 12.4% in 2022. The supplemental poverty rate rose from 7.8% in 2021 to 12.4% in 2022. The official poverty rate was largely unchanged from 2021 at 11.5%. Nevertheless, family incomes failed to keep up with a 7.8% jump in consumer prices that was the largest since 1981 and real median household income fell by 2.3% to $76,330 in 2022. According to Census officials, this was about 4.7% below 2019.

Technical Update There has not been much change in the last week after the three major indices rebounded from their 100-day moving averages and the Russell 2000 bounced up from its 200-day moving average. Overall, the near-term trend appears indecisive. Even if the rally moves higher, unless all the indices exceed their all-time highs (which we doubt), the longer-term pattern remains characteristic of a long-term neutral trading range. See page 9. The 25-day up/down volume oscillator is at a negative 1.03 reading this week, relatively unchanged from a week ago, and at the lower end of the neutral range. See page 10. The 10-day average of daily new highs is 103 and the new lows are 91. This combination tilts slightly positive this week with new highs above 100 and new lows below 100, but not convincingly so. In sum, the broad trading range market continues and is best represented by the Russell 2000 with support at 1650 and resistance at 2000.

Gail Dudack

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