In what is likely the fist major under the radar profit warning of the current quarter, GE chief, and Obama Job Tzar, Jeff Immelt warned during GE’s annual outlook meeting held earlier in Manhattan that the “economic uncertainty” in the current quarter has resulted in an investment “pause” that has resulted in a slowdown of corporate sales. Put into numbers, GE is now calling for about 8% growth this year, from a 10% forecast barely two months ago. Read: Q4 sales, and thus earnings, are set to be a major disappointment. And while no superstorms were blamed in this particular sales warning, the fiscal cliff did feature prominently. As the WSJ reports, “[Immelt] said ongoing jitters over the so-called “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and government spending cuts contributed to the trend.” Then again, it is just as likely that the tapped out US consumer, whose savings rate is tumbling, whose real disposable income is now declining on a year over year basis, and whose real wage growth is decidedly negative, would be tapped out even if Obama and Boehner were not playing constant cat and mouse. But whatever the reason for the slowdown may be, one thing is certain: “Clearly, there has been an investment pause in certain industries,” Mr. Immelt said. “We’ve definitely seen a slowdown in the fourth quarter.” Bring on the spin brigade.
Even if Washington reaches a deal on the“fiscal cliff“, strong growth in 2013 is far from guaranteed, Pimco’s Mohamed El-Erian told CNBC on Monday.
As Congress and the White House haggle over ways to prevent some $600 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts from damaging the economy, El-Erian said the U.S. still faces a protracted period of soft growth.
“If we avoid the fiscal cliff…then we still looking at still sluggish growth of 1.5 to two percent next year,” he told “Closing Bell.” (Read more: Investors ‘Should Get Used to 1-2% Growth': Pimco’s Gross.)
US Slowdown Worsening: Projected Corporate Margin Expectations Dip To 7 Month Lows And NFIB Small Business Optimism Slump To An All-Time Low In November
As you can see, most of them are below 50 or negative, which signals contraction:
Buried in the Empire Fed manufacturing data is the forward expectations for Prices Paid and Prices Received. Taken together, somewhat obviously, they reflect businesses views of their margin expectations for the future. For seven of the last nine years, this future margin expectation has risen from mid-year into the end of the year (whether hope-driven or real fundamentals is unclear), but this year, the picture is very different. For the first time since 2007, future margin expectations have plunged into year-end as expectations for prices-paid have notably risen relative to expectations for prices received. Though the sample is small, the last time we saw such a huge divergence from the seasonal tendency for margin expectations was followed by an equity market reaction many would prefer not to remember.
The lower pane shows the implied margin expectations from the Empire Fed survey. Notice the pattern into year-end…
From SocGen’s last standing realist, Albert Edwards, now that both Dylan Grice and James Montier have departed for the buyside.
“Something bad happened in November”……
…I have spotted the excellent Lakshman Achuthan of the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) doing the rounds reiterating his call that the US economy is already in a recession. He seems to be getting a bit of stick recently, but as I am fully aware, bearers of bad news are usually derided. I think he is doing an excellent job of explaining his stance patiently and clearly in the face of some very hostile interviewers. His recent 7 December analysis on the ECRI website of why a recession is likely to have started around four months ago is well worth an uncomfortable read – link (see also the related video link).
Certainly if the US has already slipped into recession, this would help explain why our preferred measure of whole economy profits declined, albeit marginally, in Q3. We have always monitored pre-tax, domestic, non-financial, whole economy profits particularly closely because this measure of the underlying profitability of the business sector is probably the best leading indicator of domestic business investment, and that has also been weak recently.
Many have attributed the weakness in investment to uncertainty about the fiscal cliff. But if underlying profits are under pressure, then so too will be investment. So although much of the S&P eps downgrading by analysts is being attributed to severe weakness abroad, what the latest whole economy profits data show is that the domestic business situation is also weak. The ECRI recession call should be listened to more closely.
Certainly the latest National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey in November was entirely consistent with an economy already firmly back in outright recession. The headline optimism series plunged 5.6 points in November to 87.5, which the NFIB itself says is one of the lowest optimism readings in the survey’s long 30 year history.
“Something bad happened in November…and it wasn’t merely Hurricane Sandy”,the NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg is quoted as saying – see chart below and link. Even scarier than the decline in the headline measure was the 37% slump to an all-time low in those firms who believe economic conditions will improve over the next six months. That 37% drop is twice the previous record 18% decline, which occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Lehman’s collapse (see chart below). For those who might immediately retort that this is a sentiment indicator that should be used as a contrary indicator – you are wrong. It is a good leading or at worst coincident indicator. I would say this datum is more than consistent with the recession that Lakshman Achuthan of the ECRI has been warning of, wouldn’t you?