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There's life in this old dog of an economic cycle yet

August 07, 2017

Good morning,

A lot of annoying political analysis followed Friday’s jobs report. But if you strip away the spin, it was a good set of numbers – even “near perfect,” as Thomas Simons of Jeffries called it.

With the expansion entering its ninth year, and already the second longest on record, now’s the time to be looking for signs it is coming to an end. Friday’s report offered none. Job growth was solid, but not strong enough to spook the Fed. Wage growth picked up, but not enough to threaten inflation. Discouraged workers began making their way back into the job market, indicating that despite an unemployment rate of just 4.3%, there’s still some slack to fuel future growth. An important milestone was passed: the Hamilton Project calculated the U.S. job market has finally fully recovered from the Great Recession. And The Wall Street Journal calculated layoffs are at their lowest level in half a century.

Does President Trump deserve some credit? Yes, of course. Presidents usually get more credit – and blame – for the economy than they deserve. But Trump’s election clearly stirred animal spirits, helping drive the stock market to its record highs. And his campaign to roll back regulation certainly calmed business leaders, whose concerns over rising regulation was reaching fever pitch prior to the election. Ultimately, though, the Journal’s editorial board says it will be the fate of tax reform that will “make or break” the economic legacy of Trump’s first year.

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By the way, here’s one more reason to be encouraged. Late cycle stock-market surges are usually driven by “dumb money” – i.e. small investors – pouring funds into the market at just the wrong time. But Jason Zweig reports small investors have pulled $17 billion out of U.S. stock mutual funds and exchange traded funds in the past month. That’s partly because so many American now own retirement funds that keep stock investments at a set percentage of total investments. So when stock prices rise, the funds sell stocks to “rebalance.” Zweig argues that makes the market less susceptible to bubbles than it was, say, in 1999.

So you can start the new week in comfort that — barring a war with North Korea, a trade war with China, a massive cyberterror attack, a conventional terror attack, a constitutional crisis, or any number of other circling black swans – the U.S. economy is in pretty good shape.

 

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