Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE/WMT), a bellwether stock for consumer spending, reported corporate earnings of $1.24 per share in its fiscal second quarter (ended on July 21). That’s an increase of 5.1% compared to last year—but just like other big public companies, Wal-Mart purchased $1.9 billion worth of its own shares in that quarter to prop up its earnings.
Here’s what the company’s CFO, Charles Holley, had to say about consumer spending in the U.S. economy: “…the retail environment remains challenging in the U.S. and our international markets, as customers are cautious in their spending…” (Source: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. press release, August 15, 2013.) With this, the retail giant lowered its net sales and corporate earnings expectations for the year.
Wal-Mart isn’t the only company complaining about poor consumer spending in the U.S. economy.
For its fiscal second quarter (ended August 3), Macy’s, Inc.’s (NYSE/M) sales declined 0.8% from the same period a year ago. Macy’s Chairman and CEO, Terry J. Lundgren, said, “…second quarter sales performance was softer than anticipated and we are disappointed with the results. Our performance in the period, in part, reflects consumers’ continuing uncertainty about spending on discretionary items in the current economic environment…” (Source: Macy’s, Inc. second-quarter earnings press release, August 14, 2013.)
If Wal-Mart and Macy’s are complaining about soft sales, this tells me two things: First, retail stocks might not be the best investment right now. The Dow Jones Retail Index is down five percent this month alone. Second, a pullback on consumer spending tells me the U.S. economy isn’t growing as it is perceived to be.
We’ve already seen the first-quarter U.S. GDP revised lower due to weak consumer spending. After hearing from bellwether companies like Wal-Mart and Macy’s on the current status of consumer spending in the U.S. economy, I expect the second-quarter U.S. GDP, initially reported at 1.7%, to also be revised downward.
Risks in the bond market continue to pile up quickly. Bond investors need to be very careful. They need to be very vigilant about their next step.
June was the first month since August of 2011 that U.S. long-term bond mutual funds experienced a net outflow. A total of $60.4 billion was withdrawn from the bond mutual funds in June 2013. (Source: Investment Company Institute, August 14, 2013.) While I don’t have the exact numbers yet, bond investors continued to exit bond mutual funds in July.
Why are investors in the bond market exiting stage left? As yields continue to rise, the price of bonds are falling and investors are taking their losses and moving on. Just look at the chart below of the bellwether 30-year U.S. Treasury bond.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
This is very significant, as yields on long-term U.S. bonds—such as the 30-year bonds—are benchmarks for yields across the bond market. If yields on U.S. bonds go higher, you can bet the same for other kinds of bonds in the bond market as well.
Since the beginning of the financial crisis, we saw investors rush to the bond market because it was considered to be a safe place and because they had bet (correctly) that the Federal Reserve would drop interest rates to help the economy. Bond prices increased significantly under the Federal Reserve’s easy monetary policy.
Now, with conflicting signals from the Federal Reserve, the bond market is a fragile place. Bond investors leaving the market shows they don’t have an appetite for holding bonds in their portfolios as they did a few years back.
If interest rates continue to rise, losses in the bond market are going to be immense. Consider this: Pension funds and insurance companies hold bonds in their portfolios. As the yields continue to increase, they are going to face scrutiny.
Those who are saying the recent dip in the bond market is a great buying point should rethink their options. The risk-to-reward ratio is poor for bond investors.
What He Said:
“Prepare for the worst economic period ahead that we have seen in years, my dear reader, as that is what I see coming. I’ve written over the past three years how, in the late 1920s, real estate prices fell first before the stock market and how I felt the same would happen this time. Home prices in the U.S. peaked in 2005 and started falling in 2006. The stock market is following suit here in 2008. Is a depression coming? No. How about a severe deflationary recession? Yes!” Michael Lombardi in Profit Confidential, January 21, 2008. Michael started talking about and predicting the economic catastrophe we started experiencing in 2008 long before anyone else.