Joe Keating on Inflation Fears & the Lackluster Jobs Report
This week Tom speaks with Joe Keating, Chief Investment Officer of NBC Securities to discuss the current economic forecast, inflation fears, and the disappointing jobs report.
To get Tom’s bond portfolio trends report, visit www.southstatecorrespondent.com/bondreport
[Intro]: Helping community bankers grow their team and their profits. This is The Community Bank Podcast.
Caleb Stevens: Well, hey, everybody, and welcome to Episode 39 of the community bank podcast. I’m your host for today, Caleb Stevens joined by Tom Fitzgerald, we are here to talk all about the economy, the recent jobs report, and inflation fears, a lot is going on and a lot to decipher. So, Tom, good to see you.
Tom Fitzgerald: Good to see you too, Caleb. And you’re right a lot is going on and when you just think you got to figure it out. The April jobs report comes in to tell you, no you don’t have it figured out. So, but we’ll try to get some of that going today some of that discussion and some of the thoughts and hopefully, it’s going to be well worth a listen.
Caleb Stevens: It’s like what we’ve said before that to professionals that can be wrong most of the time and still keep their jobs or weathermen and economists. Well, speaking of economics, by the way, I was at the Georgia banking school last week, I was telling you, and I got every single question right, on our test that related to the economy, and it was all thanks to views, thanks to listening to you give updates on this podcast. Thanks for reading your update you send out every week. And so, for folks that haven’t subscribed to that update, how can they get your weekly economic report?
Tom Fitzgerald: Well, the weekly economic report comes out Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and it’s at the southstatecorresponded.com where you can register to get those reports. We also have a quarterly report that I put out the portfolio trends, which I look at our bond accounting customers, which are about 10 billion strong and par value. And take a look at that as like a single portfolio, how the performance of it’s been trending, book yields, looking at durations, how they’re shifting, looking at unrealized losses, or gains, how those are moving. So, it’s a really good view as if you want to kind of see how other community banks in the primarily the southeast, but we do have them outside of there as well, how they’re performing and how they’re doing. It’s a great report to have. And again, you can get that it’s southstatecorrespondence.com/bond report.
Caleb Stevens: Yes, this is a great report. And in fact, we’ve had customers use this for their board packages to give the board kind of a glimpse of what other peer banks are doing in their portfolio. So, the insightful report we’ve had a lot of good feedback on in the past few weeks. And I think it’s still very relevant right now. So, go out and get that at southstatecorrespondent.com/bond report. Well, let’s hop into today’s episode, we got Joe Keating coming back on the show. He’s an economist. He’s a speaker. He works with NBC securities as their Chief Investment Officer. And we are excited to play Tom’s conversation with him right now.
Tom Fitzgerald: Well, Joe, it’s great to have you back on the show. Again, I think this is what the fourth or fifth visit for you over the last year, and it’s always one of the more listens to podcasts that we do. So, it’s an honor and a pleasure to bring you back and to have our listeners get to hear some of what you’re going to talk about and think about the economy in these highly still highly unusual times. So again, welcome back. Let’s start first, we just had the first-quarter GDP report it came out at 6.4%, which was a very strong number. Before we dive into the details of what you found interesting in that report, kind of gives us that 30,000 foot looks at why that quarter was as strong as it was.
Joe Keating: Sure. Well, thanks for those comments. It’s good to be back. You know, it’s interesting if you go back to late 2020. So, the period right after the presidential election, and when we were getting ready for the Senate roll-offs in the great state of Georgia. The consensus was that we were going to see a growth rate in the first quarter of around 2%. And as you said, we saw a growth rate of over 6%. So, I point the three things that that transpired over the coming weeks. Were the following weeks after that end of 2020 that came together and resulted in a much stronger first quarter than people were expecting at the end of last year. First was a better-than-expected rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. Consider that in the second half of December, we had an average of 317,000 vaccinations a day.
If you go to the end of January, the seven-day moving average was 1.4 million, and February at seven days was at 2 million and the March the seven days was at 2.9 million. And solid progress continued through April ending the month at 2.2 million on that seven-day moving average. But during the month, we had four days where we had more than 4 million vaccinations and seven days where we had an excess of three and a half million vaccinations. So, I said, that’s the first thing that we had better than expected rollout of the vaccines now that combined with the fact that the number of daily new cases plunged if you go back to early January, the seven-day moving average was about 250,000.
By the end of March, it has fallen 75%, now to just over 63,000. And currently, it’s at roughly 40,000 a day. And that’s about an 84% decline from the peak back in January. And likewise, the number of deaths has plunged. The seven-day moving average in early January was over 3400 a day, it fell 76% to about 825 a day by the end of March, fell further to 631 a day by the end of April. And we’re still at about that 630 a day, which is once again an 82% decline from the peak in January. So, better than expected progress on the distribution of vaccines. And then you’re better than expected progress of containing the spread of the virus. And it has led to a faster pace of reopening the economy or easing restrictions.
So, that showed up in the march retail sales, which were up 9.8%. Now, that’s not 9.8% of the annualized rate that’s 9.8%, month to month, with apparel up 18% and restaurants and bars, up 13.4% that is spending on apparel and spending in restaurants and bars. And we also have that strong March jobs report coming in at a gain of 770,000, of which 542,000 was in the service sector. So, those two things lead to a faster pace of economic growth. And when I point to the third thing, once again, going back to the end of December, we didn’t know that we were going to get a second round of stimulus spending, which was $900 billion signed into law in December, the 27th was $600 direct checks, and an enhancement in weekly unemployment benefits.
And then by the ministration decided to go big in February, and they passed the $1.9 trillion relief package in March with an additional $1400 in direct checks. And once again, an extension of the $300 a week enhanced unemployment benefit. So, those three things came together, in my opinion, to give us a stronger first quarter than anyone was thinking about. If we go back to the days right before Christmas.
Tom Fitzgerald: Yes, and you’re right, when you look at just the march month itself, as I said the retail sales numbers were just off the charts. A lot of that was the stimulus checks getting into people’s hands. Were there other details in the first quarter that you said, that were more strengthened than I was expecting or any kind of anything that kind of stood out to you more than what you’ve already talked about that, may have been a little bit surprising?
Joe Keating: Well, yes, obviously, whenever you did a report, there are some interesting things in the data, that 6.4% growth rate that we had, if you leave aside the 33.4% surge that occurred in the third quarter of last year when the company began to reopen, that was the fastest rate of growth in the economy since the second quarter of 2003. So, it’s strong growth. It was led by personal income. Now I’m going to give you some numbers here, folks that are just kind of crazy. personal income surge that a 59% annualized rate in the first quarter. And as Tom and I both just mentioned, largely because of those $1400 stimulus checks that went out, but wages or salaries still grew at 6.7%.
Right now, that’s not a 59% rate, but the 6.7% rate is pretty darn good. The boost in activity was widespread. With all major sectors of the economy posting strong gains, consumer spending led the way boosted by that surge in household income growing at a 10.7% pace. But here’s some wild numbers, spending on goods. So, these are both durable goods and non-durable goods. They sorted a 23.6% rate. The durable goods sector exploded at a 41% rate, outlays for motor vehicles a 51 and a half percent rate, household furnishings and appliances a 45.2% rate, and recreational goods and vehicles 28.1%. Right now, we’re, we’re used to talking about growth rates, in the one-two-three to 5% kind of range, not growth rates are up in the 24 to 54% range. spending on non-durable goods rose at a slower but still very healthy 14% pace, led by apparel growing at almost a 34% rate at restaurants and bars at a 15% rate now, I’ll leave for services rose at a much more modest 4.6% rate.
But what’s going to happen during the current quarter is we’re going to see these growth rates switch, we’ll likely see all these PR services in the second quarter exceed the pace of the increase in outlays for goods as the economy reopens. And as people start going back to restaurants, and take advantage of other sorts of services that are available. Just thinking about what went on yesterday, how many folks out there are on this listening to this call? How many folks went out for Mother’s Day, brunch, or lunch or dinner on Sunday? A lot more than a year ago, no doubt about that. Residential Construction grew at a 10.8% rate. Housing activity remains very strong. The mortgage rates are still low, the job losses of 2020 were much less prevalent among higher-income households and typically buy homes.
And we expect activity to remain fairly strong as the new work for home flexibility. And the flight from higher-cost urban areas phenomena will continue as a secular shift in housing preferences for some time to come. In business capital spending technology spending led the way growing at a 34% pace with software always at an 18% pace as the strength of technology likely represents continued adaptation by businesses to new ways of doing business since the beginning of the pandemic, rather, the only sector of the economy and last quarter was always for structures, which fell at almost a 5% rate, which is not surprising as the demand for office and retail spaces fall sharply in the aftermath of the pandemic. It’s interesting, the economy would have grown at an even faster pace. If an inventory drawdown had not subtracted 2.6 percentage points from the economy’s growth rate as businesses with supply chain issues, met increased demand by lightening up on goods on their shelves and in showrooms. So, a very strong quarter. But it’s setting the stage I think for an even stronger quarter here in the second quarter of the year.
Tom Fitzgerald: I think some of those inventory drawdowns, as you said, that’s just setting the stage for having to restock those inventories in the current quarter. So, as you said, there’s probably going to be some handoff from the good side of the economy to the services side as we transition through 21. And give us your outlook Joe, on what you see, we’ve had the strong first quarter that we’ve talked about a second-quarter is probably going to be very similar, I would think. But for the balance of the year. How do you see the economy kind of finishing out as we move towards December?
Joe Keating: Sure. Well, you’re the economy expected to grow at its fastest pace since 1984. This shoe, let’s go that goes back to the Reagan administration. The setting for 2021 I think is very clear, a powerful growth trajectory, fueled by the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, which is rapidly moving the nation toward herd immunity and Academy quickly moving towards fully reopening the massive influx of relief and stimulus payments, and a very accommodative monetary policy. You know that there’s a real excitement that you can sense out there, that at the end of the pandemic is within sight, more restrictions are being lifted, people are flying again dining out as I talked about for Mother’s Day, staying in hotels, the manufacturing sectors, then firing on all cylinders for several months, as this need to replenish the shelves has been already going on.
As you say Tom is going to just pick up some speed here during the current quarter. Housing starts at our highest level since 2006. The key and we’ve talked about this for a while. The key for the economy next year and into 2023 will be that the economy reaches a self-sustaining and self-reinforcing economic glide path throughout 2021. What does that mean? That means jobs growth, we need to replace the transfer income households have been benefiting from with wages that persist and grow over time. So, in our view, the economy is poised to turn the corner to self-sustainability during the current quarter.
As we frequently have stated over the past few months COVID-19 vaccines are the best stimulus measure anyone could have asked for 2021 as they are the key to unlocking sustainable growth in the economy, by ending the shutdown, which has devastated the service sector, policymakers appear to be very focused on the jobless rate for the bottom quintile of wage earners, which remains in the area of 20%. We know the overall unemployment rate is around 6.1%. This was the focus of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s recent comments when he stated, we’re going to continue to support the economy until the recovery is complete.
Tom Fitzgerald: I listened to him last year before the pandemic when they were doing these fed listens to tours, and they were going to these communities, kind of underserved communities and the local leaders there would give them, their view of the kind of the lay of the land and the view on the street. And he came back, he did come back, I think very taken by that, that maybe the Fed sometimes when they focus on inflation so much, they moved a little earlier on rate hikes in the past, and kind of squelched, off the expansions into those last corners of the economy.
And if he listened to his speeches, and kind of in his writings, it’s almost like he’s he vows not to make that mistake, again, that he’s going to, he’s going to keep the accommodation kind of full open. Until those last vestiges of adult workers finally do get a job before he starts hiking rates. I remember that, again, this was a year ago or so, but before the pandemic, but those tours that they did, I think it struck a nerve with him, and it carries through today in his policy outlook.
Joe Keating: Yes, Tom, I agree with that. And one of the things we need to remember is that the recession was localized. It was localized, and people making less than $40,000 a year, it was localized on women, it was localized on minorities. And so, I do think that there’s a real sense that, as I said, when you take a look at that, that bottom quintile of wage earners where the unemployment rate remains around 20%. I think policymakers in Washington are focused on that.
Tom Fitzgerald: I agree. Well, let’s talk we have to bring up the kind of fly the ointment. We had an April jobs report come out on Friday, which was a little underwhelming, to say the least. Give us your thoughts on that. Were there any silver linings that you saw? Was it pretty much just a one-off? And we’ll just kind of look towards me and forget April ever happened?
Joe Keating: Yes, well, I’ll give you two words. And I’ll kind of elaborate on these words. One is disappointing and two is suspect. So, in normal times a month during which the economy added as many jobs as it did in April would be considered good times. But obviously, these are normal times. So, that 266,000 job gain that was recorded for April, still leaves the country about 8.2 million jobs fewer than before the pandemic struck. And as I mentioned earlier, the unemployment rate came in at 6.1%. A little up from the 6%. In the previous reading, with more people getting vaccinated and edging their way towards their pre-pandemic lifestyles, it seemed as if a much better month of hiring was in the offing.
And most people were expecting to see job gains of about approaching a million and the deposit rate falling under 6%. So, what happened? Well, one. Now let’s assume that it was a good number, okay. It probably reflected a slower than expected pace of new business formations, to replace those businesses which went under. So, that’s a lack of demand. It points to the recovery of advancing in fits and starts being a little uneven. One issue is that while businesses such as restaurants are hiring, as the economy reopens, others that benefited from the pandemic are pulling back, food and beverage stores, supermarkets, and such. That’s our sales job as Americans cook more at home.
They shed 49,000 jobs last month, courier and messenger services which have been busy delivering packages throughout the crisis cut 77,000 housing jobs, temporary help services, to which many employers turned instead of making permanent hires as they saw demand go up as a result of the pandemic cut 111,000 jobs and the effect of the supply chain snarls such as the semiconductor shortage was also evident. Car and carpark manufacturers lost 27,000 jobs last quarter or last month. So, there are some issues on the demand side. There are also some issues on the supply side, in terms of businesses, being able to find workers, these include a lack of childcare, keeping many women at home, in particular, worries about folks, getting COVID-19 if they return to work.
And this hotly debated issue about whether or not enhanced government benefits are allowing people to be pickier about the work that they take, as they’re being paid in essence to stay home. April is also just one month, and given all the shifts in the economy, and in that are taking place in the economy, as well as issues such as how well the Labor Department’s adjustments for seasonal changes in the job market may have been thrown out of kilter by the pandemic, it probably isn’t a good idea to read too much into the report, we remain pretty confident in a faster job growth outlook because the reopening of the economy still has a lot of runways every day, it seems we see states announcing further steps to reopen over the next six weeks or so. And in fact, I think a lot of towns are getting ready for houses at baseball stadiums and maybe packed houses at football stadiums in the fall. So, we expect the job growth to be pretty strong between now and into the fall.
Tom Fitzgerald: And I agree, and I think there’s a lot of Fed speak this week, several official set to talk on the economy. And I think that’s what you’ll hear more often than not that, one, APR, which is one report, we don’t hang too much emphasis on one report the same way. They were saying that with March that March was a strong report. They wanted to see more of that. And unfortunately, we didn’t get to in a row. But it is just one month and as you said there’s still a lot of driving forces that will I think continue to bring jobs at a pretty hot clip and into the economy. The other side of the fed’s mandate is price stability. And everybody you know, is talking inflation, we’ve got a CPR report coming out that’s going to print some pretty steamy numbers, it looks like for April, what is your kind of general take on inflation, Joe and kind of where you see it going? And how you think the Fed is going to react to it?
Joe Keating: Well, it seems to us that investors have bought into the well-anticipated pickup. Inflation, this spring being temporary, when you take a look at the level of Treasury yields, what we’re going to see, and you know this well as anyone Tom the higher inflation readings that are going to come for April and May and June, will result from the comparisons to the weak reports from March through May. And June of last year, when the shutdown of the economy was at its most extreme, which will temporarily magnify a year over year changes. That’s not inflation. That’s a one-time adjustment in the reports, relative to the in-essence deflation that we saw in the economy a year ago.
Additionally, as current supply issues are resolved, and pent-up demand for dining out travel and entertainment dissipates somewhat as we go through the remainder of the year. Some of these near-term pricing pressures will also ease once again, that’s not inflation. That’s demand in the short run slumping supply. So, the key is, are we looking at a cyclical temporary acceleration versus a persistent trend, because remember for inflation to persist at a high level, that means month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year, these higher numbers that we’re going to see anywhere between two and a half four to 4%, where we’re going to get some observations that they need to persist over time. And they’ll have to be supported by a proficiency in wages or an increase in average hourly earnings.
So, we think that as you get through to the other side, that is, over this near-term bump that we’re going to see and the inflation in the price increase as we get into the second half of the year, we think and expect the secular or structural forces in the economy to overwhelm the cyclical, these would be things like using the internet for comparison shopping, sourcing goods around the globe, technology-based innovations, we still have aging populations. And we still have inflation targeting by central banks around the globe. It’s just that here in the united states that the Fed has, go to an average inflation target as opposed to a 2% inflation target, it’s kind of interesting to take a look at the implied inflation rates that are in the Treasury market.
The two-year Treasury note right now has an implied inflation rate of 2.8% over the next two years, and the 10-year note has an implied inflation rate of two and a half percent. So, we think the market is thinking that we will see, a pickup in some price increases here near term that the Fed will follow their new stated objective or an average inflation target. But as time goes along, will begin to move back down towards that 2% number that we’ve had for the last couple of decades.
Tom Fitzgerald: Yes, and I think some of those disinflationary forces that you talked about, the demographics, and that those other big forces that were their pre-pandemic are still lurking out there. And I think they’re, as you said, they’re going to come back to the fore. And we’ll see that once we get through a lot of this kind of volatility from the supply side, and some of those issues of supply chain shortages and just demand outstripping supply on a short run basis. So, I agree, I think at some point, we’re going to revert to that, we couldn’t get 2% inflation when we had a 3% unemployment rate. So, I think that those forces are still out there. And I think they will exert themselves at some point in the future. As far as speaking of inflations or risk. What are some of the risks that you see Joe, for the economy as we move through 21 and into 22?
Joe Keating: Well, Tom, we’ve got a pretty optimistic outlook for things. But as you just said, there are some risks out there we face a series of questions that only time will answer, for instance, will the reopening of the economy continue unabated, without any setback from the battle against the virus? We don’t expect that but we don’t know. Will earnings meet mounting expectations, will the widely expected jump in inflation proved to be temporary, as we believe it will. Will President Biden’s proposed corporate and capital gains tax hikes take place? And if so, to what extent? How much longer will the Federal Reserve keep monetary policy very accommodative?
And how will the markets respond when it eventually signals a winding down of its bond-buying program, let alone a move to raise rates? Will the yield on the 10-year Treasury note hit 2%? As the pace of economic growth and inflation, quicken could make a run of 3%? Could the Biden ministration make a policy mistake by their proposals to raise taxes, and to put in place two additional massive spending packages focused on a broad definition of infrastructure, climate change initiatives, childcare, education, and health care measures? So, we feel there’s plenty for investors to worry about right now, which we think is keeping a lid on investor sentiment.
Tom Fitzgerald: And you mentioned rates there for a second. And I’m sure a good portion of our listeners, our portfolio managers in some form with at their banks. And everybody’s that’s running a portfolio wants to know what our rates going to do. So, what is your outlook in the Treasury market, as far as 21 is for the direction of rates?
Joe Keating: Well, it would not at all surprise us if the yield on the tenure, took another run at 2%. We all know that. They got up to I think 174 before it’s backed off, and got back down to was down in the 150s. And I think it’s 1.6% today. So, it wouldn’t surprise us if we take a run at two. And in fact, it wouldn’t surprise us when we get these higher inflation readings and we get some additional strong growth readings, that the yield or tenure doesn’t break a bit above 3%. We don’t see it going much above two to two and a half percent however, because we do think that the core inflation pressures will come back down towards 2%, as we go through the end of the year.
So, I think we’re going to see some upward pressure on Treasury yields. But I think the longer-term secular forces of keeping inflation low, will keep a lid on the 10-year Treasury plus remember, the 10-year Treasury is the best source of income on any fixed-income security around the globe. So, that’s one of the reasons why I think when we get up into the one seven, that’s why it came back down fairly quickly because all of a sudden, demand popped up around the world.
Tom Fitzgerald: Yes, you look at the strength again, in that first quarter, and if that only drove it up to 174. It’s kind of like, well, what’s going to push it? As you said, much beyond two, given the fact that some of that fiscal stimulus is going to start to wind down as we get further into the year. So, it just becomes a matter of what is that catalyst kind of moves it dramatically higher? And it’s hard, to put your finger on something that could do that. Can’t let you get out of here, Joe, without talking, we’ve covered rates, and now we’re interested in our 401k. So, what is your outlook as far as the stock market goes for the balance of the year?
Joe Keating: Well, we’re optimistic, I would say that I think a year from now, stock prices will be higher than they are today. We’ve had a good year, I mean, the NASDAQ is only up to six 7% of the year. But if you look at the dollar and the S&P, they’re up on the order of, let’s say, roughly 12%. And we’ve had an optimistic outlook for the economy and the stock market. But the key for stock prices to move higher is that we’re going to need a multi-year strong expansion in the economy. To justify current stock valuations as higher stock prices at this point, will only arrive from further improvement in the economy and earnings, that’s the deal earnings, rather than from stocks being undervalued.
While some speculation was evident in the market during the first quarter, in the popularity of story stocks and heavily shorted stocks, and initial public offering market and cryptocurrencies and special purpose acquisition companies or specs, some air came out of those segments the market over the past few weeks. And we think the overall market appears to be reasonably priced from expected growth in the economy and earnings perspective. It’s interesting, I was looking today at the report from Standard and Poor on earnings. And if you take a look at the first quarter 86% of the companies in the S&P 500 have reported and operating earnings are on track to advance 143% over the first quarter of 2020 earnings.
And analysts at standard report are looking for operating earnings on the S&P 500 to grow 52% over the four quarters of 2021. So, that’s what I was talking about the risks, will the economy give us those sorts of earnings growth over the year that the analysts are standard and poors are looking for. The bottom line for us is that the economy and the stock market have the wind at their backs, as the economy reopens, and it will enter next year with a pretty good head of steam. I would say that any setback and stock prices over the next couple of months, should represent a very attractive entry point to put idle cash to work.
The economy is early in this business cycle. And monetary policy and fiscal policy are very focused on bringing the pace of economic activity back to full potential. So, our advice to investors is to stay invested in great companies, which will benefit from the nation returning to an adapted normal, that will turn out to be surprisingly close to the old normal, with the economy’s growth rate accelerating over the next few quarters.
Tom Fitzgerald: Well, that’s great advice Joe and I just want to thank you again for taking the time out of your busy day and giving our listeners a few of your thoughts and analysis of the economy and investments and rates and just all of it. As I said your programs are some of the most listened to that we do so and I’m sure this one will go right up there as well. And again, just thanks for your time Joe and take care. Don’t get the COVID at the last second let’s stay safe as we venture into that, you’re talking about full stadiums, the Braves have finally kind of gone back to full houses with their games now. So, as you said it’s happening. So, we just need to kind of stay safe till that final inning that final quarter is done.
Joe Keating: Thanks, Tom. And I agree to everyone out there stay safe.
Tom Fitzgerald: Thank you, Joe.
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