General Motors: On the Road to Recovery, but Moving Slowly
General Motors Corp. just logged its first quarterly profit since 2007. The company also claims to have paid back its government loans "in full," and is rumored to be interested in buying back its financing arm.
But the truth of the matter is that GM isn't as far down the path to recovery as it would like the public to believe. The company's strong first quarter was greatly aided by Toyota Motor Corp.'s (NYSE ADR: TM) highly publicized recalls. Its claims that it has paid back government debt have been greatly exaggerated. And the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union is already pushing for restoration of many of the perks that it lost during the auto industry's near collapse.
General Motors reported first-quarter profit of $865 million as its revenue surged 40% to $31.5 billion. That made for the company's first quarterly profit in three years. GM – a company that took millions in taxpayer money to remain viable and came close to running out of money in 2008 – reported free cash flow of $1 billion.
Government Reports Show Consumer Spending Fueling Economic Recovery
A string of government reports show that the American consumer is making more money and spending again, providing impetus for a sustained economic recovery.
Personal income jumped 0.3%, or $32.3 billion, in April following a 0.1% rise the month before. The Commerce Department said individual spending rose 0.6%, or $36 billion, last month, the sixth consecutive month spending has increased. Both figures matched estimates from economists surveyed by Briefing.com.
Consumer spending makes up about 70% of the U.S. economy. Economists are keeping a close eye on income and spending because so far, this has largely been a jobless recovery.
A V-Shaped Recovery? Don't Bet On It
Corporate profits appear to have returned in full, manufacturing is picking up around the world, commodities prices have rallied and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index is up about 60% since last March.
That makes a pretty compelling case for what some analysts are calling a "V-shaped" recovery. But even with all the momentum the economic recovery has accrued, that kind of talk may be a bit premature.
Is There an Ulterior Motive for Bailing Out Greece?
Since back in December, when Fitch Ratings Inc. slashed its credit rating on Greece's debt to below investment grade for the first time in 10 years, there's been a mind-numbing flood of media coverage of that European country's debt crisis.
And yet, despite high-volume of high-level media coverage, none of the stories have picked up on a very basic – yet very key – fact…
The bailout being developed is as much for Germany as it is for Greece.
Let me explain …
Retailers Make a Surprising Comeback
You may be hearing a lot of bearish commentary centering on the premise that the market's advance is unsustainable because it has benefited so much from government spending.
But one big swath of the rise in stock prices has come from retailers, and it's hard to make a direct link between fiscal spending and chain store sales.
When the government pays for things like more highways and military goods, more people gain employment and then their families go out and purchase things at companies like Family Dollar Stores Inc. (NYSE: FDO) – a position in our Strategic Advantage portfolio that is fast on the rise. But that's really a "second-derivative" concept, as the statisticians say.
Employment and wage improvements have been the big catalysts.
Fastest Recovery Ever Could Push Corporate Profits to Record Highs in 2010
Sometimes we get a little carried away talking about esoteric subjects like bulls, bears, supply, demand, moving averages and the like. But if you just want to focus on something real, then look at corporate profits. When they're rising from a low, that's good; when they're flat-lining or declining, that's bad. Pretty simple.
Much of the rally of the past year has been in anticipation of a profit recovery. And now that recovery is actually coming in a bit better than bulls expected, which is why they are able to elbow bears so effectively. ISI Group now figures that corporate profits will clock in at +38.8% for the first quarter (year over year) of 2010, then +42.4% in the second quarter, +36.8% in the third quarter and then +30% in the fourth quarter (against harder comparisons). That would put profits in 2010 up a record 36.1% overall.
To read more about how corporate earnings will shape the market click here.
Four Ways to Profit From a Business-Driven Rebound
Last week we learned that the U.S. economy expanded by a whopping 5.7% annual rate in the 2009 fourth quarter – the biggest jump since 2003. This was well ahead of the 4.5% consensus estimate and solidly beats the 2.2% growth rate achieved in last year's third quarter. The turnaround is the largest in almost three decades.
The main driver of the performance was a big slowdown in the rate at which businesses were drawing down their inventories. This alone contributed 3.4% to overall growth in the quarter. Paul Ashworth at Capital Economics in London believes that inventory rebuilding will continue to boost gross-domestic-product (GDP) growth for another two or three quarters.
But what happens after that – especially after the stimulus spending out of Washington winds down later this year? Will this rate of growth continue?
Investors who know the answer to that question will be the best-positioned to profit.
Billionaires Turn to Beggars as Financial Crisis Torches the World's Fortunes
The holiday season is traditionally the time when society extends a helping hand to the less fortunate among us. But this December, thanks to the world's continuing economic unease, we've got a whole new class of "poor" people to worry about.
They're called billionaires – or, even more tragic, "ex-billionaires" – and, according to Forbes magazine, they've taken a bigger financial hit in the past 15 months or so than in any year since the magazine started tracking the fortunes of the world's richest people back in 1987.
In fact, the most recent Forbes survey found that the total number of billionaires around the globe plunged from a record 1,125 in early 2008 to just 793 in March 2009 – a net decline of 332, or 29.5%. Even worse, the total net worth of the world's recognized billionaires plunged 45.4%, from $4.4 trillion in 2008 to just $2.4 trillion this year (numbers are based on stock prices and other values assessed in mid-February). That translates to an average net worth of just $3 billion, down 23%, or $910 million, from 2008.
Lawmakers Looking to Use Excess TARP Funds for a Second Stimulus
With the unemployment rate still lingering above 10%, House Democrats are suggesting some of the excess funds from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) be used to promote job creation in what would essentially be a second stimulus.
The Obama administration said in August that TARP – which Congress funded with $700 billion of taxpayer money – would only cost the $341 billion once banks repay government loans, injections and other investments. Now, the U.S. Treasury can take another $200 billion off of that, Reuters reported, citing an anonymous Treasury official.
"We're going to explain that we're going to have substantial savings, that we're going to have very substantial resources we can make available to support not just the immediate priorities the country faces in spurring investment in job creation, but also to meet our long term fiscal challenges," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in an interview with Bloomberg.
Although President Obama Warns of a “Double-Dip” Recession, Money Morning Expects U.S. Recovery to Continue
In a warning that focuses on the need to contain the soaring federal deficit, U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday (Wednesday) said that a continued accumulation of government debt could be enough to blunt the recovery and then drop the U.S. economy into a “double-dip” recession.
It was President Obama's most-severe warning yet about the dangers of growing budget deficits at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate is at 10.2% and climbing. The comments were made to Fox News during an interview granted in Beijing during the president's nine-day trip through Asia.