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Jason Simpkins

Stocks Look to Shrug Off Dwindling Consumer Confidence

High prices for commodities last month sent consumer confidence spiraling to a three-month low, but that doesn't necessarily mean the stock market will suffer.

On the contrary, stocks over the past two years actually have performed remarkably well in the months following sharp declines in consumer confidence.

In the four prior instances since the start of 2009 in which consumer confidence fell by more than 10% in a month, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose an average of 7.2% the following month with positive returns every single time, according to Bespoke Investment Group.

That makes March's steep decline in consumer confidence somewhat easier to stomach. The Conference Board's confidence index fell 11.9% in March to a three-month low of 63.4.

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Uranium Prices – And Producers – Are Poised to Rebound

Uranium spot prices and shares of uranium mining companies have plunged in recent weeks amid fears that the situation in Japan could deteriorate into a nuclear meltdown on par with Chernobyl.

Investors fear that the explosion and subsequent radiation leaks at the Fukushima nuclear power plant will force other countries to tighten restrictions, or worse, abandon their pursuit of nuclear power as an alternative source of energy.

But what if no such thing happens? What if the nuclear fallout in Japan remains relatively contained, and other countries around the world move ahead as planned with their atomic energy projects?

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Pay to Play: What China's Rising Wages Mean for Investors

There's a sea change underway in China's economy – one that's evident in soaring prices, shrinking trade surpluses, and higher property values. And it's being driven by higher wages for workers that for decades have been grossly underpaid.

From the country's fast-growing urban centers to its frontier countryside, wages are rising rapidly across China.

China's 31 provinces boosted minimum wages by an average of 24% last year, according to Yin Weimin, China's minister of human resources and social security. Meanwhile, the average monthly income for migrant workers rose 13% to $256.89 (1,690 yuan).

Six provinces already have raised minimum wages this year, and labor shortages and government mandates will likely compel the remaining 25 to follow suit.

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Investing in Sweden – A Cold Country with a Hot Economy

What comes to mind when you think of Sweden: Blonde hair, pale skin, and a pair of sullen blue eyes piercing through a whiteout – or an economy that grew 5.5% last year?

Too often, it's the former when it should be the latter.

Indeed, chances are you've never thought about investing in Sweden. But the country that is so often thought of as being cold – if it's thought of at all – is actually overheating.

The Swedish economy expanded by 5.5% last year, making it the fastest growing economy in Western Europe. Sweden's central bank, the Riksbank, was the first central bank in the European Union (EU) to raise interest rates. It has lifted its key repurchase rate five times since last July, squelching inflation.

The most recent hike came on Feb. 15 – a 0.25% increase that took the rate to 1.5%. And with the prospect of further rate increases in the short-term, the Swedish krona has risen to its highest level against the euro in 10 years.

Some manufacturers have warned that the soaring currency could undermine the country's export-led recovery, but the Swedish economy is still on pace to grow 4.4% this year.

Additionally, inflation remains low, unemployment is on the decline, and Sweden's national debt is lower now than it was in 2006.

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You Heard it Here First: Silver's 30-Year High is Just the Beginning

The price of silver today (Monday) surged above $30 an ounce for the first time since 1980, after U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke indicated that further quantitative easing (QE) could be on the way.

Silver futures have gained almost 70% since August, when expectations of more QE were first discussed. Since then, the Federal Reserve has set about purchasing $600 billion of U.S. Treasuries and the Fed Chairman said on Sunday that more debt purchases are "certainly possible."

The result was a rally in precious metals, which played host to investors looking to preserve their wealth against further depreciation. The price of silver topped $30 for the first time since 1980, soaring as high as $30.09 an ounce in afternoon trading.

But that's just the beginning.

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Newly-Empowered House Republicans Take Aim at Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill

With Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives, much of the Democratic agenda will be challenged in the months ahead. That includes the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, which Congressional Republicans have already pledged to weaken.

The financial reform bill passed in June and brought with it increased consumer protection, trading restrictions for big banks, and tighter regulation of financial products. However, the bill still fell short of dramatic Wall Street reform as the lobbying efforts of large financial institutions eroded the legislation's sharper points.

The original bill, for example, would have ended banks' ability to trade derivatives. But the final version was watered down to allow banks to retain certain derivatives trading units to hedge risk.

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Policymakers Panicked as China Rare Earth Ban Extends to the West

China for months has blocked shipments of rare earth metals intended for Japan in retaliation for a regional dispute. Now, China appears to have expanded its rare earth embargo to include Western countries – a move that has U.S. and European authorities scrambling to formulate a backup plan.

Rare earth metals are essential to the production of high-tech devices like computers, display screens, smart bombs, and hybrid-car batteries. And despite their name, rare earth metals aren't particularly rare. However, they are difficult to produce and many rare earth production companies have moved their operations to China to capitalize on cheaper extraction costs and the nation's commitment to growing its alternative energy sector.

China, which has one-third of the world's rare earth deposits, accounted for 97% of global production last year. Of course, the near-total monopoly China wields over the sector wasn't a major concern until just a few months ago when the country cut its production and export quotas.

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Iraq's Energy Sector Is Moving Forward – With or Without the U.S.

Iraq on Wednesday broke the record – 207 days – for the time between a parliamentary election and the formation of a government. But while Iraq's government is at a standstill, the country's energy sector remains dynamic and U.S. companies can't afford to wait for the political climate to thaw before diving in.

Iraq is slowly retaking the shape of one of the world's most prolific oil producers. Its reserves are actually 25% larger than previously thought.

"Iraq's oil reserves which are extractable are 143.1 billion barrels," Hussein al-Shahristani, Iraq's oil minister, said earlier this week, basing his comments on data provided by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

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With Prices Soaring Gold Bullion is Suddenly in High Demand

The world's wealthiest people are moving their money out of stocks and into gold bullion, sucking the yellow metal up by the ton in some instances.

Fears that the dollar will continue to lose value in the wake of the U.S. Federal Reserve's quantitative easing have boosted the appetite for physical bullion as well as for mining company shares and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), UBS AG (NYSE: UBS) executive Josef Stadler told the Reuters Global Private Banking Summit.

"They don't only buy ETFs or futures; they buy physical gold," said Stadler, who runs the Swiss bank's services for clients with assets of at least $50 million to invest. "We had a clear example of a couple buying over a ton of gold … and carrying it to another place," Stadler said.

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You Heard It Here First: A Global Currency War is Being Fought – And There Will Be No Victors

Brazil's finance minister, Guido Mantega, recently acknowledged to the global investment community what most trade officials already believed: An "international currency war" has broken out.

And, in this war, there won't be a real victor.

"We're in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency," Mantega told The Financial Times. "This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness."

Mantega's comments came just weeks after Japan joined Switzerland in intervening in the foreign-exchange market. But the reality is that the currency war has been under way since 2008.

At least, that's when Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald first warned that countries – most notably the United States – would debase their currencies in a race to boost their exports and keep economic growth afloat.

"The government has adopted a weak-dollar policy," Fitz-Gerald said in an interview in March 2008. "They're sending out a message loud and clear: 'We want you to sell the dollar.'"

By holding the central bank's benchmark lending rate down in a record low range of 0.00% to 0.25% for close to two years now and buying up Treasuries in a policy known as "quantitative easing," the U.S. Federal Reserve is effectively debasing the dollar.

But the U.S. central bank isn't alone.

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