Political Calculations
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22 February 2024
A teenager looking for a job image generated by Microsoft Bing Image Generator - https://www.bing.com/images/create/a-teenager-looking-for-a-job/1-65cfc74d992b4ebc9ef4da16b814c0e0?id=pzOnLX5GkMhT2eoNOiaLYg%3d%3d&view=detailv2&idpp=genimg&idpclose=1&thId=OIG3.4BG_pLoIAG_CHyZhVzmi&frame=sydedg&FORM=SYDBIC

After ending 2023 on a down note, the employment situation for U.S. teens was mostly unchanged in January 2024.

That's good news, particularly for younger teens. This demographic has finally broken out of its 2022 downward trend, having recorded increases in the seasonally-adjusted number of Age 16-17 with jobs in five of the last six months. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, there were 2,292,000 working 16-17 year olds in January 2024, about 200,000 more than in July 2023.

But for the overall teen employment situation to be flat, that means a more negative story for older U.S. teens, whose seasonally-adjusted employment figures dipped slightly from the previous month to 3,428,000. While that number didn't change much from December 2023, the percentage share of working older teens declined to 42.0% of the Age 18-19 population in January 2024, down from December 2023's 43.6%.

For the combined population of working teens, the net overall change in seasonally adjusted employment for the combined Age 16-19 population was an increase of 66,000 to 5,704,000. There was no change recorded for this age cohort's employment-to-population percentage from December 2023 to January 2024.

All these changes are shown in the following charts presenting the seasonally-adjusted data for the number of employed teens and the teen employment-to-population ratio from January 2016 through January 2024.

U.S. Teen Employment and Teen Employment-to-Population Ratio*, January 2016 - January 2024

Because the Bureau of Labor Statistics subjects each of these data series to its own seasonal adjustment, you'll find the figures presented in the chart for Age 16-17 year olds and Age 18-19 year olds do not necessarily add up to the combined total for Age 16-19 year olds. If you are looking for employment numbers that do add up properly, you'll want to access the non-seasonally adjusted data available at the BLS' data site.

Reference

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics (Current Population Survey - CPS). [Online Database]. Accessed: 16 February 2024.

Image Credit: Microsoft Bing Image Generator. Prompt: "A teenager looking for a job".

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21 February 2024
Earnings Recession image generated by Stable Diffusion Dreamstudio Beta

Every three months, we take a snapshot of the expectations for future earnings in the S&P 500 (Index: SPX) at approximately the midpoint of the current quarter, shortly after most U.S. firms have announced their previous quarter's earnings.

Since our last update three months ago, expectations for the S&P 500's earnings slumped in the near term and are stretching out the recovery from 2022's earnings recession. The S&P 500's earnings per share had been expected to return to their March 2022 peak of $197.91 during the first quarter of 2024, but that full recovery now looks to be delayed until after June 2024.

The following chart reveals how the latest earnings outlook has changed with respect to previous snapshots:

Forecasts for S&P 500 Trailing Twelve Month Earnings per Share, December 2017-December 2024, Snapshot on 14 February 2024

Here is a summary of the major observations that may be seen in the changes of Standard & Poor's earnings projections from 8 November 2023 to 14 February 2024:

  • Earnings for 2023-Q4 decreased from a projection of $196.02 to $189.74. These earnings are still being reported, so this value is not yet final.
  • Projected earnings for 2024-Q1 dropped from $199.17 to $190.54. This change suggests near-zero earnings growth during the first quarter of 2024.
  • S&P projects faster earnings growth during the second half of 2024.
  • Despite that faster anticipated growth, the S&P 500's earnings per share is still expected to dip from $220.70 to $217.99 at the end of 2024.

If you look at the historic earnings expectations shown on the chart, particularly the period since 2021, you'll notice a negative pattern in which later projections for earnings are less optimistic than the projections that preceeded them. With 2024-Q1's anticipated earnings per share looking to be nearly unchanged from 2023-Q4's level, should that pattern hold, our spring update may show the start of a "double-dip" earnings recession for the S&P 500.

About Earnings Recessions

Depending on who you talk to, an earnings recession has one of two definitions. An earnings recession exists if either earnings decline over at least two consecutive quarters or if there is a year-over-year decline over at least two quarters. The chart identifies the periods in which the quarter-on-quarter decline in earnings definition for an earnings recession is confirmed for both the Pandemic Earnings Recession (December 2020-December 2021) and the new earnings recession (March 2022-December 2022) according to the first definition. The regions of the graph shaded in light-red correspond to the full period in which the S&P 500's earnings per share remained below (or are projected to remain below) its pre-earnings recession levels.

Let's define what a "double-dip" earnings recession would be in case that becomes relevant at the time of our next update. This term describes the situation where after having begun to recover, the S&P 500's earnings per share stops rising and falls without having recovered to its pre-earnings recession level.

Our next snapshot of the index' expected future earnings will be in three months.

Reference

Silverblatt, Howard. Standard & Poor. S&P 500 Earnings and Estimates. [Excel Spreadsheet]. 14 February 2024. Accessed 17 February 2024.

Image credit: Stable Diffusion DreamStudio Beta. Prompts: "The word 'EARNINGS' and "The word 'Recession'". We combined the two AI-generated images to produce the "Earnings Recession" graphic.

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20 February 2024
An editorial cartoon of a worried Wall Street bull looking backward over its shoulder at a bear. The bear has the word 'Inflation' written on it. Image created with Microsoft Bing Image Generator.

After breaking through the 5,000 milestone to set a new record high last week, the S&P 500 (Index: SPX) retreated from that lofty level. The index dropped 0.4% from last week's close to end the trading week at 5,005.57.

You wouldn't think it from that description, but the S&P 500 did manage to eke out a new record high of 5,029.73 on Thursday, 15 February 2024. But the bigger news of the week was the stock market's response to two reports about inflation in the U.S. The first report on the Consumer Price Index prompted a 1.4% drop on Tuesday, 13 February 2024. The second report on the Producer Price Index sparked a half percent decline on Friday, 16 February 2024.

Both reports indicated higher-than-expected inflation to start 2024. Together, that new information affected investor expectations for the timing of when the Federal Reserve will begin cutting interest rates in 2024. The CME Group's FedWatch Tool's projections of when the Fed is expected to start a series of rate cuts has shifted. It now projects the Fed will hold the Federal Funds Rate steady in a target range of 5.25-5.50% until 12 June 2024 (2024-Q2), six weeks later than previously anticipated.

Here is this week's update of the dividend futures-based model's alternative futures chart.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2024Q1 - Standard Model (m=+1.5 from 9 March 2023) - Snapshot on 16 Feb 2024

Looking forward, we're coming up on a several week long period where the echoes of past volatility in stock prices affect the dividend futures-based model's projections. This situation arises because of the model's use of historic stock prices as the base reference points from which its projections are developed. The next update for the chart will feature a new redzone forecast range to account for this echo effect.

In the meantime, here are the market-moving headlines for the week that was.

Monday, 12 February 2024
Tuesday, 13 February 2024
Wednesday, 14 February 2024
Thursday, 15 February 2024
Friday, 16 February 2024

The Atlanta Fed's GDPNow tool's latest estimate of real GDP growth for the first quarter of 2024 (2024-Q1) declined to +2.9% from last week's estimate of +3.4%.

Image Credit: Microsoft Bing Image Generator. Prompt: "An editorial cartoon of a worried Wall Street bull looking backward over its shoulder at a bear. The bear has the word 'Inflation' written on it."

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16 February 2024

Umbrellas are an example of a successful and very well established invention. By some estimates, they have been around in their basic form for over 4,000 years.

That basic form, an assembly of sticks and cloth that can be deployed to provide either shade from the sun or shelter from falling precipitation, has been generally stable over all that time. It consists of a central shaft around which a collapsible frame of ribs with attached fabric is supported. Most modern innovations of umbrella technology represent tinkering improvements to this basic form, mostly with the introduction of new materials like steel and waterproof fabrics. Perhaps the biggest innovation in that form factor came in the 1920s with Hans Haupt's invention of the pocket folding umbrella. Haupt paired a collapsible central shaft with folding ribs in a design that was much more compact and easier to carry.

That doesn't mean the umbrella cannot be improved. Anyone who has used an umbrella knows its main pain point: you have to dedicate the use of at least one of your hands to hold it.

But what if you didn't have to hold an umbrella to use it? What if you could eliminate its central shaft and the need to hold the umbrella altogether?

The answers to those questions are explored by JohnX at his I Build Stuff Youtube channel in the following ten-minute video. He's taken the umbrella to the next level using modern drone technology and shows the trial and error process of how he developed his prototype:

This is genuine outside the box thinking. While he doesn't quite eliminate the central shaft, he does succeed in minimizing it to fit within the umbrella's canopy. Along with a modified quadricopter drone.

Time will determine if JohnX' prototype flying drone umbrella will become a common, everyday ordinary object. It certainly has potential and we can see where it may have use when combined with hundreds of other flying umbrella drones at outdoor sports events or music performances. Taken to the next level, a fleet of umbrella drones could replace the expensive retractable roofs on modern sports stadiums or keep the next Woodstock music festival from becoming an unholy muddy mess.

HT: Core77.

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15 February 2024
Digital art concept of carbon dioxide emissions being used to measure economic growth. Generated with Stable Diffusion DreamStudio Beta.

January 2024 saw the pace at which carbon dioxide accumulates in the Earth's atmosphere increase for the fourth month in a row. The change is consistent with positive economic growth on the planet and China's ongoing efforts to stimulate it's faltering economy in particular.

As the world's large producer of carbon dioxide emissions, largely produced by its growing fleet of coal-fired electricity generation plants, and also the world's largest exporter of consumer goods, the CO₂ emissions produced as China powers its economy tells us a lot about the state of the global economy.

Since the country lifted its zero-COVID restrictions in late December 2022, its economy has expanded, which has increased the rate of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere. But it has also faltered, pointing to uneven economic growth within the country.

The following chart illustrates that effect using the remote Mauna Loa Observatory's measurements of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. We trace that impact as the trailing twelve month average of the year-over-year change in CO₂ accumulation presented against the background of major economic and environmental events.

Trailing Twelve Month Average Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 2000 - January 2024

China's economy has increasingly struggled with deflationary pressures in recent months. Without intervention, these pressures would be expected to slow China's economy, the effects of which would also slow the rate at which the carbon dioxide it produces enters into the atmosphere.

But China's government has a history of staging interventions within the nation that have global impact. The implementation of new, larger economic stimulus efforts could soon be on tap.

Beijing responded to past bouts of deflation with forceful monetary easing and big fiscal stimulus measures. China is expected to boost fiscal stimulus again this year, but its plans won’t be clear until a national budget is released in March....

Economists generally see a need to boost demand for goods and services, with the government either directly channeling more money into the economy or encouraging banks to lend more to businesses and households. Calls are growing for the authorities to adopt more aggressive policies than rate cuts and trims to the amount of money banks must hold in reserve with the central bank — steps already taken in 2023, to modest effect. To durably boost consumer confidence and get people spending, the government will need to end the slump in the property market.

How it ultimately does that is something that will almost certainly be able to be measured by how fast the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's air is changing. So goes China's economy, so goes atmospheric carbon dioxide.

References

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Online Data]. Updated 5 January 2024.

Image credit: Stable Diffusion DreamStudio Beta. Prompt: "Digital art concept of carbon dioxide emissions being used to measure economic growth."

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About Political Calculations

Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

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