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30 November 2021

The market for new homes in the U.S. shrank in October 2021. The initial estimate of the market cap itself for the month is $28.31 billion, which is 0.9% less than one year ago, and 6.0% below December 2020's peak of $30.12 billion.

Trailing Twelve Month Average New Homes Sales Market Capitalization, January 1976-October 2021

The market for new homes in the U.S. has shrunk in both real and nominal terms.

Meanwhile, the annualized number of new homes being sold in the U.S. has nearly dropped to levels last seen in December 2019.

Trailing Twelve Month Average U.S. New Homes Sales, January 1976-October 2021

The shrinking new home market represents a source of headwinds for the U.S. economy in 2021. We'll follow up with a look at the affordability trends for new homes later this week.

References

U.S. Census Bureau. New Residential Sales Historical Data. Houses Sold. [Excel Spreadsheet]. Accessed 24 November 2021. 

U.S. Census Bureau. New Residential Sales Historical Data. Median and Average Sale Price of Houses Sold. [Excel Spreadsheet]. Accessed 24 November 2021. 

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29 November 2021

A lot can happen to the outlook for the S&P 500 (Index: SPX) with the random onset of new information.

Friday, 26 November 2021 provides a good example. After having been closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, what is normally a low volume trading day instead turned into a noteworthy event because of the development of what is now being called the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which prompted new global travel restrictions with the countries in Africa where the new potentially vaccine-resistant variant was detected.

The initial events related to the new variant took place while U.S. markets were closed on Thursday, 25 November 2021, so by the time markets opened on Friday, stock prices gapped down at the open, then proceeded to close some 2.27% lower than they had previously closed on Wednesday, 24 November 2021.

From our perspective, the change in stock prices is consistent with a small Lévy flight event, as U.S. investors shifted their attention from 2022-Q2 inward toward the nearer term quarters of either 2021-Q4 or 2022-Q1. As it happens, that change moves the trajectory of the S&P 500 from the upper edge of the redzone forecast range on the alternative futures chart back into the middle of the range, which is telling.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2021Q4 - Standard Model (m=-2.5 from 16 June 2021) - Snapshot on 26 Nov 2021

We're able to make that determination because of the assumptions we made when we initially set up the redzone forecast range many weeks ago. We had assumed investors would be focusing on the upcoming quarter of 2022-Q1 in the final weeks of 2021-Q4, where we set the middle of the future end of the range to correspond to the dividend futures-based model's projection for what the level of the S&P 500 index would be if investors were focusing on that point of time in the future. (The trajectory associated with 2022-Q1 is not much different from that for 2021-Q4, which is why we say investors may be focusing on either of these quarters.)

We're also fortunate in that we're near the end of period where the past volatility of stock prices prompted us to generate a redzone forecast range in the first place. Just looking a little further forward to the end of the forecast range to look at the relative positions of the trajectories for 2021-Q4/2022-Q1 and 2022-Q2 confirms a shift in investor focus from 2022-Q2 toward the earlier quarters would lead to a shift in the level of the S&P 500 of the magnitude that has occurred.

Since this is an example of how the random onset of new information affects stock prices, here are the headlines we noted for their market-moving potential during the holiday-shortened Thanksgiving trading week.

Monday, 22 November 2021
Tuesday, 23 November 2021
Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Thursday, 25 November 2021
Friday, 26 November 2021

The CME Group's FedWatch Tool is still projecting a quarter point rate hike in June 2022, the odds of additional hikes later in the year have dropped below 50% with last week's pandemic developments.

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26 November 2021

We're posting this super early in the morning to help get you off to a strong start in solving a problem you already have. That problem? What to do with the leftovers now crowding your refrigerator from yesterday's Thanksgiving dinner!

Sam the Cooking Guy has a solution for what to do with your leftover stuffing: use it in your breakfast omelette! We've queued up the following video to get you going. Just a quick note before you start watching - he does a commercial for SimpliSafe's home security system during it, so when you get to it at about the 4:47 mark, you can skip past nearly all of it by advancing the video to the 6:06 mark:

Here's the quick list of ingredients in the order they're added to the non-stick skillet (at low heat):

  • Salted butter
  • Leftover stuffing
  • Eggs (he uses three eggs beaten with salt and pepper)
  • Cheese (he uses two slices of American singles)

And that's pretty much it. If you want help with the rest of your leftovers, we have some options listed below from previous Thanksgivings....

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25 November 2021

For as long as we've celebrated Thanksgiving at Political Calculations, we've never once provided any information for doing the one thing most Americans' Thanksgiving dinners depend upon. Cooking a turkey.

Sure, we've featured information on how to carve a turkey. We've twice featured information on how to avoid hurting yourself and others when cooking a turkey. And we've featured the Swedish Chef cooking a turkey, although to be fair, no turkey was actually cooked during that production.

So we're going to rectify that situation today by featuring two videos that will take you through the process of cooking a turkey! But before we begin, let's just say that if your turkey is still frozen rock solid, you should skip the videos and find out what restaurants might be open near you instead....

Our first featured video will take you through the basics of what you need to know about the full process of cooking a turkey in about 12 and a half minutes. Please be aware the process in real life takes much longer....

Our second video runs a little over eight minutes and features much of the same information, but is aimed for a slightly different audience. An audience that's somewhat intimidated by not just cooking a turkey, but being judged for how well they might cook it.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and good luck with your turkey this year!

P.S. We're not done with cooking tips, so check back in tomorrow for an idea of what to do with your Thanksgiving dinner leftovers!

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24 November 2021

In 2020, the average live weight of a turkey raised on a U.S. farm was nearly unchanged from 2019's final recorded average of 32.7 pounds per bird. That stagnation ended what had been a 40 year long trend of growth in the average size of turkeys produced on U.S. farms.

Average Live Weight of Turkeys Raised on U.S. Farms, 1929-2020 with Estimate for 2021

In the chart above, we've shown that new trend of stagnation continuing based on early signs that production factors such as the rising costs of feed, fuel, and labor for producing turkeys in the U.S. will affect the growth of the average turkey much the same as it did during the inflationary 1970s. Should the finalized data for 2021 confirm that's the case when it is released next year, it will indicate U.S. turkey producers are dealing with today's inflation similarly to how they did during that period of relative stagnation for the U.S. economy.

References

U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Livestock Historic Data. [Online Database: Survey - Animals & Products - Poultry - Turkeys - Production - Turkeys Production Measured in Head - Total - National - US Total - 1929-2021 - Annual - Year]. Accessed 14 November 2021.

U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Livestock Historic Data. [Online Database: Survey - Animals & Products - Poultry - Turkeys - Production - Turkeys Production Measured in LB - Total - National - US Total - 1929-2021 - Annual - Year]. Accessed 14 November 2021.

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23 November 2021

An estimated 214 million turkeys were raised on U.S. farms in 2021, down 4.5% from 2020's 224 million. That decline continues an ongoing downward trend that has now lasted for 25 years.

Number of Turkeys Raised on U.S. Farms, 1929-2020 with Estimate for 2021

2021 saw the fewest number of turkeys produced on U.S. farms since 1986. Turkey production had soared during the late 1980s and early 1990s thanks to that era's low-fat diet craze, which saw a sharp increase in demand for lean turkey meat.

On a side note, we now have turkey production data going back to 1929!

References

U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Livestock Historic Data. [Online Database: Survey - Animals & Products - Poultry - Turkeys - Production - Turkeys Production Measured in Head - Total - National - US Total - 1929-2021 - Annual - Year]. Accessed 14 November 2021.

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22 November 2021

The cost of providing a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner to 10 people in 2021 is 14% higher than a year ago. The same food that cost $46.90 in 2020 now costs $53.31.

That's according to the results of the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual survey of the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner were released one week before Thanksgiving 2021. In the following chart, we've visualized the Farm Bureau's year-over-year comparison of the costs of the food in their traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner shopping list.

Cost of a Traditional Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner, 2020 vs 2021

In the chart, we've ranked the cost of the individual items and groupings used by the Farm Bureau for their traditional turkey dinner menu from high to low according to their 2021 cost as you read from left to right. We've also tallied the cumulative cost of the meal, with the totals for each shown on the far right side of the chart.

Ranking the data this way lets us see that the increase in the cost of turkey is responsible for most of the year-over-year increase. Rising by $4.60 from 2020's $19.39 to 2021's $23.99 for a 16-pound bird, turkey alone accounts for nearly 72% of the year-over-year increase in the total cost for the meal.

Why are turkeys so much more costly in 2021? Here's a partial explanation:

Last Friday, the USDA's Turkey Market News Report showed that smaller 8- to 16-pound frozen turkeys were selling for $1.41 per pound, up from $1.15 the year before, a 22 percent increase. Large frozen turkeys were selling for a couple cents less. Meanwhile, fresh small birds were more expensive — $1.47 per pound — though the year-over-year increase was less, only 15 cents. Exacerbating the issue is that the total number of turkeys for 2021 is also down: six percent lower year-to-date in 2021 than in 2020.

Justin Benavidez, assistant professor of agricultural economics with Texas A&M's AgriLife, told the nearby KRHD News that this decreased production was the primary cause of the price increase. "This is actually one of those rare situations where the pandemic didn't have much to do with the supply and demand of turkey," he was quoted as saying.

But Gregory Martin, a poultry educator with Penn State Extension, didn't entirely agree, instead pointing to larger inflation concerns. "Prices are going to go up simply because of the cost to get the birds in the store," he told Lancaster Farming.

We'll be looking closer at American turkeys all this week!

References

American Farm Bureau Federation. Farm Bureau: Survey Shows Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Up 14%. [Online Article]. 18 November 2021.

American Farm Bureau Federation. Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Survey: 2021 Year to Year Prices. [PDF Document]. 18 November 2021.

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After being beaten back by rising inflation concerns, the S&P 500 (Index: SPX) rebounded to reach a new record high closing value of 4,704.54 on Thursday, 18 November 2021, but retreated below that level to end the week at 4,697.96.

From the perspective of the alternative futures spaghetti forecast chart, the trajectory of the S&P 500 is riding just within the upper end of the redzone forecast range.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2021Q4 - Standard Model (m=-2.5 from 16 June 2021) - Snapshot on 19 Nov 2021

We suspect that investors are refocusing their forward-looking attention on 2022-Q2 since the Federal Reserve is now expected to initiate a new round of Federal Funds Rate hikes to address the persistent inflation that has developed since January 2021. The CME Group's FedWatch Tool is anticipating two, maybe three rate hikes in 2022 for the Federal Funds Rate set by the U.S. Federal Reserve. The FedWatch Tool predicts a greater than 50% probability for at least two quarter point rate hikes, the first in June 2022 and the second in September 2022, but is now giving just under a 50% probability of a third quarter point rate hike in December 2022.

Here are the market moving headlines from the third week of November 2021:

Monday, 15 November 2021
Tuesday, 16 November 2021
Wednesday, 17 November 2021
Thursday, 18 November 2021
Friday, 19 November 2021

We're shifting gears for the rest of the week with our annual week-long celebration of Thanksgiving, starting with a look at the inflation in the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner for 2021.

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19 November 2021

Power laws show up in a lot of different places. That includes things like stock prices and income distributions, which is why developments in maths related to the topic of power laws catch our attention.

That brings us to a story from earlier this year that we've recently caught up with. We came across it via a university's PR news release with the clickbait title "Financial crashes, pandemics, Texas snow: How math could predict 'black swan' events".

We don't think much of that type of PR sensationalism, so we set it aside to review later. After all, we've seen the PR departments at universities function much like those scam scientific journals that will literally publish gibberish if you pay them. Usually after we get to reviewing such pieces, we end up sweeping the stories into the garbage. Where most of them belong.

This one turned out to have some meat behind it. It relates to when and how Taylor's Law may be successfully used to estimate the variance of a population based on the mean of smaller samples measuring it.

Named after ecologist Lionel Roy Taylor, who developed it after realizing the total variance of the animal population in a region (such as moths) is proportional to a power of the mean of the sampled population of animals counted at the same time at several different sites within it (such as the counts of moths captured overnight in traps spread over the region).

Here's the basic math formula for Taylor's Law:

Variance = A*(Mean)B

In this power law equation, A and B are constant values, the mean is that for the different samples of the population, and the resulting variance applies for the total population. This expression becomes a linear equation when using logarithms:

log(Variance) = log(Constant A) + (Constant B)*log(Mean)

It had been assumed that Taylor's Law would only work well when dealing with a population whose variance in either space or time is described by a normal Gaussian distribution, the kind represented by a standard bell-curve in statistics. Joel E. Cohen, Richard A. Davis, and Gennady Samorodnitsky however have demonstrated in a 2020 paper that Taylor's Law holds for heavy-tailed distributions.

The difference in the variance between a normal-tailed distribution and a heavy-tailed distribution in statistics is that more extreme variances are more likely to be seen in heavy-tailed distributions. The variation of stock prices is a good example, because big changes in them are observed much more frequently than are predicted by normal variance distribution statistics. That has real world meaning because the failure to recognize that fact has resulted in some of the investing world's biggest failures.

Adem Tumerkan: Normal vs Heavy-Tailed Distribution

Cohen, Davis, and Samorodnitsky see how their work might be extended beyond its native field of ecology:

Until now, Taylor's Law was thought to have no place in these heavy-tailed systems. It helped plot our paths along the normal circumstances of daily life, but when it came to extreme occurrences like the present pandemic, Taylor's Law seemed irrelevant.

But a few years ago, Cohen and colleagues at Columbia University made a striking discovery—a way of looking at heavy-tailed variables that yields surprisingly orderly connections between the mean and the variance. "It was as if we took all of the pieces of a car, put it in a box, and the car still ran," Cohen says. "This combination of variables gave us the same result regardless of how they were connected."

A collaboration of excited mathematicians culminated in this new study, which collects many more examples of the phenomenon and concludes with mathematical proof that extreme, heavy-tailed events are indeed well described by Taylor's Law.

This does not mean that any individual extreme event can be predicted with a simple mean-to-variance formula. But the research effectively breaks Taylor's Law out of its shell, giving scientists good reason to test whether market fluctuations and natural disasters obey the same Taylor's Law that governs insect populations and the progression of cancerous growths.

Cohen hopes that this work will stimulate further basic research on the mathematics of heavy-tailed distributions and that scientists will use it to better understand the extreme events wherever heavy-tailed distributions lurk. "Advances like these are the mathematical analogue of bioimaging," he says.

"They make it possible to see what was previously invisible."

Potentially. It will be exciting to see.

References

Joel E. Cohen et al. Heavy-tailed distributions, correlations, kurtosis and Taylor's Law of fluctuation scaling, Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences (2020). DOI: 10.1098/rspa.2020.0610. [Ungated PDF Document].

J.N. Perry. Taylor's Power Law for Dependence of Variance on Mean in Animal Populations. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series C (Applied Statistics). Vol. 30, No. 3 (1981), pp. 254-263. DOI: 10.2307/2346349.

Adam Tumerkan. Hunting and Profiting from 'Fat Tails' - Be Long HighVol Assets. Seeking Alpha. [Online Article]. 20 July 2017.

Previously on Political Calculations

Image Credit: Adem Tumerkan.

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18 November 2021

Three months ago, we took the first snapshot of the expected future for quarterly dividends per share for the S&P 500 (Index: SPX) through the end of 2022. Here's what that future looks like as of the close of trading on 11 November 2021:

Past and Projected Quarterly Dividends Per Share Futures for S&P 500, 2020-Q4 Through 2022-Q4, Snapshot on 11 November 2021

The past and projected data shown in this chart is from the CME Group's S&P 500 quarterly dividend index futures. The past data reflects the values reported by CME Group on the date the associated dividend futures contract expired, while the projected data reflects the values reported on 11 November 2021. This matches the timing of when we took our latest snapshot of the index' expected future earnings per share.

Since our last snapshot, the levels of the S&P 500's expected quarterly dividends per share has increased across the board for each quarter but 2022-Q2, which is unchanged at $15.54 per share. In the near term, cash dividend payouts expected during 2021-Q4 have risen from $14.87 to $15.36, while 2022-Q1's projected dividends have risen from $16.03 to $16.20. In the more distant future, dividends in 2022-Q3 rose from $15.17 to $15.51 per share, while 2021-Q4's dividends per share increased from $15.12 to $15.51.

About the Numbers

Dividend futures indicate the amount of dividends per share to be paid out over the period covered by each quarters dividend futures contracts, which start on the day after the preceding quarter's dividend futures contracts expire and end on the third Friday of the month ending the indicated quarter. So for example, as determined by dividend futures contracts, the "current" quarter of 2021-Q4 began on Saturday, 18 September 2021 and will end on Friday, 17 December 2021.

That makes these figures different from the quarterly dividends per share figures reported by Standard and Poor, who reports the amount of dividends per share paid out during regular calendar quarters after the end of each quarter. This term mismatch accounts for the differences in dividends reported by both sources, with the biggest differences between the two typically seen in the first and fourth quarters of each year.

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17 November 2021

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, Standard and Poor has updated their projections to indicate stronger earnings growth going into 2022.

Forecasts for S&P 500 Trailing Twelve Month Earnings per Share, December 2017-December 2022, Snapshot on 11 November 2021

S&P is also forecasting slower earnings growth during 2022.

Reference

Silverblatt, Howard. Standard & Poor. S&P 500 Earnings and Estimates. [Excel Spreadsheet]. 11 November 2021. Accessed 12 November 2021.

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16 November 2021

Arizona is seeing an upswing in the number of COVID cases in the state. As best as we can tell using the back calculation method, the new uptrend for cases began with a change in the rate of incidence of exposure to the viral infection approximately between 8 October and 11 October 2021. The following chart shows the latest trends for the number of COVID cases, hospital admissions, and deaths indexed to the approximate date of when those infected were initially exposed to the variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus being transmitted within the state.

Arizona's Coronavirus Pandemic Experience, 15 March 2021 - 15 November 2021

The state's detailed data for hospital admissions and deaths is still as yet too incomplete to tell if they will follow the pattern for the uptrend in cases. The impact of the COVID vaccines combined with improved treatments however has clearly made COVID less serious than it was during 2020.

The period of 8 October through 11 October 2021 was characterized by what might be considered several mass exposure events within the state. Here's a sampling of sporting events that drew thousands in attendance to each:

That's just the sporting events in the state during that period, without including things like tailgate parties or other social gatherings that could constitute significant exposure events.

We were curious to see if Arizona's COVID data could provide more insight into where cases are now arising in the state. The following image is a snapshot of COVID cases by ZIP code in the state, where the darker red the color, the greater the number of cases in the last month.

Arizona Recent COVID-19 Cases by Zip Code (15 October 2021 - 15 November 2021)

The map is fascinating because with a few exceptions it shows the higher levels of new COVID cases in ZIP codes are taking place in regions that might be considered to be the suburbs and exurbs of the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas. Here's the short list of the ZIP codes that became the darkest red during the past month:

  • 85706: 793 cases
  • 85142: 792 cases
  • 85338: 792 cases
  • 85345: 771 cases
  • 85326: 763 cases
  • 85122: 717 cases
  • 85009: 713 cases

It would be interesting to see if those testing positive for COVID-19 infections in these ZIP codes share any common characteristics. Arizona's public data for infections at this level however doesn't provide enough detail to tell.

Previously on Political Calculations

Here is our previous coverage of Arizona's experience with the coronavirus pandemic, presented in reverse chronological order.

References

Political Calculations has been following Arizona's experience with the coronavirus experience from almost the beginning, because the state makes its high quality data publicly available. Specifically, the state's Departent of Health Services reports the number of cases by date of test sample collection, the number of hospitalizations by date of hospital admission, and the number of deaths by date recorded on death certificates.

This data, combined with what we know of the typical time it takes to progress to each of these milestones, makes it possible to track the state's daily rate of incidence of initial exposure to the variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus using back calculation methods. Links to that data and information about how the back calculation method works are presented below:

Arizona Department of Health Services. COVID-19 Data Dashboard: Vaccine Administration. [Online Database]. Accessed 15 November 2021.

Stephen A. Lauer, Kyra H. Grantz, Qifang Bi, Forrest K. Jones, Qulu Zheng, Hannah R. Meredith, Andrew S. Azman, Nicholas G. Reich, Justin Lessler. The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application. Annals of Internal Medicine, 5 May 2020. https://doi.org/10.7326/M20-0504.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios. [PDF Document]. 10 September 2020.

More or Less: Behind the Stats. Ethnic minority deaths, climate change and lockdown. Interview with Kit Yates discussing back calculation. BBC Radio 4. [Podcast: 8:18 to 14:07]. 29 April 2020.

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15 November 2021

In last week's edition of the S&P 500 chaos series, we made a point of recognizing the S&P 500's recent winning streak, which lasted just one more day after we commented on it. Alas, it ran into a wall of unexpected inflation, which snapped the streak to a close.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2021Q3 - Standard Model (m=-2.5 from 16 June 2021) - Snapshot on 12 Nov 2021

From our perspective, it's interesting to see the upper end of the redzone forecast range marked the top for the index' streak, although we recognize that's a coincidence. We do wonder though what the redzone forecast range would look like if we had anticipated how the outlook for investors would change when President Biden's proposed tax rate hikes died on Capitol Hill.

Getting back to the streak itself, Schaeffer's Investment Research's Rocky White was impressed enough to recount the history of the S&P 500's previous 8-day or longer winning streaks with record-high closes:

The S&P 500 Index (SPX) just did something it hasn’t done in nearly 25 years. On Monday, it closed at an all-time high for the eighth day in a row. The streak came to an end with yesterday’s down day. The table below shows data on each streak and how the index did going forward.

In the short term, the S&P 500 was down a week later in three of the past four occurrences. So, if we struggle in the short-term, it should not be a surprise. Three months later, however, the index was higher after all seven previous instances. This week I’ll look at how these future returns compare to typical market returns and similar streaks for the Nasdaq Composite (IXIC), which also had eight straight days of all-time highs.

Schaeffer Research: 8 Straight New All-Time Highs (S&P 500), 1928-2021

White continues reviewing the historic record to see how investors fared after the S&P 500 or its predecessor indices ran a record-high setting streak:

The table below shows how the S&P 500 performed after each of these streaks ended. There are limited data points, but an end to the streak has not been an indication of buying exhaustion; stocks have tended to do well even after the streaks ended. Perhaps one thing to be wary of is the two signals that occurred within a year just before the Great Depression and then you have two signals within a year in 1964, after which stocks struggled. We haven’t had two streaks of eight recently but earlier this year we had a streak of seven straight all-time highs. Any one signal of all-time high streaks may be nothing to worry about, but if they become more prevalent, perhaps it can signal a major top.

Schaeffer Research: S&P 500 After All-Time High Streak Ends and S&P 500 Since 1928 (to 9 November 2021)

In other words, pretty much anything can happen. What will happen will be paced by the random onset of new information, such as what we saw in the market-moving headlines of the past week:

Monday, 8 November 2021
Tuesday, 9 November 2021
Wednesday, 10 November 2021
Thursday, 11 November 2021
Friday, 12 November 2021

The CME Group’s FedWatch Tool is now projecting a greater than 50% probability of a quarter point rate hike in June 2022, followed by another in September 2022, and a third in December 2022. That’s a lot of change in just the past week.

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About Political Calculations

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