Confidence, what confidence?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s July 24th report, home sales are on the rise along with prices.  The unemployment rate in July saw a slight decrease from 7.6% to 7.4% adding more than 160,000 jobs to the economy.  The market has been on a tear, up nearly 9,000 points from its low.  And what about GDP?  Well the latest numbers published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis suggest a 1.7% increase in the second quarter.  Sounds good right?  So what’s the problem?

The fact is that even with all this positive data these is still an overwhelming sense of discomfort, uncertainty, and general lack of confidence in the world around us.  People are skeptical of government action (or inaction in certain areas), turmoil overseas, the real unemployment rate (includes those under-employed, marginally attached, and those who have simply fallen off the unemployment claims list), and the ongoing list of scandals that seem to plague our society.

But are these issues really creating a lack of confidence?  Consider these facts:

  1. Gold prices nearing $1,400 an ounce.  In the last 5 years, gold has literally doubled in price.  Typically viewed as a safe-haven for worried investors, an increase in the price of this precious commodity suggests confidence problems abound.
  2. Consumer Confidence as reported by the Conference Board drops 2 points in July.  This decrease was “precipitated by a weakening in consumers’ economic and job expectations.”  This point drop tracks back to the real impact of the current unemployment numbers.
  3. Small business confidence as reported by both NSBA and the NFIB showed a slight month over month improvement in their respective July reports.  However, the small uptick in confidence didn’t translate into hiring more workers.  Less than two-thirds of small businesses are able to obtain adequate financing to run their business.  Tight credit markets are typically a sign of low confidence.  And, if businesses don’t feel confident in the availability of credit they most certainly will not extend themselves into growth-driven initiatives such as hiring or expansion.
  4. The recent market pullback may not be a sign of low confidence as much as it may be a normal correction.  The last two weeks has seen the markets end on down notes (unless something miraculous happens today).   This drop has still only resulted in a 5% pullback.  Not considered a major correction by any means but still worth watching.
  5. Consumer spending has decreased quarter over quarter this year as American’s pull back their spending due to concerns over their jobs, and the overall economy.
  6. And what about George Soros‘ bet this week buying millions in Put Options...a hedge against a drop in the market.  Said simply…Soros believes the market is going down and has taken action to protect his investments by purchasing Put options.  He bet against the market once before in 2008 and was right.

Trying to read the tea leaves continues to be difficult.  With all the fairly positive data floating around you would think there would be more confidence among consumers and businesses.  But the realities facing the market from tight credit, to low hiring, to major shifts from full-time employment to part-time suggest we’ve got a long way to go until confidence makes its return to our great country.

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