Strong US jobs data but signs that growth is slowing

The S&P 500 retreated Friday, the bearish engulfing candle and a lower peak on the Trend Index warn of a test of support at 5050. The longer-term outlook remains bullish, with rising Trend Index troughs above zero signaling unusual buying pressure.

S&P 500

S&P 500 (purple below) outperformed the broader Equal-Weighted S&P 500 (lime green) in February, a bullish sign. Periods when $IQX outperforms the general index ($INX) can highlight when the top stocks are no longer participating in the advance — a strong bear signal.

S&P 500 & S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index

Labor Market

The economy added 275,000 jobs in February, a strong result.


Of the cyclical sectors that normally lead the economic cycle, manufacturing showed a small loss of 4K jobs but construction and transport & warehousing showed gains of 23K and 20K respectively.

Employment: Cyclical Sectors

The unemployment rate increased to 3.9% as more people entered the workforce. The 3-month moving average of the unemployment rate has increased 27 basis points (red below) from its preceding low. According to the Sahm Rule — developed by former Fed economist Claudia Sahm — a 50 basis point increase signals the start of a recession, while 35 points provides an early warning.

Unemployment Rate & 3-Month Moving Average

Average weekly hours worked ticked up to 34.3 hours but the downward trend warns that the economy is slowing.

Average Weekly Hours Worked

Another good indicator is the quit rate which soars when the labor market is tight and jobs are readily available. The down-trend since 2022 indicates that the heat is coming out of the job market.

Quit Rate

The decline in average hourly earnings annual growth is slowing.

Average Hourly Earnings

But the February monthly rate fell sharply, after a strong January. The 3-month moving average growth rate of 1.0% — 4.0% annualized — suggests further easing ahead despite a robust economy.

Average Hourly Earnings - Monthly Change

Aggregate weekly hours worked (purple below) are growing at an annual rate of 1.2%. We are unlikely to see productivity benefits from AI this year and real GDP growth (blue) is expected to converge with the slower labor growth rate.

Real GDP Growth & Aggregate Weekly Hours Worked

Financial Markets

10-Year Treasury yields found short-term support above 4.0%. Retracement to test the new resistance level at 4.20% is now likely. Respect of resistance would confirm the target of 3.80%.

10-Year Treasury Yield

The Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Index ticked up to -0.47 but continues below zero, signaling easy monetary policy.

Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Index

Commercial bank cash assets — primarily reserves at the Fed — are leveling off at $3.6 trillion.

Commercial Bank Cash Assets (Primarily Reserves at the Fed)

Strong growth in bank reserves over the last 6 months is unlikely to be repeated, with a decline expected after the Fed’s reverse repo (RRP) balance is drained. Money market funds are switching to T-Bills. After the RRP is depleted, further Treasury issuance is likely to be taken up by private investors — either through direct purchases or by switching from bank deposits to money market funds.

Reverse Repo (RRP)

Bank time deposits are still growing but the rate of growth, especially in retail deposits (blue below), has fallen dramatically over the past 12 months. Negative growth would be a strong recession warning.

Commercial Bank Time Deposits

Gold & the Dollar

The Dollar Index broke support at 103, warning of a decline to 100. Retracement that respects the new resistance level at 103 would confirm the target.

Dollar Index

Gold continues to climb, reaching close to $2200 per ounce on during the day. A weaker close signals some profit taking but is so far insufficient to set off retracement. Follow-through above $2200 would lead us to revise our short-term target to $2250 — calculated as $2050 + ($2050 – 1850).

Spot Gold

Our long-term target of $2450 is calculated as $2050 + ($2050 – $1650).

Spot Gold

Crude & Commodities

Brent crude continues in a narrow range between $82 and $84 per barrel. Downward breakout would offer short-term relief but supply issues threaten a rally to test resistance at $90 per barrel — warning of higher inflation in the months ahead.

Faster-than-expected land inventory drawdowns due to seaborne trade disruptions from the Red Sea crisis have prompted Goldman Sachs to revise up its forecast for summer peak Brent Crude prices to $87 per barrel, up by $2 from earlier expectations.

“OECD commercial stocks on land have drawn somewhat faster than expected as the redirection of flows away from the Red Sea has increased inventories on water,” analysts at the investment bank wrote in a Sunday note, as carried by Reuters. ~

Brent Crude

Copper broke through resistance at $8500 per metric ton, signaling an advance to $9000, but expect retracement to test the new support level first.


China’s real estate/financial woes are weighing more heavily on iron ore which continues to test support at $114 per metric ton.

Iron Ore

Uranium has fallen about 20% from its peak earlier in the year, with the Sprott Physical Uranium Trust (SRUUF) testing support at 20. Respect of support would suggest another advance with a target of 30.

Sprott Physical Uranium Fund

Please note: This is not a recommendation to buy SRUUF. It is simply being used as an indicator of physical uranium prices.

Growth in electricity demand is likely to have more than doubled in 2023 as data centers, crypto-mining and re-shored manufacturing facilities joined the grid.

Washington Post: US Electricity Demand


Demand for stocks and Gold is booming. Investors seek real assets ahead of anticipated June rate cuts by the Fed and a likely resurgence in inflation.

The labor market remains tight but there are signs that upward pressure on average hourly earnings is easing as growth in aggregate weekly hours worked slows.

Declining reverse repo (RRP) balances at the Fed warn that bank reserves are likely to decline in the not-too-distant future. Liquidity is expected to tighten unless the Fed slows QT after the RRP is drained. The current $95 billion per month reduction in the Fed holdings of securities cannot be sustained without hurting liquidity in financial markets. A liquidity contraction is unlikely before the November elections but would cause a sharp fall in stock prices.

An alternative for the Fed would be to encourage commercial banks to buy Treasuries by excluding USTs from bank SLR leverage calculations. But that seems less likely than tapering QT, especially after the Silicon Valley Bank disaster where SVB took huge losses on their holdings of long-duration Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities.

We are overweight Gold, Critical Materials and Defensive stocks. We feel that Technology stocks and Industrial Real Estate are over-priced and will wait for better opportunities in 2025.



Dovish Fed, Dollar falls, Gold climbs

Long-term Treasury yields plunged in response to a dovish Fed meeting which kept rates on hold, with a target range of 5.25% – 5.00%. Ten-year Treasury yields are now testing our target at 4.0%.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Declining inflation and signs of labor market easing moved the FOMC to discard the additional rate hike and increase projected rate cuts to 75 basis points next year. Their dot plot now shows 2024 ending with a target range of 4.5% – 4.75%.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Unemployment is forecast to rise to 4.1%, from 3.8% at the end of 2023, but still close to full employment. PCE inflation is projected to slow from 2.8% at the end of ’23 to 2.4% by the end of ’24, with real GDP growth slowing from 2.6% in 2023 to 1.4% next year.

QT continues unchanged at the rate of $95 billion per month: $60 billion Treasuries and $35 billion MBS.

The S&P 500 closed at 4707, headed for a test of its previous high at 4800. Breakout would signal a primary advance, with a target of 5500.

S&P 500

The equal-weighted S&P 500 ($IQX) also rallied strongly, testing medium-term resistance at 6300, compared to the early 2022 high of 6665.

S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index

Large caps show plenty of buyer interest but the Russell 2000 small caps ETF lags far behind. Normally small caps lead in the first stage of a bull market, so this warns that investors are more risk-averse than in a typical bull market.

Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF (IWM)

Gold & the Dollar

The Dollar weakened, as no doubt intended. Breach of support at 102.50 would offer a target of 100.

Dollar Index

Gold jumped to $2031 per troy ounce. Recovery above $2000 signals another test of resistance at the earlier close of $2070. Dollar Index breach of support at 102.50 would be likely to push Gold above $2070, confirming the medium-term target of $2250 per ounce.

Spot Gold


The bull-trend in stocks, bonds and Gold continues. Breakout to new highs on the S&P 500 and Gold are likely. But beware that the bullish outlook is built on an unstable foundation, with commodities warning of a global recession and record-high federal debt-to-GDP limiting Fed options if the Treasury market is threatened by large outflows.


Copper breaks support while crude gets hammered

Copper broke support at $7900/tonne, signaling a primary decline with a target of its 2022 low at $7000. The primary down-trend warns of a global economic contraction.


The bear signal has yet to be confirmed by the broader-based Dow Jones Industrial Metals Index ($BIM) which is testing primary support at 155.

DJ Industrial Metals Index ($BIM)

Crude oil

Crude fell sharply this week, after a 3-month rally.

Nymex Light Crude

The fall was spurred by an early build of gasoline stocks ahead of winter, raising concerns of declining demand.

Gasoline inventories added a substantial 6.5 million barrels for the week to September 29, compared with a build of 1 million barrels for the previous week. Gasoline inventories are now 1% above the five-year average for this time of year….. production averaged 8.8 million barrels daily last week, which compared with 9.1 million barrels daily for the prior week. (

Gasoline Stocks

Crude inventories have stabilized after a sharp decline during the release of strategic petroleum reserves (SPR).

EIA Crude Inventory

Releases from the SPR stopped in July — which coincides with the start of the recent crude rally. It will be interesting to see next week if a dip in this week’s SPR contributed to weak crude prices.

Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR)

Stocks & Bonds

The 10-year Treasury yield recovered to 4.78% on Friday.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Rising yields are driven by:

  • a large fiscal deficit of close to $2T;
  • commercial banks reducing Treasury holdings; and
  • the Bank of Japan allowing a limited rise in bond yields which could cause an outflow from USTs.

Bank of Japan - YCC

The S&P 500 rallied on the back of a strong labor report.

S&P 500

The S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index test of primary support at 5600 is, however, likely to continue.

S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index

Expect another Russell 2000 small caps ETF (IWM) test of primary support at 170 as well.

Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF (IWM)

Labor Market

The BLS report for September, with job gains of 336K, reflects a robust economy and strong labor market.

Job Gains

Average hourly earnings growth slowed to 0.207% in September, or 2.5% annualized. Manufacturing wages reflect higher growth — 4.0% annualized — but that is a small slice of the economy compared to services.

Average Hourly Earnings

Average weekly hours worked — a leading indicator — remains stable at 34.4 hours/week.

Average Weekly Hours

Unemployment remained steady at 6.36 million, while job openings jumped in August, maintaining a sizable shortage.

Job Openings & Unemployment

Real GDP (blue) is expected to slow in Q3 to 1.5%, matching declining growth in aggregate weekly hours worked (purple).

Real GDP & Hours Worked

Dollar & Gold

The Dollar Index retraced to test new support at 106 but is unlikely to reverse course while Treasury yields are rising.

Dollar Index

Gold is testing primary support at $1800 per ounce, while Trend Index troughs below zero warn of selling pressure. Rising long-term Treasury yields and a strong Dollar are likely to weaken demand for Gold.

Spot Gold


Long-term Treasury yields are expected to rise, fueled by strong supply (fiscal deficits) and weak demand (from foreign investors and commercial banks). The outlook for rate cuts from the Fed is also fading as labor market remains tight.

The sharp drop in crude oil seems an overreaction when the labor market is strong and demand is likely to be robust. Further releases from the strategic petroleum reserve (SPR), a sharp fall in Chinese purchases, or an increase in supply (from Iran or Venezuela) seem unlikely at present.

Falling copper prices warn of a global economic contraction led by China, with Europe likely to follow. Confirmation by Dow Jones Industrial Metals Index ($BIM) breach of primary support at 155 would strengthen the bear signal.

Strong Treasury yields and a strong Dollar are likely to weaken demand for Gold unless there is increased instability, either geopolitical or financial.

Active managers and Index funds: How to avoid the pitfalls and get the best of both worlds

From James Kirby at The Australian:

Australia’s big fund managers are now openly bagging index funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs)….Keep away from index funds and ETFs, they cry, the market is too tough for investors to blindly follow an index-style fund when returns are as modest as we have seen in recent times….

But rather than flinging mud back at the active managers…. the passive brigade has instead made two killer moves.

The first move is to reveal quite plainly how the active managers are performing — and they are performing dismally.

The second move is to continually cut prices — or fees — to the point that active managers look very expensive indeed.

Dow Jones’ Indices versus Active Australia Scorecard:

Australian General Equity (Large-Cap) Funds

59.7% underperformed the S&P/ASX 200 Index over one year

69.2% underperformed the benchmark in a five-year period

International Equity General

80.7% underperformed the S&P Developed ex-Australia Large Cap Index in a one-year period

91.9% underperformed the benchmark in a five-year period

I have two major concerns with index funds:

First, index funds reward size, not performance. The bigger a corporation grows, and the bigger its weighting in the index, the more stock an index fund will buy. Over time the index is likely to grow increasingly dominated by a herd of dinosaurs — earning low returns on a large asset pool and unable/unlikely to adapt to change — headed for extinction.

Second, active fund managers perform a valuable role for the entire market, conducting in-depth research of industries, visiting companies and evaluating prospects and performance. Their resulting purchases and sales inform the entire market as to prospective value and under-pin long-term market value. Increasing dominance of passive index funds erodes this capability and will hasten the growth of my first concern.

An easy way to counter the first concern is to invest in equal-weighted index funds. These do not reward size, instead investing an equal amount in each stock in the index instead of weighting by market capitalization.

Apart from eliminating the size bias, the equal-weighted index has another major advantage. It out-performs cap-weighted indices by a sizable margin. The graph below shows the S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index achieved an annual performance of 8.53% compared to 7.03% for the regular S&P 500 Index, over the last 10 years.

Performance Comparison: S&P 500 (TR) Index v. S&P 500 EWI (TR) Index

The only way to address the second concern is to keep a sizable part of your portfolio with active managers. Don’t blindly follow performance — last year’s winners are often this year’s losers — but follow managers with reasonable fees and proven long-term ability to outperform the index.