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3 Things Under the Radar This Week

Investing.com - Here are three things that flew under the radar this week.

1. Views of the Economy Swing With Partisanship

While overshadowed by the strong U.S. jobs report Friday, the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index posted its highest level since May.

The preliminary measure of sentiment for December came in at 99.2, up from 97 and topping expectations for a dip to 96.8.

One thing definitely not worrying consumers is all the headlines about the impeachment hearings, with “virtually no consumer spontaneously mentioning impeachment in response to any question in early December,” Richard Curtin, surveys of consumers chief economist said.

But politics does come into play in the survey, so much so that party-affiliated respondents act as outliers.

“The average gap between Democrats and Republicans was 18.7 points in the Obama administration and 41.6 points since Trump took office,” Curtin said.

“While the implications of the economic expectations of Democrats and Republicans are clearly exaggerated, the Independents, who represent the largest group and are less susceptible to maintaining partisan views, hold very favorable expectations, indicating the continuation of the expansion based on consumer spending,” he added.

Weak Wages Stymie Experts

The Labor Department’s employment report was applauded enthusiastically by investors, who took the opportunity to add risk.

But while the monster rise of 266,000 in nonfarm payrolls was pretty straightforward, one part of the report left economists with something of a mystery.

Why is wage growth so muted given the strong job market and overall economy?

Average hourly earnings rose 0.2% in November, according to the report, down from a 0.4% rise in October. The rise was lower than the 0.3% economists predicted, according to forecasts compiled by Investing.com.

Wage inflation year over year ticked up to 3.1%.

“Wage growth continues to remain puzzlingly weak,” Justin Wolfers, economics professor at the University of Michigan, tweeted. “Over the past year, hourly earnings are up only 3.1%. That's the sort of number that's unlikely to worry the Fed much (even as it continues to be puzzled by such low wage and price growth at such a low inflation rate).”

From the Federal Reserve’s point of view, and for many in the market, the absence of wage pressures is a boon and keeps the FOMC from hiking rates to combat inflation, which could stall growth and hit asset prices.

But at the same time, workers aren’t enjoying a commensurate rise in pay as the economy keeps chugging along.

“This is where the labor market diverges from 1990s boom, and helps explain why confidence in economy is high, but not as good as was during peak of 1990s boom,” Grant Thornton Chief Economist Diane Swonk tweeted.

“Both consumer sentiment and consumer confidence measures are strong, but well off the euphoric highs of the late 1990s,” Swonk added.

“The good news is that what the expansion has lacked in momentum, it has made up for in stamina,” she added. “We need that to fully regain the mojo lost in the 2000s”

3. Gold to Lose Some Luster Before Resuming Climb

Gold has made the list of fashionable investments over the past year, outperforming the broader U.S. market at a time when stocks have recently notched record highs. But the yellow metal's next move is likely to be to the downside before resuming a climb higher, ABN AMRO said in a note earlier this week.

Fixed on a diet of global central bank easing and low interest rates, the price of gold has jumped about 16% over the last 12 months, beating S&P 500 index returns of about 15%. (Admittedly, the S&P 500 was in the midst of its big fourth-quarter 2018 swoon and wouldn't bottom until Dec. 26, 2018.)

With expectations running high that global banks will continue to ease, denting the value of their respective currencies, demand for gold will remain intact and push gold prices even higher, but not before correcting.

"Even though the longer-term outlook looks solid, we expect substantial price weakness in the coming weeks and months,” said Georgette Boele, senior FX and precious-metals strategist at ABN AMRO.

The ABN AMRO strategist highlighted the metal's 200-day moving average, $1,400 an ounce, as key level of support to watch.

Much of the rise in gold prices has been supported by central banks ramping up purchases of the yellow metal as they seek to hedge their euro and dollar holdings.

In 2018, central banks bought the most gold in 49 years and, in the first half of this year, their gold purchases have topped that of last year.

The need to hedge against currency debasement amid falling interest rates will likely continue to drive central bank demand.

CPM Group projects central banks will buy 20 million ounces on a net basis this year and anticipates a comparable increase in 2020.

The decline in global government bond yields, which lowers the opportunity cost of owning gold, will also support gold prices, ABN AMRO's Boele suggested.

"The outstanding amount of negative-yielding government bonds will probably grow; while gold has no yield, it is at least not paying negative rates."

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