The Weekly View (12/4/17)

What’s On Our Minds:

The hum of the holidays has begun at our offices in Hunt Valley, and with equity markets at or near all-time highs this year, investors are feeling joyous indeed.  With plenty of green flashing across traders’ screens this holiday season as opposed to the dreaded red, the hangover left by the Great Recession feels like a distant memory to most. Not everywhere is the good cheer so merry, though.  Customers are experiencing sticker shock thanks to the 2008-2009 downturn somewhere many wouldn’t guess: the Christmas tree lot.

During the financial crisis, cash-strapped Americans cut back on their spending and bought fewer trees. As demand plummeted tree growers either went out of business or planted fewer saplings during those years.  Because it takes 7 to 10 years for a Christmas tree to grow, the entire market is now faced with a shortage this year.

The leading source in the Christmas tree business is the state of Oregon, which harvested an estimated 5.2 million trees in 2016. They are followed by North Carolina with 3.5 million, Michigan with 3 million, Pennsylvania with 2.3 million and Washington with 1.5 million. Since a freshly cut tree can retail anywhere between 60 and 80 dollars, that adds up to some serious money in the Christmas tree business.

The high prices of authentic trees this year has growers worried that families will switch to artificial trees that outlast their natural competitors.  The American Christmas Tree Association estimates that artificial trees accounted for nearly 81 million of those displayed in the U.S. in 2016, while 19 million were natural.

Last Week’s Highlights:

Happenings in Washington D.C. had investors on their toes last week. Stocks were higher but more volatile. The Dow Jones passed 24,000 for the first time in history.  Tuesday and Thursday were both strong days as investors grew more optimistic that the Senate was getting closer to passing a tax reform bill. On Friday we saw a pullback when news broke that President Trump’s former national security advisor, Mike Flynn, might testify regarding interference in last year’s Presidential election.

GDP data from the third quarter was revised higher to 3.3%. This was the second consecutive quarter that saw growth above 3%. Business investment figures were up, suggesting that economic conditions continue to improve.


Looking Ahead:

News coming out of Washington will likely drive investor sentiment again this week. Funding for the government is set to expire on Friday. Government officials are hoping to avoid a government shutdown by pushing the deadline out into the future but President Trump has signaled that he could play hardball.  Meanwhile, the GOP is looking to pass their tax reform bill before the end of the month.

On Thursday, AT&T will go to court against the Justice Department over AT&Ts bid to acquire Time Warner.  The government has cited antitrust concerns.

Friday’s jobs report will also have investors watching.