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Rise of the Robots

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Money and Markets
This is What the Rise of Robots Really Means
by Jon Markman

Dear ,

Jon Markman

What worries me the most about the current economy is not corporate masters keeping entry-level workers down overtly, but the trend toward robots, artificial intelligence and machines learning and replacing good old flesh-and-blood humans.

This is not a faraway idea anymore; I think we will look back in 10 years and conclude it was happening at lightning speed.

What's most worrisome about the current economy is the trend toward robots and artificial intelligence replacing humans.

Just look at how artificial intelligence is changing the investment world, as "smart beta" funds deploying algorithms slowly claw into favor, beating human fund managers. Or even better, look at our very own Gemini futures systems, which have provided lights-out returns that are the brainchild of a small team of financial researchers and developers. Would you rather have a Boston skyscraper full of Fidelity sector analysts working for you, or one Gemini program? Nuff said.

The path of development makes me worry about Seattle more than any other city. The city is growing by leaps and bounds as, Google, Facebook and Microsoft hire developers by the thousands. They need bigger office buildings, apartment buildings and shopping facilities, all of which are emerging in this city at incredible speed.

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That's great in the short-term for property values, but in the long run they are coding up their own demise. A good, imaginative AI program focused on, say, advertising or buying or warehouse distribution synchronicity will ultimately do the work of ten programmers, or a hundred, or a thousand.

Won't it be interesting if this age of technology turns out to be just as cyclical as the prior age of boom-and-bust cycles for aerospace?

In 1971, in the depths of a recession, when Boeing had reduced its payroll to 38,690 from 100,800 four years earlier, there was a famous sign near the Seattle city limits that said, "Will the last person leaving Seattle — turn out the lights." (True story). In 2025 we might really have a hard time remembering what all those young coders used to do.

Follow me on Twitter to learn more about robots, artificial intelligence and machine learning: Click here.

5 signs that a "growth bounce" is underway

Much more important than Greece to U.S. investors is the condition of the American economy.

Analysts at Evercore ISI argue that too many people get fixated on a single metric or two to decide on whether the country is growing. They say you need to look at a package of indicators to determine if a "growth bounce" has started. ISI analysts point to these pieces of evidence:

1. Tax receipts are surging

U.S. tax receipts were up .3% year-over-year in May, which is remarkable with just 3.0% nominal GDP growth.

2. The ECB is a great shape

Despite the Greek speed bump, the ECB's balance sheet increased by 12 billion euros last week and is scheduled to continue to increase at least for the next year. This is part of the still-expanding global stimulus.

3. More key data is all trending up

The latest ISI data shows that construction spending is up, vehicle production is up, vehicle sales are up, trade is up, unemployment claims are down, house prices are up, small business confidence is higher, employment is improving, hourly earnings are improving, and the number of U.S. job openings has finally surpassed the previous peak set in 2001.

4. Mortgage applications are through the roof

And there's more: ISI points out that mortgage applications increased a big 9.7% week-over-week. This probably reflects fence-sitters who are moving because they sense mortgage rates will be higher in the weeks and months to come. In the past two weeks, ISI notes, mortgage rates have increased almost 20 basis points to 4.11%.

5. Other countries are taking measures to spur growth

Despite the Greek speed bump, the ECB's balance sheet increased by 12 billion euros last week and is scheduled to continue to increase at least for the next year. This is part of the still-expanding global stimulus.

Bottom Line: Evidence of a "growth bounce" out of the terrible first quarter is mounting. There could still be a lot of countervailing data ahead, but don't just ignore the improvements because it doesn't fit the recent morose paradigm. The Fed for sure won't. A rate hike could come sooner than expected if this keeps up, with September certainly a strong possibility.

Best wishes,

Jon Markman

The investment strategy and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of any other editor at Weiss Research or the company as a whole.

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