THE MONTH IN BRIEF
The S&P 500 rose 3.4% in November and attained a series of record closes in the process. Earnings results helped stocks, as did intermittent signals that the first stage of a U.S.-China trade agreement might be near at hand. Job creation improved, and consumer spending lived up to market expectations; consumer confidence and business activity, not so much. Housing indicators communicated good news, and the rally in stocks made the commodity sector look less attractive.
DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH
Were the U.S. and China close to signing off on the first phase of a new trade deal? According to officials from both countries, the answer was yes. When would this phase-one deal be finalized? No definite answer emerged. On November 8, President Donald Trump said that such an agreement was near, and six days later, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said that negotiators were “getting close” to an accord. On November 26, China’s commerce ministry announced that trade representatives had “reached a consensus” on remaining issues, and President Trump said that negotiators were in the “final throes of a very important deal.” Still, November ended without any announcement that a phase-one pact had been reached.
The Department of Labor’s latest employment report found that the economy generated 128,000 net new jobs in October. This was a surprise to the upside. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expected 85,000 new hires. Since more people looked for work in October than in September, the headline unemployment rate ticked up 0.1% to 3.6%. The U-6 rate, which encompasses both the unemployed and underemployed, also rose 0.1% to 7.0%.
Consumer spending rose 0.3% in October, representing the largest monthly gain since July. This happened even without a gain in consumer income. One prominent index of consumer confidence declined in November: the Conference Board’s consumer confidence gauge fell 0.6 points to 125.5. The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index, however, rose to a final November mark of 96.8 from a 95.5 preliminary reading.
In the business sector, the Institute for Supply Management’s purchasing manager indices of manufacturing and non-manufacturing activity both rose. The ISM Manufacturing PMI came in half a point higher for October at 48.3; the Non-Manufacturing PMI was at 54.7, nearly two points higher. For economists worried about a downturn in the business cycle, these numbers were encouraging.
Retail sales were up 0.3% in October, and looking ahead, the National Retail Federation is forecasting a year-over-year gain of between 3.8% and 4.2% for holiday-season retail purchases. If its prediction comes true, the 2019 holiday shopping season could rank as one of the better ones seen this decade.
An October jump of 0.4% for the Consumer Price Index was noticed by economists, but it still left annualized inflation at a manageable 1.8%. The core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy costs, was rising 2.3% year-over-year through October.
Minutes from the Federal Reserve’s October policy meeting were released on November 20, and they indicated that central bank officials were prepared to… stand pat, at least for a while. In October, most Fed officials believed the current monetary policy approach would prove adequate to guide the economy in the near term. If some event or trend prompted a “material reassessment” of the Fed’s economic outlook, then policy might shift.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC HEALTH
The European Union scaled back its annual growth projections for 2020-21. Its latest economic forecast projects a 1.2% increase in gross domestic product for both years. This is about half the current pace of economic expansion in the United States. Inflation is projected to vary from 1.2% to 1.3%. E.U. economists believe the euro area will have a GDP of 1.1% for 2019.
With a general election coming up in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Tory, and his chief challenger, Jeremy Corbyn of the Labor Party, took different views of the Brexit. In November, Johnson vowed to meet the rescheduled January 31 Brexit deadline and arrange a new trade pact with the E.U. by December of next year. Corbyn claimed his party could negotiate a new Brexit deal with the E.U. before March, a deal that would be put before the electorate; voters could either approve or reject the terms of the deal and even the Brexit, itself.
In late November, key indicators suggested that China’s economy had slowed for a seventh consecutive month. (China’s third-quarter GDP reading was its poorest in nearly 30 years.) Through October, profits at Chinese industrial companies were down 9.9% year-over-year, a record annualized dip. An index of business confidence hit a 14-month low in October.
Outside America, October index performance was mixed. Several key benchmarks advanced. France’s CAC 40 and Germany’s DAX respectively rose 3.18% and 2.35%. Russia’s RTS index gained 1.01%. Australia’s All Ordinaries added 1.45%. Japan’s Nikkei 225 was up 1.39% for the month. Eyeing a macro view of global equities, the MSCI EAFE index (which measures performance across developed stock markets outside North America) improved 1.37%.
October descents to note: Indonesia’s Jakarta Composite pulled back 4.29%, Malaysia’s KLCI lost 1.02%, China’s Shanghai Composite slipped 2.78%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 1.64%, and Mexico’s Bolsa fell 1.52%.
Coffee was hot in November, rising 14.77%. Two other crops also realized big gains: cocoa was up 9.31%; wheat, 7.57%. WTI crude oil added 2.36% across November; at the November 29 close on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), a barrel was worth $58.14.
Oil was the only key energy commodity to advance in October. Natural gas slipped 12.32%. Smaller losses came for unleaded gasoline (1.48%) and heating oil (0.12%). While copper eked out a monthly gain of 0.09%, gold lost 3.25%; silver, 5.80%; platinum, 3.46%. Gold finished November at a NYMEX price of $1,470.10 an ounce; silver, at $17.10 an ounce. Corn fell 4.94%; soybeans, 4.36%. Cotton gained 2.13%; sugar, 2.48%. The U.S. Dollar Index improved 0.94% to 98.27.
The pace of home buying accelerated during October. According to the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales advanced 1.9% in October, partly reversing a 2.5% September setback. New home sales, however, retreated 0.7% for October by Census Bureau calculations; they were up 4.5% in September.
Building permits were up 5.0% in the tenth month of 2019, housing starts 3.8%. The Census Bureau noted that single-family starts were up 3.2% across the 12 months ending in October, reaching a level unseen in 12 years.
Freddie Mac said that the average interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate home loan was 3.68% on November 27. That compares to 3.78% on Halloween and nearly 5% a year earlier. In Freddie’s November 27 Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the mean rate on a 15-year, fixed-rate home loan was 3.15%. Incidentally, home loan processing firm Ellie Mae said refinances accounted for 51% of U.S. mortgage activity in October. The last month that saw so many refis: March 2015.
30-year and 15-year fixed rate mortgages are conventional home loans generally featuring a limit of $484,350 ($726,525 in high-cost areas) that meet the lending requirements of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but they are not mortgages guaranteed or insured by any government agency. Private mortgage insurance, or PMI, is required for any conventional loan with less than a 20% down payment.
As individuals accumulate assets, some realize that the liability coverage limit on their homeowner policy may be too low. Some opt to carry a personal umbrella liability (PUL) policy as a complement.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD
The Dow Jones Industrial Average reached another milestone in November, topping 28,000. It settled at 28,051.41 on November 29; on the same day, the Nasdaq Composite closed at 8,665.47, and the S&P 500, at 3,140.98. All in all, November was the best month for U.S. stocks since June, with indices shattering historical highs.
The short-term economic outlook has shifted to some degree; anxieties about a recession arriving in 2020 have lessened. There is still optimism that the U.S. and China may reach a phase-one trade agreement, and the Federal Reserve appears comfortable with its current monetary policy stance and seems to be watching the business cycle closely.
“The art of living easily as to money is to pitch your scale of living one degree below your means.”
SIR HENRY TAYLOR
Gary G. Blom CRPC | Financial Advisor
Michael Howell MBA | Financial Advisor
Address: 3340 Tully Rd. Ste B4, Modesto, CA 95350
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This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. The information herein has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investments will fluctuate and when redeemed may be worth more or less than when originally invested. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All market indices discussed are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment. Indices do not incur management fees, costs, or expenses. Investors cannot invest directly in indices. All economic and performance data is historical and not indicative of future results. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted index of 30 actively traded blue-chip stocks. The NASDAQ Composite Index is a market-weighted index of all over-the-counter common stocks traded on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation System. The Standard & Poor's 500 (S&P 500) is a market-cap weighted index composed of the common stocks of 500 leading companies in leading industries of the U.S. economy. The Russell 2000 Index measures the performance of the small-cap segment of the U.S. equity universe. NYSE Group, Inc. (NYSE:NYX) operates two securities exchanges: the New York Stock Exchange (the “NYSE”) and NYSE Arca (formerly known as the Archipelago Exchange, or ArcaEx®, and the Pacific Exchange). NYSE Group is a leading provider of securities listing, trading and market data products and services. The New York Mercantile Exchange, Inc. (NYMEX) is the world's largest physical commodity futures exchange and the preeminent trading forum for energy and precious metals, with trading conducted through two divisions – the NYMEX Division, home to the energy, platinum, and palladium markets, and the COMEX Division, on which all other metals trade. The CAC-40 Index is a narrow-based, modified capitalization-weighted index of 40 companies listed on the Paris Bourse. The DAX 30 is a Blue-Chip stock market index consisting of the 30 major German companies trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The RTS Index (Russia Trading System) is a free-float capitalization-weighted index of 50 Russian stocks traded on the Moscow Exchange, calculated in the US dollars. Established in January 1980, the All Ordinaries is the oldest index of shares in Australia. It is made up of the share prices for 500 of the largest companies listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. Nikkei 225 (Ticker: ^N225) is a stock market index for the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE). The Nikkei average is the most watched index of Asian stocks. The MSCI EAFE Index was created by Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) that serves as a benchmark of the performance in major international equity markets as represented by 21 major MSCI indices from Europe, Australia, and Southeast Asia. The Jakarta Stock Price Index is a modified capitalization-weighted index of all stocks listed on the regular board of the Indonesia Stock Exchange. The FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI, also known as the FBM KLCI, is a capitalisation-weighted stock market index, composed of the 30 largest companies on the Bursa Malaysia by market capitalisation that meet the eligibility requirements of the FTSE Bursa Malaysia Index Ground Rules. The SSE Composite Index is an index of all stocks (A shares and B shares) that are traded at the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The Hang Seng Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization-weighted stock market index that is the main indicator of the overall market performance in Hong Kong. The Mexican Stock Exchange, commonly known as Mexican Bolsa, Mexbol, or BMV, is the only stock exchange in Mexico. The U.S. Dollar Index measures the performance of the U.S. dollar against a basket of six currencies. Additional risks are associated with international investing, such as currency fluctuations, political and economic instability and differences in accounting standards. This material represents an assessment of the market environment at a specific point in time and is not intended to be a forecast of future events, or a guarantee of future results. MarketingPro, Inc. is not affiliated with any person or firm that may be providing this information to you. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional.
1 - money.cnn.com/data/markets/sandp/ [11/29/19]
2 - cnbc.com/2019/11/15/market-listens-when-officials-repeatedly-tout-progress-on-china-trade.html [11/15/19]
3 - cnn.com/2019/11/26/investing/asian-market-latest/index.html [11/26/19]
4 - investing.com/economic-calendar [11/29/19]
5 - time.com/5716189/us-adds-128000-jobs-october-2019/ [11/1/19]
6 - foxbusiness.com/markets/us-consumer-spending-up-0-3-in-october-but-incomes-are-flat [11/27/19]
7 - nytimes.com/2019/11/20/business/economy/federal-reserve-minutes.html [11/20/19]
8 - fortune.com/2019/11/07/trade-wars-brexit-eu-cuts-growth-outlook/ [11/7/19]
9 - bbc.com/news/election-2019-50553485 [11/26/19]
10 - yhoo.it/2rAraVQ [9/16/19]
11 - barchart.com/stocks/indices/world-indices?viewName=performance [11/29/19]
12 - marketwatch.com/investing/index/990300?countrycode=xx [11/29/19]
13 - money.cnn.com/data/commodities/ [11/29/19]
14 - marketwatch.com/investing/index/dxy [11/29/19]
15 - forbes.com/sites/alyyale/2019/11/22/this-week-in-real-estate-what-happened-with-mortgage-rates-home-sales-construction--more [11/22/19]
16 - freddiemac.com/pmms/archive.html [11/27/19]
17 - foxbusiness.com/markets/stocks-wrapping-a-solid-month [11/29/19]
18 - quotes.wsj.com/index/SPX/historical-prices [11/29/19]
19 - markets.wsj.com/us [12/31/18]
20 - treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/interest-rates/Pages/TextView.aspx?data=yieldAll [11/29/19]
In this month’s recap: the Federal Reserve eases, stocks reach historic peaks, and face-to-face U.S.-China trade talks formally resume.
THE MONTH IN BRIEF
July was a positive month for stocks and a notable month for news impacting the financial markets. The S&P 500 topped the 3,000 level for the first time. The Federal Reserve cut the country’s benchmark interest rate. Consumer confidence remained strong. Trade representatives from China and the U.S. once again sat down at the negotiating table, as new data showed China’s economy lagging. In Europe, Brexit advocate Boris Johnson was elected as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the European Central Bank indicated that it was open to using various options to stimulate economic activity.
DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH
On July 31, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the first time in more than a decade. The Federal Open Market Committee approved a quarter-point reduction to the federal funds rate by a vote of 8-2. Typically, the central bank eases borrowing costs when it senses the business cycle is slowing. As the country has gone ten years without a recession, some analysts viewed this rate cut as a preventative measure. Speaking to the media, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell characterized the cut as a “mid-cycle adjustment.”
The latest hiring and consumer spending reports from the federal government suggested an economy in good shape, and the latest data on consumer prices showed no great inflation pressure. Employers had expanded their payrolls with 224,000 net new jobs in June, a rebound from the paltry 72,000 gain in May. Both the headline jobless rate and the U-6 rate (a broader measure of joblessness that includes the unemployed and underemployed) ticked up 0.1% to a respective 3.7% and 7.2%. Personal spending was up 0.3% in July, and the pace of retail sales increased 0.4%, taking the yearly gain to 3.4%. Annualized inflation was running at just 1.6% through June, down from 1.8% in May.
The Conference Board’s monthly Consumer Confidence Index reached a year-to-date peak in July: 135.7, a gain of 11.4 points from June. (The final July University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index had yet to be released when the month ended.)
The pace of American manufacturing had slowed in June, according to the Institute for Supply Management’s latest monthly Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for the sector. It declined 0.4 points to 51.7. ISM’s Non-Manufacturing PMI came in at 55.1, 1.8 points lower than it was in May. On a positive note, the federal government said that hard goods orders rose 2.0% in June, and industrial production had improved 0.9% in May.
In late July, the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that the economy grew at a 2.1% rate in the second quarter. This was the lowest gross domestic product (GDP) number seen since Q1 2017; it was also 1.0% lower than the previous quarter. The drop was primarily attributable to reduced business spending. Consumer spending increased at a 4.3% pace in Q2.5
By the end of July, China and the U.S. had resumed face-to-face negotiations on trade matters. A new trade pact did not appear to be quickly forthcoming: Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin told the media in late July that he expected there would be “a few more meetings before we get a deal done.” On July 31, Chinese state media agency Xinhua reported that high-level discussions would resume in September.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC HEALTH
On July 25, the European Central Bank stated its expectation that borrowing costs would likely remain at current levels or “lower” through the second quarter of 2020. The ECB also stated that it would examine its “options for the size and composition of potential new net asset purchases” – in other words, it was leaving the door open to possibly restarting the monetary stimulus campaign it had ended only months before. Economists polled by Bloomberg see the ECB making a minor rate cut in September and resuming its bond-buying program in January.
One day earlier and just 99 days prior to the European Union’s Brexit deadline, Boris Johnson assumed the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. When Parliament returns from its summer break in September, Johnson will be tasked with motivating lawmakers to approve a Brexit deal – which, in his words, will be “a new deal, a better deal” than those proposed by his predecessor, Teresa May. That said, he also told the media that a no-deal Brexit could occur if the E.U. leadership “refuses any further to negotiate.”
China’s gross domestic product declined to 6.2% in the second quarter. That was a 27-year low. This implies some present and near-term difficulties for other Asia-Pacific economies, as China imports large quantities of electronics, palm oil, iron, copper, and petroleum products from nations within the region, and less economic activity means less demand.
Major foreign benchmarks were mixed. Three of the biggest losses came in Asia: India’s Nifty 50 dropped 5.69%; South Korea’s Kospi, 4.98%; India’s Sensex, 4.86%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 2.68%; China’s Shanghai Composite, 1.56%. MSCI’s Emerging Markets index lost 1.69%. MSCI’s World index rose 0.42%, however. Japan’s Nikkei 225 improved 1.15%; Taiwan’s TSE 50, 1.47%; Australia’s All Ordinaries, 2.95%. In Brazil, the Bovespa rose 0.92%. In Mexico, the Bolsa slumped 5.32%.11,12
July was quite positive for the United Kingdom’s FTSE 100 index, which added 2.17%. Spain’s IBEX 35 surrendered 2.48%. In between, the FTSE Eurofirst 300 posted a 0.36% advance, while France’s CAC 40 and Germany’s DAX respectively lost 0.36% and 1.69%.
Silver made the biggest ascent of all the major commodities in July, rising 6.61% to a month-end price of $16.28 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Meanwhile, gold added only 0.23%, settling at $1,413.30 on July 31. Platinum advanced 3.83%, but copper took a 2.07% July loss.
Outside the major metals, monthly retreats were common; although, the U.S. Dollar Index rose 2.02%, and heating oil gained 1.14%. West Texas Intermediate crude oil fell 0.53% for the month to $57.89 on the NYMEX. The list of July losses in crop and energy futures is long: sugar declined 3.03%; natural gas, 3.32%; unleaded gas, 3.98%; soybeans, 4.19%; cotton, 4.38%; cocoa, 4.61%; corn, 5.32%; wheat, 7.69%; coffee, 8.67%.13,14
Both new and existing home sales reversed direction in June. The National Association of Realtors announced a 1.7% retreat in residential resales, following a 2.9% May advance; the median sales price was $285,700. The Census Bureau said that new home sales rose 7.0% in the sixth month of 2019, after an 8.2% setback in May.
By late July, interest rates on home loans had crept up just a bit from late June. According to mortgage reseller Freddie Mac, a 30-year, fixed-rate home loan carried an average of 3.73% interest on June 27, while 15-year, fixed mortgages had an average interest rate of 3.16%. By Freddie’s July 25 Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the mean interest rate for a 30-year FRM was 0.02% higher at 3.75%; for a 15-year FRM, it was also 0.02% higher at 3.18%.16
30-year and 15-year fixed rate mortgages are conventional home loans generally featuring a limit of $484,350 ($726,525 in high-cost areas) that meet the lending requirements of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but they are not mortgages guaranteed or insured by any government agency. Private mortgage insurance, or PMI, is required for any conventional loan with less than a 20% down payment.
The Census Bureau’s latest monthly recap of residential construction activity showed June declines for both housing starts (0.9%) and building permits (6.1%).
T I P O F T H E M O N T H
When a student and a parent are cosigners on a private college loan, they must recognize that they are equally liable and responsible for paying the debt back.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD
The S&P 500 recorded its highest-ever close during the month: 3,025.86, on July 26. It drifted downward from there. On July 31, the day of the Fed’s rate cut, it fell more than 1%.17
While the major equity indices advanced less in July than they did in June, the gains were still solid. July brought a 1.31% rise for the S&P, and respective improvements of 0.99% and 2.11% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite. Where did these benchmarks settle at the closing bell on July 31? S&P, 2,980.38; Nasdaq, 8,175.42; Dow, 26,864.27.14
Sources: barchart.com, wsj.com, treasury.gov - 7/31/1914,18,19
Indices are unmanaged, do not incur fees or expenses, and cannot be invested into directly. These returns do not include dividends. 10-year Treasury yield = projected return on investment, expressed as a percentage, on the U.S. government’s 10-year bond.
You may have heard the Wall Street saying, “Sell in May and go away.” That expression is based on the idea that investors would be better off out of the financial markets in the summer months. This assertion has been disproven again and again over the years, and that may end up being the case this year (witness the market’s July performance). This is a good time to remember another frequently heard assertion – time in the market often proves more important than timing the market. Any summer doldrums or losses may possibly precede fall gains.
Q U O T E O F T H E M O N T H
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ELEANOR ROOSEVELT
During the rest of August, key items in the economic news stream are scheduled as follows: the July Institute for Supply Management non-manufacturing index (8/5), the July wholesale inflation reading (8/9), July consumer inflation data (8/13), July retail sales (8/15), a new snapshot of housing starts from the Census Bureau plus the University of Michigan’s preliminary August Consumer Sentiment Index (8/16), July existing home sales (8/21), the Conference Board’s latest index of leading economic indicators (8/22), July new home sales (8/23), July durable goods orders (8/26), the Conference Board’s August Consumer Confidence Index (8/27), the second estimate of Q2 gross domestic product from the Bureau of Economic analysis (8/29), and lastly, the final August University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and July consumer spending data (8/30).
T H E M O N T H L Y R I D D L E
I am very strong and tough, but never rigid. I can be broken, but only in a certain sense. What am I?
LAST MONTH’S RIDDLE: There is a five-letter word that means “nice” in English, and all of the four letters used within this word are also Roman numerals. What is this word? ANSWER: Civil.
We’ve all heard it said: “Records are made to be broken.” We celebrate record-breaking winning streaks from our favorite teams. Conversely, we hope to avoid a long string of losses.
The bull market that began in 2009 is not the best performing since WWII. That title still resides with the long-running bull market of the 1990s. But it is the longest running since WWII (St. Louis Federal Reserve, Yahoo Finance, LPL Research–as measured by the S&P 500 Index).
In the same vein, the current economic expansion is poised to become the longest running expansion since WWII. For that matter, it’s about to become the longest on record.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, which is considered the official arbiter of recessions and economic expansions, the current expansion began in July 2009. It has run exactly 10 years, or 120 months, matching the 1990s expansion–see Table 1.
Barring an unforeseen event, the current period is headed for the record books.
While the economic recovery is about to enter a record-setting phase, it has been the slowest since at least WWII, according to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
For example, starting in the second quarter of 1996, U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic growth, exceeded an annualized pace of 3% for 14 of 15 quarters. It exceeded 4% in nine of those quarters (St. Louis Federal Reserve).
Growth was much more robust in the 1960s, and we experienced a strong recovery from the deep 1981-82 recession.
Yet, economic booms and long-running expansions can encourage risky behavior. People forget the lessons learned in prior recessions and overextend themselves.
Consumers can take on too much debt. Businesses may over-invest and build out too much capacity. We saw euphoria take hold in the stock market in the late 1990s and speculation run wild in housing not too long ago.
That brings us to the silver lining of the lazy pace of today’s economic environment.
Slow and steady has prevented speculative excesses from building up in much of the economy. In other words, a mistaken realization that the good times will last forever has not taken hold in today’s economic environment.
Causes of recessions
The long-running expansions of the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s led to a mistaken belief that various policy tools could prevent a recession.
Yet, expansions don’t die of old age. A downturn can be triggered by various events. So, let’s look at the most common causes and see where we stand today.
Where are we today?
Inflation is low, the Fed is signaling a possible rate cut, and credit conditions are easy as measured by various gauges of credit. For the most part, speculative excesses aren’t building to dangerous levels.
While stock prices are near records, valuations remain well below levels seen in the late 1990s (Using the forward price-earnings ratio for the S&P 500 as a guide). Besides, interest rates are much lower today, which lends support to richer valuations.
Now, that’s not to say we can’t see market volatility. Stocks have a long-term upward bias, but the upward march has never been and never will be a straight line higher.
This is why we emphasize an investment process that is rooted in a personalized financial plan. A financial plan is designed, in part, to keep you grounded during the short periods when volatility may tempt you to make a decision based on emotions. Such reactions are rarely profitable.
A sneak peek at the rest of the year
The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index, which has had a good record of predicting (if not timing) a recession, isn’t signaling a contraction through year end.
But one potential worry: a protracted trade war and its impact on the global/U.S. economy, business confidence, and business spending.
Exports account for almost 14% of U.S. GDP (U.S. BEA). It’s risen over the last 20 years, but we’ve never experienced a U.S. recession caused by global weakness.
By itself, trade barriers with China are unlikely to tip the economy into a recession. Per U.S. BEA and U.S. Census data, total exports to China account for just under 1% of U.S. GDP. Even with higher tariffs, exports to China won’t grind to a halt and erase 1% of GDP.
What’s difficult to model is the impact on business confidence and business spending, which in turn could slow hiring, pressuring consumer confidence and consumer spending.
Simply put, there isn’t a modern historical precedent to construct a credible model. Hence, the heightened uncertainty we’ve seen among investors.
Is a recession inevitable?
Earlier in June, the Wall Street Journal highlighted, “Australia is enjoying its 28th straight year of growth. Canada, the U.K., Spain and Sweden had expansions that reached 15 years and beyond between the early 1990s and 2008. Without the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. might have, too.”
If trade tensions begin to subside (still a big “if”) and if the fruits of deregulation and corporate tax reform kick in, we could see economic growth well into 2020 (and with some luck, into 2021 and beyond).
But, we caution, few have accurately and consistently called economic turning points.
The Fed to the rescue
Rising major market indexes for much of the year can be traced to positive U.S.-China trade headlines (at least through early May), a pivot by the Fed, and general economic growth at home.
We witnessed a modest pullback in May after trade negotiations with China hit a snag. The threat of tariffs against Mexico added to the uncertain mood until June 4th, when Fed Chief Jerome Powell signaled the Fed would consider cutting interest rates to counter any negative economic headwinds.
While Powell’s not promising to deliver any rate cuts, one key gauge from the CME Group that measures fed funds probabilities puts odds of a rate cut at the July 31st meeting at 100% (as of June 28 – probabilities subject to change).
We'll keep it simple and spare you the academic theory explaining why lower interest rates are often a tailwind for stocks. In a nutshell, stocks face less competition from interest-bearing assets such as bonds.
But let’s add one more wrinkle–economic growth.
Falling rates in 2001 and 2008 failed to stem the outflow out of stocks as economic growth faltered. And, rising rates between late 2015 and September 2018 didn’t squash the bull market.
During the mid-1980s, mid-1990s, and late 1990s, rate cuts by the Fed, coupled with economic growth, fueled market gains.
It’s not a coincidence that bear markets coincide with recessions and the bulls are inspired by economic expansions. Ultimately, steady economic growth has historically been an important ingredient for stock market gains.
Control what you can control.
You can’t control the stock market, you can’t control headlines, and timing the market isn’t a realistic tool. But, you can control your portfolio.
Your plan should consider your time horizon, risk tolerance, and financial goals. There is always risk when investing, but we tailor recommendations to our clients with their financial goals in mind.
If you’re unsure or have questions, let’s have a conversation. That’s what we’re here for.
This research material has been prepared by Horsesmouth.
Securities offered through SCF Securities, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC • Investment advisory services offered through SCF Investment Advisors Inc.• 155 E. Shaw Ave., Suite 102, Fresno, CA 93710 • 800.955.2517 • 559.456.6109 FAX. SCF Securities, Inc. and Blom & Associates are independently owned and operated.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult with your financial advisor.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Expect volatility, but avoid letting the headlines alter your plans.
Recent headlines have added volatility to the markets. There will always be new headlines, and any of them could mean turbulence for Wall Street.
As an investor and retirement saver, how much will this turmoil matter to you in the long run? Not as much as you may expect. There are many good reasons to remain in the market rather than attempting to intuit or guess when and where big shifts in fortune may arrive.
What is market timing? Michael Tanney, one of the directors at Magnus Financial Group, puts it plainly: “Market timing doesn't work […] Every bear market has historically given way to a bull market […] No one can predict the timing of these moments.” Market timing is the use of predictive tools and techniques to predict how the market may move and make investments accordingly.
When you work with your trusted financial professional and cultivate a financial strategy, your need to factor in market timing diminishes. You also don’t need to sit still if you have concerns. Instead, you have a strategy that is based on your goals, risk aversion, and time horizon. This balanced approach means that you won’t need to make hurried decisions when volatility arises.
There may well be a situation in which you may need to adjust your strategy, but it’s also possible that snap judgements might cause you to undercut yourself. The market reacts to headlines, but it’s just as common that quick dips might see fast relief.
Remember that many investors come to regret emotional decisions. The average recovery time for bear markets (meaning a downward swing of 20% or more), where equities return to bull market levels? About 3.2 years (measuring each recovery since 1900). For that reason, investing with the longer term in mind, with periodic and carefully considered rebalancing (alongside your trusted financial professional), may allow you to better weather headline-induced peaks and valleys.
Breaking news should not dissuade you from pursuing your long-term objectives. The stock market is always dynamic. Episodes of upward and downward volatility come and go. A wise investor acknowledges that downturns are expected and has patience when they do. Decisions made during market turbulence can backfire. While some of these ups and downs may be significant enough to signal a change in your asset allocation, they need not change the fundamentals of your investment policy.
A look at where stocks were in 2009 and how they have performed since.
Where were you on March 9, 2009? Do you remember the headwinds hitting Wall Street then? When the closing bell rang at the New York Stock Exchange that Monday afternoon, it marked the end of another down day for equities. Just hours earlier, the Wall Street Journal had asked: “How Low Can Stocks Go?”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index answered that question by sinking to 676.53, even with mergers and acquisitions making headlines. The index was under 700 for the first time since 1996. The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled to a closing low of 6,547.05.2
To quote Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was the bottom of the bear market – and it was also the best time, in a generation, to buy stocks.
The next day, a rally began. Buoyed by news of one major bank announcing a return to profitability and another stating it would refrain from further government bailouts, the Dow rose 597 points for the week ending on March 16, 2009. On March 26, the Dow settled at 7,924.56, more than 20% above its March 9 settlement. The bull market was back.
This bull market would make all kinds of history. In fact, it would become the longest bull market in history – at least by one measure.
While the last 10-plus years have seen some big ups and downs for the benchmark S&P 500, the index has never closed more than 20% below a recent peak in that span, meaning the current bull market is more than 10 years old.
Ten years later (at the close on Friday, March 8, 2019), the S&P 500 had risen 305.5% from that low. The Dow had gained 288.7%.
How about the Nasdaq Composite? 483.94%. (As you look at these impressive numbers, remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results.)
Those gains did not come without turbulence, and stocks in no way turned into a “sure thing.” The risk inherent in the market is still substantial along with the potential for loss. The lesson this long bull market has taught is simply that the bad times in the stock market are worth enduring. Good times may replace those bad times more swiftly than anyone can anticipate.
Key lessons for retirement savers.
You learn lessons as you invest in pursuit of long-run goals. Some of these lessons are conveyed and reinforced when you begin saving for retirement, and others, you glean along the way.
First and foremost, you learn to shut out much of the “noise.” News outlets take the temperature of global markets five days a week (and on the weekends), and economic indicators change weekly or monthly. The longer you invest, the more you learn that breaking news can create market volatility. While the day trader sells or buys in reaction to immediate economic or market news, the buy-and-hold investor has a long-term perspective and understands that the market can have periods of volatility.
You learn how much volatility you can stomach. Market sentiment can quickly shift and so can index performance. Across 2008-18, the S&P 500 had a cumulative total return (dividends included) of almost 140%, compared to just 8% for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. During 2003-07, though, the Emerging Markets index returned 391%, while the S&P returned 83%.
Here are the recent yearly total returns of the S&P: 2013, +30.71%; 2014, +13.57%; 2015, +1.30%; 2016, +11.94%; 2017, +21.83%; 2018, -4.38%. Do you see any kind of “norm” or pattern there? That is the kind of year-to-year volatility that leads people to find an asset allocation that is comfortable for them.
You learn why liquidity matters. The older you get, the more you appreciate being able to quickly access your money. A family emergency might require you to tap into your investment accounts. An early retirement might prompt you to withdraw from retirement funds sooner than you anticipate. Should you misgauge your need for liquidity, you could find yourself under sudden financial pressure.
You learn the merits of rebalancing your portfolio. To the neophyte investor, rebalancing when the bulls are stampeding may seem illogical. If your portfolio is disproportionately weighted in equities, is that a problem? It could be.
Across a sustained bull market, it is common to see your level of risk rise parallel to your return. When equities return more than other asset classes, they end up representing an increasingly large percentage of your portfolio’s total assets. Correspondingly, your cash allocation shrinks.
The closer you get to retirement, the less tolerant of risk you may become. Even if you are strongly committed to growth investing, approaching retirement while taking on more risk than you feel comfortable with is problematic, as is approaching retirement with an inadequate cash position. Rebalancing a portfolio restores the original asset allocation, realigning it with your long-term risk tolerance and investment strategy. It may seem counterproductive to sell “winners” and buy “losers” as an effect of rebalancing, but as you do so, remember that you are also saying goodbye to some assets that may have peaked, while saying hello to others that might be poised to rise.
You learn not to get too attached to certain types of investments. Sometimes an investor will succumb to familiarity bias, which is the rejection of diversification for familiar investments. Why does he or she have 9% of their portfolio invested in just two Dow components? Maybe the investor just likes what those firms stand for or has worked for them. The inherent problem is that the performance of those companies exerts a measurable influence on overall portfolio performance.
Sometimes you see people invest heavily in sectors that include their own industry or career field. An investor works for an oil company, so they get heavily into the energy sector. When energy companies go through a rough patch, that investor’s portfolio may be in for a rough ride. Correspondingly, that investor may have less capacity to tolerate stock market risk than a faculty surgeon at a university hospital, a federal prosecutor, or someone else whose career field or industry will be less buffeted by the winds of economic change.
You learn to be patient. Time teaches you the importance of investing based on your time horizon, risk tolerance, and goals. The pursuit of your long-term financial objectives should not falter. Your financial future and your quality of life may depend on realizing them.
It’s common practice for the president or CEO of a company to include a letter to shareholders in the annual report. Berkshire Hathaway’s chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett, doesn’t buck the trend.
Buffett's recently release annual letter captures plenty of attention, and this year was no exception. The focus is on the investments and operating performance of Berkshire Hathaway, but the Oracle of Omaha also includes many sound principles for wealth creation as well as his general thoughts about the U.S. economy.
From 1965-2018, the market value of Berkshire Hathaway has posted a compounded annual gain of 20.5%, more than double the S&P 500’s advance, which averaged 9.5%, including reinvested dividends.
There are two things that pop out here. First, Buffett's enviable record and his ability to create long-term wealth using time-tested principles. Second, the S&P 500’s record illustrates that a well-diversified stock portfolio has been a critical component of a long-term financial plan.
In case you’re wondering, Berkshire Hathaway’s overall gain has been 2,472,627% versus the S&P 500’s still-impressive 15,019%.
One more data point – Buffet continues to perform well, topping the S&P 500 Index in eight of the last 11 years.
Focus on the forest–not the trees
Your financial plan is comprised of many parts. This would equate to what Buffett calls the “economic trees.” In other words, let’s not get to caught up on any one investment.
“A few of our trees are diseased and unlikely to be around a decade from now. Many others, though, are destined to grow in size and beauty,” Buffett writes.
He won’t get every investment right. Neither will we. Berkshire holds a substantial position in Kraft Heinz (KHC), whose shares recently tumbled after the company delivered poor results and slashed its dividend.
But, if we review the portfolio as we’d view the forest, we find a diversity of trees, wildlife, and plants. It’s a work of beauty. This is why we build our client's portfolios from the bottom up. Like the forest, we diversify our client's investments and create a portfolio that's a good fit for them with their financial goals in mind.
As Buffett opines (and we agree), “I have no idea as to how stocks will behave next week or next year. Predictions of that sort have never been a part of our activities.”
That said, you may recall the market decline just a few short months ago, where we experienced a 19.8% drop in the S&P 500 Index (September peak to Dec 24th trough).
How did that decline sit with you? We do our best to gauge our client's tolerance for risk and build their portfolios accordingly because we know how important behavior is in the investing process. The best portfolio we can create for a client is the one they're going to stick with.
If you found yourself fretting over the volatility a few months ago and we haven't spoken, don't hesitate to call us to see if we need to make any adjustments to your portfolio. If on the other hand, you slept soundly, it would suggest your investment mix in relation to your tolerance for risk is on target.
“At Berkshire, the whole is greater–considerably greater–than the sum of the parts.”
We feel the same way about your financial plan.
The American tailwind
Warren Buffett is bullish on America.
In 1942, he invested $114.75 in three shares of Cities Service preferred stock. At the time, the country was mobilizing for what would be a massive war effort.
If Buffett had invested his $114.75 into a no-fee S&P 500 index fund, and all dividends had been reinvested, his stake would have grown to $606,811 (pre-taxes) on January 31, 2019 (the latest data available before the printing of his letter).
The U.S. was victorious in WWII, but challenges never cease.
We’ve endured the cold war, the divisiveness of the 1960s, OPEC’s oil embargo, double-digit inflation, soaring interest rates, a rising federal deficit, the tragedy of 9-11, the war on terrorism, the financial panic of 2008, the ensuing Great Recession, falling home prices, and more.
Let’s say that you had had the foresight to see the oncoming explosion in the federal deficit, one that is up 40,000% over the last 77 years.
“To ‘protect’ yourself,” Buffett said, “You might have eschewed stocks and opted instead to buy three ounces of gold with your $114.75. And what would that supposed protection have delivered? You would now have an asset worth about $4,200.” Compare that to the performance of the S&P 500!
What is this nation’s secret sauce? The answer is complex and difficult; yet, the overarching theme lies in front of us.
The experiment called the United States has birthed and attracted the best and the brightest. Freedom and opportunity are its calling cards. Today, we are the wealthiest nation on Earth, and we continue to ride the wave of innovation and enjoy the benefits.
But, is that wave about to crash on the shore?
A recent piece by Morgan Stanley entitled, Millennials, Gen Z and the Coming ‘Youth Boom’ Economy, complements Buffett’s optimistic viewpoint. The population of the Millennials will overtake the Baby Boomers this year, and “Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012, will overtake the Millennials as the country's largest cohort by 2034,” it said. For the U.S. economy, “The demographic tailwinds created by these high-population cohorts could be significant, delivering the kind of ‘youth jolt’ that the Baby Boomers were famous for.”
Sure, we can’t know when the next recession will ensue or some of the challenges we’ll face as a nation in the coming years. Yet, as Buffett sums up his annual letter, “Over the next 77 years, the major source of our gains will almost certainly be provided by The American Tailwind. We are lucky–gloriously lucky–to have that force at our back.”
2019 – A bright start to the New Year
First, let’s go back to December. A headline in the Street.com summed it up well: "Dow Gains on Last Day of Worst December Since the Depression." Even a 7% bounce in the final week of the year didn’t prevent a performance that was compared to the early 1930s.
When the S&P 500 Index touched its bottom on Christmas Eve, the broad-based index of 500 large U.S. companies had shed 19.8% from its September 20 peak. We were barely 0.2 percentage points from officially entering a bear market.
Market turmoil in the fall and December’s action were especially ugly. Steep market corrections are not something we look forward to; they are impossible to consistently predict, but they come with the territory.
As we've repeatedly said, your investment plan must incorporate unexpected detours. The disciplined investor, who divorces the emotional component from the investment plan, chooses the best path to meet his or her long-term financial goals.
That said, 2019 has been much better:
There are no guarantees a deal will be inked, but a March 4 headline in the Wall Street Journal summed up recent sentiment:
"U.S., China Close In on Trade Deal"
Both countries could lift some tariffs imposed last year, and Beijing would agree to ease restrictions on American products
A trade deal that pries open Chinese markets to U.S. products and services, protects U.S. intellectual property rights, and ends forced technology transfers (and one with strong enforcement provisions) would not only benefit the U.S. economy, but a deal between the world’s largest economies would sweep away one cloud of uncertainty that has plagued investors over the last year.
10 years gone
On March 9, 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 6,547. It marked the bottom of the last bear market. On February 28, 2019, the Dow finished the day at 25,916, less than 1,000 points from its prior peak.
The bull market turns ten years old this month. How much life is left in the bull? We are in the latter stages of the cycle, but much will depend on the economic fundamentals going forward. With the Fed on hold, inflation contained, and the economy moving forward, the fundamentals are currently sound.
But never discount volatility. Stocks seem to take the stairs up and the elevator down.
In the spirit of celebrating the last ten years, let’s look at a partial list of the worries that temporarily sidelined the bull market (and caused short bouts of volatility), but didn’t sideline those with a long-term view:
The European debt crisis…Greece... global growth worries…U.S. growth is slowing...China is slowing...the dollar is too strong...Japan earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster...U.S. debt downgrade...fiscal cliff...Obama will be re-elected...Trump will get elected...Hillary will get elected...the Fed will end bond buys...Fed will start hiking interest rates...falling oil prices...Ebola scare...Russia invades Ukraine...North Korea...ISIS...Syria...Brexit...trade tensions...acrimony in D.C....and stocks have risen too quickly.
Shorter-term risks never completely abate. But Warren Buffett’s message has been consistent. Don’t bet against America.
That truth must always be recognized.
When financial markets have a bad day, week, or month, discomforting headlines and data can swiftly communicate a message to retirees and retirement savers alike: equity investments are risky things, and Wall Street is a risky place.
All true. If you want to accumulate significant retirement savings or try and grow your wealth through the opportunities in the markets, this is a reality you cannot avoid.
Regularly, your investments contend with assorted market risks. They never go away. At times, they may seem dangerous to your net worth or your retirement savings, so much so that you think about getting out of equities entirely.
If you are having such thoughts, think about this: in the big picture, the real danger to your retirement could be being too risk averse.
Is it possible to hold too much in cash? Yes. Some pre-retirees do. (Even some retirees, in fact.) They have six-figure savings accounts, built up since the Great Recession and the last bear market. It is a prudent move. A dollar will always be worth a dollar in America, and that money is out of the market and backed by deposit insurance.
This is all well and good, but the problem is what that money is earning. Even with interest rates rising, many high-balance savings accounts are currently yielding less than 0.5% a year. The latest inflation data shows consumer prices advancing 2.3% a year. That money in the bank is not outrunning inflation, not even close. It will lose purchasing power over time.
Consider some of the recent yearly advances of the S&P 500. In 2016, it gained 9.54%; in 2017, it gained 19.42%. Those were the price returns; the 2016 and 2017 total returns (with dividends reinvested) were a respective 11.96% and 21.83%.
Yes, the broad benchmark for U.S. equities has bad years as well. Historically, it has had about one negative year for every three positive years. Looking through relatively recent historical windows, the positives have mostly outweighed the negatives for investors. From 1973-2016, for example, the S&P gained an average of 11.69% per year. (The last 3-year losing streak the S&P had was in 2000-02.)
Your portfolio may not return as well as the S&P does in a given year, but when equities rally, your household may see its invested assets grow noticeably. When you bring in equity investment account factors like compounding and tax deferral, the growth of those invested assets over decades may dwarf the growth that could result from mere checking or savings account interest.
At some point, putting too little into investments and too much in the bank may become a risk – a risk to your retirement savings potential. At today’s interest rates, the money you are saving may end up growing faster if it is invested in some vehicle offering potentially greater reward and comparatively greater degrees of risk to tolerate.
Having a big emergency fund is good. You can dip into that liquid pool of cash to address sudden financial issues that pose risks to your financial equilibrium in the present.
Having a big retirement fund is even better. When you have one of those, you may confidently address the biggest financial risk you will ever face: the risk of outliving your money in the future.