How The Glitch Stole Christmas: A Two-Act Drama

Published January 14, 2019

William RutherfordOver the course of the past year, I have written often of the risk of policy accidents. Since September, two significant policy accidents have created havoc in the financial markets.

First and foremost is the tariff war. Although initiated earlier, the tariff war came home to roost in the fourth quarter of 2018, when tariffs began to have their full impact. Once billed “easy to win” by the president, the tariff war is proving anything but easy. As the impact of the trade war on the global economy became visible and economies began to slow, the prices of equities and commodities fell in concert. Money began to flow from these assets, and markets tumbled.

Then the Federal Reserve made good on its promise to raise interest rates. Chairman Powell promised to raise rates until the Fed charts showed that rates were in the “right place.”

And so, beginning in early September, equity markets tumbled into bear market territory, down about 20 percent. The markets went from optimism to pessimism in a matter of weeks. The yield curve suggested a recession was in the offing. Having predicted 13 recessions – and eight […]

By |January 14th, 2019|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on How The Glitch Stole Christmas: A Two-Act Drama

Blinkers Or Bonkers? Policy Mistakes Plague Markets

Published December 10, 2018

William RutherfordI have frequently discussed the danger of policy mistakes in this column. This year has seen a plethora of policy mistakes, and they are now coming home to roost. In spite of a strong economy, with growing GDP, full employment and record consumer confidence, the U.S. equity market suffered big losses in October. Since the market normally looks ahead six to nine months, what did it see?

Not to be outdone, U.S credit markets have suffered their worst year since 2008, as investors shed corporate debt. What brought us to this point? Can the mistakes be rectified?

The first policy mistake was by the Federal Reserve. After record low interest rates for a very long time, the Federal Reserve has been on a rate hike trajectory. Ever cautious, Janet Yellen was on a very slow, deliberate, rate-rising schedule. The market did not question the need to raise rates. However, President Trump decided to replace Yellen, reportedly because she was too short at five feet, two inches.

The president handpicked Jerome Powell as his chairman. Powell had a different idea on rate increases; he wanted more and faster increases. The market absorbed […]

By |December 10th, 2018|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Blinkers Or Bonkers? Policy Mistakes Plague Markets

Red October: Market Shrugs Off Positive Earnings

Published November 9, 2018

William RutherfordOctober is a notoriously difficult and volatile month from an investment point of view. This October was no exception, with the market down 6.8 percent on the month – the biggest monthly drop since 2008.

The October effect, according to Investopedia, is a theory that stocks tend to decline during the month of October. It’s considered mainly to be a psychological expectation rather than an actual phenomenon, because most statistics go against the theory.

Some investors may be nervous during October, because that is when some large historical market crashes occurred. They include the Panic of 1907, Black Thursday (1929), Black Monday (1929), Black Tuesday (1929) and Black Monday (1987). The latter crash, which occurred on Oct. 19, 1987 and saw the Dow plummet 22.6 percent in a single day, is arguably the worst single day. (See reference in my book “Who Shot Goldilocks?”) The other black days, of course, were part of the process that led to the Great Depression – an economic disaster that stood unrivaled until the mortgage meltdown nearly took out the whole global economy with it.

The October effect is overrated. Despite the dark titles, this […]

By |November 12th, 2018|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Red October: Market Shrugs Off Positive Earnings

Market Trudges On In Spite Of Headwinds

William RutherfordPublished October 5, 2018

This column is being written on an unusual day: the same day that the month and quarter end. So it is an opportunity to reflect on the year to date and the previous quarter.

In spite of persistent worries among investors, the third quarter turned out to be quite good. The Dow Jones was up 9.0 percent, the S&P was up 7.2 percent and the NASDAQ was up 7.1 percent.

So far for the year, the Dow is up 7 percent, the S&P is up 9 percent and the NASDAQ is up 16.6 percent.

The market was spurred on by strong earnings and the effects of the tax bill. Earnings last quarter were up 17.9 percent, which is not likely to be repeated. The tax bill led to increases in earnings because of lower taxes and spurred stock buybacks and mergers – all shareholder-friendly activity.

At the same time, the market braved substantial headwinds: interest rate increases, election uncertainty and tariff threats.

Annualized GDP growth was 4.2 percent for the second quarter, with most segments of the U.S. economy posting solid gains. The economy will likely cool going forward, but that may be […]

By |October 8th, 2018|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Market Trudges On In Spite Of Headwinds

Economy And Markets Ignore Headline News, Surge Ahead

Published September 7th, 2018

William RutherfordU.S. gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annualized rate of 4.2 percent in the second quarter of 2018. The GDP came in 0.1 percentage point ahead of the “advance” estimate (released in July) and almost double the 2.2 percent increase witnessed in the first quarter. This growth represents the strongest economic performance in nearly four years and the highest rate since the third quarter of 2014, when the GDP growth was reported to be 4.9 percent. Government spending rose 2.3 percent, compared to the 1.5 percent increase in the first quarter of this year. Exports increased 9.1 percent, while imports fell 0.4 percent. The Fed forecasts GDP to grow by 2.4 percent in 2019 and by 2 percent in 2020.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell stated in comments during the Fed meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that the U.S. economy is strong and does not appear at “elevated” risk of overheating.

“Many of the most significant challenges facing the U.S. economy – such as slow wage growth and rising government debt – remain outside the powers of the Fed to address,” he added.

U.S. shares increased and the dollar index […]

By |September 10th, 2018|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Economy And Markets Ignore Headline News, Surge Ahead

Strong US Economic Uptrend Continues

Published Aug 13th, 2018

William RutherfordAs U.S. equity markets powered onward, the Federal Reserve called the economy fundamentally strong and hinted at two more rate hikes this year and perhaps three hikes next year.

Earnings have been strong, with almost all of the S&P 500 results released. So far, reported earnings increased nearly 25 percent year on year. Eighty of the companies have beaten estimates. The proportion with rising earnings is a record 62 percent. No doubt, if we did not have trade conflicts, we would be doing even better.

Trade talks between the Trump administration and China have stalled. The president is threatening further tariffs; China is responding by weakening the yuan. The spread between dollar value and yuan value is widening, so the dollar is rising against other currencies as well. While a strong dollar has benefits for importers, it makes it harder for exporters to sell goods. For those wishing to narrow the trade deficit, it is a self-defeating strategy. Import more, sell less abroad and complain about the widening gap. The logic is hard to understand. Most economists do not agree with the strategy.

Domestic unemployment continues in the low range. According […]

By |August 13th, 2018|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Strong US Economic Uptrend Continues