Published 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 […]
Published September 7th, 2018
U.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 […]
Published Aug 13th, 2018
As 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 […]
Published July 9th, 2018
U.S. equity markets show uncertainty and less growth. The economy stumbles over trade conflicts and rising interest rates, amid evidence of inflation and a strong dollar.
Year to date, the S&P index is up a meager 2.65 percent, about the annual rate of inflation. June saw only a 0.62 percent increase in the S&P. The Gross Domestic Product annualized growth for the quarter was 2.0 percent versus the forecast 2.2 percent and White House boasts of 4 percent. The Atlanta Fed forecasts a slowing GDP growth rate. Personal consumption fell slightly on the quarter. Why are the market and the GDP pausing now?
A host of negatives provide headwinds for the market.
Interest rates are on the rise. The Fed has already raised them this year, and three to four more increases are being discussed. The White House, through Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s top economic advisor, took the very unusual step of admonishing the Fed about interest rate increases. No White House in memory has told the Fed what to do. Since it was first established, the Fed was to be independent of politics.
Kudlow also took time to assure the markets […]
Published March 9, 2018
President Trump began his term by abandoning the Transpacific Trade Agreement, angering many of our allies. By threatening to impose steel and aluminum tariffs, he has further distanced himself from our allies when he needs them. Now he finds himself isolated in the trade talks with China, when he needs the support of other countries to come to favorable terms with them. Having determined that the U.S. is unreliable at present, our trading partners are making separate deals with China, further isolating the U.S.
Recently, Trump had to back down from his penalties on ZTE, a Chinese company that he had sought out for punishment, until President Xi Jinping retaliated with tariffs on U.S. agricultural products. Trump’s interest in controlling technology transfer to China was left on the cutting room floor in order to salvage U.S. soybean exports.
In Trumpian style, he has sought to double down on his losing position. He wants more tariffs, this time on automobiles and auto parts. He is apparently unaware that auto products can and do cross borders, sometimes several times, in the manufacturing process. His strategy will disrupt global supply chains and damage the global […]
Published May 11, 2018
Expectations for the market heading into 2018 were very high – that company earnings would be up 18 percent year on year. The market was stretched to meet these high expectations. Aided by the tax cut bill, actual earnings far exceeded forecasts. By early May, with most companies reporting, actual earnings were up an astounding 27 percent. Normally, one would expect the market to show a similar increase, but it did not. The market has barely moved since the start of 2018, compared with a 7 percent increase as of this time last year.
With earnings strong, the price-earnings ratio of the market dropped from over 18 times earnings to about 16 times earnings – closer to the historical average. Fixed income became a better investment than equities; even cash earned more than equities because equities remained flat since the start of earnings season. Yields on the 10-year Treasury bond rose to 3 percent, making fixed income competitive with equities. In addition, volatility rose dramatically. Was the market getting tired? Was the market tipping over?
The May jobs report came in with the number of jobs created at 164,000, down […]