The bulls are running.
Last week, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index set a new record, closing above 3,000 for the first time. Other major U.S. stock indices also finished at record highs, reported Barron’s.
Company fundamentals, investor sentiment, and geopolitics all have the power to push stock prices higher. However, according to Financial Times, last week’s gains were attributed to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s testimony before Congress and the expectation the Federal Reserve will lower the Fed funds rates in July.
Financial Times reported:
“Mr. Powell laid out the case for monetary easing by highlighting some softness in indicators such as business fixed investment and persistently low inflation. But mostly, he stressed the impact of uncertainty stemming from trade tensions, weak global growth, the possibility that the U.S. Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, and a no-deal Brexit.”
Investors were encouraged by the possibility of monetary easing. Yardeni Research charted data showing the Investors Intelligence bull/bear ratio rose to 3.1 on July 9. It was 2.94 on June 25 and 3.05 on July 2, which indicates bullishness has been increasing.
An Investors Intelligence bull/bear ratio greater than 1 typically indicates high levels of bullishness, while a bull/bear ratio of less than 1 typically indicates high levels of bearishness. The ratio generally is considered a contrarian indicator, explained Investing Answers.
Year-to-date, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is up 20.2 percent.
What will the Federal Reserve do now?
There was unexpected economic news last week. On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced 224,000 new jobs were added in June, which was more than analysts had anticipated. The gains were offset a bit by reductions in April and May employment estimates. However, overall, the pace of jobs growth during second quarter was fairly consistent with jobs growth during the first quarter, reported Matthew Klein of Barron’s.
Strong employment numbers invigorated some investors. As a result, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, Dow Jones Industrial Average, and Nasdaq Composite finished the week near record highs.
Not everyone was jumping for joy, however.
The performance of the bond market continued to indicate some investors are worried about the possibility of recession. The yield curve remained inverted last week with the 10-year Treasury note trading at lower yields than 3-month Treasury bills. Yield curve inversions have been harbingers of recession in the past, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
Time may provide greater clarity about the strength of the American economy. April Joyner of Reuters reported,
“It will likely take several months of economic data - along with results from the corporate earnings season later this month - to clarify the picture, investors say. In contrast to Friday’s upbeat employment report, data earlier this week showed U.S. manufacturing and service activity in June declined to multi-year lows… Future data…may end up either confirming recession fears or altogether dashing the hopes for interest-rate cuts that have buoyed stocks.”
In its July meeting, the Federal Reserve will examine economic data and decide whether to lower rates. Investors have been anticipating a rate cut, reported Greg Robb of MarketWatch. If it doesn’t happen, stock markets could be a bit volatile.
In the infamous words of Mortimer Snerd, “Who’d a thunk it?”
After U.S. stocks dropped sharply during the last weeks of December 2018, investors were not optimistic about the future. Early in January 2019, the State Street Investor Confidence Index dropped to its lowest point since 2012, and the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) Sentiment Survey showed just about 31.6 percent of investors as bullish. The long-term average for bullishness is 38.2 percent.
How things have changed!
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index finished the second quarter up about 17 percent year-to-date, according to Ben Levisohn of Barron’s. The index gained 6.9 percent in June, its best performance since 1955.
Stocks weren’t the only market delivering gains. Bond markets did well, too. Corrie Driebusch of The Wall Street Journal reported the yield on 10-year Treasuries finished the quarter at 2 percent. That was significantly below its yield at the end of March 2019. Remember, when bond yields fall, bond prices rise.
The strong performance of both markets owes much to changing policies at the Federal Reserve. Randall Forsyth of Barron’s reported,
“The first half of 2019 was terrific for financial markets, regardless of whether you were a stock or bond investor…a good first six months largely reflects the pivot by the Federal Reserve from its stance last year, when it indicated that it would raise short-term rates multiple times. In early January, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank would be “patient” in boosting rates and then, in late spring, shifted to indicate that the next move is likely to be a cut.”
Stocks didn’t follow a steady upward trajectory during the second quarter, reported Forbes. Signs the U.S. economy could be softening combined with trade tensions between the United States and China caused major U.S. indices to lose ground in May before climbing higher again in June.
On Saturday, following the G20 Summit – a confab between leaders of 19 countries and the European Union, as well as representatives from the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank – China and the United States agreed to restart trade talks, reported Reuters. President Trump indicated current tariffs on China will remain in place, but additional tariffs will not be assessed, according to CBS News.
While it appears to be positive news, managing director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde stated, “While the resumption of trade talks between the United States and China is welcome, tariffs already implemented are holding back the global economy, and unresolved issues carry a great deal of uncertainty about the future,”
Last week, the S&P 500 was down slightly, as were yields on 10-year Treasuries.
Hold onto your hats. We could see some volatility during the second half of the year.
Everything went up – and that’s unusual.
Randall Forsyth of Barron’s explained, “Like our major political parties, the stock and bond markets seem to live in two different worlds these days. The former sits at record levels, suggesting we live in the best of all possible worlds. The latter sees things as bad and only getting worse.”
Here’s what happened last week:
The Federal Open Market Committee met last week (they decide whether the central bank of the United States should push rates higher or move them lower). It left rates unchanged, but indicated a willingness to lower rates in support of economic expansion. That was music to the ears of some investors and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose to a record high, reported Sue Chang and Mark DeCambre of MarketWatch.
The Fed’s song was the same as the one already playing across the world. Central bankers in Europe and Japan had signaled they were willing to encourage economic growth by easing rates lower and using other tools available, reported Leika Kihara and Daniel Leussink of Reuters. Their attitude helped push world stock markets higher.
Last week, the U.S. bond market gained value, too, as interest rates moved lower. Falling interest rates suggested bond investors were hearing a different tune. When investors are willing to accept lower yields, it suggests they’re worried about what may happen and are seeking safety. In some parts of Europe, investors are accepting negative yields – taking small losses to own government bonds they perceive to be safe – because they are pessimistic about the future.
There is plenty to be concerned about, including ongoing trade issues and conflict in the Middle East. Only time will tell how recent events will affect the U.S. and world economies.
Are we on the cusp of change?
The United States is doing quite well. Randall Forsyth of Barron’s reported:
“…the U.S. economy and stock market both seem to be doing better than OK, thank you, as the expansion and bull market celebrate their 10th anniversaries. Unemployment is around the lowest level in a half-century. The worst thing seems to be that inflation continues to run slightly below the Fed’s 2 percent target, a problem that might strike some as similar to being too rich or too thin.”
The economic facts are encouraging, but recent events have potential to knock the U.S. economy off its tracks. The most significant threat may be a second round of oil tanker explosions in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. accused Iran and Iran denied responsibility, reported The Economist. Tensions in the region are on the rise.
U.S.-China trade rhetoric heated up, too, which has some analysts concerned. It’s difficult to discern what’s truly happening, though. Reuters reported the United States stopped the World Trade Organization investigation of China’s treatment of intellectual property in early June. Some believe the action signaled a thaw in trade relations.
This week new concerns may rise to the fore. The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee meets Tuesday and Wednesday. Some hope it will decide to lower rates, while others believe a rate cut is unnecessary.
Major U.S. stock indices gained value last week, despite a spate of bad news, but change may be coming.
Surprise! It was a great week for markets.
Since the U.S.-China trade conflict resumed in early May, investors have been off balance. The possibility of escalating tariffs on Mexico heightened economic uncertainty. Then, last week’s unemployment report arrived with less than stellar news – just 75,000 jobs were created in May. The number was well below expectations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics revised March and April employment numbers downward, too.1, 2, 3
We know investors hate uncertainty. So, why did major U.S. indices rally?
The answer may be hope. There was hope negotiations with Mexico would produce results and tariffs would be avoided. There was hope trade issues with China, in tandem with less-than-stellar economic news, would encourage the Federal Reserve to cut rates. There was hope lower rates would stimulate the economy and lift share prices higher.4, 5
Investors were right about Mexico and tariffs.
On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal reported the United States and Mexico reached a last-minute agreement on immigration that takes tariffs off the table for now.6 It was good news. Before the agreement was reached, the vice president of the Center for Automotive Research told PBS NewsHour, “…the cost of a vehicle, a new vehicle in the U.S. is going to go up somewhere between $1,100 and $5,400 a vehicle…It will hit GDP, up to [a] $34 billion hit to GDP. And we would see almost 400,000 American jobs disappear.”7
Investors may be right about interest rates, too. Expectations for Fed rate cuts are rising. MarketWatch reported, “The fed fund futures market now show traders see a 72 percent chance of a rate cut at the Fed’s July 31 meeting, and an around 23 percent probability of a rate cut in the June 19 meeting.”8
Last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Standard & Poor’s 500 Index each gained more than 4 percent. The Nasdaq Composite was up 3.9 percent.4
Just two weeks ago, the U.S. government lifted tariffs on Mexico and Canada. So, it was a surprise last week when President Trump tweeted the United States would impose an escalating tariff on all goods imported from Mexico until the flow of migrants to the United States’ southern border stops.
The pending tariffs have potential to hurt both American and Mexican economies, reported The Economist. “Two-thirds of American imports from Mexico are between related parties, where one partner owns at least 10 percent of the other, so any tariff will cause problems along tightly integrated supply chains.”
In 2018, Mexico was the second largest supplier of imported goods to the United States. It provided 13.6 percent of U.S. imports. In addition, Mexico was the second largest importer of U.S. goods. The country took in 15.9 percent of overall U.S. exports, including machinery, electrical machinery, mineral fuels, vehicles, and plastics, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
The new tariffs (a.k.a. import taxes) may increase costs for ordinary Americans. Last week, Liberty Street Economics explained the costs associated with Chinese tariffs:
“U.S. purchasers of imports from China must now pay the import tax in addition to the base price. Thus, if a firm (or consumer) is importing goods for $100 a unit from China, a 10 percent tariff will cause the domestic price to rise to $110 per unit…it is not a true cost for the U.S. economy because the money is simply transferred from buyers of imports to government coffers and thus could, in principle, be rebated.”
A different type of cost occurs when companies find new suppliers. For example, a company that chooses not to pay tariffs can buy goods elsewhere. They might choose to pay a Vietnamese firm $109 for a product rather than pay a Chinese firm $110 ($100 plus a 10 percent tariff). In this situation, the consumer pays a higher price and there is no tariff revenue that could be rebated. This is called a deadweight loss.
In total, Liberty Street Economics estimated the cost of 2018 tariffs on Chinese goods at $419 a year for the typical household ($132 in deadweight loss). The tariffs imposed in 2019 are expected to cost $831 a year ($620 in deadweight loss).
Liberty Street Economics did not estimate the potential consumer cost of new tariffs on Mexico.
Major U.S. stock indices finished lower last week. Yields on U.S. Treasuries moved lower, too, suggesting investors may have been seeking safe havens.
Trade war trade-off.
There was some good news on trade, last week. The United States took steps to reduce trade friction with the European Union, Canada, Mexico, and Japan.
“The United States on Friday reached an agreement with Canada and Mexico to remove steel and aluminum tariffs, which had been a persistent source of friction across North America over the past year. The deal on metals came as Mr. Trump decided not to press ahead immediately with levies on EU and Japanese automotive products – despite declaring that foreign car and vehicle imports represented a threat to U.S. national security,” reported James Politi, Jude Webber, and Jim Brunsden of Financial Times.
There was some bad news, too. Trade tensions escalated between the United States and China. The United States doubled tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods and threatened tariffs on an additional $325 billion of goods. The United States imports about $539 billion worth of goods from China each year, reported the BBC.
In addition, President Trump signed an executive order preventing U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms believed to pose a risk to national security. The move is expected to affect the ability of a large Chinese telecoms firm to conduct business in the United States, reported David Lawder and Susan Heavey of Reuters.
China currently has tariffs on $110 billion of American goods and they announced plans to hike tariffs on $60 billion of these goods. In total, China imports $120 billion worth of goods overall from the United States each year.
While the relatively small amount of American goods imported by China would seem to give the United States an advantage in a trade war, China has other means of gaining leverage. The country holds about 7 percent of U.S. debt, which is more than any other nation, reported Jeff Cox of CNBC. If China were to slow purchases of Treasuries, yields on U.S. government bonds may move higher.
A source cited by Reshma Kapadia of Barron’s suggested it is unlikely the Chinese will stop buying Treasuries. “Where would they put the trillions of dollars? Ten-year German Bunds are below Japanese 10-year yields; there aren’t a lot of options…They also don’t want their currency to appreciate, so that handcuffs them…China tends to find things to hurt adversaries without hurting themselves.”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index finished the week lower.
Trade talk trouble took a toll last week.
Major U.S. stock indices moved lower when trade talks between the United States and China broke down. The Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index, Nasdaq Composite, and Dow Jones Industrial Index all finished the week down between 2 percent and 3 percent, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
Despite the weak weekly performance, the S&P 500 remains up 14.9 percent year-to-date.
The deadline to settle U.S.-China trade issues was Friday. When it passed without any resolution, the U.S. increased tariffs on Chinese goods to 25 percent, reported the BBC.
The economic impact of higher tariffs may be relatively small; however, the impact on business confidence and global markets could be significant, reported Capital Economics.
“We think that the direct effects of President Trump’s threatened tariff hikes could reduce Chinese GDP by up to 0.4 percent and that the associated retaliation would have only a marginal direct impact on the United States. The effects on business confidence and financial markets around the world could be more significant, potentially adding to reasons for renewed policy loosening…In theory, if all else were unchanged, the increase in tariffs would amount to a small fiscal tightening in China and the United States. But both governments have avoided this by spending the proceeds on aid for the most affected parties.”
Bond markets reflected uncertainty, too. The yield curve, which has been flirting with inversion for some time, inverted briefly on Thursday, reported Alex Harris of Bloomberg. A persistent inverted yield curve – featuring a lower yield for 10-year Treasuries than for three-month Treasuries – sometimes signals recession.
David Lynch and Heather Long of The Washington Post reported tariffs imposed on other countries have yet to be removed, including those on steel and aluminum imported from Mexico and Canada.
Trade negotiations between the United States and China are expected to continue.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is off to its best start in 20 years.
Despite the exceptional performance of U.S. stock markets year-to-date, and data that suggest economic growth remains steady, some analysts and investors have been pecking at Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell. They’re keen for the Fed to implement a rate cut, which could stimulate economic growth and help push stock markets higher, because inflation is lower than ideal, reported Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir of Reuters.
Recent data suggest core inflation is at 1.6 percent. That’s below the Fed’s target rate of 2 percent. Fed leaders have said they think low inflation may be temporary. Until a trend has been established to their satisfaction, they intend to do nothing. The Reuters article explained, “…preemptive…rate moves in either direction appear off the table for now, absent some unexpected event that raises new risks or shocks the economy into a higher or lower gear.”
Second-guessing the Fed is not new. In 1955, the ninth Chairman of the Federal Reserve, William McChesney Martin, offered this insight to the Fed’s work:
“Those who have the task of making [credit and monetary] policy don't expect you to applaud. The Federal Reserve…is in the position of the chaperone who has ordered the punch bowl removed just when the party was really warming up.”
On Friday, jobs data suggested U.S. economic growth continues apace. The Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed unemployment was at a 49-year low. The news made investors happy, and the Nasdaq Composite and S&P 500 finished the week higher.