Wonder what the Federal Reserve’s 40-yard dash time is?
On Wednesday, the Fed juked like an NFL running back and left investors wondering whether they should buy or sell. Heather Long of The Washington Post reported the U.S. central bank:
Fed Chair Jerome Powell explained, “My colleagues and I have one overarching goal: to sustain the economic expansion with a strong job market and stable prices for the benefit of the American people. The U.S. economy is in a good place and we will continue to use our monetary policy tools to keep it there…We continue to expect that the American economy will grow at solid pace in 2019, although slower than the very strong pace of 2018.”
The Fed’s decision to adopt a looser monetary policy was informed by a variety of factors, including slower economic growth in the United States, China, and Europe, as well as unresolved policy issues like Brexit and ongoing trade negotiations.
Investors weren’t sure what to make of the Fed’s moves. Initially, major U.S. stock indices trended higher as investors celebrated the benefits of accommodative monetary policy. By the end of the week, though, many investors had changed their minds and fled to ‘safe haven’ investments, pushing long-term Treasury rates lower. Alexandra Scaggs of Barron’s reported:
“When short-term yields rise above long-term yields, it’s known as an inverted yield curve, which is seen even by central bankers as a sign that an economic contraction could be on the way…Benchmark 10-year Treasuries rallied Friday morning, driving their yields below those of the three-month U.S. Treasury.”
So, is recession imminent in the United States? It’s possible but unlikely. According to a source cited by Barron’s, the last six times the yield curve inverted for 10 days or longer, recession occurred within the next two years.
No matter how the economy and/or markets perform, it may not be a good idea to make sudden portfolio changes. If you’re feeling uncertain, give us a call. We can discuss changes you may want to make to your portfolio.
Stock and bond markets rallied.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices finished higher for the 10th time in 12 weeks. Bond markets moved higher, too, with the yield on 10-year Treasuries dropping just below 2.6 percent, reported Randall Forsyth of Barron’s. Yields on 10-year Treasuries haven’t been this low since January 2018.
The simultaneous rallies are curious because improving share prices are often an indication of a strong or strengthening economy. Improving bond prices tend to be a sign of weakening economic growth, reported Michael Santoli of CNBC.
Why are U.S. stock and bond markets telling different stories?
It may have something to do with investor uncertainty. A lot of important issues remain unsettled. The British government appears incapable of resolving Brexit issues, the United States and China have not yet reached a trade agreement, and recent economic reports have caused investors to take a hard look at the U.S. economy.
Barron’s pointed out investors appear to be hedging their bets by favoring in utilities and other stocks that have bond-like characteristics and participate in the stock market’s gains. An investment strategist cited by Barron’s explained:
“The strength in utilities reflects the attitude of investors who ‘don’t really buy the rally’…While they’re skittish, they still want to participate in the stock market rally but opt for its most conservative sector.”
We’ve seen this before with stocks and bonds, according to a financial strategist cited by Patti Domm of CNBC. “It’s a little bit of a funky correlation. We've had both things rallying, which is strange. This is what happened in 2017, when all asset classes did well. In 2018, nothing did well…I would suspect it goes away soon.”
Times like these illustrate the importance of having a well-diversified portfolio.
Markets were rattled last week.
The market hates surprises, especially when the surprise comes from a central bank. Last week, the European Central Bank (ECB) unexpectedly reversed course and took a more accommodative stance on monetary policy in an effort to encourage stronger European economic growth. Tom Fairless of Barron’s explained:
“Officials are seeking to shore up an economy that has been rattled by shocks ranging from a slowdown in China to mass protests in France and bottlenecks in Germany’s crucial auto industry. They are threading a careful path between providing sufficient support for the region’s softening economy while avoiding any appearance of panic, which could ricochet through financial markets.”
The Eurozone isn’t the only region feeling the pinch of weaker economic growth. China’s exports were down more than 20 percent in February, reported Investing.com. Analysts had expected a decline of about 5 percent. Concerns about the health of China’s economy have been growing since the publication of ‘A Forensic Examination of China’s National Accounts’ by the Brookings Institute. The authors concluded:
“First, nominal GDP [gross domestic product*] growth after 2008 and particularly after 2013 is lower than suggested by the official statistics. Second, the savings rate has declined by 10 percentage points between 2008 and 2016. The official statistics suggest the savings rate only declined by 3 percentage points between these two years. Third, our statistics suggest that the investment rate has [fallen] by about 3 percent of GDP between 2008 and 2016. Official statistics suggest that the investment rate has increased over this period.”
*Gross domestic product is the monetary measure of the market value of all goods and services produced annually in the country.
As if that weren’t enough, the U.S. jobs report for February reported far fewer jobs had been created than was expected.
It will come as little surprise to learn that major U.S. stock indices moved lower last week.
Is it a soft landing?
Economists use aviation metaphors to describe the results of central banks’ efforts to manage rapidly growing economies. If the Federal Reserve lifts rates enough to prevent the economy from overheating without jolting it into recession, then it has engineered a soft landing, according to Investopedia. (Rate increases that drop a country into recession are hard landings.)
Ben Levisohn of Barron’s thinks recent Fed actions may have produced the second soft landing in the history of the United States:
“…the Federal Reserve might have engineered a soft landing for the U.S. economy…When Chairman Jerome Powell abruptly decided that he would hold off on further rate hikes, the market responded as if a recession was no longer in the offing. And it probably isn’t…There are also signs that the Fed, simply by taking a breather, has eased monetary conditions. The evidence: The yield curve is steepening. The difference between 30-year and two-year Treasury yields – the spread most correlated to money supply – has risen to about 0.6 percentage point, the highest since June…”
Not everyone agrees.
Last week, Economist Robert Shiller told Bloomberg, “The economy has been growing pretty smoothly…There are some signs there might be things amiss. The housing market is soaring and the stock market is high. It’s been a long time that we’ve been in this recovery period and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there was a recession.”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and Nasdaq Composite delivered slight gains last week, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was flat.