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.