Optimism about possible pro-growth economic policies, including tax reform and deregulation, helped U.S. stock indices finish higher last week, reported Barron’s. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. Stocks bobbed up and down as investors’ optimism was weighted by concerns about a possible debt-ceiling battle and government shutdown.
CNN offered some insight to the historic economic impact of government shutdowns on productivity:
“The last time the government was forced to close up shop – for 16 days in late 2013 – it cost taxpayers $2 billion in lost productivity, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Two earlier ones – in late 1995 and early 1996 – cost the country $1.4 billion.”
For investors, it’s important to distinguish between a shutdown’s potential effect on the U.S. economy and its possible impact on U.S. stock markets. A source cited by The New York Times reported:
“…during all 18 government shutdowns, starting in 1976…the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index averaged just a 0.6 percent loss over the course of those closures. Early on in shutdown history, investors reacted very negatively. Closures in 1976 and 1977 coincided with 3 percent declines in the [S&P 500].
As investors grew more accustomed to shutdowns, they seemed to become more blasé about them. During the mid-1990s and the 2013 closure, for instance, stocks actually rose. They gained 3.1 percent during the 2013 stoppage.”
Bond investors were relatively calm last week, according to Financial Times. Although, there were signs of “debt ceiling jitters.” Yields on U.S. Treasuries that mature in October (when a shutdown may occur) rose on concerns investors might not be repaid in a timely way.
No matter what happens in September and October, keep your eyes on the horizon and your long-term goals.
Here, there, and everywhere…
Markets around the world appear to be benefitting from global economic recovery.
After pointing out the United States’ economy is the heart of the global financial system, Barron’s reported:
“The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has tirelessly amassed 30 record closes this year, but is up just 1.2 percent since March 1. Meanwhile, nearly every foreign stock market has sprinted ahead…We wrote on March 25 about how a global recovery should goose smaller, fresher bull markets abroad. By now, it is firmly becoming the consensus view – metals are rallying, with copper up 18 percent this year; the MSCI All Worlds Index has risen for eight straight months.”
Emerging markets haven’t performed too shabbily either. Through the end of last week, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index was up 22.88 percent year-to-date. Franklin Templeton’s Mark Mobius wrote improved performance in emerging markets is the result of “…encouraging economic data in China, investor inflows, and corporate earnings growth.”
So, global stock markets have been delivering relatively robust performance this year.
What have bonds been up to? They’ve gained value year-to-date, too.
Bond markets continue to tell a different story than stock markets. The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate for the third time in June. In theory, interest rates should be moving higher, yet the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds was lower (2.19 percent) at the end of last week than it was at the start of the year (2.45 percent).
North Korea may be a little country, but it can churn up big trouble.
The possibility that verbal hostilities between the United States and North Korea could trigger geopolitical conflict had investors on the run last week. In the United States, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell by 1.4 percent, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1.1 percent, and the NASDAQ Composite finished 1.5 percent lower.
Financial Times explained:
“The sell-off came as U.S. President Donald Trump escalated the war of words against the North Korean regime’s accelerated [program] of nuclear testing. Mr. Trump tweeted on Friday, “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely.”
While major U.S. indices headed south, the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) – also known as Wall Street’s fear gauge – headed north. The VIX, which has been flirting with historic lows for much of the year, rose 44 percent in a single day, reported CNBC.
Stock markets in Europe and Asia were also affected by the saber rattling. National indices across Europe suffered weekly losses of 2.2 percent (Sweden) to 3.5 percent (Spain), according to Barron’s. In the Asia-Pacific region, India’s Sensex 30 lost 3.4 percent and South Korea’s Kospi was down 3.2 percent for the week.
Geopolitical concerns overshadowed some important economic news in the United States. Inflation, as measured by the U.S. Consumer Price Index, rose very little in July. In fact, consumer prices have been soft for five straight months, reported MarketWatch. Persistently low inflation could affect the Federal Reserve’s plan to raise interest rates this year. The Fed’s goal is 2 percent inflation.
Who’s been buying shares of company stock?
Since the start of the bull market in 2009, U.S. companies have been buying their own stock. Stock buybacks peaked during the first three quarters of 2016 and have dropped off sharply since then, reports Financial Times citing a report from Goldman Sachs.
Companies participate in stock buyback (a.k.a. share repurchase) programs to improve shareholder value. For example, if company management believes a company’s shares are undervalued, it can buy shares on the stock market or offer shareholders a fixed price to purchase their shares. This reduces the number of shares in the marketplace and increases earnings per share, which has the potential to boost the company’s stock price.
The slowdown in stock buybacks hasn’t hurt stock markets. Financial Times reported:
“The slowing pace of companies buying back their own shares has certainly not halted Wall Street’s stellar run so far this year. While there is a reduced tail wind of buybacks helping boost earnings per share via a lower share count, U.S. companies have reported robust year-on-year sales and earnings growth for the recent quarter. That has helped offset the decline in buyback activity, but some warn that the clock is ticking for Wall Street bulls.”
There was no sign of a slowdown in the bull market last week, though. The Department of Labor reported the United States added more new jobs than anyone had expected during July, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.3 percent – the same level as May 2017, which was the lowest in 16 years, according to Barron’s.
Jobs growth was music to many investors’ ears.
Financial Times reported, “U.S. equity indices hovered near record highs – with the Dow Jones Industrial Average touching an all-time peak of 22,089.05 in early trade – with financials bolstered by the rise in yields. European [markets] ended the week on a strong note, helped by a sharp retreat for the euro against the dollar.”