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How strong is the United States economy?
That’s the question investors were mulling after last week’s jobs report.
More jobs were created in May than economists expected, and the labor force participation rate rose, meaning even more people are returning to work. Overall, the unemployment rate remained at 3.6 percent. However, unemployment rates varied by age, sex and race:
From an inflation perspective, there was some good news in the employment report as earnings increased at a slower pace than in previous months. Apart from that bit of good news, “More jobs added and higher wages are signs of a strong economy…the concern is that inflation will remain close to its recent peak,” reported Joel Woelfel and Jacob Sonenshine of Barron’s.
Some pointed to layoffs at technology companies as a sign the economy might be weakening. However, as Randall Forsyth of Barron’s reported:
“…16,800 pink slips were handed out last month by 66 technology companies, the most since May 2020 at the depth of the pandemic…Many of those cuts came from outfits with much promise, but no profits, that burned through copious amounts of cash bestowed by a once-ebullient equity market.”
Investors who hoped the Fed would ease up were disappointed by the strength of the employment report. The data reinforced expectations that the Federal Reserve will continue to tighten monetary policy, causing the economy to cool down and inflationary forces to recede, reported Barron’s.
Bond markets appear to agree that the Fed will have to work harder to tame inflation. The U.S. Treasury yield curve moved higher as rates on all maturities of U.S. Treasuries marched higher during the week. That also suggests recession concerns may be overblown, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
Major U.S. stock indices moved lower last week.
Investors reassessed and markets bounced.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices moved higher for the first time in weeks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 6.2 percent, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 6.6 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite rose 6.9 percent, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
The change in investor attitude may have been influenced by a variety of factors, including:
“The rally…extended on Wednesday when the Federal Reserve, while acknowledging that it will lift interest rates further in the next couple of meetings, implied that it may slow down the pace of rate hikes if the economy continues to slow down,” reported Jack Denton and Jacob Sonenshine of Barron’s.
While last week’s U.S. stock market rally was appreciated, markets are likely to remain volatile for some time.
Guidance Wealth will be closed Monday, May 30th in Observance of Memorial Day
On the fear and greed cycle.
One of the most challenging times for investors is a market downturn. Whether markets are experiencing a correction or a bear market, it’s really disturbing to watch the value of your savings and investments decline.
Last week, the CNN Business Fear & Greed Index showed extreme fear was the emotion driving investment decisions. The Index “is a way to gauge stock market movements and whether stocks are fairly priced. The theory is based on the logic that excessive fear tends to drive down share prices, and too much greed tends to have the opposite effect.”
During times like these, many investors succumb to fear and take actions that damage their ability to reach their financial goals. The fear and greed cycle works like this:
It’s counterintuitive, but many think the time when investors should be greedy is when the market nears a bottom.4 That’s when it may be possible to find shares with strong fundamentals that are selling at attractive prices. Since no one really knows when a turning point will occur, investors who decide to buy low may experience losses before they realize gains.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices moved lower.
If you’re feeling fearful, let us know. One of our most important roles is helping clients stay focused on financial goals, maintain a disciplined investment approach, and keep a long-term perspective in difficult markets.
Living with a bear.
On the survival series “Alone,” the tension ratchets higher whenever participants encounter bears. Some participants live warily alongside bears, while others tap out. A similar thing happens among investors when they encounter a bear market.
What is a bear market?
People define bear markets in different ways. Some people say a share price decline of 20 percent is bear market territory. Last week, the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index was down 19.6 percent before Friday’s rally, according to Ben Levisohn of Barron’s, and the Nasdaq Composite was already down more than 20 percent.
Other people say a bear market occurs when more investors are bearish than bullish. That’s certainly the case today. The Association of Independent Investors’ Consumer Sentiment Index found 49 percent of investors were bearish and 24 percent were bullish last week. Other sentiment indicators, including the Consensus Bullish Sentiment Index cited by Barron’s, also show that investors and investment professionals are feeling more bearish than bullish.
So, it’s safe to say we’re either in a bear market or quite close to one.
The decisions investors make today can affect long-term outcomes
While it is never comfortable to watch the value of savings and investments drop, as they do during a bear market, it’s important to remember that the decisions you make today can have a significant effect on the value of your portfolio over the long-term. During bear markets, investors may choose to:
1. Sell. The thinking behind selling is usually something like this: If I sell, I will cut my losses and preserve what I have. These investors are willing accept a loss of principal, which may hurt their ability to reach long-term financial goals.
2. Stay invested. Investors who remain invested recognize that a market decline is not the same as a loss of principal. By remaining invested, they create an opportunity to regain lost value should the market change direction.
3. Look for opportunities. Some investors recognize that bear markets often create buying opportunities. These investors work with their advisors to identify ways to position for gains should the market recover. The goal of investing, after all, is to buy low and sell high.
A few words of wisdom
If you’re feeling uncertain, this is a good time to revisit the words of Randall Forsyth and Vito Racanelli of Barron’s. In 2008, they wrote, “The good news is that once the decline reaches that arbitrary 20% mark, based on history, the market has suffered most of its losses. The bad news is that the decline typically drags on for some time, and time may be the worst enemy…as the decline wears down investors' psyches, they tend to bail out at the market's nadir, when things look bleakest – and when the greatest opportunities present themselves.”
Last week, major U.S. stock indices finished lower. Rates on U.S. Treasuries moved lower, too, as risk-averse investors moved assets into Treasury bonds, reported Samantha Subin and Vicky McKeever of CNBC.
There is a lot of uncertainty in financial markets – and markets hate uncertainty.
In recent weeks, economic and financial market data have been telling different stories – and that makes it tough for investors to know where the United States economy is headed. Since stock markets move up and down based on what investors think will happen in the future, markets have been volatile. Here are some of the issues that have contributed to recent uncertainty.
Bond yields have risen along with interest rates. At the end of last week, the 2-year U.S. Treasury note yielded 2.72 percent and the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yielded more than 3 percent. Higher bond yields are likely to affect stock markets, too, as investors can now find opportunities to invest for income with less risk.
Last week, major U.S. stocks indices moved lower. The Nasdaq Composite Index is in bear market territory (down 20 percent or more), and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is down 14 percent year-to-date with almost half of the stocks in the Index down 20 percent or more, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
Correction and contraction....
Investing during 2022 has been like running a forest trail and having unexpected obstacles appear every so often – a fallen tree, a swarm of biting flies, a bear with cubs – you get the idea. To-date, economic, coronavirus-related, and geopolitical events have taken a toll from stock and bond markets, as well as the U.S. economy. For example:
Recession fears were top-of-mind last week when the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) – the value of all goods and services produced in the country – contracted 1.4 percent during the first quarter of 2022. Greg Daco, chief economist of EY-Parthenon, wrote in Barron’s:
“To the untrained eye, such a GDP contraction would raise concern that the economy is headed toward a recession…paradoxically, the main reason GDP contracted in Q1 is that the U.S. economy grew faster than its peers. Robust private sector activity driven by solid consumer outlays, accelerating business investment, and inventory restocking pulled in imports at an extremely rapid pace while a sluggish global economy meant exports fell back.”
Major U.S. stock indices fell last week. The Standard & Poor’s 500 and Nasdaq Composite Indices are in correction territory, down more than 10 percent for the year, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is close to a correction, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
The Federal Reserve’s Ice Bucket Challenge…
Remember a few years ago when people raised money for charity by challenging others to pour buckets of icy water over their heads? Last week, the Federal Reserve poured a bucket of ice water over the United States stock market. Randall W. Forsyth of Barron’s explained:
“In the past week, Fed officials stepped up their rhetorical anti-inflation campaign, with Jerome Powell all but promising a half-point increase in the federal-funds target range at the next Federal Open Market Committee meeting, on May 3-4. And other Fed district presidents raised the possibility of more forceful action, including rate hikes of as much as three-quarters of a percentage point, something the Fed hasn’t done since 1994.”
The Fed’s goal is to slow high inflation, which has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and China’s coronavirus lockdowns, without pushing the American economy into a recession. The question is whether the economy is strong enough to continue to grow as the Fed tightens monetary policy – and opinions about that vary.
One participant in Barron’s Big Money Poll, which surveys institutional investors across the U.S., wrote, “It’s not as bad as people think…Yes, interest rates will rise, but earnings will also rise along with that. Profit margins continue to be very high, and employment is strong. It’s growth slowing down, not ending.”
Another participant disagreed, reported Nicholas Jasinski of Barron’s. “[The Fed] should have started the process of raising rates sooner so they could be more patient with the pace of increases…Now, they are going to be overly aggressive trying to play catch-up, and will probably go too far and slow demand down too much.”
Last week, major U.S. stock indices declined, reported William Watts and Barbara Kollmeyer of MarketWatch, and the real yield* for 10-year U.S. Treasuries was briefly in positive territory for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020, reported Jacob Sonenshine of Barron’s.
*When the term “real” is used with interest rates, it means the rate has been adjusted for inflation (the bond yield minus inflation). So, the real return is what investors would have after inflation.
Here’s a riddle: How can inflation be 8.5 percent and 6.5 percent at the same time? The answer is that it depends on how you measure it.
Determining how quickly prices are rising or falling – and where they may be headed in the future – is not simple. In the United States, millions of goods and services are bought and sold every day – shelter, food, transportation, energy, water, education, childcare, equipment and tools, medical care, furnishings, apparel, trash removal, and much more.
The government relies on two indexes: the Consumer Price index (CPI) and the Personal Consumption Expenditures Index (PCE). Each index has two versions: headline inflation and core inflation.
Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that CPI headline inflation was up 8.5 percent in March, and CPI core inflation was up 6.5 percent.
The BLS does not collect every price in every part of the United States. It gathers prices in 75 cities, collecting data from about 6,000 households and 22,000 department stores, supermarkets, hospitals, gas stations, and other establishments. So, the CPI is a measurement that reflects the experience of urban consumers.
CPI headline inflation
Last week, the CPI showed that headline inflation, which includes all price changes collected, was up 1.2 percent from February to March, and up 8.5 percent for the 12-month period that ended March 31. The largest increases in the CPI were:
CPI core inflation
The BLS also reported on core inflation, which is the CPI minus food and energy prices, and was lower than headline inflation. The core CPI was up 0.3 percent from February to March, and up 6.5 percent for the 12-month period that ended March 31.
Why would anyone want to exclude staples like food and energy from inflation?
The answer is that food and energy prices are volatile – food and energy are commodities that trade on exchanges – and can distort inflation readings. “Trying to manage monetary policy with gauges that fluctuate wildly would be like driving a car where the speedometer was constantly fluttering between 30 mph and 60 mph. Taking a long-term average may reduce the effect — but only for looking at the past history. Policymakers are forward-focused. They need guidance on where the inflation trend is headed. High volatility obscures that trend,” explained George Calhoun of Forbes.”
To sum up: headline CPI reflects Americans’ cost increases in the recent past, while core CPI is a better indicator of where inflation may be headed, reported Joseph Haubrich of the Cleveland Federal Reserve.
It’s important to note that the Federal Reserve relies on the PCE when making policy decisions. The PCE is a broader measure of inflation than the CPI. The PCE includes measurements taken in urban, non-urban, and rural areas, as well as spending by members of the military and a wider range of organizations. PCE data for March will be released on April 29.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices declined, reported Al Root of Barron’s. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose last week.
Guidance Wealth will be closed Friday, April 15th to observe the Good Friday holiday
The first quarter of 2022 was jam-packed with volatility-inducing events: rising inflation, war in Ukraine, rising interest rates, sanctions on Russia, and a new COVID-19 outbreak in China.
Here’s a brief review of what happened during:
Inflation continued to rise. At the start of the year, consumers and investors were primarily concerned about inflation. In February, the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index showed core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, was up 5.4 percent year-over-year. That’s well above the Federal Reserve (Fed)’s two percent target for inflation.
The Fed began to tighten monetary policy late in 2021 by curtailing its bond-buying program. Investors expected the Fed to continue fighting inflation in 2022 by raising the federal funds target rate. Raising rates makes borrowing more expensive, which causes consumer and business spending to slow, demand for goods and services to drop, and prices to move lower, reported Carmen Reinicke of CNBC.
Russia invaded Ukraine and sanctions followed. In late February, Russia shocked the world by invading Ukraine. The war has devastated the people and the economy of Ukraine. The Kyiv School of Economics estimated that physical damage inflicted on Ukraine’s roads, bridges, rails, ports, residences, factories, airports, hospitals, and schools from February 24 to April 1 exceeded $68 billion, reported The Economist. As the human and economic costs of the war filtered through markets:
Higher energy prices exacerbated global inflation. For example, rising fuel prices lifted other prices, too. The cost of diesel fuel, which is primarily used for trucking and shipping, rose 63 percent in the United States during the first quarter. Higher transportation and delivery costs were reflected in the cost of other goods, including food, reported Brian Swint of Barron’s.
Central banks continued to tighten monetary policy. The war in Ukraine complicated the outlook for economic growth and inflation around the world. Despite uncertainty about growth, many central banks tightened monetary policy to bring inflation down.
In the U.S., the Fed raised the federal funds target rate by 0.25 percent in March. Fed officials expect to raise rates six more times in 2022 and begin reducing the Fed’s balance sheet, a process known as quantitative tightening, at its May meeting.
Yields on U.S. Treasury notes and bonds shifted higher during the quarter and into April. The yield on the 2-year Treasury note rose from 0.78 percent at the start of the year to 2.53 percent at the end of last week, while the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield rose from 1.63 percent to 2.72 percent. When bond yields rise, bond prices fall. In the first quarter, Morningstar indices for U.S. Treasuries, corporate, high-yield, and mortgage bonds all moved lower.
A new COVID-19 outbreak in China led to a lockdown in Shanghai. On March 28, Shanghai, China, a city of 25 million people, was locked down amid a new COVID-19 outbreak. A source cited by Reshma Kapadia of Barron’s stated:
“…concern is growing about the scars it may leave on Chinese consumers—a crucial growth engine for the struggling economy but also for a host of global companies…Consumers will be more cautious this time around. Their pandemic savings are depleting, wealth has been destroyed in equities and property and wage growth has already turned down.’”
The Shanghai Composite Index dropped by almost 10 percent during the quarter, reported Reuters.
Overall, stock markets declined during the first quarter of 2022. The MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI) measures the performance of mid-sized and large company stocks in 23 developed markets and 24 emerging markets. It reflects the performance of about 85 percent of the investable stocks across the world and finished the first quarter of 2022 -5.36 percent.
There were some regions that delivered positive returns during the period. For example, markets in some commodity-exporting countries in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East benefitted from the supply disruptions that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
We anticipate that markets will remain volatile in the coming weeks and, possibly, months. We will continue to monitor events around the world and the ways in which they may affect markets and asset prices and we hope peace talks will conclude the war in Ukraine.
Guidance Wealth will be closed Friday, April 15th to observe the Good Friday holiday
Checking in on the Federal Reserve.
Among other things, Congress asks the Federal Reserve to use its tools to promote price stability and maximum employment. Last week, economic data provided information about both.
Inflation continued to increase
Price stability means ensuring the prices of goods and services increase at a slow and stable pace. Last week, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that consumer prices rose 5.4 percent, year-over-year in February, excluding food and energy. When food and energy were included, inflation increased 6.4 percent.
Personal income increased, too, but not quite as quickly as inflation did.
The Fed’s target for inflation is 2 percent. To bring inflation into line, the Fed has begun tightening monetary policy. So far, it has ended asset purchases and started raising the federal funds target rate. Next, it will begin to shrink its balance sheet. However, the war in Ukraine and a new COVID-19 outbreak in China are complicating the Fed’s inflation calculations.
Unemployment remained low
Maximum employment is “…the highest level of employment the economy can sustain without generating unwelcome inflation It describes an economy in which nearly everyone who wants to work has a job, reported Lorena Hernandez Barcena and David Wessel of Brookings.”
Not everyone who wants a job has one, but last week’s employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the unemployment rate was quite low at 3.6 percent, overall. When the statistic is viewed by gender and race:
Major stock indices finished the week mixed, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s. The Treasury yield curve inverted last week with the yield for a 10-year Treasury dropping below the yield for a 2-year Treasury.