It never feels good when the stock market heads south, and that’s what happened last week. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500), Dow Jones Industrial Average, and Nasdaq Composite all moved into correction territory, which means the indices have fallen 10 percent or more from their previous peaks.
If you look at corporate earnings, the decline in U.S. stock values may seem a bit of a head scratcher. During the third quarter of 2018, almost four-fifths (78 percent) of companies in the S&P 500 were more profitable than analysts expected, according to FactSet Insight. Earnings grew by 25.9 percent – the fastest growth rate since 2010.
When you remember the stock market is a leading indicator, the mystery is resolved. Share prices reflect what investors expect will happen in the future, and third quarter earnings are in the past.
So, what moved the market last week? Investors’ concerns included slowing global economic growth. Dave Shellock of Financial Times reported:
“World equities closed out the week on a soft note as disappointing economic reports out of China and the eurozone heightened concern over the outlook for global growth…the big focus was on China, where activity and spending data confirmed that the country’s economy had a dismal November.”
Monetary policy and geopolitical issues, including the possibility of a U.S. government shutdown and ongoing Brexit follies, contributed to investor pessimism. The American Association of Individual Investors Sentiment Survey showed a 17-point decline in bullish sentiment and an 18.4-point increase in bearish sentiment.
When stock markets leave you feeling like Santa dropped coal in your stocking, it may be helpful to remember the words of Warren Buffett, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”
We’re off to a slow start.
December is usually the best month of the year for the stock market. It has been since 1950, according to Randall Forsyth of Barron’s, but not so far this year.
Two issues made investors particularly uncomfortable last week which helped trigger a sell-off that pushed major U.S. stock indices lower.
Historically, these maturities have inverted seven times. In one instance, the country was already in recession. On the other six occasions, recession didn’t occur for more than two years. Barron’s reported the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained an average of 20 percent over the 24-month periods following these inversions.
Investors’ negative response to last week’s news may have been overdone. Financial Times reported European and Asian markets firmed up a bit Friday “…as buyers stepped back in after some savage falls on Thursday.”
Hold on to your hats!
Recently, stocks have delivered a wild ride. During Thanksgiving week, U.S. stock markets took investor uncertainty on the chin, suffering a 3.8 percent drop, which was the worst performance in eight months. Then, last week, stocks reversed course. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and the Nasdaq Composite delivered their strongest weekly gains in seven years, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
So, what changed?
Two things appear to have influenced investors last week:
“Powell on Wednesday said that rates were ‘just below’ the level that would be neutral for the economy – meaning they would neither speed up nor slow down economic growth. The comment diverged from a previous remark from Powell that rates were a ‘long way’ from the bank’s aimed neutral level.”
Some analysts have pondered whether recent rate hikes have been a mistake that will lead to recession.
“The best case that can be reasonably expected is for a truce to be declared between the United States and China, to allow talks to continue over the thorny issues of trade barriers and intellectual property. And, equally important, to avoid the consequences of the imposition of even more draconian tariffs on the world economy.”
There is little doubt volatility feels a lot better when share prices move higher than when they move lower. While uncertainty remains elevated, we may see additional jolts up and down. It may be a good idea to ensure your portfolio is well allocated and diversified. Holding diverse assets and investments won’t prevent losses during downturns but it can help minimize losses as investors pursue of long-term financial goals.
It was a turkey of a week.
The United States and China continued to spar over trade and other issues. An expert from Moody’s told Frank Tang of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) the United States-China dispute will not be easily resolved:
“Look at the speech Vice President Pence gave in Papua New Guinea at the Apec conference. He didn’t just talk about trade, but also intellectual property, the South China Sea, forced technology transfers. So there’s a whole long list of issues the U.S. administration is now raising…”
Financial Times reported the Organization for Economic Coordination and Development (OECD) anticipates global economic growth could stumble if trade tensions escalate.
SCMP reported investors are hoping for greater clarity around trade issues when President Donald Trump meets with China’s President Xi Jinping at next week’s G-20 Summit.
The climate report added a new dimension to uncertainty about economic growth last week, reported Fortune. Black Friday shoppers may have missed it, but the U.S. government released the 4th National Climate Assessment on Friday. Ed Crooks of Financial Times summarized some of the report’s economic findings:
“The largest costs of climate change for the United States this century were expected to come from lost ability to work outdoors, heat-related deaths, and flooding…If [greenhouse gas] emissions are not curbed it warns, ‘it is very likely that some physical and ecological impacts will be irreversible for thousands of years, while others will be permanent.’”
Major U.S. stocks indices finished the week lower. It was the biggest drop during Thanksgiving week since 2011, according to CNBC.com.
Americans are hard working and generous. Take a guess: How many hours do Americans work each year relative to Europeans?
Here are a few hints provided by The Economist and Expatica:
So, how many hours do Americans work relative to our European counterparts?
In a typical year, Americans work 100 hours more than the British, 300 hours more than the French, and 400 hours more than the Germans, on average. The Economist reported:
“In 2017 the average American took 17.2 days of vacation. That was a slight rise on the 16 days recorded in 2014 but still below the 1978-2000 average of 20.3 days. Around half of all workers do not take their full allotment of days off, which averages around 23 days. In effect, many Americans spend part of the year working for nothing, donating the equivalent of $561 on average to their firms.”
That’s pretty generous.
There is a case to be built for the importance of taking more vacation time, according to the Harvard Business Review. “Statistically, taking more vacation results in greater success at work as well as lower stress and more happiness at work and home.”
Food for thought as you consider New Year’s Resolutions.
Weekly Focus – Think About It
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
--Patanjali, Hindu author and philosopher
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https://www.ft.com/content/e563446e-ed0e-11e8-89c8-d36339d835c0 (or go to https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/peakcontent/+Peak+Commentary/11-26-18_FinancialTimes-US-China_Trade_War_Risks_Heavy_Toll_on_Growth-Footnote_2.pdf)
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https://www.economist.com/business/2018/11/24/americans-need-to-take-a-break (or go to https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/peakcontent/+Peak+Commentary/11-26-18_TheEconomist-Americans_Need_to_Take_a_Break-Footnote_7.pdf)
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Keep your eyes on the horizon.
Motion sickness happens when your body receives conflicting signals from your eyes, ears, and other body parts. One way to manage the anxiety and queasiness that accompany the condition is by keeping your eyes on the horizon.
The motion of the stock markets has been causing some investors to experience similar symptoms. Surprisingly, the remedy is the same: Keep your eyes on the horizon – your financial planning horizon.
A planning horizon is the length of time over which an investor would like to achieve his or her financial goals. For instance, perhaps you want to pay off student loans by age 30, fund a child’s college tuition when they reach age 18, or retire at age 60.
When stock markets are volatile, an investor may receive conflicting signals from various sources, which may induce anxiety and queasiness. When you start to worry about the effects of market volatility on your portfolio, remember stock markets have trended higher, historically, even after significant downturns.
For instance, in 2008, during the financial crisis, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost about 33 percent. It finished the year at 8,776. The drop sparked tremendous anxiety among investors who wondered whether their portfolios would ever recover.
Last week, the Dow closed at 25,413.
While stock markets have trended higher historically, there is no guarantee they always will. That’s why asset allocation and diversification are so important. A carefully selected mix of assets and investments can reduce the impact of any single asset class or investment on a portfolio’s performance. Keep in mind, of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Last week, stock markets finished lower. MarketWatch reported U.S. stocks moved higher on Friday after President Trump indicated he might not pursue tariffs against China.
How are you feeling about financial markets?
Some votes are still being counted but investors appear to be happy with the outcome of mid-term elections. Major U.S. stock indices in the United States moved higher last week, and the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) Sentiment Survey reported:
“Optimism among individual investors about the short-term direction of stock prices is above average for just the second time in nine weeks…Bullish sentiment, expectations that stock prices will rise over the next six months, rose 3.4 percentage points to 41.3 percent. This is a five-week high. The historical average is 38.5 percent.”
Before you get too excited about the rise in optimism, you should know pessimism also remains at historically high levels. According to AAII:
“Bearish sentiment, expectations that stock prices will fall over the next six months, fell 3.3 percentage points to 31.2 percent. The drop was not steep enough to prevent pessimism from remaining above its historical average of 30.5 percent for the eighth time in nine weeks.”
So, from a historic perspective, investors are both more bullish and more bearish than average. If Sir John Templeton was correct, the mixed emotions of investors could be good news for stock markets. Templeton reportedly said, “Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria.”
While changes in sentiment are interesting market measurements, they shouldn’t be the only factor that influences investment decision-making. The most important gauge of an individual’s financial success is his or her progress toward achieving personal life goals – and goals change over time.
Stocks recovered some ground last week and then stumbled over unemployment.
Major U.S. stock indices faltered Friday after the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported on a popular ‘lagging’ economic indicator – unemployment. (Remember, lagging indicators describe what has happened in the past.) The BLS reported:1, 2, 3
“The unemployment rate remained at 3.7 percent in October, and the number of unemployed persons was little changed at 6.1 million. Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons declined by 0.4 percentage point and 449,000, respectively.”
Reuters reported the number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits was at the lowest level in 45 years. That’s good news, but it’s old news. Again, unemployment is a lagging indicator and the report reflected what happened in October.4
The stock market, on the other hand, is a ‘leading’ economic indicator. It moves in response to investors’ expectations for the future – and recent gyrations suggest investors aren’t certain what to think. Barron’s Daren Fonda wrote, “The market’s 6.9 percent slide in October and the stock averages’ wild swings are testing everyone’s mettle.”2, 5
Economists are uncertain about what’s to come, too. Kevin L. Kliesen, in an Economic Synopses on the St. Louis Federal Reserve website, wrote, “Historically, a trough in the unemployment rate also tends to be a reliable predictor of a business recession…an economic analyst is nonetheless never sure that a trough has occurred. Indeed, the unemployment rate can move up and down over the expansion.”6
There is one thing many analysts think is likely. They expect the Federal Reserve to increase the Fed funds rate so the U.S. economy does not overheat. Paul Kiernan at The Wall Street Journal reported, “Robust hiring and wage gains last month leave the Federal Reserve all but certain to raise interest rates in December and on course to continue gradually lifting them next year.”7
Higher interest rates are expected to keep inflation in check by slowing economic growth.8
Despite Friday’s stumble, major U.S. stock indices finished the week higher.1
Why did the stock market fall when the economy is doing well?
The answer is that one reflects the past and the other anticipates the future.
Last Friday’s advance estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed the U.S. economy grew 3.5 percent during the third quarter of 2018. Harriet Torry of The Wall Street Journal reported:
“The economy powered ahead in the third quarter, driven by robust consumer and government spending, though Friday’s report included warning signs that the business sector faces turbulence that could hold back the expansion in the months ahead.”
Third quarter’s economic growth was slower than economic growth during the second quarter and stronger than economic growth during the first quarter of 2018.
Economists refer to economic growth as a ‘lagging indicator.’ It is a measure that may help confirm longer-term trends, but offers little information about the future.
In contrast, the stock market is a ‘leading indicator.’ It reflects what investors think may happen over the next few weeks or months. The volatility we’ve seen during the past two weeks suggests investors are uncertain about what may be ahead. Many factors are contributing to uncertainty. For instance, investors are concerned:
“Now, on third-quarter calls, companies have begun to spell out tariff impacts in greater detail. Calculating the ultimate impact of tariffs isn’t easy or precise. A fair calculation would include not only costs but also changes in demand and the possibility of supply-chain disruptions. The result could be significant. The International Monetary Fund lowered its global growth expectations when it released its recent outlook because of, in part, ‘escalating trade tensions.’
You have probably heard the saying, “Markets hate uncertainty.” Recent volatility seems to be the result of uncertainty and it is possible uncertainty will cause stock markets to bounce around for some time.
When stock markets are volatile and headlines describe the action with words like ‘plunge’ and ‘erase,’ it’s easy to let emotion get the better of you. Before making changes to your portfolio, please give us a call. We can discuss your concerns and any changes you would like to make to your long-term financial plan.
The world remains full of opportunities and challenges.
Although we’ve seen global markets moving in tandem in recent years, Sara Potter of FactSet pointed out, “…we’re starting to see the end of the synchronized global growth that has prevailed over the last two years. While the U.S. economy remains strong, growth in Europe and Japan is moderating, and emerging markets are under increasing economic and financial market pressure.”
Strong economic growth and robust earnings helped U.S. stocks significantly outperform other regions of the world during the third quarter of 2018. In addition, the resolution of some trade tensions, namely the signing of a United States-Korea trade deal and the renegotiation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), helped soothe investor concerns, reported Jeffrey Kleintop of Schwab.
The trade relationship between the United States and China, however, remains an itchy rash marring the outlook for economic growth in both countries. The Economist Intelligence Unit reported:
“Since the start of 2018 trade policy has become the biggest risk to The Economist Intelligence Unit's central forecast for global economic growth. We now expect this risk to materialize in the form of a bilateral trade war between the United States and China, with negative consequences for global growth…The trade war comes at a challenging time for the Chinese economy…The trade war will also affect the U.S. economy…the escalating trade dispute with China will start to weigh on growth later in 2018 and into 2019 – we now expect growth to slow in 2019 to 2.2 percent (2.5 percent previously). The U.S. manufacturing and agricultural sectors, in particular, will be hit by the trade dispute, and rising interest rates will cause private consumption to slow.”
China’s economic growth slowed during the third quarter. The nation experienced its slowest growth since 2009, reported Reuters.
Chinese stock markets generally lost value. However, some Chinese indices performed better than others, depending on the type of stocks included in the index. For example, the MSCI China Index, which measures large- and mid-cap stocks of various share types that trade on the mainland and in Hong Kong, was down 8.45 percent during the quarter.
In contrast, the MSCI Red Chip Index, which is comprised of stocks that are incorporated outside of China, trade on the Hong Kong exchange, and are usually controlled by the state or a province or municipality, was up 3.25 percent for the quarter and flat year-to-date.
Emerging markets were weak performers overall during the third quarter, but there were bright spots. Schroders explained, “Turkey was the weakest index market amid a sharp sell-off in the lira…By contrast, Thailand recorded a strong gain and was the best performing index, with energy stocks among the strongest names. Mexico outperformed as the market rallied following general elections and an agreement with the United States on NAFTA renegotiation. Taiwan, where semiconductor stocks supported performance, also outperformed. Despite ongoing risk of new U.S. sanctions, Russian equities also finished ahead of the benchmark, benefiting from crude oil price strength.”
Political strife continued to hamper the European Union and the United Kingdom during the third quarter. Overall company profits weren’t particularly impressive in the region and neither was economic growth, reported BlackRock.
As the third quarter came to a close, Barron’s conducted its Fall Big Money Poll. Vito Racanelli reported almost two-thirds of professional money managers from across the country said the U.S. stock market was fairly valued – and that was before the market slid lower early in the fourth quarter. While the money managers’ assessment doesn’t mean all U.S. stocks are fairly valued, there may be opportunities to invest in sound companies at attractive prices.
Trade tensions, inflation trends, and central bank monetary policy are likely to affect the performance of markets during the remainder of 2018 and into next year.
Like an unexpected gust of wind that blows the hat off your head or flips your umbrella inside out, last week’s stock market performance startled investors.
Looking back, it’s easy to identify some of the factors that may have contributed to investors’ unease and shaken confidence in the markets. Ben Levisohn of Barron’s offered a brief rundown that included:
Some analysts believe a desire to take profits also helped fuel the downturn, according to Barron’s Randall W. Forsyth.
Whatever combination of events was responsible, the result was markets losing value on Wednesday and Thursday of last week before regaining some lost ground on Friday. Forsyth wrote, “What turned the U.S. markets around Friday – when the Dow and the S&P 500 managed to pop more than 1 percent and the NASDAQ Composite bounced over 2 percent – wasn’t much clearer than what set off the slide. Market Semiotics’ Woody Dorsey says that his proprietary sentiment polling found a bullish reading of absolute zero on Thursday, a contrarian indication that “panic” would be short-lived.”
While sharp drops in share values are never comfortable, it’s important to consider the bigger picture. A contributor to Bloomberg Opinion wrote, “This decline follows a market that has tripled since 2009, had zero volatility in 2017…This was the 20th time since the bear market ended in 2009 that the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index had a one-day loss of 3 percent. The NASDAQ-100 Index had its eighth 4 percent down day (although it was the biggest one-day fall since August 2011).”
In other words, selloffs are normal and we have experienced them before.
So, what should you take away from last week?
“Other leading indicators, including jobless claims and credit spreads, also held up. ‘I don’t see this all leading to recession,’ says Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research. ‘And, without a recession, I don’t think we get a bear market.’”
No matter how intellectually rational these points seem, downturns tend to leave everyone feeling jittery and uncertain. So, take a moment. Think about your portfolio and how it was built to help you achieve your financial goals. Now, ask yourself:
If the answer to either of these questions is, ‘Yes,’ call us. We’ll sit down, review your goals and risk tolerance, and make sure your portfolio is structured appropriately.
We’re hoping for calmer markets ahead, but we may be in for a bumpy ride.