The underlying character of the financial markets is often a good indication of investor sentiment. It takes courage (or stupidity in retrospect?) to buy certain assets, while the purchase of other investments is driven mostly by fear. In this fashion, a good read on whether the stock market is being propelled by excessive hope or angst can be obtained by monitoring the character of its leadership.
The ISM manufacturing and services reports have significantly increased recession anxieties and have been wreaking havoc with the stock market over the last couple days. And, who knows, the real pain for equity investors may come tomorrow morning when the monthly payroll employment numbers are released?
Several factors helped the stock market resume a climb to marginal new highs this year. Valuations came down, inflation pressures moderated, yields collapsed, and policy officials became universally supportive. However, a key element remains elusive and, without it, a further significant advance in this bull market seems doubtful.
Lost in the roar surrounding the trade war, the inverted yield curve, an expanding wave of negative global bond yields, and persistent recession chatter, is a “silent U.S. productivity miracle!” Largely AWOL in this expansion until recently, and despite being barely acknowledged due to widespread recession fears, productivity has finally arrived, adding yet another wildcard to the remaining years of this economic recovery.
Investors have been playing defense in recent months, piling into bonds despite low yields, sleeping well at night with gold purchases, staying with the perceived safety of U.S. stocks, avoiding risky small cap companies, and buying traditional low-risk sectors including Utilities, Consumer Staples, and REITS.
Investors have long recognized that the stock market often does better in certain months compared to others. That is, stocks have a seasonality which can be exploited. The January Effect, the Santa Rally, “Sell in May and Go Away”; and, the carnage created by August, September, and October are appreciated and feared by “seasoned investors.”
Many increasingly fear the global economic recovery is in severe peril because overused economic policies have become futile. Bloated central bank balance sheets, large fiscal budgetary fiascos, and the unprecedented global phenomenon of widespread negative bond yields leaves an impression that economic help is spent!
The stock market is re-testing its August 5th collapse low, the U.S. 10-year bond yield is nearing its lows of this recovery, yet another yield curve inversion (tens vs. twos) was breached this week, silence from the Federal Reserve, negative yielding global debt now totaling more than $15 trillion, an escalating riot in Hong Kong, and trade-war negotiations hanging by a thread as ongoing communications are now only by phone! Whew, it’s tough being a bull. Maybe foolhardy?
Adding to current anxieties are the growing fears that businesses may be curtailing spending plans. Real nonresidential investment spending declined in the second quarter for the first time since early 2016. However, this decline was due entirely to ‘old-era investment spending’ while ‘new-era spending’ remains healthy.
This is why financial market prognostications are so difficult and why some believe fruitless! Currently, two recession indicators – both with equally impressive accurate historical prowess – are giving entirely contradictory signals? As shown by the accompanying charts, the yield curve has inverted while fiscal stimulus has been expanding. At least since 1965, this has ‘never’ happened.
Despite the current drama, the stock market will not likely be sustainably driven by the Federal Reserve, ongoing trade negotiations, or by presidential politics. Although these spectacles will continue to bounce the market around, ultimately, its direction will most likely be tied to corporate earnings.
Despite a widespread impression that business confidence is declining under the weight of ongoing global uncertainties, it was reported yesterday that, after being flat for almost a year, new orders for nondefense ex-air capital goods (core business capital goods spending) rose to a new recovery high in June.
Little is expected from the current earnings season. At best, corporate profits may eke out a small gain compared to last year’s second quarter. Moreover, with Trump’s trade war still threatening to worsen, the yield curve still inverted, and because the U.S. economy is now in the longest expansion in its history, many are understandably worried that earnings growth may remain challenging.