Heading into 2018, I listened to many strategy calls from the leading Wall Street players and the consensus view was pounding the table on international stocks over US stocks. Their call was in favor of international because of cheaper valuations and long-term under-performance. This didn't sit well with me. Sure valuation is cheaper but there is a reason for it. The European economy has been recovering from significant issues with a deep Greek recession, the surprise Brexit, and Deutsche Bank whose stock is trading below its crisis 2009 low. Just this week, the ECB cut their growth forecasts and announced they will keep rates at record lows for at least another year.
After the historic low volatility seen in 2017, the first four months of 2018 have felt especially turbulent even though the market has largely moved sideways. The 24 hour news cycle has been louder and gives negative news more amplification. Worries this year have focused on the potential of trade war with China, rising inflation and interest rate hikes. While these are certainly legitimate concerns, we suggest to our clients and readers that you often need to turn off the news and simply focus on the fundamentals. The good news is that fundamentals from US corporations are still improving and point to a bull market that should continue to grind higher for the rest of the year.
The constituents of the S&P 500 are wrapping up an extremely strong 4th quarter earnings season. Even before tax reform kicks in, corporations reached record operating profit margins at 10.4%. Furthermore, companies beat on the top and bottom line with over 75% beating estimates which is an eight-year high. Looking ahead, it is no surprise that earnings revisions are trending higher across all sectors.
Yesterday President Trump surprised many of his own advisors when he announced that he would impose steel tariffs of 25% and aluminum tariffs of 10% on national security grounds. There are rumors that his top economic advisor Gary Cohn is so unhappy with the decision that he is on the brink of leaving the White House. The market voted a thumbs down on the decision as the Dow fell close to 1000 points before closing some of the gap on Friday. While the tariffs aren't yet finalized, many of our trading partners from Canada to Germany are seeking exemptions so it isn't yet clear how this will play out. If it is a broad based tariff, it would likely cause ripple effects in global trade and the end result is higher inflation.
Today in the bond auction, the 1-year Treasury bill yield hit a 10-year high at 2.02 percent. This is good news for savers as they are finally starting to see some risk free returns on their money in the bank. Furthermore, new Fed Chair Jerome Powell testified on Capitol Hill and suggested that there will be 3-4 more hikes this year. That means that we may see 3 percent rates by year end. Powell said, “At the December meeting, the median [FOMC] participant called for three rate increases in 2018,” Powell said. “Now since then, what we’ve seen is incoming data that suggests a strengthening in the economy.”
This morning on Yahoo Finance, the top story is titled "Market experts are starting to see parallels to the financial crisis." According to writer Dion Rabouin, some market analysts and fund managers believe that the current environment is beginning to look like the early days of the financial crisis of 2007-2009. The key argument is that the volatility products that collapsed on Monday are similar to the leverage in subprime mortgages. Here is an excerpt:
On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial average fell 666 points. The scary headlines followed suit. "Dow plunges 666 points -- worst day since Brexit" "Dow drops 666 points and posts its worst week since 2016" It's no surprise that over the weekend, I had several conversations and all of them were about the stock market drop (well at least until the Super Bowl began). Friends wanted to know what I think about the sell off. To sum up my answer, I will use a favorite Coldplay song: DON'T PANIC.
The global equity markets are off to a red hot start and optimism is at an extreme following the tax reform bill to close out 2017. In Davos, billionaire hedge fund manager called it "stupid to own cash." Last week saw a record inflow of $33.2 billion into stock ETFs and mutual funds according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Is this a sign of euphoria and potential warning sign for the market?
On Thursday, I had the pleasure of returning to the New York Stock Exchange for the second time in a week. Last Tuesday was for opening bell and this time it was closing bell with the Aussies ringing the bell for Australia Day. Thanks to Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM) for the invite and their insights on their market outlook for 2018. Their tag line for this year is "Pro-growth, Pro-equity, Pro-reality." They share our view that global growth will continue in 2018 and given the low interest rate environment that means investors should favor stocks over bonds.
This week, the global elite are gathered in Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. Headlines are already being made from fears of protectionism/tariffs to support of a weak US Dollar. Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio has been making the rounds on CNBC and Bloomberg and he's making it clear that he believes that the tax cut could lead to a big surge, which he is calling it "a market blowoff" rally, for the US stock market.
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