With mid-2011 upon us, now may be a good time to provide an update on key economic issues and the market outlook. So let’s review the “macro” view of things.
If you will remember, last August the Federal Reserve announced their next strategy (QE2) to help support and possibly kick-start our slow economy. The markets read the potential positives of QE2, at least to the stock markets, and we saw the “best” September in years. The markets continued to rally through the end of the year and the mood of the consumer was more positive.
After the first part of 2011 we started getting more positive indicators such as increased retail sales (a good Christmas and consumers spending a little more), some signs of job improvements (even reports of companies hiring), and consumer confidence increasing. However mortgage interest rates rose and the housing sector was still showing signs of no improvement. Additionally gasoline prices at the pump jumped almost $1 approaching $4/gallon. It’s believed all the new money “sloshing” around in the economy created by QE2 found its way into the stock, commodities, and energy markets creating a “playing ground” for short-term speculators.
Now we are in the first of June, and we are hearing the economy isn’t doing as good as we had thought. For instance, economic growth (GDP) in the first quarter was only 1.8% (much slower than what the economy should be emerging out of a recession). Next, the jobs picture deteriorated again in May. And then finally the housing sector is extremely weak with some new price declines in some of the major markets (Florida, California, etc.). Remember up to this point we have been trying to restart our economy without any help from the Housing Sector, which is a very important part of our economy (construction, building materials, appliances, home furnishings, etc.).
So with all this being said, expect some version of the following this summer:
1) More, intense political wrangling and blaming from both sides. With Congress and the White House pushing the deadline to August to raise our nation’s debt ceiling expect more blaming and whining from our “adolescents” in Washington. When the deadline finally comes more than likely the debt ceiling will be increased with some compromise on government spending (but less than we need).
2) Gasoline prices. With the economy starting to signal a soft-spot, Europe continuing to have problems, and the emerging economies (China, India, Brazil, etc.) trying to contain their growth to minimize their inflation, it’s possible you may see noticeable gasoline price declines at the pump. In fact that appears to be starting to happen even now.
3) Mortgage rates. Mortgage rates have dropped again about 0.75% and credit-worthy people can now find 4.5% on 30-year fixed mortgages and 4.0% on 15-year fixed mortgages. This can actually become a great time for people to buy a home or refinance.
4) Volatile markets. Since the Federal Reserve’s QE2 program the markets have been very stable with lower volatility. In other words we haven’t seen many days where the DJIA dropped greater than 200 points. As the Federal Reserve unwinds QE2 you may see more volatile swings in the stock markets. So don’t be surprised and try not to let that scare you.
How are the markets going to respond to all of this? Well, no one knows. Remember everyone thought this past September would be horrible and it was the best single-month September ever for the stock market. Also keep in mind after the major crash of 2008-2009 and in a very, unprecedented scary time in our economic history the DJIA has gained 92.0% (3/9/2009 – 5/31/2011, WSJ).
Now I could speculate and you will hear others who will tell you “exactly” what they believe the markets will do. Further, you can go out and buy all the books you want telling you what’s going to happen both now and later. In fact if you like “horror or fiction” there are plenty new books written about America’s doom days ahead. But understand that we’ll only know “for sure” after it’s happened!
Yes, your investment allocation needs to be correct and needs to be reviewed and adjusted periodically which we will continue to do for our clients. But please try to not let this stuff scare you or cause you to “derail” from a well thought out investment plan. And if you feel the need to “time” your investments (in and out of the market), then let me direct you back to our blog to an earlier post titled “A Crash Overhang”.
So in summary, go about your life and enjoy it. Try not to try to react to what you are going to hear (or even try to fix). And this summer may be a good time to avoid the Business and News TV channels as they hype all the negatives.