Market Update 12/21

With attention on the Federal Reserve's decision to increase rates and their updated outlook for 2019, we wanted to share an article today that CNBC published (included below).  As we wrote in our commentary after the Fed's press release on Wednesday, we believe the Fed and Powell were (1) buying themselves time - and the ability to review the data that will come in that time, and (2) leaving the door wide open to reduce the number of rate hikes they may do in 2019 without closing the door on future rate hikes should the economy's growth rate increase.  New York Fed President William's comments in the article below support our interpretation of Powell's press release. 

The reaction to the news today is irrational. The S&P 500's earnings growth for the third quarter of 2018 came in above 28%, and the most recent expectation of fourth quarter 2018 growth is +16%.  Further, ALL ELEVEN SECTORS OF THE S&P 500 EXPECT TO SEE GROWTH.  The behavior of the stock market is not commensurate with the growth that is happening.  For all the talk of recessions and bear markets, earnings data has not provided a case for bear markets or the talk of recessions. 

As we've shared previously, earnings are still growing, and the most current outlook is that they will continue to grow.  Further, valuations look very attractive.  Forward earnings estimates show the S&P 500 now trading below 16 times earnings. If the market were to trade back to its average price to earnings ratio from 1971 until today, the S&P 500 would have to increase over 20%.  

 

 NY Fed President John Williams says the Fed could re-evaluate view in 2019

 

New York Fed President John Williams says the central bank is open to rethinking rate hikes next year, depending on how the economy looks in 2019.

 

"What we're going to be doing going into next year is reassessing our views on the economy, listening to not only markets but everybody that we talk to," Williams tells CNBC.

 

He also says things could "change between now and next year," depending on economic data.

 

Earlier this week, the Federal Reserve hiked its target range for benchmark interest rates to 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. Central bank officials also forecast two hikes next year, down from three rate raises previously projected.

 

NY Fed President: 2019 outlook may change, rate hikes not guaranteed

 

Federal Reserve Bank of New York President John Williams told CNBC on Friday the Fed is open to reconsidering its views on rate hikes next year.

 

"We are listening, there are risks to that outlook that maybe the economy will slow further," Williams told Steve Liesman during an interview on "Squawk on the Street."

 

Williams said despite this week's forecasts, the central bank is not "sitting there saying we know for sure what's going to happen" in 2019.

 

"What we're going to be doing going into next year is reassessing our views on the economy, listening to not only markets but everybody that we talk to, looking at all the data and being ready to reassess and re-evaluate our views," he said.

 

The market jumped after Williams signaled more willingness for the Fed to rethink rate hikes and its balance sheet policy. Stocks jumped 350 points after the interview.

 

Investors were focused on Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's comments on Wednesday that the balance sheet reduction program is going well and will proceed as planned. Right now, the Fed is allowing $50 billion a month to run off the balance sheet, which is mostly a portfolio of bonds the central bank purchased to stimulate the economy during and after the financial crisis.

 

"We did not make a decision to change the balance sheet normalization right now, but as I said, we're going to go into the new year with eyes wide open, willing to read the data, and reassess the economic outlook and take the right policy decisions," Williams told CNBC.

 

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday hiked its target range for benchmark interest rates to 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. Central bank officials also forecast two hikes next year, down from three previously projected.

 

Williams said the Fed could could rethink those the two hikes.

 

"Things can change between now and next year," he said. "Something like two rate increases would make sense in a really strong economy going forward. But we're data dependent, we're going to adjust our views dependent on how the outlook changes."

 

Powell also left the door open to other options next year. He emphasized "data dependency" on Wednesday and said if data do not hold up in 2019, the Fed may change course.

 

Markets stumbled up and down after the decision Wednesday, then ultimately turned negative during Powell's news conference. Major equity indexes have moved into correction territory and are mostly negative for the year.

 

"The Fed wants to shrink that balance sheet, they know it's big, it hamstrings them in the next downturn," Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, told CNBC. "The market knows it's a steady drip liquidity drain every month."

 

The Fed is also dealing with repeatedly criticism from President Donald Trump. On Monday, Trump said "it is incredible" that "the Fed is even considering yet another interest rate hike."

 

— CNBC's Jeff Cox and Patti Domm contributed to this report.

What does a government shutdown mean to you?

The federal government is headed for a partial government shutdown that will likely last until January 3rd when the new Congress is sworn in. This is not the first time we have had a government shutdown through the holiday season, as we had one in 1995 when Bill Clinton was president. The major difference between today and 1995 is that this will be a “partial” shutdown with nearly 75 percent of the government already funded and completely unaffected by the shutdown. That leaves just 25 percent of the government impacted by the shutdown. We anticipate a significant portion of personnel will be considered essential and receive exemptions. As such, it could be that less than 10 percent of the government will be impacted. Historically, shutdowns have not had a major impact on the US economy or financial markets. If the partial shutdown occurs, the impact will be even less. However, we are keeping an eye on the secondary effects:

1.  Shutdown headlines will run throughout the holiday season, at a time when media reports are also leading off with falling stock values.

2. The unpredictability of Trump. He agreed to no shutdown on Wednesday, but was spooked by conservative media over the border wall and reversed his position Wednesday night. This is going to make the more important policy issues for financial markets, the debt ceiling and sequestration, tough to solve in 2019.

3.  Because Trump is not getting the wall, he pulled out of Syria by Twitter. This triggered a set of effects including General Mattis resigning. Mattis leaving seems to be a far bigger event. With Mattis gone, does this make it easier to put EU auto tariffs in place which required DoD sign-off? How about Jay Powell being removed as Fed Chair?

4. Republicans are starting to turn on Trump. There are cracks developing in the structure. The economy was holding Trump up and that is fading.

The 1995 shutdown over the holidays was the longest on record. Our belief is that if we shut down tonight, the partial shutdown will be at least 12 days.

We wanted to point out a few facts the media is always inclined to leave out when it comes to government shutdowns.  (1) Most government employees are paid every two weeks, and as stated above, the expectation is that this shutdown will likely be less than two weeks. (2) Further, in past shutdowns the government has generally paid in arrears the wages that would have been earned had their been no shutdown.  (3) Essentially, as long as the shutdown does not last too long , it really should have virtually no affect on the economy.  It is true, the impacted government employees may very likely have to wait an extra week for their paycheck to arrive, but they can reasonably expect to receive their paycheck.  (4) It's also convenient that this shutdown did not start at the beginning of the holiday shopping season.  Perhaps a government shutdown in the third week of November that lasted through the first week of December would have dampened the confidence of some, and led to a reduction in their holiday spending, but that was not the case.

WHAT IS FUNDED AND WHAT IS NOT FUNDED

Departments and agencies already funded for fiscal year (FY) 2019 include

  • Army Corps of Engineers
  • Department of Defense
  • Education Department
  • Department of Energy
  • Health and Human Services
  • Bureau of Reclamation
  • Department of Labor
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Comm
  • Nuclear Regulatory Comm 
  • Social Security Administration

The following departments and agencies have not been funded and would be affected if the Federal government shuts down

  • Agriculture Department
  • Commerce
  • Homeland Security  
  • Housing and Urban Development
  • Interior  
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of State  
  • Department of Transportation
  • Treasury  
  • District of Columbia
  • Environmental Protection 
  • Executive Office of the President
  • Federal Communications  
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • General Services Admin  
  • NASA
  • SEC 
  • U.S. Postal Service

There is still time for a deal to be made but we wanted to give you our thoughts at this time.  We will know more by the end of the day. Please call or email us with any questions you may have.

Source:  Strategas

Is there any reason to remain optimistic?

The markets are giving investors a rational reason to remain optimistic, but with investors' focus on the Fed's statement yesterday (and their interpretation of what they think it meant) seems to be clouding their vision.

The chart below shows the S&P 500's earnings per share (green line), which is what ultimately moves the stock market (blue line)higher or lower.  Looking over the last three years, we've seen consistent, stable earnings growth.  In early 2018, we can see the dramatic increase in earnings created by the new tax plan.  More importantly, since the the tax plan went into effect, we can see a stable and steady increase in earnings has been maintained. 

image.png

Source:  Thomson Eikon Datastream

 

Interestingly, since the market peaked in late September, earnings have continued to grow, but the stock market has contracted sharply, and the S&P 500's forward PE ratio has dropped to 16 times earnings.  Equity indices across the board are dropping into "corrections" (greater than 10% drop), and some are approaching bear market territory (greater than 20% drop), which is usually only experienced during a recession. 

While market pundits are beginning to speak of recessions and long-term bear markets, their is nothing to support their claims.  Because there isn't any economic data to support their position, many have turned to blaming the Fed, stating that the future path of rate hikeswill cause a recession and a bear market, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the Fed just communicated its belief that we are "near neutral rates,"(1) and that they have backed up their statement by announcing a reduction to their expectation of where rates should go this year.  

Others are blaming a sharp drop in earnings; the problem is that earnings have not yet dropped, and are not forecast to drop.  Thomson Reuters produces an earnings tracker for the S&P 500, and in their most recent data, earnings are expected to increase 15.9% in the fourth quarter of 2018 and another 5.6% in the first quarter of 2019.  At first glance, the 5.6% growth in Q1 2019 may seem anemic, but considering the level of earnings achieved through the tax cuts, it's actually quite impressive.  Further, growth is projected to increase to nearly 12% by the end of 2019.  This is hardly the outlook of a recession or long term bear market. 

Looking back over the last few years, this is not the first fear based reaction investors have been through.  From July, 2015 through February, 2016, the S&P 500 was in a downturn.  It corresponded with a drop in earnings that started in October, 2014.   As we followed the data then, we observed that earnings we predominantly lost in the Energy Sector as oil (brent crude) traded down from more than $110 / barrel at the end of 2013 to less than $50 / barrel in 2015.  Because a drop in oil prices is a natural stimulus to the rest of the economy (and stock market), the rest of the economy did well.  The earnings and jobs that were lost in the energy sector were more than made up for in other sectors of the market, and both the economy and the market ultimately followed earnings in an upward path.

 

image.png

 

After a disappointing 2015, the  earnings continued climbing and S&P went on to return 12% in 2016 and another 22% in 2017.  The challenges the market faces today appear less challenging than what was faced in 2015.  Despite various companies (and some sectors of the economy) facing headwinds from trade negotiations or other issues, earnings continue to climb. 

Because it's hard to see in the chart above, we'll mention that long before the markets came under extreme pressure in October 2008, earnings began to erode, and in fact, provided more than 6 months of advance notice to the dramatic market drop in October 2008.  Earnings actually peaked in June 2007 and fell steadily through the beginning of 2019. 

Today, unlike 2007, we have yet to see a drop in earnings, or any other metric that would indicate a recession lays ahead.  Rather, we are watching earnings climb while the stock market drops.  The economic data also contradicts what the stock market is doing. Employment and wages remain strong.  Consumer sentiment and consumption is strong.  Consumers debt burdens are considerably lower than they have historically been prior to a crisis, and the list goes on. 

Looking back to the first chart, and the impact earnings ultimately have on the stock market's price, investors who did not panic sell in February, March, and April were rewarded.  We believe that will happen again.  Looking to next quarter, if earnings continue their ascent, it is difficult to build an argument for why stocks would not rebound.

Please call us or email us with any questions.

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