Fed Changes Tune On Interest Rates – Weekly Update for May 23, 2016

Adobe Spark (1)Stocks closed out a bumpy week mixed, ending a three-week stretch of losses for the S&P 500 and NASDAQ. The Dow, however, extended losses for a fourth straight week for the first time since 2014. For the week, the S&P 500 gained 0.28%, the Dow lost 0.20%, the NASDAQ gained 1.10%, and the MSCI EAFE added 0.16%.

Market reactions to the release of the April Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting minutes drove much of last week’s volatility. The official minutes showed that the Fed is moving away from its cautious stance and is open to raising interest rates as soon as June if data points to a solid second quarter. The unexpected hawkishness surprised many investors who weren’t expecting a hike until later this year.

However, some professional economists predicted a June hike. The most recent Wall Street Journal survey of economists showed that their experts were split, with 31.4% predicting a June increase, 21.4% favoring a July hike, and 31.4% forecasting a September increase. On the other hand, Wall Street largely discounted a June move. Early in the week, before the minutes were released, traders predicted just a 4% chance of a June rate hike. By Friday, that probability had increased to 30%. Clearly, the new information is forcing investors to revise their expectations for interest rate movements this year.

The labor market will play a major role in the Fed’s June decision. The April jobs report was softer than expected, showing that many employers were reluctant to hire in the face of uncertain business conditions. The May jobs report, due on June 3rd, will be key to showing whether the labor market has returned to a strong trend or is continuing to weaken.

Will a strong May jobs report guarantee a June rate hike? Some experts think so while others think the risks posed by Britain’s upcoming vote on whether to leave the EU (the “Brexit” you may have read about) will be enough to give the Fed pause. All told, it’s likely to be a lively June meeting at the Fed.

Volatility is likely to continue in the days and weeks ahead as analysts fixate on predicting when the central bank will raise rates again. While short-term volatility can be stressful to investors who would prefer a steady ride, it’s important not to let intraday swings and bumps in the road derail your long-term investment strategies. We’ll keep you updated.

 

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

 Monday: PMI Manufacturing Index Flash

Tuesday: New Home Sales

Wednesday: International Trade in Goods, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Thursday: Durable Goods Orders, Jobless Claims, Pending Home Sales Index

Friday: GDP, Consumer Sentiment, Janet Yellen Speaks 10:30 AM ET

 

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HEADLINES:

April housing starts surge. Groundbreaking on single- and multi-family homes jumped 6.6% last month as construction firms grew more optimistic about business prospects.

Industrial production rises. Stronger demand for utilities drove industrial production 0.7% higher in April. However, the manufacturing component rose just 0.3% after declining in March, indicating that U.S. manufacturers are still struggling.

Jobless claims fall from 14-month high. Weekly claims for new unemployment benefits fell last week, showing that the previous weeks of increases might have been an anomaly.

Existing home sales increase more than expected. Sales of existing homes rose 1.7% in April and March’s resales were revised slightly higher, suggesting that the housing market is gaining ground.

Stocks Drop on Retail Earnings Woes – Weekly Update for May 16, 2016

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/sixninepixels

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/sixninepixels

Stocks fell again for the third week in a row, driven lower by poor earnings reports from some major department store retailers. For the week, the S&P 500 lost 0.51%, the Dow fell 1.16%, the NASDAQ dropped 0.39%, and the MSCI EAFE lost 0.46%.

Despite a growing economy and strong labor market, Americans didn’t shop as much as retailers expected last quarter, leaving some puzzled over the disconnect. Many retail giants posted dismal earning results for the first quarter. Among the problems: same-store sale declines, falling traffic, and an inability to predict apparel trends. Even industry insiders aren’t sure what’s going on, and some say that the retail doldrums are bringing back memories of the last recession. However, economists may have some answers.

Though consumers are doing much better than they did in the immediate post-recession recovery, some worry lingers, causing people to save more instead of spending. As the cost of housing and healthcare has increased, many Americans also don’t have as much discretionary money to spend.

The good news is that Americans are still spending—just not the same way they did in the past. An increasing number—particularly Millennials—prefer to spend what they have on things like services, dining out, and concerts. Americans are shifting to online spending, which hurts brick-and-mortar retailers that rely on foot traffic. While Commerce data shows that overall retail sales grew 3.0% since last April, the category that includes online retailers and shopping apps grew 10.2%.

More current data also paints a more reassuring picture. The most recent report by the Commerce Department shows that monthly retail sales increased 1.3% in April, much higher than the 0.8% increase Wall Street expected. So-called core spending, a retail sales control category that economists use to estimate underlying consumer spending, grew 0.9%, causing economists to raise their forecasts for second-quarter economic growth.

The chart below shows the most current unofficial forecast of Q2 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) maintained by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. You can see that the forecast has been revised upward over the last two weeks as new data is released.

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So, does the fact that retailers had a bad quarter indicate we’re in a recession? Not really. Americans are spending money; they’re just changing where and how they spend, and the retail industry needs to adapt to those changing preferences.

Looking ahead, we have some housing and manufacturing data coming out this week as well as minutes from the last Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting. While analysts aren’t expecting major revelations from the meeting notes, they’re hoping for more guidance on when to expect another interest rate increase. While an April survey of economists showed that 75.0% expected a June rate hike, the May survey shows that expectations have split, with 31.4% forecasting a June increase and 31.4% targeting a September increase.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Empire State Mfg. Survey, Housing Market Index, Treasury International Capital

Tuesday: Consumer Price Index, Housing Starts, Industrial Production

Wednesday: EIA Petroleum Status Report, FOMC Minutes

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey

Friday: Existing Home Sales

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HEADLINES:

Jobless claims jump to highest level since February 2015. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment surged unexpectedly, touching off concerns about a labor market slowdown. However, claims remained below the key 300,000 threshold, suggesting that the jump may be seasonal.

Job openings near record highs. There were over 5.5 million job openings in March, indicating that employers are keen to hire. The rate of people voluntarily quitting their jobs remained stable at 2.1%, showing workers are still confident of finding new jobs.

U.S. business inventories rise. U.S. businesses increased their stockpiles by the biggest amount since last June, indicating they expect a good summer.

Consumer sentiment rises more than expected. A measure of consumer optimism about the economy jumped far more than expected, indicating that Americans are feeling more upbeat about their prospects despite some uncertainty around the November elections.

April Jobs Report Shows Slower Pace of Growth – Weekly Update for May 9, 2016

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/phasinphoto

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/phasinphoto

Markets slumped for the third week as global concerns pressured investors again, and domestic data painted a modest picture. For the week, the S&P 500 lost 0.40%, the Dow fell 0.19%, the NASDAQ dropped 0.82%, and the MSCI EAFE fell 3.19%.

April’s job report showed investors that the labor market continues to improve, adding 160,000 jobs last month. However, the gains were far below the consensus estimate of 200,000 new jobs. Though the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.0%, one estimate of the underemployment rate—measuring discouraged workers and part-timers who want full-time work—fell to 9.7% from 9.8% in March. That’s good news, because it means that workers who have struggled in the recovery may finally be catching up.

However, it’s not all good news. A separate private industry report found that job cuts surged 35.0% between March and April as firms let go of workers. Over 250,000 pink slips were handed out between January and April, the largest number since early 2009. Though the beleaguered energy sector is driving layoffs, shifting consumer preferences are also causing retail and computer companies to cut jobs.

Further analysis of the job gains also showed that much of the fastest growth in hiring is coming from low-paying industries like retail and hospitality. The lack of high-paying job opportunities is reflected in wage growth numbers. Since 2005, the median weekly wage across all jobs has increased by just $176. Wage gains are even slower in low-paying industries and for workers with less education.

Economists suspect that slow wage growth is contributing to sluggish consumer spending and slower economic growth. When foreign demand drops, economic growth depends more on domestic spending. However, there are signs that growth may be picking up; in April, wages grew 2.5% from the previous year.

Will wages pick up enough this year to drive more purchases of big-ticket items? We’ll have to see.

Looking ahead, it’s unclear whether domestic economic data will drive away global woes. Realistically, we’re likely to see both soft and strong data in the weeks to come that will hopefully push stocks higher again once earnings season is over.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Tuesday: JOLTS

Wednesday: EIA Petroleum Status Report, Treasury Budget

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Import and Export Prices

Friday: Retail Sales, PPI-FD, Business Inventories, Consumer Sentiment

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HEADLINES:

Construction spending grows .03% in March. Spending on commercial and residential construction reached its highest level in eight years after a strong gain in February.

Motor vehicle sales close to record month. After a slow start to the year, April light vehicle sales are expected to grow 5.0%, setting a new monthly high and putting U.S. automakers on track to beat last year’s sales record.

China’s trade slumps. Imports and exports in the world’s second-largest economy contracted sharply in April in the latest sign that weak demand is prolonging China’s slowdown.

March factory orders increase 1.1%. Orders to U.S. manufacturers increased modestly after dropping in February. Economists hope that the dollar’s drop will help the manufacturing sector bounce back.

Is the Bull Market Too Old? – Weekly Update for May 2, 2016

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/hywards

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/hywards

As of Friday, the S&P 500 is on the second-longest bull market run in history, surpassing the 1949-1956 bull market that lasted 2,607 days. The longest bull market in history ran between 1987 and 2000, lasting nearly 4,500 days.

After months of volatility and challenges on the horizon, can the bulls keep running?

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In the pro-bull column, we have a few major points to consider:

Bull markets don’t just die of old age. History shows us that bull markets ended because of a variety of shocks like oil price spikes, recessions, bursting asset bubbles, geopolitical issues, and extreme leveraging. While the past doesn’t predict the future, we should evaluate threats to market performance instead of worrying about birthdays.

Economic indicators support growth. Recessions have accompanied or presaged many previous bear markets. Currently, economic indicators like a growing job market, low gas prices, and a healthy housing market point to sustainable—though moderate—economic growth. Even when recession risks are higher this year, most economists don’t see an economic downturn in the short-term future.

We have experienced healthy pullbacks. One of the markers of a bull market top is elevated investor optimism and unsustainably high stock valuations. Since the last S&P 500 market high in May of 2015, markets have retrenched several times as investors have taken stock of global risks to growth. We haven’t seen the irrational exuberance that often foreshadows a bear market turn.

In the pro-bear column, we also have some points to weigh in our thinking:

Threats to economic growth from China and Europe may prove too much for markets. We don’t know that we have seen the worst out of China, and a hard landing of the world’s second-largest economy would send ripples throughout the global economy that could threaten markets. Europe is grappling with political, economic, and security issues that could threaten the EU.

The Federal Reserve may bungle monetary policy. The Fed is performing a very delicate dance to bring interest rates closer to historic levels. Raise rates too fast and the economy could stumble; raise them too slowly and the Fed could leave itself unable to fight off another economic slowdown. A monetary policy misstep could trigger a market downturn.

Corporate profits may continue to fall. U.S. companies are struggling to find growth amid challenging global conditions; earnings declined year-over-year for the fifth quarter in a row last quarter, and continued weakness could cause investors to become bearish about U.S. stocks.

Our view

The simple truth is that no one can predict market tops or bottoms; plenty of people say they can, but it’s all a matter of educated (or uneducated) guesswork. Instead of trying to call markets, what we do is take a look at overall domestic and international fundamentals and create portfolio strategies that align with our clients’ overall goals. We can assume that the current bull market will come to an end someday; to reach the #1 spot it would have to continue through 2021, and that’s a pretty big stretch. Rather than worrying about when the end might come, we’ll adjust portfolio strategies as needed and prudently position our clients for risk.

If you have any questions about market strategies for volatile times, please give our office a call. We’d be happy to speak to you.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: PMI Manufacturing Index, ISM Mfg. Index, Construction Spending

Tuesday: Motor Vehicle Sales

Wednesday: ADP Employment Report, International Trade, Productivity and Costs, Factory Orders, ISM Non-Mfg. Index, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Thursday: Jobless Claims

Friday: Employment Situation

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HEADLINES:

Durable goods orders rise. March orders for long-lasting factory goods like airplanes, appliances, and electronics rebounded but grew less than expected, indicating the manufacturing slump isn’t over.

Economy grew 0.5% in first quarter. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the primary measure of overall economic growth, grew just 0.5% on an inflation-adjusted basis, showing that the economy slowed after the fourth quarter of 2015. GDP growth estimates will be adjusted as new data arrives.

Consumer sentiment falls in April. One measure of consumer sentiment shows that Americans were less optimistic about their financial prospects last month. Falling sentiment could mean less consumer spending this quarter.

Federal Reserve holds interest rates steady. The Fed’s Open Market Committee voted to keep rates where they are out of concern about slowing economic growth. Though rates could increase this summer, some think that the Fed will wait until December to hike.

Stocks End Mixed as Tech Falls on Earnings – Weekly Update for April 25, 2016

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/jscreationzs

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/jscreationzs

Stocks ended last week mixed on earnings that were largely better than expected, though the tech sector disappointed. For the week, the S&P 500 gained 0.52%, the Dow grew 0.59%, and the NASDAQ lost 0.65%.

First-quarter earnings reports drove a lot of market activity last week. Though analysts expect overall S&P 500 earnings to be negative for the fifth quarter in a row, the news so far is more about earnings surprises and fewer negative revisions to estimates. Given how low the bar was set by many corporate teams, it’s not so unexpected to see positive surprises. With reports in from 132 S&P 500 members, overall earnings are down 7.9% on 1.1% lower revenues, though nearly three-quarters beat their earnings estimates. Capture1

However, the tech sector is another story. Tech stocks sold off after disappointing results from major players. Overall, much of the tech sector is painting a picture that is the inverse of the rest of the market — many companies are failing to rise to the expectations built over previous quarters of strong growth, disappointing investors.

Will investors hold on to their optimism in the days ahead? We’ll see.

The week ahead is packed with important economic data, including the first estimate of first-quarter economic growth and a measure of consumer sentiment. The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee also meets next week to discuss interest rates; though no one expects the Fed to raise rates this month, analysts are hoping for more clarity on the timing of future hikes.

Last week, a Reuters poll of economists found that about two-thirds expect a June rate increase while another 20% are betting on September. In March, the Fed acknowledged its concerns about global risks, stating that it expects two more rate hikes this year, only half as many as were planned in December.

Earnings season also heats up next week with releases by 183 S&P 500 companies. By the end of the week, we’ll have seen quarterly results from about 60% of the index and will have a much more complete picture of business activity last quarter. With all the reports coming out, we can expect some volatility in the days ahead as investors digest the latest data.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: New Home Sales, Dallas Fed Mfg. Survey

Tuesday: Durable Goods Orders, S&P Case-Shiller HPI, Consumer Confidence

Wednesday: International Trade in Goods, Pending Home Sales Index, EIA Petroleum Status Report, FOMC Meeting Announcement

Thursday: GDP, Jobless Claims

Friday: Personal Income and Outlays, Employment Cost Index, Chicago PMI, Consumer Sentiment

 

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HEADLINES:

Housing starts drop. Groundbreaking on new houses dropped 8.8% in March, and permits for new home construction fell, indicating that home builders are expecting the sector to cool off.

Existing home sales bounce 5.1% higher. Resales of existing homes rose more than expected in March, suggesting that the housing market had legs last quarter. Though monthly sales are volatile, growth was solid across all four U.S. regions.

Jobless claims drop to multi-decade low. The number of weekly applications for new unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level since 1973 in the latest sign that the labor market is steaming ahead despite slow economic growth.

Oil prices post third week of gains. Benchmark crude oil prices rose again last week on expectations that the global oil supply glut is easing and demand will rise in the peak driving season.

Dow Ends Best Week in a Month – Weekly Update for April 18, 2016

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Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/hywards

Stocks rallied again last week on better-than-expected earnings and some reassuring news about China’s economy, giving the Dow its best weekly performance since mid-March. For the week, the S&P 500 gained 1.62%, the Dow added 1.82%, and the NASDAQ grew 1.80%.

Earnings reports are trickling in and the news so far is not as bad as expected. Since advance estimates had prepared investors for very weak earnings reports, the weak reports we’re seeing so far are being treated as victories. Out of 35 S&P 500 firms reporting in so far, total earnings are down 9.0% from Q1 2015 on 0.1% higher revenues with 71.4% beating their earnings estimates. As earnings season continues to unfold in the weeks ahead, we may see more of the same, which could give markets room to rally. On the other hand, investors could take the weak earnings picture as a sign that the economy is struggling to produce sustainable growth.

After months of gloom on China’s economy, a new report shows that China’s economy grew 6.7% in the first quarter. Though this is down from the fourth quarter’s 6.8% rate of growth, it’s not as bad as investors had feared. U.S. investors treated the news as a win, though China experts are skeptical about the reliability of these statistics. Since China’s ruling body has staked its political legitimacy on economic stability, officials have a lot of pressure to produce reassuring data. Overall, it’s not likely that China’s economic woes are over.

The European Union gave us some headlines at the end of the week as Britain officially launched a campaign ahead of a referendum on leaving the EU on June 23rd. Current polls on a “Brexit” are evenly split with a significant number of people undecided on the issue. However, if Britain were to exit the EU, it would likely have a serious knock-on effect on markets, trade agreements, and currencies.

In other international news, several major oil-producing nations met over the weekend to discuss coordinating oil output to stabilize prices. If they come to an agreement, oil prices might bounce higher and offer some relief to the beleaguered energy sector; however, closing a deal between a large group of producers with widely varying national interests will be tough.

The week ahead is packed with earnings reports from 101 S&P 500 companies, including heavy hitters like Caterpillar [CAT], General Electric [GE], General Motors [GM], and Yum Brands [YUM]. Investors will also get a look at housing market data and see how well the sector is doing during the spring real estate season.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Housing Market Index

Tuesday: Housing Starts

Wednesday: Existing Home Sales, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey

Friday: PMI Manufacturing Index Flash

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HEADLINES:

Retail sales fall unexpectedly. U.S. retail sales dropped last month as Americans cut back on purchases of cars, trucks, and other big-ticket items. The stumble suggests economic growth likely slowed last quarter.

Weekly jobless claims fall. Weekly claims for new unemployment benefits fell by 13,000 to levels last seen in 1973. Claims for the prior week were also revised lower.

Consumer sentiment drops. A measure of consumer confidence fell for the fourth straight month last week, showing that volatility and recession talk are weighing on optimism.

Federal Reserve survey shows economy still expanding. The Beige Book survey indicated that energy weakness and a slow manufacturing sector didn’t hold the economy back too much between late February and early April.

Stocks Post Worst Week Since February – Weekly Update for April 11, 2016

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Stocks tumbled last week on downward revisions to U.S. economic growth and worries about global growth. For the week, the S&P 500 fell 1.21%, the Dow lost 1.21%, and the NASDAQ gave up 1.30%.

After a rosier-than-expected fourth quarter, economic forecasts suggest that the economy barely grew in the first three months of 2016. A report showing that wholesale inventories declined in February caused estimates of Q1 real economic growth to plummet from 0.7% to just 0.1%. In mid-March, the estimate was as high as 2.3%, but forecasts are dropping fast.

A couple of things to keep in mind: 1) these are very early estimates that are missing a lot of data; 2) early forecasts are very sensitive to updates to the data. Other economists think that the seasonal bias against first-quarter results could be pushing down estimates and that underlying economic growth could be closer to 2.0%. We’ll know more when the first estimate of Q1 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth comes out on April 25.

Last week, attention turned to the upcoming Fed meeting at the end of April. Minutes from the March meeting show that opinions among voting members of the Open Market Committee are running against an April rate hike. Other economists seem to agree; currently, just 1.0% think the Fed will raise rates in April. 75.0% think a June hike is likely.

In a public session with three other former Federal Reserve chairs last week, current Chair Janet Yellen reiterated her upbeat stance on the economy and stated that the Fed is on a “reasonable path” to future rate hikes. Her predecessor, former chair Ben Bernanke, supported her position by saying he doesn’t believe that recession risk is much higher in 2016 than in other years, which could pave the way for more hikes later this year. Given that the Fed has little room to lower rates again if economic growth slows, and plenty of room to raise rates if growth surprises, Yellen seems determined to be cautious.

The next few weeks are packed with earnings results, which will likely mean more market volatility. We know that the growth picture is weak and that the earnings outlook is negative. However, we also know that managers like to sandbag expectations so that they can post better-than-expected results. Will we see positive surprises next week? We’ll let you know.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Tuesday: Import and Export Prices, Treasury Budget

Wednesday: Retail Sales, PPI-FD, Business Inventories, EIA Petroleum Status Report, Beige Book

Thursday: Consumer Price Index, Jobless Claims

Friday: Empire State Mfg. Survey, Industrial Production, Consumer Sentiment, Treasury International Capital

 

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HEADLINES:

Factory orders fall in February. Orders for manufactured goods fell in February for the third time in four months, showing that the manufacturing sector is still struggling.

Trade deficit widens more than expected. The difference between imports and exports increased in February as an increase in exports was offset by growth in imports. However, a weakened dollar could mean that the increase in exports is sustainable.

Jobless claims fall more than expected. Weekly claims for new unemployment benefits dropped by 9,000, indicating that the labor market continues to gain strength despite modest economic growth.

Tesla receives over 325,000 deposits for $35,000 electric car. The Tesla Model 3 launch blew away expectations as fans placed $1,000 deposits for the automaker’s mass-market electric car. The success leads analysts to wonder: Can Tesla successfully make the transition from niche manufacturer to major automaker?

Special Quarterly Update: Roller Coaster Q1 Ends Mixed – Weekly Update for April 4, 2016

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Sira Anamwong

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Sira Anamwong

After a rocky start to the year, most stocks ended the first quarter slightly higher, which is remarkable considering the negative sentiment that caused stocks to selloff in the early weeks of 2016. For the quarter, the S&P 500 gained 0.77%, the Dow grew 1.49%, and the NASDAQ fell 2.75%.

Markets faced serious headwinds last quarter due to slowing economic growth around the world. Combined with rising interest rates, a strong dollar, and falling commodities prices, we faced a perfect storm of factors that ticked off a stock market correction. However, after falling by as much as 10.5% earlier in the quarter, the S&P 500 gained 6.7% in March. That’s the best performance since October 2015. Given the roller coaster ride we’ve had this year, the recent gains are a testament to the resilience of investors.

Let’s talk about what happened last quarter.

What affected markets in Q1 2016?

Slowing global economic growth. Concerns about overseas growth were responsible for a lot of market activity. China’s ongoing economic woes caused major turmoil in markets around the world as investors digested the news that the world’s second-largest economy is slowing. Though China is grappling with a transition away from a manufacturing-centered economy, experts fear that the move won’t come without pain. Europe also faced its share of concerns. China’s slowing demand for foreign goods will hit European firms harder as many worry about terrorism and the migration crisis currently facing the borderless Schengen region.

Volatile oil prices. Oil producers faced falling demand and stubbornly high oil supplies, which caused oil prices to plunge. At the end of the quarter, prices appear to have stabilized somewhat as oil-rich nations like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia seek to stabilize prices through cooperation between producers.

The volatility and prolonged lows will likely be felt in energy sector earnings for the first quarter; however, low prices were a boon to consumers. Though gasoline prices will likely rise as refineries switch to summer blends ahead of the peak summer driving season, the average cost per gallon hit a 12-year low in the first quarter. The national average for the quarter was $1.86 per gallon—saving Americans nearly $10 billion, or about $45 per licensed driver. Did Americans plow those gas savings back into the economy through spending? We’ll see when spending data for the quarter is released.

Recession worries. At the beginning of the year, investors became increasingly concerned that global issues could come home to roost in the form of a recession. Though fears of a slowdown are serious, some domestic economic data suggests that a recession may not be nigh. The labor market added 628,000 jobs in the first three months of the year. Other employment factors also improved; the labor force participation rate increased and the number of discouraged workers decreased. Wages also increased 2.25% in March from a year earlier. Consumer spending, which is a significant contributor to U.S. economic growth, also increased, albeit sluggishly.

Central bank actions. Markets also responded to decisions by the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, and Bank of Japan. While the Fed is working to bring interest rates closer to historic averages, the BOJ and ECB are struggling to stoke economic growth by lowering rates into negative territory and buying up assets. The big questions remain: When will the Fed raise rates again? Do central banks have enough bullets left to fight a global slowdown?

What’s in store for Q2 2016?

After the first quarter’s wild ride, we can hope for a smoother second quarter. Current estimates peg U.S. economic growth at 0.7% in the first three months of 2016. That’s a big comedown from the 1.4% growth in the fourth quarter, but it’s in line with the slow start the economy has experienced in several of the past few years. Is the economy still at risk of a slowdown? That’s very possible, and may depend on how much consumers open their wallets this year.

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Our view

What can we look forward to in the second quarter? Well, more uncertainty is certain. Though some fears have abated, most of the headwinds are still with us as we head into the second quarter. However, a lot of the potential pain facing the economy may already be priced into markets, and analysts are considerably more optimistic than they were during the rocky ride in January and February.

If first-quarter results show a rosier picture, then investors could react with a resumption of the rally. A lot depends on what the Federal Reserve has in store for interest rates; currently, the odds favor a June hike. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has struck a dovish tone in recent remarks, indicating that she plans to “proceed cautiously.” However, the rosy March jobs report could increase the odds of an April rate hike. We’ll know more in the coming weeks.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Factory Orders

Tuesday: International Trade, JOLTS, ISM Non-Mfg. Index

Wednesday: EIA Petroleum Status Report, FOMC Minutes

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Janet Yellen Speaks 5:30 PM ET

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HEADLINES:

Economy adds 215,000 jobs in March. Though the unemployment rate increased to 5.0%, economists view it as a good sign that jobseekers are reentering the market.

Motor vehicle sales rise. U.S. car makers expect to have sold 1.66 million autos last month, roughly a 7.0% increase over a year ago. One estimate suggests that carmakers had the best monthly sales in a decade.

Consumer sentiment drops slightly. Though one gauge of consumer optimism fell in March, it came in better than economists had expected. The steady pattern suggests that consumers are still fairly optimistic about their finances this year.

Construction spending falls. Spending on new construction projects fell in February by the largest amount in three months following a January gain. However, residential construction rose solidly.

 

 

Q4 GDP Revised Upward by Strong Consumer Spending – Weekly Update for March 28, 2016

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Stocks ended the holiday-shortened week down, snapping their five-week winning streak. However, losses were mild amid low trading volume before the Easter weekend. For the week, the S&P 500 lost 0.67%, the Dow fell 0.49%, and the NASDAQ dropped 0.46%.

Last week’s economic calendar was highlighted by the third estimate of fourth-quarter 2015 economic growth. The report showed that Gross Domestic Product grew much faster than originally thought—by a 1.4% annualized rate instead of 1.0%. For all of 2015, the economy grew by a respectable 2.4%— not too shabby considering the headwinds the country faced down last year.

The revision reflected much stronger consumer spending than originally thought, which is a relief to recession-watchers and could bode well for the economy in 2016. Spending is being supported by a strong labor market and low gas prices. However, the news isn’t all rosy. Business inventories were revised lower, showing that companies are reluctant to tie up cash in the face of uncertain demand. Since stockpiles are still high, it’s possible that weak business spending will eat into economic growth in the first quarter.

Can we trust GDP estimates? That interesting question was recently brought up by a CNBC report, which found that GDP growth estimates could be off by as much as 1.3%. When growth rates are already low, such a large margin of error (if it exists) could have serious business and policy implications.

A large part of the problem may be that many reports used by federal economists to calculate GDP arrive months— even a year—after the initial reports on economic growth go out, forcing them to use estimates. As these reports come in, economists revise the data, long after the relevant quarter matters to investors and policy makers. It’s often a question of trading accuracy for timeliness. That’s one of the reasons why we look at many different indicators and must understand the limitations of each one when we create models.

A vicious bombing attack on Tuesday killed at least 30 people in Brussels, putting the European Union capital on lockdown. Major cities around the world are bolstering security around transportation hubs in response. The attack brings attention to the ongoing threat of terrorism and highlights the problems Europe is having in sharing intelligence and tracking suspected terrorists. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families.

Looking at the week ahead, we can expect some volatility as investors react to last week’s GDP report, which was released during Friday’s market holiday. While investors may react positively to the better-than-expected growth, we may also see some market turmoil ahead of the end of the quarter. The question is: Did the first quarter of 2016 deliver on expectations?

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: International Trade in Goods, Personal Income and Outlays, Pending Home Sales Index, Dallas Fed Mfg. Survey

Tuesday: S&P Case-Shiller HPI, Consumer Confidence, Janet Yellen Speaks 11:30 AM ET

Wednesday: ADP Employment Report, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Chicago PMI

Friday: Motor Vehicle Sales, Employment Situation, PMI Manufacturing Index, ISM Mfg. Index, Consumer Sentiment, Construction Spending

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HEADLINES:

Durable goods orders fall. Orders for long-lasting factory goods like appliances and vehicles fell in February by 2.8%. The data shows that the manufacturing sector is still struggling with falling demand.

Weekly jobless claims rise modestly. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose by 6,000, though revisions to prior week claims show that the labor market was stronger than expected.

Q4 corporate profits down 3.2%. A measure of after-tax corporate profits shows that the overall bottom line for U.S. companies declined 3.2% over the previous year, held down by results from petroleum and chemical industries.

New home sales rise in February. Sales of newly built homes rose last month; however, the increase was concentrated in a single region, suggesting the growth is not widespread as the busy Spring season takes off.

Dow and S&P 500 Green for 2016 – Weekly Update for March 21, 2016

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/jscreationzs

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/jscreationzs

After a historically rough start to the year, stocks finally rallied enough to put the S&P 500 and Dow in the green for the year. Extended weakness in the dollar—, which investors hope, could boost economic growth and corporate profits—contributed to the gains. For the week, the S&P 500 rose 1.35%, the Dow added 2.26%, and the NASDAQ grew 0.99%.

The last two weeks have been important in terms of global monetary policy. The European Central Bank, Bank of Japan, and Federal Reserve all met to determine next steps for their respective economic spheres of influence. Currently, there is a divide between the Fed, which is moving away from low rates while supporting economy growth, and the ECB and BOJ, which are fighting slowing economic growth with negative rates and quantitative easing. However, the latest Fed meeting suggests that the divide may not be as great as it was before.

The Fed voted last week to hold rates steady, not being ready to commit to further increases at the moment. However, the central bank’s official statement indicated that we can expect two interest rate hikes this year, instead of the four projected in December. The statement makes it clear that the Fed is adjusting its expectations to a slow-growth, slow-inflation world, which brings it more in line with the concerns of other central banks.

The Bank of Japan also voted to hold rates steady at the current negative 0.1% level last week; however, official notes from the January meeting showed that central bankers also debated expanding asset purchases to further stoke growth. The move into negative interest rates by the ECB and BOJ—essentially charging depositors for the privilege of holding cash—is worrying to some. Some economists fear competition between central banks to lower rates (potentially triggering a currency devaluation war) as well as the effect of negative rates on bank profits.

One big question on everyone’s mind is this: Does the Fed have enough bullets left to respond to an economic slowdown?

After seven years of ultra-low rates, the Fed can’t push rates much lower without going into negative territory. Though Fed chair Janet Yellen has stated that negative rates aren’t off the table in the event of a slowdown, it’s clear that the Fed isn’t keen on the idea.

Former chair of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke waded into the fray last week with a blog post supporting a “balanced monetary-fiscal response” to a potential downturn. In his ideal scenario, the best response to an economic slowdown would combine further quantitative easing and interest rate decreases with fiscal policies like increased government spending.

Bernanke’s support for accommodative fiscal policy isn’t new; in the past, he has rebuked Congress for not doing enough (in his opinion) to stoke economic growth. Leaving the politics of government spending firmly aside, here’s what we can take from Bernanke’s remarks: The Fed is taking threats of a slowdown seriously and may still have enough tools in the toolbox to fight a downturn if it comes.

Is a downturn likely? We can’t say. Predicting a recession is always difficult, and the probabilities of a recession this year are all over the place. A Wall Street Journal poll of economists has the current probability at 20%, down from 21% last month. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta sees the risk as much lower—just 10%. Yet another prediction has the odds at just 4.06%. Basically, no one knows for sure.

In the week ahead, investors will be watching currency prices to see if the dollar continues its downward trajectory. If investors believe the dollar has peaked in value, it could give markets enough confidence to extend the rally further.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Existing Home Sales

Tuesday: PMI Manufacturing Index Flash

Wednesday: New Home Sales, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Thursday: Durable Goods Orders, Jobless Claims

Friday: GDP

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HEADLINES:

Retail sales revised downward in January. Retail sales slumped in February as expected; however, a sharp downward revision in January sales— from a 0.2% increase to a 0.4% decrease— could be a sign of trouble.

Housing starts rebound in February. Groundbreaking on new home construction surged more than expected last month as U.S. homebuilders invested heavily in single-family homes. The rise is a strong sign of confidence in the economy.

Consumer sentiment dips in March. A measure of optimism about the economy among Americans fell slightly this month as consumers felt the effects of rising gasoline prices and worried more about the economy.

Job openings rise in January. Job openings rose to 5.5 million in January, up from 5.28 million in December, though the hiring rate dipped slightly. Increased openings are a positive sign for the economy and show that the labor market is in stable territory.