Keep Ahead of the Headlines – Weekly Update for March 27, 2017

Last week, all four of the indexes we discuss in these market updates saw their performance stumble. The S&P 500 lost 1.44%, the Dow was down 1.52%, the NASDAQ gave back 1.22%, and the MSCI EAFE declined 0.07%.

On Tuesday, March 21, the S&P 500 and Dow recorded 1% declines for the first time since Oct. 11, 2016. By Friday, the S&P had posted its worst week since the election. At the same time, 10-year Treasury yields fell and the dollar dropped for the second straight week.

What happened?

As is typically the case, no simple answer can easily explain market behavior. Last week’s healthcare headlines—and the House of Representatives’ decision not to vote on the American Health Care Act of 2017—may have caught the attention of many people on Wall Street. As a result, pundits will likely spend significant time debating what lies ahead for health care, tax reform, and other governmental policies. However, we would encourage you to look at the economic fundamentals rather than allowing news coverage to determine your financial confidence.

Recent Economic News

We did not receive a tremendous amount of new data between March 20 and 24, but three new reports did stand out: Durable Goods, New Single-Family Home Sales, and Existing Home Sales.

  1. Durable goods orders increased 1.7%.

Orders for durable goods (items expected to last) beat expectations in February and are up 5% since this time last year. While commercial aircraft orders accounted for a significant portion of the increase, data throughout the report may indicate that business investment and confidence is on the rise.

  1. New single-family home sales increased 6.1%.

In February, sales of new single-family homes hit their second-fastest growth since 2008. Even as home prices and mortgage rates rise, demand for new homes has grown by 12.8% in the past 12 months.

  1. Existing home sales dropped 3.7%.

Coming off of January, where we saw the fastest pace of existing home sales since 2007, the report missed expectations in February. Low inventory of available houses is pushing prices higher and may be keeping some potential buyers from moving forward. In the past year, median prices have risen 7.7%; meanwhile, sales are 5.4% higher.

This week, we will receive the Q4 GDP final reading, as well as insight into personal income, consumer sentiment, and consumer confidence. This and other forthcoming data provides the foundation necessary for clearly understanding the economic environment.

We understand how compelling the news and political conversations can be, and there is no denying that policies can affect the economy. However, we are here to help you gain the perspectives you need to know where you stand in your unique financial life—rather than what the headlines may urge you to believe.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Tuesday: Consumer Confidence, International Trade in Goods
Wednesday: Pending Home Sales Index
Thursday: GDP
Friday: Personal Income and Outlays, Consumer Sentiment

How Rising Interest Rates Can Inspire Your Portfolio – Weekly Update for March 20, 2017

For the fifth time in six weeks, domestic stock indexes ended last week in positive territory. The S&P 500 gained 0.24%, the NASDAQ added 0.67%, and the Dow eked out a 0.06% increase. International equities in the MSCI EAFE grew by a sizable 1.99%.

Over the week, we received a series of economic updates that gave a mostly positive view of the economy’s progression, including the following data for February:

In addition, the most recent data indicated that fewer people filed for unemployment benefits the week of March 11. We have now experienced 106 straight weeks of unemployment claims staying below 300,000 people, which is a healthy labor market indicator.

Given this information—and the wealth of economic data released recently—the markets expected the Federal Reserve’s March 15 decision to raise benchmark interest rates. Last week’s 0.25% increase is only the third jump since the Great Recession, and the pace of hikes is quickening. The Fed has now raised rates in December 2015, December 2016, and March 2017 and expects at least two more increases this year.

Like with all economic data, understanding the context is critical. While interest rates are on the rise, they are still low, as you can see in the chart below.

How will rising rates affect your financial life?

When the Fed raises rates, they are demonstrating a belief in the economy’s strength. As with all changes to monetary policy, the outcomes can be complex and interconnected. While no one can predict the future, here are a few places where interest rates may affect your finances:

  1. Stocks

Stocks rose following the Fed’s announcement, with the S&P 500 gaining 0.84% on Wednesday. A strong economy is good for stocks; but anticipating exactly what lies ahead is impossible because so many outside forces impact equities. Right now, however, the markets are performing well and responding positively to increasing rates.

  1. Bonds

Generally speaking, as interest rates rise, bond yields go up and their prices go down—with long-term bonds suffering the most. However, those are not hard-and-fast rules for how to move forward. Your specific needs and strategies will determine the best way to move forward with bonds in a rising interest rate environment.

  1. Revolving Debt

If you have revolving debt—credit cards, home equity line of credit, etc.—and your interest rates are variable, you will likely see a difference in your payments very soon. In fact, a 0.25% increase like we experienced last week may cost consumers an additional $1.6 billion in credit-card finance charges in 2017 alone.

  1. Cash

When revolving debt interest rates go up, banks may quickly adjust the interest rates they charge, but they often wait to increase the interest rates they pay. Right now, the average savings account pays 0.11% interest, but some institutions offer rates up to 1.25%. Finding opportunities to capture a larger return on your cash is possible.

If you have questions about why the Fed is raising rates and how their choices may affect your life, we are always here to talk. Our goal is to give you the insight you need to feel informed and in control of your financial future.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR
Wednesday: Existing Home Sales
Thursday: New Home Sales
Friday: Durable Goods Orders

Bull Market’s 8th Anniversary – Weekly Update for March 13, 2017

After at least four consecutive weeks of growth, the three major domestic indexes all lost ground this week. The S&P 500 was down 0.44%, the Dow lost 0.49%, and the NASDAQ declined 0.15%. Meanwhile, international stocks in the MSCI EAFE grew by 0.38%.

This week, the Fed meets to determine whether or not to raise benchmark interest rates for the first time in 2017. Right now, the market gives a 93% chance of a rate hike.

In this update, rather than analyzing what lies ahead or what happened last week, we would like to acknowledge just how far the U.S. economy has come since 2009.

On March 9, we marked the 8-year anniversary of when markets during the Great Recession hit the bottom on their lowest day. At that point in the economic meltdown, the Dow and S&P 500 had both lost more than 50% of their value since October 2007. Every investor likely remembers the fear that gripped the U.S. and global economies, as questions lingered of how low we could go.

Today, we can see just how far the markets and economy have come since March 2009—and the growth investors could have missed if they avoided the markets. Take, for instance, the S&P 500.

On March 9, 2009, the index fell to 676.53. Eight years later it rebounded to 2364.87.  With reinvested dividends, that growth represents an average annual increase of 19.45%. And the fundamental data tells a very similar story.

Four Economic Measures: From March 2009 to Today

  1. Gross Domestic Product
  • March 2009: We learned the economy had fallen by a 6.3% annual rate during the fourth quarter of 2008—its largest decline in 26 years.
  • Today: GDP recovery has been more plodding than many people might prefer, but nonetheless, nearly every quarter has shown growth since 2009. And over the past two years, GDP has increased at a 3.2% annual rate.
  1. Home Prices
  1. Unemployment
  1. Total Employment

Throughout this economic recovery, people have seemed concerned the bull market was about to end. When discussing the bottom of the market 5 years ago, in the March 12, 2012 Weekly Update, we wrote about many analysts’ worries that a pullback was imminent. Even last year, one MarketWatch columnist wrote an article titled “Happy Birthday Bull Market—Now Write Your Will,” warning that the markets would not reach new peaks in the near future. The S&P 500 has gained around 19% in the months since then.

Of course, no one can predict exactly when this bull market will begin to decline. And at 8 years old, only one recovery has lasted longer since World War II.

As always, we will continue to offer the advice we believe suits your best interests in every market environment: Focus on your long-term goals and personal needs, not headlines and emotions. We have come a long way in 8 years, and we will continue to guide you through the market’s changing times and inevitable fluctuations. If you have questions about where you stand today or how to prepare for tomorrow, we are here to talk.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Tuesday: FOMC Meeting Begins
Wednesday: Consumer Price Index, Retail Sales, Housing Market Index, FOMC Meeting Announcement
Thursday: Housing Starts
Friday: Consumer Sentiment

March 2017 Market Update Video

Since February was a record-breaking month for the economy, Josh and I decided we wanted to try to break a record of our own. Watch our video to find out how we did!

Also in this month’s video, we’ll discuss some of the major headlines that influenced markets in February — and provide insight into what these developments could mean for you as an investor.

If you have any questions about your portfolio after viewing this video, please give us a call at 419-425-2400, or send us an email. We would love to talk with you.

Too Close to Call: Fed’s Decision on Interest Rates – Weekly Update for March 6, 2017

On Wednesday, March 1, the three major domestic indexes all had their best performance in 2017 and reached record highs yet again. In fact, the S&P 500 hit 2,400 for the first time ever on the same day the Dow went above 21,000 for the first time. While the markets cooled slightly on Thursday and Friday, all three indexes were up for the week. The S&P 500 added 0.67%, the Dow increased by 0.88%, and the NASDAQ was up 0.44%. International equities in the MSCI EAFE also grew, adding 0.39% for the week.

In the midst of more record performance, we received a number of data updates that help improve our understanding of the true economic environment and potential for the Fed to increase interest rates next week.

What We Learned Last Week

  • Fourth Quarter 2016 GDP Readings Stayed the Same

On February 28, we received the second reading of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the fourth quarter of 2016. The consensus expectation was for the reading to increase to 2.1% from the 1.9% growth in January’s Advance report. However, the newest data did not show any change in Q4 GDP.

  • Manufacturing Activity Increased

The ISM manufacturing survey beat expectations to come in at 57.7 for February—the highest reading in 2.5 years and the best yearly start since 2011. Levels over 50 indicate expansion, so this data provides a positive signal for our manufacturing sector.

  • Service Sector Activity Increased

In February, the service sector grew for the 86th straight month, with the ISM non-manufacturing survey coming in at 57.6. Both new orders and business activity had faster expansion, and the employment index also increased.

  • Consumer Confidence Hit a More Than 15-Year High

The latest consumer confidence numbers from the Conference Board have not been this high since July 2001. Fewer people think that jobs are “hard to get,” and many “consumers expect the economy to continue expanding in the months ahead.” Of course, consumer confidence is no guarantee for future circumstances; instead, it measures sentiment and currently indicates that many people feel more positively about the economy.

  • Personal Income Went Up

The latest personal income data indicated a 0.4% increase in January—for a 4.0% yearly increase. In addition, the Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) deflator, which measures consumer inflation, grew by 0.4% in January, the largest monthly increase since 2011. The Federal Reserve follows the PCE deflator very closely, so this recent jump could be another sign that a March interest-rate increase could be more likely to occur.

These data updates are only a few of the economic details we learned last week, but together, they may help explain why the Fed could increase rates in the March 14 – 15 meeting. As recently as Tuesday morning, the odds of a rate hike were only 35%. By Friday, they had increased to 81%, due to strong economic data and remarks from Fed representatives. On Friday, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said that if employment and inflation continue to change as they expect, then a change to the “federal funds rate would likely be appropriate.”[xviii]

Combined with the recent PCE deflator increases, this Friday’s employment data should help provide more context for the Fed’s decision. However, as we have seen before, no one truly knows what the Fed will decide until they make their announcement after the meeting. For now, we will monitor the data and wait to hear the Fed’s announcement on March 15.

Economic Calendar

Monday: Factory Orders
Tuesday: International Trade
Wednesday: Productivity and Costs
Thursday: Import and Export Prices
Friday: Employment Situation

Upcoming Reports Impacting the Market – Weekly Upate for February 27, 2017

Once again, domestic markets reached record highs last week. The S&P 500 was up by 0.69% and the NASDAQ increased by 0.12%. With its 0.96% week-over-week growth, the Dow has posted gains for 11 straight days and is currently experiencing its longest record streak since 1987. On the other hand, international equities in the MSCI EAFE lost ground, dropping by 0.25% for the week.

Last week did not offer much new information on economic fundamentals. With the exception of January increases for new single-family homes and the fastest pace of existing home sales since 2007, we do not have a tremendous amount of new data to share.

In the absence of this data, focusing on the roiling political conversations becomes much easier. As we have said before, we encourage you to pay attention to how the economy is performing—not what the headlines are blaring. Rather than recount the policy debates and political back-and-forth, we will discuss three important economic developments on our horizon: revised GDP, February CPI, and Fed interest rate deliberations.

What’s Ahead?

February 28: Revised Q4 2016 GDP

On Tuesday, we will receive the second growth estimate of the U.S. economy during the fourth quarter of 2016, which came in at 1.9% in the first estimate. Consensus is that the revised estimate will increase to 2.1%, but we will have to wait until March 30 to see the third and final measurement of Q4 economic growth.

The Bottom Line: GDP is key in measuring the U.S. economy’s strength. Any upward revisions would signal our economy is growing faster than the initial readings indicated.

March 15: February Consumer Price Index (CPI)

In January, the CPI experienced its largest month-over-month jump since 2013. The upcoming February report will help to show whether prices are continuing to increase and how the cost of living is changing.

The Bottom Line: The CPI measures changes to the average cost of specific goods and services that consumers purchase and is a key indicator for inflation. This data
affects the bond and equity markets, labor contracts, Social Security payments, tax brackets, and more 

March 15: Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) Meeting Announcement

From March 14 – 15, the FOMC will meet and determine whether or not to raise the Federal Reserve’s benchmark interest rates. After the meeting concludes, Fed Chair Janet Yellen will announce their decision—a move that market participants will watch very closely. Yellen recently commented that “Waiting too long to [raise rates] would be unwise.” However, Wall Street does not expect an increase in March and shows a less than 1 in 5 chance of this move.

The Bottom Line: When the Fed changes its benchmark interest rate, the effects reverberate throughout our economy. According to Barron’s, the FOMC interest-rate policy meetings “are the single most influential event for the markets.” If the Fed decides to raise rates, this choice would affect interest rates now and also imply that monetary policy will continue to tighten throughout 2017.

These upcoming details are only a few of the noteworthy economic details on the horizon. If you have questions about what other fundamental data we are tracking or believe could affect your financial life, we are always here and would love to connect!

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Monday: Durable Goods Orders, Pending Home Sales Index
Tuesday: GDP, Consumer Confidence
Wednesday: Motor Vehicle Sales, PMI Manufacturing Index, ISM Mfg Index,
Friday: PMI Services Index, ISM Non-Mfg Index

January Reporting & An Up Market – Weekly Update for February 21, 2017

Another week, another round of record highs. Despite concerns about how France’s upcoming presidential election could affect the European Union’s stability, U.S. stocks ended the week up yet again. The S&P 500 gained 1.51%, the Dow added 1.75%, and the NASDAQ increased 1.82%—growth that represents record highs for all three indexes. International equities in the MSCI EAFE also posted positive returns, with 0.78% growth for the week.

A number of data reports also came out last week, and they tell a mostly encouraging story about the economy right now.

JANUARY INCREASES

Consumer Price Index Up by 0.6%

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the average prices of specific consumer goods and services, beat expectations and experienced its largest month-over-month jump since 2013. The index is now 2.5% higher than a year ago, a sign that inflation could be picking up.

Producer Price Index Up by 0.6%

Whereas the CPI evaluates price changes from a consumer’s perspective, the Producer Price Index (PPI), measures changes from the seller’s perspective. For January, the PPI also beat expectations, with energy experiencing a 4.7% increase.

Retail Sales Up by 0.4%

The monthly Retail Sales report shows growth or contraction in consumer demand for goods and can help indicate whether the economy is expanding. In addition to January’s 0.4% growth, the latest report included upward revisions for November and December 2016. Overall, Retail Sales are up 5.6% over January 2016.

Small Business Optimism Index Up by 0.1 points

Each month, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) releases the results of its Small Business Optimism Index, which shows results from its member surveys. This report measures the mood of small business owners—the largest employers in the U.S.—and January’s results are the highest reading since December 2004. Last month’s growth comes on the back of December’s 7.4 point jump, the survey’s largest ever increase. In other words, small business owners are interested in hiring and expanding, good news for American workers and the economy.

JANUARY DECREASES

Industrial Production Down by 0.3%

Last month, industrial firms, such as factories and mines, produced a lower volume of raw goods. If you dig deeper, however, the data is likely less concerning than what it may seem at first. For example, warmer-than-normal temperatures in the contiguous U.S.—a factor that does not have to do with the economy—contributed to utility output’s 5.7% decrease, the largest drop since 2006.[xv]

Housing Starts Down by 2.6%

The number of new houses beginning construction fell in January, but future construction permits increased by 4.6%—higher than any time since November 2015.[xvi] Housing Starts are also up 10.5% over January 2016.[xvii] While the most recent report shows a monthly dip, the data indicates that housing has grown over the past year and will continue to grow in the future.

As you can gather from the balance between data increases and decreases, the January reports we received last week indicate an economy that is growing. We will continue to monitor the pace of growth and stay on top of political developments as we strive to determine what changes or opportunities may be on the horizon.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Monday: U.S. Markets Closed for Presidents Day Holiday
Wednesday: Existing Home Sales
Friday: New Home Sales, Consumer Sentiment

What To Do With The Trade Deficit – Weekly Update for February 13, 2017

The political world has presented much conversation lately, but one topic has had Americans’ attention since campaigning season: tax reform. Last week, President Trump announced that a tax plan is forthcoming, and domestic markets responded by reaching record highs. In fact, we saw positive market performance even before the announcement, as the S&P 500 and Dow posted new records two days in a row, while the NASDAQ reached record highs every day except Monday. By Friday, the Dow was up 0.99%, the NASDAQ added 1.19%, and the S&P 500 capped its fourth consecutive week of gains to increase by 0.81%. On the other hand, the MSCI EAFE was down this week, posting a 0.03% loss.

In today’s highly politicized market environment, we understand that you seek insight on how changes could affect your financial life. While we could focus on potential policy or tax adjustments, many of these details are still unclear. Rather than addressing speculation, we prefer to analyze and share key data that we do have details on from last week: the trade deficit.

What happened? The most recent trade deficit numbers came in last week, showing that in December 2016 the following occurred:

Why should you care? As we discussed a few weeks ago, trade is integral to our economy—and we saw a decrease in net exports slow GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2016. Essentially, when the U.S. imports more goods than we export, the economy may not perform as well.

However, analyzing the trade deficit is not a simple “lower is better, higher is worse” circumstance. In a healthy economy, the trade deficit can increase, as Americans’ incomes grow and they buy more imported goods. Understanding what signs are positive and which are negative can help you better know where we stand.

What can we learn from this week’s findings? The trade deficit is larger than a year ago, but the increases are less dramatic than what some headlines may imply. For instance, a MarketWatch article shared that “U.S. trade deficit hits highest level in four years.” But when you look at the changes on a graph, the difference may seem less extreme than the headline implies.

Ultimately, while the balance between imports and exports is meaningful, the volume of trade matters greatly as well. December’s increasing trade volume—both imports and exports—can show us that both U.S. and global economies are improving.

Looking ahead, changes to trade deals and corporate tax rates could have significant effects on the trade balance and volume. We will continue to evaluate this monthly metric to look for insight into our economy’s fundamental strength. As always, we will work to keep you informed so you know what is happening and how we are pursuing your goals in an evolving world.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Tuesday: Producer Price Index
Wednesday: Consumer Price Index, Retail Sales, Industrial Production, Housing Market Index
Thursday: Housing Starts
Friday: E-Commerce Retail Sales

February 2017 Market Update Video

 

In this month’s video, Josh will discuss some of the major headlines that influenced markets in January — and provide some insight into what these developments could mean for you as an advisor.

If you have any questions or concerns after watching this video, please get in touch with us. We would love to talk to you. You can give us a call at (419) 425-2400, or send us an email.

Thank you for watching!

January Jobs Jump – Weekly Update for February 6, 2017

Political headlines continued to fill the news last week, and while domestic markets declined during mid-week trading, they rebounded on Friday, February 3. Overall, the week showed only modest movement, as the S&P 500 added 0.12%, the NASDAQ was up 0.11% to end at a record high, and the MSCI EAFE grew by 0.01%. The Dow was down by 0.11% but still managed to end above 20,000 after dipping below this benchmark between Tuesday and Thursday.

So, why did domestic markets perform well on Friday? A better-than-expected jobs report.

The January Jobs Report

Depending on which survey you look at, economic experts predicted the economy would add an average of between 175,000 and 180,000 jobs in January. Instead, on Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report showed the economy added 227,000 jobs last month—far higher than predicted. This increase means job growth has continued for 76 months in a row.

You gain a much clearer picture, however, when you look beyond the big headlines and see what other data tells us. Here’s a quick rundown of what we found:

Hourly Earnings Increased, but by a Very Small Margin

Average hourly earnings grew by only 3 cents in January—and showed a 2.5% increase over last year. This monthly growth is less than a third of what we saw in December 2016. However, one industry in particular may have caused these slower gains, as a 1% decrease in financial industry earnings depressed overall wage growth.

Unemployment Increased, but for a Potentially Positive Reason

When you hear that unemployment increased from 4.7% in December to 4.8% in January, this may sound like bad news. However, a major reason for this increase is that labor force participation grew by 0.2% in January, the first increase in months. In other words, after sitting on the sidelines, more people are now rejoining the labor force and creating additional opportunities for economic growth.

Jobs Are Available, but Workers May Need Training or Relocation

While labor force participation increased last month, its 62.9% rate is still near the lowest level in decades. According to Glassdoor Chief Economist Andrew Chamberlain, approximately 5.5 million jobs remain open in the U.S.—close to a record number. Some of these jobs, such as retail and food service, don’t require much training, but they aren’t always located near where unemployed workers live. Other jobs in the hot fields of healthcare and technology require training and skills that many workers simply do not have right now. As a result, closing the gap between open jobs and willing workers is a complex challenge for employers and job-searchers alike.

The Bottom Line

The labor market is continuing to improve, but the pace remains slower than what most people would prefer. Nonetheless, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest revisions show that private-sector payrolls have increased for 83 straight months, the longest growth streak since the 1920s.

How any potential new pro-growth policies affect the labor market remains to be seen, as does how to fill the millions of open jobs available right now. In the meantime, people are working more hours for higher pay than they were this time last year, and job participation is growing.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:
Monday: Labor Market Conditions Index
Tuesday: International Trade
Wednesday: EIA Petroleum Status Report
Friday: Import and Export Prices, Consumer Sentiment