Strong Markets & A Positive Outlook – Weekly Update for May 30, 2017

The markets marched ahead last week with the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ reporting all-time records, albeit just slightly above previous highs. The S&P rose 1.43% over last week, while the NASDAQ was up 2.08%. The Dow gained 1.32% and the MSCI EAFE gained 0.14% for the week. Volatility subsided as the CBOE Volatility Index, which gauges fear in the market, fell to 9.8 at the end of the week.

A few important economic developments also caught our attention.

Market News for the Week

  • Strong Corporate Earnings  

Corporate earnings remain a bright spot as approximately 75% of S&P 500 companies beat their Q1 earnings estimates. S&P 500 corporate earnings are averaging a 13.9% increase—the best performance in over 5 years.

  • First Quarter GDP Revised Upward

The good news is that Q1 GDP revised upward from 0.7% to 1.2% growth. However, the economy continues to grow at a less-than-robust rate at approximately 2% on a year-over-year basis, as it has since 2011.

  • Oil Prices Fall  

U.S. crude ended the week at $49.80 after prices fell almost 5% on Thursday following OPEC’s announced 9-month extension to limit oil production. Investors remain cautious; U.S. oil production has spiked by over 10% in the last year, keeping oil prices down by offsetting reduced OPEC production.

  • Softening Housing Sales

New home sales fell 11.4% in April to an annualized rate of 569,000. Median new home prices dropped 3.0% to $309,200, as sales are tracking for only a modest 0.5% gain for the year. April’s existing home sales dropped 2.3% in another indication of softening home sales.

  • The Fed’s Plan to Tighten Its Balance Sheet  

As expected, the Federal Reserve FOMC unveiled a proposal to gradually unwind its $4.5 trillion balance sheet with monthly limits. The process is likely to begin later in the year, though the Fed has not announced a specific date.

Heading Into Summer

After Memorial Day, the shortened workweek brings more attention-worthy reports as investors will continue to evaluate the prospects for a stronger Q2 GDP performance. Tuesday’s April consumer spending reports and Friday’s trade data should give us a better picture of where Q2 GDP is heading.

Investors will continue to monitor the U.S. trade gap. April exports were down 0.9% while imports were up 0.7%, creating an unfavorable gap of $67.6 billion. Investment in new equipment will also provide investors with another important indicator of future economic growth. New equipment orders have so far remained flat for the year, though. Finally, the Fed’s plans for a possible interest rate hike in June will be on investors’ radar.

If you have questions about where you stand today or how to prepare for tomorrow, we are here to talk. Our goal is to give you the facts and insight you need to remain informed and in control of your financial future.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Monday: Closed
Tuesday: Consumer Confidence
Wednesday: Motor Vehicle Sales, Pending Home Sales
Thursday: ADP Employment Report, Construction Spending, PMI Manufacturing Index
Friday: Employment Situation

Volatility Returns: The Markets’ Response to Change – Weekly Update for May 22, 2017

Early last week, both the S&P and NASDAQ recorded all time highs before tumbling along with the Dow as political concerns rose. By Friday, though, the markets had largely rebounded and steadied. The S&P 500 closed the week down 0.38%, the Dow saw a 0.44% loss, and the NASDAQ reported a 0.61% decline. The MSCI EAFE reported up 0.79% for the week.

The CBOE VIX is designed to measure market volatility by using S&P 500 put and call index option prices. For most of the year, volatility in the markets has been low. However, the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) spiked 40% midweek before falling back by week’s end, indicating a possible increase in market volatility.

Through the week’s ups and downs, investors followed some other important economic developments.

LAST WEEK’S DEVELOPMENTS:

  • Solid Regional Business Index
    The Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey again pointed to progress in the factory sector. While the consensus range was 16.0 – 25.0, the General Business Conditions Index-Level reported 38.8.
  • Mixed Housing Reports
    New home sales remained strong as the housing market index rose 2 points to 70. The data came out well ahead of the 65 – 69 consensus range. However, April housing starts were lower than expected. Housing starts are now at a 1.172 million annualized rate, after falling 2.6%.
  • Household Debt Rises
    Total household debt rose to a new high, reporting a $149 billion increase to come in at $12.73 trillion. Student loans and auto loans were major contributors to the rising debt:

WHAT’S AHEAD

Economy
Manufacturing output rose 1.0 percent in April, the strongest monthly result in over 3 years. As such, investors will track how the rest of the second quarter shakes out. In addition, we will be interested in this week’s housing reports, hoping for a better handle on where this up-and-down sector is heading.

Geopolitical
Financial markets could experience some headwinds as geopolitical situations fester. Concerns over North Korea and political opposition to globalization remain. In addition, Brazil is facing political disruption and a deep recession that could mean problems for companies with business interests in that country. Similarly, continuing political challenges for the Trump administration may adversely affect proposed tax reform, health-care legislation, and infrastructure initiatives.

As always, we will continue keeping abreast of market and economic updates. We encourage you to focus on your long-term financial outlook. Should you have any questions, we are happy to help.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Tuesday:  New Home Sales
Wednesday:  Existing Home Sales
Friday: Durable Goods Orders, Consumer Sentiment

Earnings, Taxes & International News: What’s the Market Impact? – Weekly Update for May 1, 2017

Stocks continued their advance on generally strong earnings reports this week despite the GDP report showing a slow first quarter economy. The S&P 500 rose 1.51%, the Dow gained 1.91%, and the NASDAQ added 2.32%. On Tuesday, the NASDAQ posted record highs as it closed over 6,000 for the first time. Internationally, the MSCI EAFE was up 2.97%.

On Friday, April 28, we learned that first quarter GDP increased a modest 0.7%, lower than the reported consensus expectations of approximately 1%. Oil drilling and housing performed well, but consumer spending fell, largely due to poor auto sales and lower utility bills. Consumer spending, the largest segment of our economy, rose by only 0.3%.

While this growth is slower than the 2.1% last quarter—and the lowest we’ve experienced in three years—the picture is likely not as negative as it may seem at first. Not only did mild weather affect consumer spending on heating, but the government has also acknowledged its challenges accurately calculating data for first quarter GDP.

In addition to these GDP readings, a number of other events and data releases contributed to market performance this week.

Domestic Developments

  • Corporate Earnings Were Largely Positive
    Thus far in the first quarter, 79% of reporting companies published strong profits. In particular, consumer discretionary companies and commodity producers reported robust earnings while phone services and real estate investment trusts had weaker results.

  • Trump Announced Tax Plan
    President Trump outlined his new tax proposal, including plans to cut corporate taxes to 15%. Individual tax rates would fall to 10%, 25%, and 35% if Congress adopts the President’s plan.

International News

  • North American Trade Experienced Tension
    On Wednesday, April 26, reports that the U.S. may pull out of NAFTA created concern in financial markets. By Thursday, however, markets calmed after President Trump said he would agree to requests from Canada and Mexico’s leaders to renegotiate the decades-long trade deal. As these negotiations continue, two controversies lay in the background:

    • U.S. dairy farmers’ claims that Canadian action concerning milk imports violates the trade agreement.
    • A new tariff of up to 24% on Canadian softwood lumber that President Trump announced last week.

Finding the right solution for the negotiations is important to the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. NAFTA affects a significant portion of each country’s economy, including industries such as farming, automotive, and energy. Trade with the two countries accounted for approximately $584 billion in U.S. exports in 2016.

What’s Next

With Congress avoiding a shutdown last week, the markets should focus this week on:

  • Earnings reports
  • Construction spending
  • April auto sales
  • Manufacturing data
  • Federal Reserve meeting on Wednesday

By Friday, most remaining S&P 500 companies’ earnings reports will be in, including Apple, Facebook, and Pfizer. Looking ahead, we will watch for what economic stories emerge from the data we receive, including the upcoming jobs report. For now, despite the first quarter’s initially slow GDP growth of 0.7%, expectations continue for 2.5% growth in 2017.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Construction Spending, Personal Income and Outlays, PMI Manufacturing Index, ISM Manufacturing Index
Wednesday: ADP Employment Report, PMI Service Index, ISM Non-Manufacturing Index
Thursday: International Trade, Productivity and Costs
Friday: Employment Situation

 

Stocks Up on French Election Uncertainty – Weekly Update for April 24, 2017

Domestic stocks posted losses on Friday, April 21, largely due to investor concerns about the French election. Despite these daily losses, U.S. indexes broke their two-week losing streak, with the S&P 500 adding 0.85%, the Dow gaining 0.46%, and the NASDAQ increasing 1.82%. International stocks in the MSCI EAFE grew by 0.18%.

What Did We Learn Last Week? 

  • The French Election Is Concerning Investors

Uncertainty surrounding France’s presidential election contributed to investor caution last week. After Sunday’s ballot, National Front candidate Marine Le Pen will advance to the second round of voting on May 7, which decides the new president. Le Pen has promised to remove France from the European Union if she wins, a choice that could affect markets and currencies.

  • Quarterly Earnings Reports Are Mostly Strong

By Friday morning, 95 companies in the S&P 500 had reported their quarterly earnings; 77% of them beat earnings-per-share estimates.

  • Existing Home Sales Jumped 4.4% in March

Sales of existing homes hit levels not seen since 2007, and median home prices are up 6.8% over a year ago. Supply levels remain tight, and demand is high, as 48% of homes sold last month were on the market for less than a month.

  • Housing Starts Declined 6.8% in March

While the headline number for housing starts may seem pretty disappointing, it largely reflects the results of a return to typical March weather after unseasonably mild weather boosted starts in January and February. Overall, housing starts are up 9.2% over this time last year.

  • The Consumer Price Index Missed Expectations

Declines in gas and other energy prices contributed to the U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) falling 0.3% in March—its first monthly decline in more than a year.

  • Tax-Plan Information May Be on the Horizon

On April 20, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin indicated that tax reform remains important. The next day, President Trump said a tax plan should be coming this week.

  • Oil Prices Dropped

Crude oil prices fell below $50 a barrel after losing 2.15% on Friday. Investors are showing concern about whether output decreases by OPEC can balance out against increasing U.S. production and prevent oversupply.

What’s Ahead

Moving into the last week of April, we will learn both first quarter GDP readings and gain further insight into consumer confidence and housing performance. On Friday, April 28, initial readings for first quarter GDP will help deepen our understanding of where the economy stands right now. Consensus estimates are at a soft 1.1% growth, even lower than last quarter’s 2.1% increase. After seeing this week’s low CPI numbers, combined with retail and inventory data, Barclays decreased its GDP estimate to only 0.8%.

Last week provided a variety of data and perspectives that are continuing to reveal themselves. As momentum from the French presidential outcomes and our own economic growth unfolds, we will watch these developments closely. Meanwhile, we encourage you to continue a long-term focus on your goals, and we are here to discuss any questions you may have along the way.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Tuesday: S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller HPI, New Home Sales, Consumer Confidence
Wednesday: EIA Petroleum Status Report
Thursday: Durable Goods Orders, International Trade in Goods, Pending Home Sales Index
Friday: GDP, Employment Cost Index, Consumer Sentiment

Q1’s Initial Data & Records: What’s Next? – Weekly Update for April 3, 2017

With the first quarter of 2017 now behind us, we have seen the three major indexes all gain more than 4.5% so far this year. In fact, the NASDAQ just experienced its best quarter since 2013 due to tech stocks driving growth.

Despite closing down on Friday, the indexes added to their quarterly gains last week.  The S&P 500 grew by 0.80%, the Dow was up 0.32%, and the NASDAQ gained 1.42%. At the same time, international stocks in the MSCI EAFE lost 0.26% for the week.

What else happened last week?

  • Oil gained on word from OPEC

Oil prices experienced their largest weekly gains in 2017, ending above $50 a barrel. This growth is largely a result of speculation that OPEC (an intergovernmental organization of 13 oil-producing countries) will continue its agreement to curb oil output. By reducing supply, the nations aim to reduce the supply glut that drives prices down.

  • Q4 GDP increased with revisions

The final revisions for fourth quarter GDP beat expectations, coming in at 2.1%—up from the previous estimates of 1.9% growth. This plodding growth is in keeping with the economic recovery we have experienced the past several years.

  • Inflation hit a key Fed benchmark

When deciding on monetary policy, the Federal Reserve pays close attention to the PCE deflator, an inflation measurement from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They want to see this data above 2%. We learned last week that in February the PCE deflator hit this level for the first time since 2012. If this trend continues, we could see additional interest rate increases this year.

  • Consumer confidence and sentiment remained high

The Conference Board’s March readings for consumer confidence jumped to the highest levels since December 2000, surprising economists who expected the reading to decline from February. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment readings also showed an increase for March. However, the Michigan survey’s chief economist pointed out that participants’ sentiment showed a deep partisan divide. With confidence and uncertainty seemingly split along party lines, the effect on spending behaviors remains to be seen.

So far, the first quarter of 2017 has brought market growth and several positive economic data reports—coupled with heated policy debates occurring in government and the media. Moving forward, we will continue to seek the best opportunities to pursue your goals and keep you informed with the information you need to help make solid decisions.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Monday: PMI Manufacturing Index, ISM Manufacturing Index, Construction Spending
Tuesday: Motor Vehicle Sales, Factory Orders
Wednesday: ISM Non-Manufacturing Index
Friday: Employment Situation

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

 

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.