Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving holiday and weekend spent with loved ones were reasons to be thankful for the past year of blessings. Certainly, the markets didn’t give us much to be thankful or joyful for as all major market indexes dropped between 2.5% and 4.4% last week. Normally, Thanksgiving week can be counted on for an upside bias, but instead we got the worst Thanksgiving week since 2011 as the correction that began in early October rolls on.
As bad as the week was, we could be setting up for a pretty good rally into year end, if we could just get a positive spark of some sort this week. Some possible good news could be forthcoming on the trade war front from the G20 Summit, scheduled for November 30 and December 1, where President Donald Trump and China President Xi Jinping are scheduled to meet and have a discussion. This may bring hope for some type of agreement on the tit-for-tat tariffs imposed.
To be clear, the price action in the markets to-date has shown no evidence of a robust bounce coming, but there are some signs that a market reversal (upward) is brewing.
Market corrections, defined as a decline from the top of 10% or more, are always gut-wrenching and difficult to “watch”. In fact, this past week, the S&P 500 index finally closed 10.1% below the all-time high made in September. Under the surface, some stocks, specifically the technology and infamous FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google), have been hit hard with declines of up to 40% from their highs seen earlier this year. I could list a ton of stocks and market sectors that are in their own bear markets (20% below their recent highs), but you already know them because you probably own them.
Why the Long Face Mr. Market?
So what has the market in such a tizzy, seemingly all of a sudden, especially after a great 3rd quarter performance and record quarterly corporate earnings reported? A few things actually:
- Trade Wars & Tariffs: Initially thought to be immune to the trade wars, the markets have succumbed to the thought that the current trade war may be drawn out, not just for months, but for years. While a minority of companies that reported earnings this past quarter pointed to tariffs as a concern, the ones that did, were very vocal about how a dragged out tariff war will significantly drag on future earnings. Needless to say, China features prominently in this picture, so a resolution next week would give Wall Street a reason to cheer.
- Interest rates: There’s nothing like cheap money to keep the money flowing and the stock market buoyant, as companies issue bonds (debt) to buy back their shares in the open market and finance capital expansion plans. Home buying obviously works better with lower rates. So higher interest rates curb the debt appetite by companies and potential homeowners. In addition, investors, with the availability of lower risk and higher interest rate government bonds, will cash in their stocks for the safety of Uncle Sam’s treasury notes and bills. Why take all the stock market risk for an extra potential 1%-2% returns?
- Economic Data Slowing: While gross domestic product, employment, consumer confidence and housing data have been near their highest levels, there are emerging signs of growth slowing in many areas of the economy. For example, home builder confidence dropped 8 points in November – now confirming the message that the housing market is slowing. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index barely eked out a gain of 0.1pts, which suggests that next month could see the first decline in over 29 months. Finally, durable goods (e.g., appliances, aircraft, machinery and equipment) orders for October came in worse than expected. While none of the data signifies an imminent recession, a slowdown in growth looks to continue, hardly surprising given the long slow economic recovery we’ve been in for almost ten years.
- Oil Prices Crashing: Oil prices have lost over 35% from their highs in the first week in October. While lower oil prices mean more money in consumers’ pockets and higher profits for oil consumers such as airlines, the swift decline in prices unnerves investors and traders. Questions arise as to the robustness of the economy and worldwide demand for oil if the price can lose 1/3rd of its value in a period of less than two months.
When you consider that stock markets trade on future company profit expectations, all of the above worries weigh on prices investors are willing to pay for those future earnings. Companies may start to alert Wall Street that their initially published profit expectations may not be met. So, as a forward looking mechanism, the market starts to price in those worries 6-12 months before companies actually start to report those earnings.
Will Santa Claus Visit Wall Street This Year?
As mentioned above, there are some “green shoots” of hope that a rally may be near:
- Investor Sentiment has been decimated in this correction. Any number of investor surveys, professional or retail (that’s you or me), has shown them to be despondent and sure this bull market is done and over with. In this business, excessive investor pessimism or optimism tends to act as a contrary indicator (when so many are sure the market will do one thing, the market tends to do another).
- The markets are oversold in the short-term. When the selling has been as persistent as it has, without much in the way of a rally, the markets tend to reverse and rally up, if only for a day, a week, a month, or two.
- Seasonality favors a rally. The period from mid-November through the following May tend to be very positive from a market standpoint. I should be clear in mentioning that seasonality has not worked very well at all in 2018 (e.g., August and September are usually down months but were up big this year).
- We haven’t made a new market low in this correction since October 29. With the exception of some technology and NASDAQ stocks/indexes, the overall market has not made any new lows. While this could change when the markets open on Monday morning, the fact that the market didn’t push to new lows last week when it had the chance, means that we may be running out of sellers. In addition, some positive technical signs, one in the form of small capitalization stock strength on Friday, bode well for a potential near-term rally.
- Although an interest rate increase of 0.25% is a 78% certainty in December, it’s possible that the federal reserve, when it meets in mid-December will signal a willingness to pull back on it’s plan for three interest rate hikes in 2019, given the apparent slow-down in economic growth.
- Announced today (Sunday), the European Union and the United Kingdom have reached an agreement on Brexit. The removal of that uncertainty can help spark a rally.
So What Do We Do Now?
The weight of the evidence at the moment gives the benefit of doubt to the bears and the evident short-term downtrend. Therefore, caution is still warranted, even if a short-term rally emerges. Although the odds of a recession over the next 6-9 months remain very low, things can change in a hurry if the global slowdown continues or accelerates downward.
If you haven’t sold or trimmed any positions to-date, and you’re losing sleep over the market action, then you should take advantage of any rally to reduce your exposure to the markets to the “sleeping point” or add some hedges. It may be too late to sell right now, or into any further decline, but you should have your own plan for your investments that matches your risk tolerance, investment goals and time-frame. If you’re not a client, then I cannot possibly advise you, so this should not be construed as investment advice. Of course, if you would like to become a client, we’d love to talk to you.
For our clients, we lightened up on positions, raised cash and increased our hedges over the past several months as short-term signs pointed towards a bit of over-exuberance to the upside. We have tried dipping our toes lightly into a few positions during this correction, but mostly the market told us we were too early. Of course, stocks become more attractive as their prices decline, so dipping your toes into this decline is not a bad idea; just be sure you know your time-frame for holding, and be sure to keep it light until the trend changes upward, and the overall market acts as a tailwind rather than a headwind.
While markets are acting bearishly at this time, we remain alert to a switch in trend and hopeful that Santa comes to Wall Street, bringing a robust rally. Remember that a rally always comes around, so if your portfolio is down, there will be better days ahead if you want to buy or sell. Until then, remember that investing in stocks is great…as long as you don’t get scared out of them.
If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.