Macro Overview – July 2018
Trade and tariffs disrupted markets in June as the U.S. Commerce Department announced tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. The 25% tariffs will be imposed on 1,300 items encompassing a variety of products including aluminum, iron, gas turbines, snow blowers, milking machines, and dental drills.
A flattening yield curve, characteristic of rising short-term rates along with lingering long-term rates, startled fixed income markets. Higher interest rates reflect expectations of inflationary pressures and robust growth, while lower rates imply less inflation and dismal economic expansion.
As expected by economists and the markets, the Federal Reserve raised its short-term key policy rate, the federal funds rate, by 25 basis points to 1.75% - 2.00%. The gradual rise in rates is seen as a normalization of interest rates as the U.S. economy continues to expand. The Fed is accelerating the rate of tightening with increases slated for 2019 and 2020 now expected to occur in 2018 and 2019.
Reports from various Federal Reserve district banks reveal that a robust economy, growing tariff pressures, rising wage costs, and a tight labor market are contributing to consumer inflation. The Atlanta Federal Reserve’s economic growth model, GDPNow, estimates GDP growth for the second quarter of 2018 at 4.5%, adding to inflationary pressures.
Household wealth reached $100 trillion for the first time ever, as reported by the Fed. The $100 trillion mark is double of where household wealth was at the lows of the financial crisis in 2009.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that public sector unions cannot charge fees to government employees who do not support the union and who do not want to pay. The decision is expected to further weaken the influence of unions, which have been in a decades-long decline.
Emerging market currencies faltered against the U.S. dollar as global trade tensions and rising rates in the U.S. added pressure on emerging economies. China’s stock market and currency are both off since tariff contentions began, with the Shanghai Composite Index off 13.9% for the year and the Chinese currency off 3.5% against the U.S.dollar in June alone.
Volatility in the second quarter didn't deter equity indices, as the S&P 500 was up 2.9% and the Dow Jones was up 0.7%. The tech heavy Nasdaq advanced 6.3% for the quarter, driven by buyers seeking shelter from the imposed tariffs. A stronger U.S. dollar is starting to weigh on the technology sector as earnings may become affected.
Sources: U.S. Commerce Dept., Federal Reserve, U.S. Treasury, https://www.supremecourt.gov, Bloomberg, S&P,Dow Jones, Nasdaq
Equities Achieve Positive Quarter Despite Volatility - Domestic Equity Markets Update
Energy and technology sector stocks led the markets in the second quarter. All three major indices ended the quarter positively, in light of volatility and trade policy tensions. The S&P 500 was up 2.9% and the Dow Jones was up 0.7%. The tech heavy Nasdaq advanced 6.3% for the quarter.
With oil prices climbing, the energy sector was the market’s top performer for the second quarter, marking its single largest quarterly gain since 2011. Technology sector stocks were also up for the quarter as the sector dodged the tariff turmoil during most of the second quarter, but may be adversely affected by a continuing strengthening dollar. US intellectual property and the growing prominence of technology in the global economy is becoming forefront for regulators, as the administration focuses on protecting U.S. intellectual assets.
Markets are attempting to decipher what industry and companies may be hindered by the newly imposed tariffs. Some companies plan to absorb a portion of the tariffs while others will pass along the costs in the form of higher prices to customers.
Liquidity among S&P 500 companies is distributed unevenly, with the top 25 companies in the index accounting for over 55% of the $1.9 trillion in corporate cash. The bottom 250 companies in the S&P 500 hold essentially no cash.
Sources: S&P, Dow Jones, Nasdaq, Bloomberg
Flattening Yield Curve Startles Markets - Domestic Fixed Income Update
The rapid rise of short-term rates along with lingering long-term rates created unease with markets. A lack of rising long-term rates is indicative of weak long-term economic growth, where inflationary pressures may not be present or expanding. .
The continued increase in the 2-year Treasury yield is drawing interest from short-term investors as the 2.52 % yield at the end of June was greater than the 1.84% yield on the S&P 500. .
The difference in yield between the 2-year Treasury note and the 10-year Treasury bond narrowed to levels not seen since 2007. Also known as the spread, the difference between the 2-year note and 10-year bond is a barometer of economic sentiment. Should shorter term rates, such as the 2-year note, yield more than longer term rates such as the 10-year bond, then economic growth is expected to be lackluster. Some analysts view this narrow spread as a temporary event until economic growth accelerates driving longer term rates higher. .
Sources: U.S. Treasury, S&P, Bloomberg
Emerging Markets Struggle - International Update
Rising rates and a stronger U.S. dollar are weighing on emerging markets, which benefited from years of record low U.S. interest rates. Elevated rates in the U.S. make emerging market assets less attractive than U.S. assets and influence investment overseas to migrate back to the U.S. marketplace.
Currencies from emerging countries including Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, Argentina, and China have all seen pullbacks relative to the U.S. dollar. Many believe that a weaker Chinese currency is a strategy to retaliate against the newly imposed U.S. tariffs. Any continuation of a weakening Chinese currency could amplify risks and volatility for emerging markets.
Trade tensions have also negatively affected China’s stock market, with the Shanghai Composite index down over 13% year to date. Worrisome for China is the fact that the Chinese currency and stock market have both headed negative for the year, a gauge for other Asian currencies and equity markets.
Sources: U.S. Treasury, Bloomberg, IMF
**Market Returns: All data is indicative of total return which includes capital gain/loss and reinvested dividends for noted period. Index data sources; MSCI, DJ-UBSCI, WTI, IDC, S&P. The information provided is believed to be reliable, but its accuracy or completeness is not warranted. This material is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any stock, bond, mutual fund, or any other financial instrument. The views and strategies discussed herein may not be appropriate and/or suitable for all investors. This material is meant solely for informational purposes, and is not intended to suffice as any type of accounting, legal, tax, or estate planning advice. Any and all forecasts mentioned are for illustrative purposes only and should not be interpreted as investment recommendations.