Weekly Market Commentary

Weekly Market Commentary

The Markets

Stock and bond markets rallied.

Last week, major U.S. stock indices finished higher for the 10th time in 12 weeks. Bond markets moved higher, too, with the yield on 10-year Treasuries dropping just below 2.6 percent, reported Randall Forsyth of Barron’s. Yields on 10-year Treasuries haven’t been this low since January 2018.

The simultaneous rallies are curious because improving share prices are often an indication of a strong or strengthening economy. Improving bond prices tend to be a sign of weakening economic growth, reported Michael Santoli of CNBC.

Why are U.S. stock and bond markets telling different stories?

It may have something to do with investor uncertainty. A lot of important issues remain unsettled. The British government appears incapable of resolving Brexit issues, the United States and China have not yet reached a trade agreement, and recent economic reports have caused investors to take a hard look at the U.S. economy.

Weekly Market Commentary

The Markets

Central banks take a turn.

At its first policy meeting of 2019, the U.S. Federal Reserve changed direction. After four rate increases in 2018, Chair Jerome Powell announced interest rates were on hold. Last week, banks in the United Kingdom, Australia, and India followed suit by either reducing rates or cautioning rate reductions were likely, reported Sam Fleming and Jamie Smyth of Financial Times.

The dovish tone of central banks owes much to slowing global growth. January’s International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook lowered global growth estimates for 2019 and 2020. Changing expectations were fueled both by factors that slowed momentum in the second half of 2018 and by issues that pose a potential risk to continued economic growth.

Weekly Market Commentary

The Markets

And, U.S. stock markets celebrated.

Last week, the Federal Reserve put itself on hold. The Federal Open Market Committee met on Wednesday, January 30, 2019, to discuss the state of the economy and determine policy. After the meeting, Fed Chair Jerome Powell offered a positive assessment of U.S. economic strength that was leavened with a few concerns.

“We continue to expect that the American economy will grow at a solid pace in 2019, although likely slower than the very strong pace of 2018…Despite this positive outlook…Growth has slowed in some major foreign economies, particularly China and Europe. There is elevated uncertainty around several unresolved government policy issues, including Brexit, ongoing trade negotiations, and the effects from the partial government shutdown in the United States…We are now facing a somewhat contradictory picture of generally strong U.S. macroeconomic performance, alongside growing evidence of cross-currents. At such times, common sense risk management suggests patiently awaiting greater clarity…”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) welcomed the news and delivered its best January performance since 1987, reported Reuters.

Weekly Market Commentary

The Markets

Like competitors who’ve completed a difficult section in an endurance race, U.S. stock investors took a breather last week.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which has gotten off to its best start since 1987, ended the week with a slight loss, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite finished slightly higher, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.

News the U.S. government shutdown would end, albeit temporarily, appeared to be of little interest to investors. Barron’s suggested the markets’ muted response to the government reopening was in balance with its response to the shutdown – there wasn’t much of one. In fact, the S&P 500 has gained 10 percent since the federal government closed.

Weekly Market Commentary

The Markets

Why did the stock market fall when the economy is doing well?

The answer is that one reflects the past and the other anticipates the future.

Last Friday’s advance estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed the U.S. economy grew 3.5 percent during the third quarter of 2018. Harriet Torry of The Wall Street Journal reported:

“The economy powered ahead in the third quarter, driven by robust consumer and government spending, though Friday’s report included warning signs that the business sector faces turbulence that could hold back the expansion in the months ahead.”

Third quarter’s economic growth was slower than economic growth during the second quarter and stronger than economic growth during the first quarter of 2018.