The Independent Market Observer
The Independent Market Observer
Commonwealth’s chief investment officer, Brad McMillan, provides insight on the economic, market, and political events of the day—both domestically and on a global scale.
One of the best ways to tell that the economic news is good is that it simply isn’t showing up in the news. The old media saying, “if it bleeds it leads,” means you don’t see a lot of good news on the front pages. Hence, we now have politics taking the lead, along with various disasters. When business stories do appear, they are typically company specific and focus on (what else?) bad news. The Toys R Us bankruptcy is a case in point today.
Today, I would like to pause and remember the life and work of Dr. Stephen Hawking, renowned physicist and a personal hero of mine. His life combined a commitment to science with a complete refusal to give in to a debilitating medical condition. Instead, not only did he continue to learn and grow, but he extended the limits of human knowledge—quite literally to the end of time. Not all heroes wear capes, as the saying goes, and his heroism in continuing to live and work in the face of illness is beyond all admiration. Thank you, Dr. Hawking, not just for your work but for the inspiration and example of a life well lived.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the failure of the Wall Street firm Bear Stearns, widely considered the opening act of the great financial crisis of 2008. Bear was done in, so the story goes, by a mix of ill-considered bets on mortgage securities and excessive borrowing. After it went down, banks started to look around to see what other companies might fail—and found that they really couldn’t tell. As a consequence, each bank started to pull back individually, and the flow of liquidity that supported Wall Street fell apart. As each bank pulled away, the fears of collapse started to turn into reality, which only worsened the problem. The downward spiral led to what we now know as the great financial crisis, from which we have been recovering for the past 10 years.
This is another special edition of the market risk update, following a significant bounce from the February pullback. Overall, the conclusion of a green light last month was correct, as much of the damage proved to be temporary. But it is worth taking a look at what happened and why. Where special comments are needed, they will be in italics.
There were three major economic reports last week, which gave us a look at the service sector, trade, and—most important—the job market. The week ahead will be a busy one, with five major reports expected.
February’s data continued to be quite good. We saw improvements in many areas, particularly in employment, suggesting continued and possibly accelerating growth into 2018. Job growth jumped substantially, coming in well above expectations, and both consumer and business confidence remained at very high levels. Fed policy continues to be stimulative, and recent increases in long-term rates steepened the yield curve—often a positive sign. Overall, this month’s strong economic data indicates that the weakness at the end of 2017 has passed, although policy remains a concern, particularly around trade.
I woke up this morning to a surprise. It had snowed, which was expected. After all the fear-mongering coverage, in fact, I expected the house to be covered, but it wasn’t so bad. The real surprise was the fact that a combination of wind and heavy snow had taken down several trees—including an 18-footer right across most of my driveway. All of a sudden, I was cut off.
Yesterday, I wrote that the markets were likely to continue to trend upward, on the idea that the U.S. tariffs were not really going to happen. But then the news that Gary Cohn had resigned as head of the National Economic Council was announced—and this has changed that perception entirely.
Well, that was quick. After a sharp but short pullback in late January/early February, the market started to rally again. But it was derailed by the announcement—by the U.S. president—of an impending trade war. Then, after an even shorter and less sharp pullback, it seems to have started to rally again (although it is slightly down as I write this). What’s going on?
As the bull market reaches its ninth year, what will it take to actually bring it down? Or will the market continue to rise? I discussed this and more earlier today on CNBC's Power Lunch.
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