Will This Sixteen Be Sweet?

The “Sweet 16” is set. In the spirit of March Madness and an exciting NCAA college basketball tournament that has brought some historic upsets, epic comebacks, and exciting buzzer beaters, we have compiled our “Sweet 16” for the stock market. Specifically, we have identified 16 keys for stocks for the remainder of the year [Figure 1] and assessed their potential implications for the market. Collectively, we expect these drivers to push stocks higher over the balance of 2018, though we acknowledge that volatility could stay with us. We will take a deeper dive into some of these market drivers in our “Final Four” next week.

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Fed Preview

Federal Reserve (Fed) Chair Jay Powell will preside over his first Fed policy meeting March 20 – 21. Although this is his first meeting as chair, Powell has been a voting member of the policy committee since 2012 and is a seasoned veteran of Fed policy meetings. The Fed is widely expected to raise the target range for the fed funds rate 0.25 percentage points, from 1.25 – 1.50% to 1.50 – 1.75%, and anything more (or less) would be a shock for markets. With a rate hike already priced in, markets will be scrutinizing the Fed’s policy statement, Powell’s press conference following the meeting, and updated economic projections (last released in December 2017) for any hint of changes in the future path of Fed policy.

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Five Forecasters: Few Warning Signs

Our favorite leading indicators are signaling that further economic growth and stock market gains lie ahead. With the bull market celebrating its ninth birthday on March 9, we looked at some of our preferred leading economic and bull market indicators. We included LPL Research’s proprietary “Over Index” and two of the Five Forecasters (the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index and stock market breadth), in an effort to help assess the likelihood that the bull market will reach its tenth birthday in a year. This week, we will look at the remaining three forecasters: the Treasury yield curve, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Manufacturing Index, and stock valuations. Historically, these indicators — which are summarized in our Recession Watch Dashboard — have collectively signaled a transition to the latter stages of the economic cycle and an increased potential of an oncoming recession and bear market.

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February Employment Report

The February employment report crushed expectations for the number of jobs created (313,000 versus the consensus expectation of 205,000), but wage growth moderated from the surprising January levels. January’s numbers were also revised higher from 196,000 to 238,000, and the total two-month revision increased by 54,000. The headline number was the strongest result since July 2016, and points toward continued economic growth in the United States. However, wage growth, which had picked up to multi-year highs in January, weakened to 2.6% year over year from January’s downwardly revised 2.8% [Figure 1].

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The Bull is 9, Can It Make 10?

The bull market will celebrate its ninth birthday on March 9, 2018. During that nine-year period, the S&P 500 Index nearly increased fourfold in value including dividends, producing a total return of 385% (19.2% annualized) while rising almost 300% in price. The recent market volatility, driven by fears of tariffs, inflation, and monetary policy, has many wondering if this is the end of the road for the bull market. So how much might the current bull have left in the tank? Given that we are not seeing the warning signs that have historically signaled the ends of past bull markets, including excessive equity flows and activity in initial public offerings and mergers and acquisitions, we would not be surprised if the current bull market celebrates its record tenth birthday next year. This week, we look at some of our favorite bull market indicators and the signals that accompany them.

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Tariff Turbulence

On March 1, 2018, President Trump announced that the United States would be imposing a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% tariff on aluminum imports. The S&P 500 Index fell 2% on the news before rallying over the last two hours of trading to finish the day down 1.3%. Uncertainty extended into Friday, with the S&P 500 down over 1% early, then rallying over the remainder of the trading day to finish with a gain of over 0.5%. In this week’s commentary, we look at the potential economic impact of the announced tariffs, evaluate the equity market’s response, and, while not our base case, look at what it would take for equity market turbulence to turn into a full-blown tantrum.

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