The Inaugural Rate Cut

It could be a momentous week for U.S. monetary policy. The Federal Reserve (Fed) is expected to cut its policy interest rate for the first time in 10 years on July 31, the last day of its next policy meeting [Figure 1].

The Fed has strongly hinted toward a rate cut at this meeting, even prepping investors for this decision with a language shift at its June meeting. Still, this is uncharted territory for much of Wall Street, as well as the current set of Fed central bankers.

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More on Fed Rate Cut Implications

The Federal Reserve (Fed) is likely to start an easing cycle this week, which has several investment implications. We have written a fair amount about the Fed’s U-turn in policy stance this year, including last week’s Weekly Market Commentary. That reversal from raising rates to presumably lowering them will become a reality if the Fed cuts rates at this week’s policy meeting, which concludes on Wednesday, July 31. Here we look at some potential asset allocation implications from this monetary policy transition.

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Riding The Wave…For Now

The S&P 500 Index is very close to our year-end target of 3,000. The S&P 500 is up nearly 20% year to date and, after first closing above our year-end fair value target range July 12, it now stands less than 1% from our target [Figure 1]. Now that we’ve reached our target, is it time to sell? Here we provide some context for our stock market forecast to help explain why we haven’t raised our fair value target or recommended investors reduce their equities allocations.

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Q2 Earnings: Muddling Through

Second quarter earnings season gets rolling this week. Consensus estimates are calling for a modest year-over-year decline in S&P 500 Index earnings amid the downshift in U.S. and international economic growth, tariffs, and ongoing trade tensions. Quarterly earnings almost always beat quarter-end consensus estimates—this quarter will likely be the 41st in a row to do that—so we expect a slight year-over-year gain that would continue the stretch of consecutive quarterly earnings gains since the 2016 earnings recession [Figure 1]. Nearly60 companies will report this week (July 15–19). Here we preview second-quarter earnings season and share our outlook for profits in the second half of 2019.

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Taking Stock at the Halfway Mark

Even after such a strong first half of this year, we think stocks may have more left in the tank. The S&P 500 Index gained 17.4% during the first half of 2019—an excellent performance—even though a decent chunk of those gains reversed the 2018 fourth quarter losses. Putting that six-month performance into perspective, it was the best start to a year for the stock market since 1997, and its tenth-best start since 1950. This week we recap the first half and analyze prior strong starts to see what we might expect in the second half of 2019.

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Stock Fundamentals Still Supportive

We expect stocks to move higher over the second half of the year. Stocks already have had quite a run in 2019, buoyed by a return to fundamentals, with the S&P 500 Index up 17.4% year to date through June 28 for an 18.5% total return. The decision by the Federal Reserve (Fed) to pause rate hikes was the catalyst for the reversal, as market participants no longer feared that the Fed might unnecessarily restrict growth. U.S. economic data also have generally supported a continued economic expansion, while businesses continue to find ways to effectively navigate the environment. Generally upbeat first-quarter corporate earnings results gave investors another fundamental reason to bid stocks higher.

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