The Fed has historically been the level-headed kid at the party, always trying to calm things down when they got out of hand. But that appears to no longer be the case, as Powell surprised even the most dovish investors with his very soft statements last week. What comes next may shock markets—some think the Fed will make a rare 50 bp cut in their July meeting. How the market would react is anyone’s guess (likely positive initially). “Historically the Fed has wanted shock and awe when they ease”, says the CIO of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management.
FINSUM: The Fed seems like it wants to go big, despite the fact that unemployment is at record low levels and prices are stable. The central bank clearly wants to keep the bull market rolling.
Jerome Powell’s performance could not have been much better. He gave exactly what the people wanted—dovishness. In fact, if anything, he was almost comically dovish, disregarding the very strong jobs performance last month. No matter though, investors are pleased as it now looks nearly 100% likely the Fed will cut rates later this month, and seems as though they will stay on a cutting path for some time. The Fed’s shift in policy appears to affirm that they are currently considering the condition of the global economy as a major threat to the US.
FINSUM: The Fed is in a pretty easy spot if you think about it. Inflation is very low, markets want cuts, and the global economy is looking weak. Simple solution with no real downside—cut rates.
Greedy is not usually a word associated with anything positive, but in this instance it seems fair. What we mean is that the market’s performance through the first half of this year has been so good, that investors need to double down on stocks. That likely sounds counterintuitive, but history tells us otherwise. When stocks have a good first half (and they surely have), then they are 60% more likely to finish the year strongly as well. On that basis it would make sense for investors to put more money into equities or at least don’t take any chips off the table.
FINSUM: We like this logic. While we do have some bearish reservations about the market right now, we think Trump is going to make sure to not do anything to derail stocks, as doing so might derail his re-election campaign.
Something the market has not had to deal with for some time is once again occurring. That change? Slumping buybacks. Hiked dividends and big buybacks have been staples of the this historic bull run, but the latter are starting drying up. Share repurchases shrank for the first time in seven quarters in the second quarter. The total amount of buybacks—over $200 bn—is still quite robust, but it is a sign that companies are tightening up, which could be indicative of the overall direction of the economy.
FINSUM: This is immaterial. In 2018, companies spent $800 bn on buybacks, so $205.8 bn (the 2nd quarter’s figure) is actually ahead of pace.
Yesterday was an ugly reminder of the fourth quarter. The Nasdaq fell 3.4%, its worst decline since December 4th. The S&P 500 wasn’t much better. The big falls came on the announcement that Trump was considering raising tariffs on a further $300 bn of Chinese imports following the failure of negotiations last week. Investors are anxious that the trade war may continue to escalate and impact the global economy. One economist summarized the situation this way, saying “The confrontation has now escalated to a battle of testosterone between two leaders who believe they have much to prove to their constituents. But the longer this exhibition of chest-beating lasts, the greater the odds of a US, if not global, recession”.
FINSUM: Though recently we have been more placid, a couple of months ago we were worried that a deal might be hard to complete because of how much China has on the line politically. The country’s unelected leaders need to keep their people happy, which means the stakes are incredibly high for them.