This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (November 1, 2016). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
Boo! Halloween has just passed and frightened investors have still survived to tell the tale in 2016. While most people have gotten spooked by the presidential election, other factors like record-high corporate profits, record-low interest rates, and reasonable valuations have led to annual stock market gains. More specifically, values have risen in 2016 by approximately +4% (or +6% including dividend payments). Despite last week’s accelerating 3rd quarter GDP economic growth figure of +2.9%, which was the highest rate in two years and more than doubled the rate of the previous quarter (up +1.4%), there were still more tricks than treats during October. Recently, scary politics have shocked many Halloween participants into a zombie-like state, as evidenced by stock values declining around -1.7% during October.
This recent volatility is nothing new. Even though financial markets are significantly higher in recent years, that has not prevented repeated corrections over the year(s) as shown below in the 2009 – 2015 chart.
In order to earn higher long-term returns, investors have to accept a certain amount of short-term price movements (upwards and downwards). With a couple months remaining in the year, stock investors have achieved gains through a tremendous amount of economic and geopolitical uncertainty, including the following scares:
- China: A significant fallout from a Chinese slowdown at the beginning of the year (stocks fell about -14%).
- Brexit: A 48-hour Brexit vote scare in June (stocks fell -6%).
- Fed Fears: Threatening comments in September from the Federal Reserve about potentially hiking increasing interest rates (stocks fell -4%).
With the elections just a week away, political anxiety has jolted Americans’ adrenaline levels. The polls continue to move up and down, but as I have repeatedly pointed out, the only certain winner in Washington DC is gridlock. Sure, in a Utopian world, politicians should join hands and compromise to solve all our country’s serious problems. Unfortunately, this is not the case (see Congress’s approval rating). However, there is a silver lining to this dysfunction…gridlock can lead to fiscal discipline.
Our country’s debt/deficit financial situation has been spiraling out of control, in large measure due to rapidly rising entitlement spending, including Medicare, and Social Security. Witnessing all the political rhetoric and in-fighting is very difficult, but as I highlighted in last month’s newsletter, gridlock has flattened the spending curve significantly since 2009 – a positive development.
And although the economic recovery has been one of the slowest since World War II and global growth remains anemic, the U.S. remains a better house in a bad global neighborhood (e.g., Europe and Japan continue to suck wind), as evidenced by a number of these following positive economic indicators:
- Employment Improvement: Unemployment has fallen from 10% to 5% since 2009, and more than 15 million jobs have been added over that period.
- Housing Recovery Continues: Home sales and prices continue their multi-year rise; housing inventories remain tight; and affordability remains strong, given generationally low interest rates.
- Record Auto Sales: Car sales remain near record levels, hovering around 17 million units per year.
- Consumer Confidence on the Rise: Ever since the financial crisis, consumer sentiment figures have rebounded by about 50%.
Record Consumer Sales: Consumer spending accounts for approximately 70% of our economy, and as you can see from the chart below, despite consumers saving more, stronger employment and wages are fueling more spending.
Absent a clean sweep of control by the Democrat or Republican Presidential-Congressional candidates, our democratic system will retain its healthy status of checks and balances. Based on all the current polling data, a split between the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives remains a very high likelihood scenario.
The political process has been especially exhausting during the current cycle, but regardless of whether your candidate wins or loses, much of the current uncertainty will likely dissipate. As the saying goes, at least it is “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”
After the November 8th elections are completed, there will be one less election to worry about. Thankfully, after 25 years in the industry, I’m not naïve enough to believe there will be nothing else to worry about. When the financial media and blogosphere get bored, at a minimum, you can guarantee yourself plenty of useless coverage regarding the next monetary policy move by the Federal Reserve (see also Fed Fatigue).
Whatever the next set of worries become, U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill said it best as it relates to American politics and economics, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” If Churchill’s words don’t provide comfort and you had fun getting spooked over the elections on Halloween, feel free to keep wearing your costume. Behind any constructive economic data, the prolific media machine will continue doing their best in manufacturing plenty of fear, uncertainty, and doubt to keep you worried.