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Investor Discussions - Q4|2016 Commentary


Wealth & Pension Services Group
William Kring, CFP, AIF - Chief Investment Officer
01/12/2017


Q4|2016 Commentary

The Quarter In Brief

Two events strongly influenced U.S. and foreign financial markets in the fourth quarter – one unexpected by many, the other widely anticipated. Neither of them particularly upset investors. Donald Trump’s win in the presidential election led to a rally on Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve’s December interest rate hike was taken in stride, even as our central bank’s monetary policy stood out globally for its hawkishness. The S&P 500 ended up gaining 3.25% in three months. The United Kingdom scheduled its Brexit, and OPEC elected to trim oil output for the first time in eight years. Oil rallied, and so did the dollar; precious metals retreated. The housing sector showed strength even as mortgage rates ascended. On the whole, the most-watched U.S. economic indicators were encouraging.1

Domestic Economic Health 

On December 14, the Federal Reserve announced its second quarter-point rate hike in two years. The federal funds rate was reset at the 0.50-0.75% range, and the central bank’s latest dot-plot forecast showed three planned rate moves in 2017 instead of the previously projected two. Fed officials emphasized that oncoming tightening will be “gradual.”2

As Q4 ended, consumer confidence indices looked very impressive. The Conference Board’s monthly index was well over the 100 mark at 109.4 by November, and then it pushed further north to 113.0 in December. The University of Michigan’s household sentiment gauge sat at 87.2 in October, then rose to 93.8 in November and 98.2 for December.4,5  

Consumer spending accelerated 0.4% in October, but only half that in November. Consumer incomes rose 0.5% in October, and then flattened a month after that. Core retail sales (minus car and gasoline purchases) followed a similar pattern: up 0.5% in October and 0.2% in November. (Perhaps the December numbers will show more upside.)7  

As energy costs rose, the annualized gain in the headline Producer Price Index went from 0.8% in October to 1.3% in November. (By November, the core PPI showed a 1.6% yearly gain.) Consumer inflation remained beneath the Federal Reserve’s 2% target. As of November, the Consumer Price Index was up but 1.7% in 12 months, with the core CPI up 2.1%. The Federal Reserve’s core PCE price index was 1.8% higher year-over-year in October, but that number declined to 1.6% in November.7  

Global Economic Health

The eurozone economy had expanded only 0.3% in Q3, and by November, euro area yearly inflation was still at 0.6%, with six member nations (among them Greece and Ireland) experiencing year-over-year consumer price deflation. Populist movements in France, Germany, and Italy gained traction, most notably Italy’s Five Star Movement. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned in November after his party’s attempt at constitutional reform was voted down by the electorate; the Five Star Movement has vowed to hold a national vote on whether or not Italy should stay in the European Union if it assumes power in 2018.8,9  

Teresa May, the United Kingdom’s prime minister, announced her country would make its Brexit from the E.U. as early as the summer of 2019, by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty no later than the end of March. May expected the U.K. to have a full role in E.U. policymaking through 2019.            

Looking Back at the Numbers...

% CHANGE

2016

Q4 CHG

S & P

11.96%

3.82%

AGG

2.65%

-2.98%

EAFE

1.00%

-0.71%

Looking Forward

The fourth-quarter performances, noted in the accompanying table, left the big three U.S. equity indices nicely positive, with international developed equities providing only minimal gains (partly due to a strong US dollar) and bonds finally sagging under the start of interest rate hikes.

Investors are entering the first quarter with a good deal of optimism, but also with an awareness that anything could happen. Wall Street has been bullish on the incoming Trump administration, and that confidence will likely continue as it begins to shape policy in Washington. At the same time, market participants are keeping a cautious eye on the Fed, the strong dollar, and the possibility of a stock bubble inflated by euphoria. Economic signals have looked much better of late than they did a year ago, and the stock market appears to be on much sturdier legs than it was at the beginning of 2016, when it fell precipitously. With the earnings recession having faded away, perhaps the market will get a boost this next earnings season that will lift the Dow above 20,000. For this best-case scenario to emerge, domestic and global belief in the new president and his administration needs to be strong and sustained, and geopolitical events from overseas need to be tolerable for the bulls. It will be an interesting first quarter.  


William Kring, CFP®, AIF®
Chief Investment Officer



Source: 

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