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Investor Discussions - Q3|2016 Commentary

Wealth & Pension Services Group
William Kring, CFP, AIF - Chief Investment Officer

Q3|2016 Commentary

The Quarter In Brief

The economy seemed to hit a soft patch this summer, but stocks carried onward and upward – the S&P 500 advanced for a fourth straight quarter in Q3, rising about 3.5%. Markets were notably placid for much of the quarter, even with two major banking scandals, multiple terror attacks, and the latest dispatches from an especially contentious presidential race in the headlines. As Q3 went on, the Federal Reserve all but signaled to investors to expect a rate hike before the end of the year. Home sales, residential construction, factory activity, and consumer spending seemed to wane in the quarter, but consumers grew more confident.1

Domestic Economic Health 

As Wall Street mulled over the chances of a fall interest rate increase, some economic indicators pointed to a summer slowdown. In August, the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing purchasing managers index went under 50 (49.4), meaning the sector had contracted for the month. Both industrial and manufacturing production declined 0.4%. Durable goods orders, up 3.6% for July, were suddenly flat. Retail sales fell off by 0.3%, and personal spending was flat after an 0.4% gain in July (personal incomes did manage to rise another 0.2%).2,3

The pace of hiring also moderated in August, though July’s number was revised upward in September. Employers added 275,000 new jobs in July, 151,000 for August. The headline jobless rate (4.9%), the U-6 rate counting the underemployed and the unemployed (9.7%), and the labor force participation rate (62.8%) were exactly the same in both months.4 

Consumer inflation picked up, but wholesale inflation did not. By August, the Consumer Price Index had advanced 1.1% in a year, as opposed to 0.8% in the 12 months ending in July. Core consumer prices were up 2.3% year-over-year by August. In annualized terms, the Producer Price Index showed no change from a year earlier in August; in monthly terms, the PPI fell 0.4% in July and was flat a month later. Core inflation, as measured by the Federal Reserve, increased 0.1% in July, 0.2% in August.2,3

Speaking of the Federal Reserve, it left interest rates alone during Q3. It did, however, clue Wall Street in on the probability of a Q4 rate hike: its latest dot-plot forecast showed consensus for one, and the vote against raising the federal funds rate at its September policy meeting was close (7-3). After the vote was announced, Fed chair Janet Yellen remarked that FOMC members were “generally pleased with how the U.S. economy is doing” – a notably sunny viewpoint. On September 29, she made further headlines by commenting how useful it would be if the Fed could buy securities and corporate bonds to stimulate the economy in a recession (something it is currently prohibited from doing).8,9

Global Economic Health

While Wells Fargo faced Congress for its transgressions (fake accounts? Come on Wells Fargo!), trouble at another, even larger banking giant emerged during Q3. Deutsche Bank looked increasingly shaky after failing the U.S. government’s bank stress test early this summer and barely passing the equivalent test in the European Union. S&P Global Ratings lowered its outlook for DB to negative. By the end of the quarter, CNBC and AFP were reporting that DB was trying to negotiate $14 billion in fines it owed to the Department of Justice down to the $5 billion level; indications were that the German government had no intention to bail the bank out should its situation worsen.1,11              

As stocks go, the international developed market (EAFE) outpaced the S&P for the quarter but still lag the US on a year to date basis.

Looking Back at the Numbers...






S&P 500

Large US Stocks





Large Int’l Stocks




Barclay’s AGG

US Core Bonds




Looking Forward

This is the time of year when bulls yearn for an extended rally. Will they get it? Will S&P 500 earnings surpass (low) expectations? Will the market confidently ride through the election, whatever the outcome? Will it simply and calmly price in a rate hike, assuming that happens? Will investors shrug off any unsettling headlines, whether from home or from overseas? If the market can answer “yes” to those last four questions, the quarter could see impressive gains for the major indices. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence research, the S&P 500 has risen an average of 5% in the fourth quarter since 1990, and advanced in the fourth quarter more than 70% of the time since 1945. The past has little or no influence upon future market behaviors, but even with continued slow economic growth, the overall market mood is still bullish – so perhaps investors will look at earnings first this quarter, then other factors. It is sure to be an eventful and possibly turbulent three months.26 

Finally, as fourth quarter unfolds, we will likely see the markets assess the economic impact of Hurricane Matthew.

William Kring, CFP®, AIF®
Chief Investment Officer


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