Why the Stock Market Is as Streaky as a Slice of Bacon


Written by: Jon McGraw

U.S. stock markets have been sliding higher. They’ve been sliding lower.

Barron’s reported the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has tumbled from gains to losses and back again for 10 weeks in a row. The Dow Jones Industrial Index has tagged along with nine weeks of flip-flops. You’d almost think they were running for office.

There are market optimists. There are market pessimists.

The American Association of Individual Investors’ weekly survey of investor sentiment reported 34.6 percent of respondents were bullish. That’s up from the previous week. Thirty-five percent of respondents were bearish. That’s also up from last week. What’s down? Neutral sentiment. More people are forming opinions about the possible direction of the market.

There are questions that need to be answered.

Will the Federal Reserve begin to raise rates this week? Some say yes. Some say no. Barron’s said it’s too close to call. There is no clear consensus, Fed officials have given mixed signals, and the bond market has not priced in a rate hike. If the Fed does raise rates, experts cited by Barron’s said markets could get ugly for a little while or they could remain calm. A lot depends on the wording of the Fed’s statement.

Have Chinese markets stabilized? MarketWatch reported the Shanghai Composite Index finished last week higher. It was the first positive weekly outcome in a month. Chinese authorities, once again, are taking steps to stabilize markets. The Economist offered this thought: “As China’s financial markets develop, its stock market will become less bumpy. For now, investors must remember that many things are bigger in China, including the daily ups and down of its stock market.”

Will the U.S. government shut down again? It’s in the hands of our elected officials.

Data as of 9/11/15 1-Week Y-T-D 1-Year 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year
Standard & Poor’s 500 (Domestic Stocks) 2.1% -4.8% -1.8% 11.0% 12.1% 4.7%
Dow Jones Global ex-U.S. 1.8 -7.2 -14.1 1.7 0.8 1.2
10-year Treasury Note (Yield Only) 2.2 NA 2.5 1.7 2.8 4.2
Gold (per ounce) -1.6 -8.3 -11.4 -14.1 -2.4 9.4
Bloomberg Commodity Index 0.5 -14.8 -26.9 -15.7 -8.3 -6.1
DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index 2.2 -7.0 0.2 7.2 10.8 6.3

Are We Seeing the Big Picture?

It’s safe to say many people are worried about whether economic growth—in the United States and abroad—will be stifled by changing monetary policy in the United States. As a result, all eyes have been on the Federal Reserve, which is expected to begin raising the Fed funds rates sometime soon.

However, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy isn’t the only game in town. Fiscal policy—the actions taken by our government—can also have a profound effect on economic growth. A Brookings blog post in July, “Fiscal Headwinds Are Abating,” reported:

“Tight fiscal policy by local, state, and federal governments held down economic growth for more than four years, but that restraint finally appears to be over … Fiscal policy is no longer a source of contraction for the economy, but neither is it a source of strength.”

The blog post discusses the reasons that government spending has held back economic growth. At the federal level, contraction was attributed to “… tight caps on annually appropriated spending and the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.” The organization’s Federal Impact Measure (FIM), which estimates the effect of federal, state and local spending (and taxes) on gross domestic product growth, suggests federal spending caused economic growth to be 0.35 percentage points lower per year, on average, between 2011 and 2013.

There is talk of a government shutdown at the end of September. If it happens, it could have an effect on economic growth. The last time the government shut down was in 2013. Experts cited by the BBC reported the 2013 shutdown cost the U.S. economy about $24 billion and reduced quarterly economic growth by 0.6 percent. That shutdown lasted 16 days.

It is possible economic growth may slow for some period of time. It’s also possible monetary policy, fiscal policy and other factors may be responsible.

Weekly Fun—Think About It

“My best friend is the man who in wishing me well wishes it for my sake.”

Aristotle, Greek philosopher

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