3rd Quarter Market Commentary

Brexit, Zika, Election, Oh My!

By Darren Munn, CFA

This quarter is a perfect example of how the market, and society in general, jumps from one fear to the next.  The vast majority of the time, the fears come and go with little lasting effect.  The end of the 2nd quarter ended with a bout of volatility over Brexit fears.  As the third quarter started in July, the market bounced right back and now Brexit is hardly mentioned anymore.  Then, with the Olympics in August, the Zika virus became a hot topic with fears of worldwide outbreaks.  Yet not a single athlete contracted the virus.  Now, attention has turned to the election and the fears of what will happen when the results come in.  Yet the market continues to be resilient in the face of the fears.  As the old adage goes, “the market climbs a wall of worry.”  

Many clients are asking about the impact of the election.  In our last letter, we discussed how the market hates uncertainty.  In the short term, until there is a certain and clear winner, both for president and congress, the market will probably bounce around with little progress.  Once there is certainty about our next slate of leaders, I believe the market will likely celebrate with some small gains, regardless of who is elected.  

Longer term, I don’t believe the President has as much impact as many believe, but there is certainly impact.  The result of the election will affect our expectations for future economic growth, which will influence how the markets do over the next 5-10 years.  But this impact will likely only be marginal.

The third quarter was the best of the year for stocks and the worst for bonds – both of which have done reasonably well for the year.  For both stocks and bonds, nearly all of the return for the third quarter came in July, with essentially flat markets in August and September.  

Positives

  • Employment continued to be steady with the unemployment rate at 4.9% and job openings increased to 5.8 million.
  • Low oil & gas prices continue to save money for consumers.
  • Oil & gas rig counts have continued increasing over the last few months, which is helping to stabilize the energy sector of the economy.
  • Housing has continued moderate--but choppy--growth.  Low interest rates have helped keep prices affordable.

Challenges & Risks

  • Economic growth has been very sluggish: Q1 = .8%, Q2 = 1.4%
  • Oil price declines are still working through the system and we are seeing the expected defaults from many energy companies.  
  • Oil dipped during the quarter, but came right back to the $50 range.  So we got to enjoy some nice gas prices a little bit longer.  But the end of sub-$2.00 gas is likely upon us.
  • Interest rates – the Federal Reserve still did not raise interest rates in September and now only expects one increase for the year.  The uncertainly has affected the markets and they seem to have painted themselves into a corner for a December rate hike just like last year.
  • Government regulation is a huge drag.  Health care costs are continuing to rise significantly & government interference in several areas (finance, education, energy) continue to limit economic growth.

Frankly, we are pleasantly surprised with how well the market has done this year considering the weak economic growth and uncertainty surrounding the election.  Times like these reinforce the proven wisdom of diversification and not trying to time or predict the market.