The roller coaster ride in the stock market continued this week, albeit with smaller moves than we saw last week. Let's jump in and look at a few of the factors the market is grappling with.
Stock Market Volatility
We have seen stock market volatility spike higher in recent weeks. This spike began when Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell, indicated during an interview that interest rates remained a long way from neutral, a point where interest rates are neither restrictive or accommodative of economic growth. This comment moved investors to sell bonds, and saw interest rates jump higher as we detailed last week.
While there are genuine concerns that the Fed could raise rates too far, too fast, it is not a surprise to see higher market volatility as interest rates go higher. We believe the stock market can handle higher interest rates, however, sharp moves higher in rates like we have seen a few times in 2018 will lead to higher volatility. A key point to remember is that October is historically the most volatile month of the year for stocks.
This earnings season has been very good so far with strong earnings reports from the likes of Proctor & Gamble, United Healthcare, Netflix, PayPal, CSX and many more. Third quarter earnings growth for companies in the S&P 500 are coming in at 22% so far. This outstanding growth has exceeded virtually every forecast analysts had coming into the year. This also comes on the heels of 25% growth in the first half of this year.
Not all news has been great on the earnings front. Any company involved in housing or autos has struggled due to several factors, including rising interest rates. The housing market in particular has cooled, as higher interest rates mean higher mortgage payments for consumers looking to buy a new home or refinance. Existing home sales fell for the 6th straight month to 3-year low. We will be watching for signs of housing to firm.
From a technical perspective, the S&P 500 closed yesterday right on its 200-day moving average.This moving average has been key support for the stock market going back to the strong run that began after the election in November 2016. Some investors who are trend-followers like to buy when the market is above the 200 DMA and sell when the market drops below the 200 DMA.
The slowdown in the Chinese economy continues, with 3rd quarter GDP growth slowing to 6.5%. This was the lowest rate of growth in China since 2009. The Chinese stock market has also seen a significant decline of 25% so far in 2018. That being said, expect the Chinese government to step up with measures to support the economy and the stock market. There are plenty of levers the government can pull in the short-run.
The trade dispute currently taking place between the U.S. and China continues with no signs of a resolution in the short-term. One concern some have voiced is that China could dump U.S. Treasuries on the market causing interest rates in the U.S. to soar, thus slowing the U.S. economy. China currently owns over $1 trillion of U.S. Treasuries. Click below for a detailed analysis of the situation which explains while it is highly unlikely China will go down this path as it would likely hurt China far more than the U.S.
So while the U.S. showdown with China, fear of rising interest rates and the slowdown in housing and autos are clearly worth watching, it is also the case that we are in the midst of the best stretch of economic growth in the U.S. since the late 90's. Pro-growth economic policies have led to incredible increase in company earnings, the strongest small-business sentiment in 35 years and a surge in capital investment.
As October winds down, volatility could remain elevated in the run-up to the mid-terms as markets work through the issues detailed above. Last week we raised an extra 5%-7% of cash in our portfolios, giving us more dry powder if the market volatility continues.