August market commentary

In an uncertain market environment, which is better?

The U.S. stock market feasts on recession fears before regaining its risk appetite in late August

Key Takeaways

  • President Trump added, then delayed, another tariff on Chinese goods, exacerbating trade tensions and concerns about the strength of the global economy. As talks with China resume, Britain’s new prime minister attempts to achieve a ‘hard Brexit’, and the Eurozone PMI index falls into contraction territory.
  • The U.S. economic menu included something for everyone: for the pessimist, softer than expected gain in overall jobs with only 130,000 payroll growth in August. For the optimist, the broader measure of civilian employment surged by 590,000. Manufacturing remains a worry as contraction in that sector continues. Despite the generally stable U.S. economy, the Fed cut rates by -0.25% in July and is expected to cut again in September.
  • Conclusion: Tariffs and political uncertainty are depressing an already delicate global appetite for risk. The U.S. is buffered by its large domestic market and expanding trade with alternative suppliers, but isn’t immune to a global slowdown. Lower interest rates may provide a brief energy boost, but won’t develop core strength in business investment. With no political solution in sight, prudent investors should diversify exposure to provide a steady diet of modest returns while avoiding the binge/purge cycle of ‘chasing yield’.

Stocks are near record levels, but investors are uneasy

4Q2019 repeats 4Q2018?

As reported in the Wall Street Journal on September 9, despite a buoyant stock market so far this month, some investors fear the market may repeat the ‘binge and purge’ cycle experienced in 2018.

Looking as far back as 1928, September is historically the worst month of the year.[1] Given that most of the tensions which led to the market tumble last year are still present – trade tensions, global manufacturing slowdown, falling growth of corporate profits, and political uncertainty at home and abroad – concern may be warranted. Combine these headwinds with diminishing marginal returns from accommodative monetary policy, and we might finally be nearing the end of the longest economic expansion in recent memory. Not that we’re calling for a recession! Just that the growth engines of the global economy are beginning to run out of fuel.


Bonds have been a dietary staple during stock market volatility in recent quarters.

Despite the S&P 500 posting a year-to-date return of nearly 20% as of August 31st, bonds have actually outpaced stocks for the trailing 12-months. The severe tumble of the stock market in late 2018 and again in late July/early August gobbled up more losses than the 2019 recovery has been able to replenish. This despite continuing strength in the U.S. economy and corporate earnings generally surprising on the upside of – admittedly cautious – analyst expectations.

The Fed’s rate cut at the end of July sparked an increase in recession fears, though economic data remains modestly positive.

10-year Treasury yield barely above inflation

Decreasing short-term interest rates are unlikely to spark business appetites for borrowing or lending. While 2% short-term rates are great for speculators, they aren’t that much more enticing than 2.25% or 2.50% interest rates for strategic business investments. In fact, 10-year Treasury bond yields dropped so low in September that they provided no more than 0.25% returns above inflation. While marginal borrowers may consume more debt at these rates, long-term investors will need to look beyond the safest assets for a risk/reward balance that preserves purchasing power while promoting healthy growth.

Manufacturing businesses suffer from a restrictive diet of trade tariffs and global uncertainty.

While the U.S. economy overall remains on solid footing, trade-related businesses are hungry.

Housing starts stabilize

Jobless claims remain low

Retail sales rebound

Housing starts are stable, retail sales have rebounded, and initial claims for unemployment are the lowest in more than a decade…



…but U.S. manufacturers are in desperate need of an economic shot of Red Bull.

Rising global trade tensions in the wake of U.S. tariffs on steel, aluminum, and lumber imports, as well as those targeted specifically at China, are directly impacting manufacturing activity. According to the National Association for Business Economics (NABE)[1], 76% of goods-producing sector panelists and 42% of TUIC (transportation, utilities, information, communications) panelists reported negative net tariff impacts at their companies.

This impact is illustrated by the significant drop in durable goods orders over the past year or so.

Durable goods orders fall sharply


[Preceding charts source]

Increasing tariffs are not just eating the lunch of U.S. manufacturing companies. Global exporters are suffering greatly from decreased trade around the world. If we look back at the recovery from the Great Recession, emerging economies such as China are credited with helping the developed world get back on its feet. China in particular built roads, airports, and housing developments with abandon, which boosted earnings for global manufacturing companies, particularly steel and machinery.

But the Chinese economy has had its fill of infrastructure spending, reducing its appetite for imported goods going forward. Combined with the trade war between China and the U.S., exporters have lost a major customer. Eurozone manufacturers have already fallen into ‘contraction’ territory (PMI below 50), and the rest of the world isn’t much better.[3] And Fed Chairman Powell, if you’re listening, lower interest rates won’t have any effect on this trend! No matter how low rates go, businesses won’t go back to the buffet table when demand for their products is already satisfied.


Slowdown in China depresses global manufacturing

In an uncertain global economic environment with a reactionary U.S. stock market, diversification is even more important.

Barring major disruptions in trade negotiations, a disorderly ‘Brexit’, or increases in geopolitical unrest, the U.S. stock and bond markets could continue on their upward path for the rest of the year.

That being said, the chance of one of these elements going wrong is significant. Investors should continue to make healthy investment decisions to navigate this uncertain period. The best way to do this is to diversify.


A balanced menu of stocks, bonds, and alternative asset classes such as natural resources can provide welcome reduction in volatility while still supporting the pursuit of gains suitable for most investors’ appetites. Which isn’t to say even the most well-diversified investors won’t experience some indigestion along the way! But putting your investment eggs in several market baskets can avoid catastrophic losses and help you achieve a healthy balance of risk and return over the long term.

Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA

Senior Research Analyst, Warren Street Wealth Advisors








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Word on the Street – November 27th – December 1st

Word on the Street – November 27th – December 1st

Another brief conversation with our CIO on current events in the investing world…

A sit down with Blake Street, CFA, CFP® to discuss some current events in the news, their impact on investors, and his sentiment on some issues. Enjoy…

Trade War talks are still present as people were worried about the G20 meeting. Since our last conversation, where do you think we are now with the trade talks?

Blake Street: Specific to the US and China, much remains to be seen. At this point, we are still on the light end of threatened tariffs with escalation due here soon without further intervention. In recent days, the President has new motivation to come up with some type of remedy to re-instill confidence in the markets. One way would be to calm US & China trade tensions and get global growth back on track. It remains to be seen if this is the case. As we have seen in the recent past, sometimes these summits result in a lot of talk and no action. The G20 Summit resulted in a “truce” or “ceasefire” of sorts between the US & China, however, very little clarity has been provided and an arrest of the CFO of Huawei, China’s largest tech company, this morning (12/6/2018) could further inflame tensions.

General Motors seems to have suffered greatly due to the tariffs, among other things. Do you think that this is going to be a reoccurring theme for some US companies, or is this just a casualty of war?

B.S.: I don’t know if you can say they suffered greatly, but they are doing what every company should do which is look out for their long-term interests. They have spotted changes in their own market landscape that require a change in where they produce their products and what products they produce for consumers. Tariffs have certainly hurt their bottom line by increasing certain input costs and while this seems obvious in hindsight, a lot of industries from automotive manufacturers to agricultural producers have been harmed by trade tensions and tariffs.

Oil prices are down again as well. How with this impact both consumers at the pump and investors? What do you think the long-term trend will be?

B.S.: Consumers during the holiday season will benefit by keeping more money in their pocket. However, falling crude prices can also come with other adverse impacts such as slowing economies and weak investment markets. Historically, 30% declines in crude oil prices have correlated strongly to short-term bear markets, not always a recession.

Personally, I think the most recent selloff is overdone, and we will return to higher oil prices in the not too distant future. Case and point, I don’t think that demand has dropped off in a meaningful way, and we have not seen the type of supply buildups reminiscent of 2015, the last time we saw oil prices collapse.

On Wednesday (11/28/2018), Jerome Powell, Chair of the Federal Reserve, came out and said that the Fed Funds rate is approaching neutral. This news was a stark contrast to his October statements. What does this mean for the market as we approach 2019?

B.S.: Investors and markets alike were appeased to hear that we may be due for fewer rate hikes than initially priced in. Foreign markets have also been dealing with adverse effects of a strengthening US dollar and rising US interest rates. Markets overseas breathed a sigh of relief to hear of a potentially more accommodative Fed policy.

In my mind, an even bigger question mark is how the Fed continues to handle the unwinding of its balance sheet in the coming years. I’m also slightly concerned with President Trump’s recent politicization of the Fed. At the end of the day, Fed Chair Jerome Powell has a job to do, and it is not solely to provide octane to investment markets at the President’s request. I expect the Fed to remain focused on their traditional mandate and to shirk Presidential pressures.


Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss.