2016 Review

“If you want to see the sunshine you have to weather the storm.” In its first 3 weeks, 2016 delivered investors more than a 10 percent loss–the worst start in 80 years. Our natural human instinct at such moments is to feel that it will continue, but predicting the markets is extremely difficult.

In a dramatic turnaround, the U.S. stock market rose in February and March–recording the best recovery in 83 years.

(1) Fed will move slowly. The Federal Reserve planned to raise rates 4 times in 2016. This aggressive forecast in combination with falling oil prices spooked investors. Then came the uncertainty of Brexit and the U.S. elections. By year end, the Fed raised rates just once (in December).

(2) Election years are not recession years. I expected the economy to grow and for the market to continue to rise as our bull market entered its 8th year.

This positive outlook proved beneficial in the early days of 2016 when the resolve of many investors was tested. The market turned positive and remained there for most of the year.

(3) United States grows and the dollar slows. A strong U.S. dollar is not as good as it sounds. Sure, it’s great for Americans traveling overseas, but it presents challenges for large U.S. companies and investors.

The year began with too much strength: From July 2014 to January 2016, our dollar rose against every major currency around the globe! It gained 20 percent versus the euro and 54 percent versus the Russian ruble!

Fortunately, the U.S. dollar spent 9 of the last 12 months below January 2016 levels. That gave investors more opportunity as we invested globally.

This international diversification helped a great deal until a great divide formed in November.

These investments have taken a break as U.S. stocks rose in November, but I believe the worldwide economy still looks positive and may offer benefits to investors again in 2017.

Stocks Predict Elections

Yes, stocks can help predict who will be the next President of the United States. While this particular election season has been filled with an unusual amount of conflict, the stock market has been surprisingly calm.

What does this calm predict? Very little, so far. Direction of the market in the final 90 days is what matters.

election-prediction

In 19 of the 22 presidential elections the change in the stock market in the 90 days preceding the election has correctly revealed the winner.

When the market rises during these 90 days then the incumbent’s political party wins. When the market falls then the opposite occurs.

In August, the market was flat, which means that this election may be closer than some polls currently predict. Of course, there are no guarantees.

Election Year Update on Markets

The bull market is seven years old. Global growth is anemic and corporate profits are no longer rising. These suggest that bad times are ahead, but I don’t believe it. I believe the U.S. consumer and the U.S. economy will continue to rise.

In January I made three predictions for the New Year. This month I would like to review these predictions with a special emphasis on the election—not only because I have been right (so far), but because each is helping the economy press forward.

Election Year

(1) The Fed will move slowly.
The Federal Reserve entered the year expecting to raise rates four times. In recognition of slow global economies, it now plans to encourage growth by keeping rates low. Moving rates up only twice this year could be better for stocks and bonds.

(2) Election years are not recession years.
Investors fear uncertainty, and election years have experienced greater fluctuations than other years. The stock market typically begins the year a little slower and then recovers before spring. Summer slowdowns occur most years, but in election years they come earlier.

Regardless of which party has a candidate in the lead, stocks typically improve as the election gets nearer. In fact, many investors are tempted to stay away until after Election Day. This simple strategy would have only delivered lost opportunity in most election years. The greatest gains actually occur in the months leading up to the election. By the way, keep an eye on the market in September and October, because a strong stock market preceding the election also appears to favor the incumbents and their parties.
I do not expect the current rally that began in February to continue without disruption. From February 11, 2016, through the end of March 2016, the S&P 500 rallied 12.6 percent. If it continued at that rate for the rest of the year, we would have a whopping 150 percent return. The market will slow down and election year history suggests this will take place in April.

Since 1927, the U.S. stock market has been positive in election years 80 percent of the time. Remember, there are no guarantees. An election year had not had a bear market loss of -20 percent anytime in the last 50 years, then came the worst presidential-election year. In 2008 the Dow lost over 38 percent. The best election year was in 1996 when the Dow gained 26 percent. Since 1900, the average has been a positive 7.3 percent.

I don’t recommend sticking our heads in the sand or placing our investment dollars on the sideline. Staying invested for the long-run is a critical part of a solid strategy.

(3) The United States will grow and the dollar will slow.
The 500 companies in the S&P 500 index receive roughly half of all their sales from overseas. So, when the dollar rises by 30 percent like it did in 2014 and 2015, it really depresses profits and makes stocks look less attractive.

The good news is that this trend has slowed down and maybe even reversed. The U.S. dollar declined in value by 4 percent in the first quarter of 2016. I view this as a positive, since we are coming off such lofty highs. The changing value of the dollar should improve U.S. growth in 2016.

When Will Stocks Go Higher?

Stocks got off to a rough start in January and February as investors began to fear another recession. At the same time, consumers continued to keep the U.S. economy moving in the right direction. This divergence caused us to ask, which one is right? Are things getting better or worse? If the market is going to improve how strong will it be? Below is a list of what I think we need for stocks to move to new highs. Feel free to check the boxes if they become a reality.

check

(1) Oil prices stabilize.
Investors need a dose of reality: low oil prices are good for the economy. Falling oil prices often follow, but do not lead to, recessions. What we need is for prices to stop declining so rapidly.

Oil is falling because the global supply is much
greater than demand. Even at these low prices, producers need to pump oil for cash. Fortunately, the decline is slowing. This is because demand and supply are getting close to a balanced level.

Global oil demand is at 96.5 million barrels/day and growing at 1.5%. Global supply is at 96.9 million barrels/day and is currently falling at a rate of -0.5%. This does not mean prices will move significantly higher, but they may stop falling.

With sanctions lifted, Iran could boost supply by 4 million barrels/day. Demand won’t grow fast enough to balance that much oil for a few years.

So, get used to low oil prices. They may be with us for a while–probably until several indebted producers cease oil production. At that point, oil prices could rise a little, fear over corporate debt should ease, and stocks will be more likely to climb.

(2) Political frontrunners emerge.
Who will be the next President of the United States? Investors are uncomfortable with this uncertainty, but they don’t have to wait until Election Day to feel better. With each election primary, the uncertainty diminishes.

(3) The Fed acknowledges global volatility.
What happened to “data dependence”? With its December rate hike the Federal Reserve announced that it intends to slowly raise rates in 2016 and 2017. It defined slowly as four rate hikes of 25 basis points each.

Rather than applaud transparency, investors have questioned the Fed’s determination.

Globally, central banks are doing the opposite: dropping rates to levels below zero in order to encourage risk taking, economic growth, and job creation.

(4) Evidence of consumer spending increases.
Will consumers continue to hold up this economy? The U.S. consumer represents 70% of the U.S. economy. China, on the other hand, represents approximately 2% of direct trade with the United States. That means that the consumer is 35 times more important.

Consumers are stronger than any time in the last 25 years. They are pocketing roughly $1,000 a year in energy savings. In 2015, spending increased 3% while purchases rose for autos (+5.8%) and homes (+7.5%).

With all of the good news about the consumer, the main concern is if these numbers are peaking. I think not. Unemployment is low (4.9%). Job postings are high (5.4 million). Wages and salaries increased by a reasonable and healthy level (+2.9%).

The final bit of good news on the consumer is that their debt-to-income levels are near their lowest point since the government started tracking them in 1981. That means there is still room for this 70% of the economy
to grow.

Investing in 2016 The Fed and Election Years

January MarketPoint_Page_1

(1) Historically, when rates rise they rise sharply, but “this time will be different.” This phrase raises a red flag. However, I see no need for the Federal Reserve to increase rates quickly. Our economy is growing slowly and inflation is near zero.

Oil and food are unlikely to keep dropping in 2016 like they did in 2015. So, inflation may rise. (Without food and energy inflation is currently 2 percent.)

The Fed stated it may raise rates 4 times this year, but I am not convinced it will do that many.

Normally, rate hikes would be negative for bonds, but U.S. bonds are still paying attractive dividends compared to others overseas.

(2) Election years are not recession years. The economy will expand as the recovery in the United States enters its 8th year. The next slowdown is coming and no one knows when. However, I don’t see convincing data for its arrival in 2016.

Election years usually start positive, slow down in the summer, and then rally in autumn–similar to most years. However, the rally in the fall does not typically begin after election day like many investors believe. It usually begins before the uncertainty is over–catching many off guard that are waiting. The average for a presidential election year is 9 percent.

(3) United States grows and the dollar slows. Global diversification should help investors in 2016, but the United States will continue to be a financial leader. Global returns will hinge on the U.S. dollar.

Since July 2014, our dollar has risen in value against every major currency around the globe! It gained 20 percent versus the euro and 54 percent versus the Russian ruble!

Why the big move? In all the world, our economy is one of the best and we are the only ones raising rates. Both of these make our dollar more attractive to global investors.

With so many countries lowering rates to stimulate growth, it is possible their economies will strengthen and the dollar’s rise will slow. Overall, this would be good news. It would likely help those that have diversified globally.

market graph

Does 2015 offer any clues as to what 2016 will bring? In 2015, the S&P 500 finished within 1 percent of where it started. This has only happened in 4 previous years (1947, 1948, 1978, 2011). What happened following those respective years? In 3 out of 4, the market was up more than 10 percent. The outlier was 1947. It was followed by another low return year and then came the double digit. Of course, there are no guarantees.

History does firmly support the value of diversification and investing over the long run.

 

*Research by SFS. Data from Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Investing involves risk, including potential loss of principal. The S&P 500, S&P 600, and Dow Jones Global are indexes considered to represent major areas of stock markets. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.