The Perfect Calm

Economic growth continues, and although this cycle has been the slowest recovery in post-war history, the slower growth has allowed for a prolonged cycle. Inflation remains low—since peaking in 1980, the U.S. has experienced consistent disinflation. The latest PCE price index figures showed a 1.6% rate, leaving inflation below the Fed’s preferred 2% level since '08, so stimulus continues, keeping interest rates at low levels. The 10-year U.S. Treasury bond hovers around 2.3% and rates in other developed nations are even lower. Unemployment in the U.S. has fallen to 4.1%, near full employment for the economy.

And the variation in these statistics has been minimal. At the same time, the prolonged steady growth has allowed for record corporate profits, led by record high profit margins. No wonder that the stock market is at all-time highs and volatility is at all-time lows. If December is yet another positive month for the S&P 500, it will have been the first time in history that all 12 calendar months were up. Perhaps just a quirk of the calendar, but it’s already noteworthy that there have been 13 up months in a row, exceeding the former 11-month record stretch ending in January 1959. The S&P 500 has also set a record for number of days (over 280 and counting) without a 3% intraday decline. In 2017 there have been only 4 days with 1% or more declines, the least in over 50 years. And the average daily absolute change has been a mere 0.3%, the lowest in over 30 years. This steadiness seems almost too good—the opposite of a perfect storm. A perfect calm.