The Year of the American Consumer
It was an above-average year for stock returns across the domestic market cap spectrum. Ultimately, unconventional and accommodative monetary policy trumped investor concerns over fiscal policy, the Presidential election and weakness overseas. The Federal Reserve (the Fed) entered uncharted waters when it announced open-ended quantitative easing through the ongoing purchasing of government securities. Importantly, other central banks globally waded in by mimicking the Fed in word if not deed and the global liquidity cycle continued apace.
Bringing it Back Home
Our financial system has been cleaned up and recapitalized; consumers have paid down debt and seem to be looking to buy houses again. A large part of the improvement in the domestic economy is centered on the housing revival. It is not rapid - again, its a slow recovery - but at least we seem to be moving forward.
Forget about Spring, it Feels Like Summer
Stocks sizzled in the first three months of 2012, delivering the best first quarter return since 1998, as measured by the S&P 500. Last month we suggested that perhaps we have seen this movie before; a strong first quarter in the markets followed by a sharp correction as fundamentals weakened. Is it different this time? We are optimistic the economic expansion will follow through. Why? We see consumers slowly waking up from their four-year slumber. Looking at retail sales growth, consumer spending has improved, while U.S. unemployment has receded to 8.2% as of March.
U.S. Domestic Stocks Time for a Close-Up
For 2012 we believe U.S. stocks should provide investors good to average returns for the year. Large cap stocks should have an edge over small and midcap stocks due to superior valuation and improving fundamentals. The domestic economy will likely register continued subpar economic growth and global markets should also remain subdued due to credit issues in Europe and softness in export markets. As this is an election year, we believe there will continue to be volatility in the U.S. market. We hope to take advantage of near-term downward volatility.
Tale of the Tape U.S. Markets Back on Top
As investors say goodbye to a year that will be remembered in the history of financial markets for its volatility and investors obsession with it one of the most battered, bruised and, yes, volatile, markets has quietly reclaimed its spot as the worlds best performer. It is, of course, the U.S. Through November 15, the S&P 500 is up 1.8% year-to-date; the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen 6.9%; and the NASDAQ, 1.3%. Meanwhile, the rest of the worlds major equity indices are covered with red arrows, all pointing down.