After a party is over, and the host turns on the lights, the picture often looks quite different than it did just a few minutes before. The realities of the U.S. political process are being recognized and the "hard" economic data is not yet living up to the "soft" (confidence/survey-based) data.
The markets have enjoyed a tremendous ride since the election. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has advanced over 2,500 points (a 15.1% total return) since then. Most of this “hope” rally has occurred on enthusiasm for anticipated pro-business policies, such as lower taxes and fewer regulations.
This article will limit itself to a specific component of yet another boom – the boom in the involvement of PhDs and quants in financial markets and the newly discovered quality factor.
The stock market's rally resumed following the President's comments on tax reform and investor optimism continues to rise. There are solid economic supports for the market's surge, but gains may have gotten a bit ahead of themselves and a pullback should be expected at some point. As lovely as "melt-ups" feel while they're happening, a healthier pattern for stocks is to consolidate gains after significant rallies. Fundamentally, earnings have been solid, supporting the rally, but there are risks there as well as doubt about the "stickiness" of pricing power increases. Stay patient, diversified, and remember the power of rebalancing. We believe this secular bull market still has legs, but discipline is essential.
The term “trend” now has a broader use. Trending is a term used in reference to the buildup of posts on social media. And we find ourselves in a day and age when the leader of the free world is posting using stream of consciousness—annoyingly against a department store that no longer supports his daughter’s line of clothing or worse, tweeting against judges who disagree with his policies. This is a trend we shouldn’t miss.
The world is changing for investors but we believe it's largely in a positive way, although there will be bumps along the way. The recent sideways equity movement was a healthy consolidation of the post-election gains, and we suggest investors add to U.S. equity positions as needed at the expense of some developed market international exposure. Inflation is ticking higher, and the Fed is becoming more hawkish, but the conditions supporting those moves are also positive supports for stock.
U.S. stocks have been consolidating gains seen in the aftermath of the November presidential election, a healthy process following such strong gains. Further appreciation should be supported by improving U.S. and global economic and earnings growth. Disappointments are likely on the U.S. policy front but we would view those as buying opportunities for now.
There are several irrefutable facts that should be informing the strategies for leaders in financial services.
The policy backdrop in the US will be particularly favorable for the economy, with looser fiscal policy, relatively easy monetary policy and a less stringent regulatory environment. Their eight-year US preeminence theme is intact and continues into its ninth year. While President-elect Trump’s initial policy measures with respect to tariffs and trade agreements risk jolting financial markets, he will likely adjust and change course as necessary to achieve his desired results.
We have used the metaphor of the "Plow Horse" to define the US economy since 2009 – an economy driven by new technology and entrepreneurship (fracking, the cloud, smartphones, big data...), but held back by the friction of a growing and burdensome government.