The stock market is on a tear. The S&P 500 rose 19.4% in 2017 excluding dividends, and is already up over 4% in 2018. It's not a bubble or a sugar high. Our capitalized profits model, says the broad U.S. stock market, is, and was, undervalued.
At the height of this eight-year bull market, we are trying to reconcile the notion that the markets and the global economy may be “as good as it gets” with the potential that as a result of technological change and increased market volatility, “the best may be yet to come.”
Although there are many superficial reasons to be enthusiastic that strong market performance can continue, most positives are overstated and many risks are underappreciated. In fact, today's investment environment entails such a high degree of uncertainty that most investors would be best served by simply minimizing their worst case scenario.
Bonds have been in a "bull market" for the past thirty-seven years. Not every quarter, or every month, but bond yields have fallen consistently since Paul Volcker ended the inflation of the 1970s.
As it is for people, so it is for business cycles, which can become more vulnerable as they continue. This theory will certainly be tested in 2018. The global economy enters this year with considerable momentum and lots of policy support.
One word that could describe Donald Trump's unexpected ascendancy to the presidency is – "revolt." Revolt against the "establishment." Revolt against the "status quo."
The Bible story of the virgin birth is at the center of much of the holiday cheer this time of year. The book of Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus decreed a census should be taken. Mary gave birth after arriving in Bethlehem and placed baby Jesus in a manger because there was "no room for them in the inn."
Last December we wrote "we finally have more than just hope to believe that this year, 2017, is the year the Plow Horse Economy finally gets a spring in its step." We expected real GDP growth to accelerate from 2.0% in 2016 to "about 2.6%" in 2017.
The Federal Reserve did what just about everyone expected earlier today and raised short-term interest rates by 0.25 percentage points. The federal funds rate is now in a range from 1.25 - 1.50% and the Fed is now paying banks 1.50% on their reserve balances.
Models of the economy are pretty useful tools. And simple models are some of the most useful. They help people envision how the world works. They help organize thinking.