Recent market action has all the markings of a relief rally. The French vote in favor of centrist candidate Macron took "Frexit" off the table for now; a new tax cut proposal by the Trump administration, and the decreasing likelihood of a near-term U.S. government shutdown all appeared to play a part in the sharp rise in stocks and plunge in volatility.
As I've often noted when it comes to the relationship between economic data and the stock market, "better or worse tends to matter more than good or bad." In other words, stocks tend to key off rate of change more than level when it comes to economic indicators.
Investors appear to be taking another look at the risks they are willing to take, while also considering whether the reflation story may not develop as hoped. Reflation is the process of getting economic growth and price broadly back to pre-recession levels. While progress has been made, growth is still not accelerating.
Trumponomics, the Trump Trade, the Trump Rally—and more recently Trumpocalypse—you've heard them all. Now you'll read a story (and perhaps hum a tune) about economic inflection points and a stronger stock market which may have had little to do with the results of the election.
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.
Much ink has been spilled by Wall Street analysts, the media, and yours truly, about the historically-wide spread between the so-called "soft" and "hard" economic data. Before getting to my latest thoughts on the subject, some definitions are in order.
Nothing seems to be able to phase the stock market recently. Political infighting, Presidential tweets, North Korean missile launches, oil falling below $50, European political uncertainty, higher bond yields, and the Fed raising rates: none of those forces have knocked stocks off their recent uptrend.
Many investors are wondering whether the stock market has come too far too fast. The latest consolidation brought the S&P 500 down only 2%, but the average stock was down more than that.
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.
One of the key themes I and my strategy colleagues highlighted in our 2017 outlook was the regime change from monetary policy being the only game in town to fiscal policy taking at least one of the reins.