On March 9, 2018, the bull market in U.S. stocks will celebrate its ninth anniversary. And, what we find most amazing is how few people truly understand it. To this day, in spite of massive increases in corporate earnings, many still think the market is one big "sugar high" – a bubble built on a sea of Quantitative Easing and government spending.
The U.S. economy continues to be lifted by an incredible wave of new technology. Fracking, 3-D printing, smartphones, apps, and the cloud have boosted productivity and profits. Yet taxes, regulation and spending all increased markedly in the past decade, raising the burden of government and dragging down the real GDP growth rate to a modest 2.2% from mid-2009 to early 2017.
Last year US stock markets experienced the least volatile year on record, hitting new highs seemingly every day. Then came the tax reform bill to end 2017, and a huge January with the S&P 500 rising 5.6%. Investors, especially individuals who finally became convinced that the rally would go on, piled in.
Back in the 1970s, supporters of the status quo said there was nothing to be done about stagflation (high inflation and slow growth). It was a "fact of life" that Americans had to accept after experiencing faster growth and lower inflation during the decades immediately following World War II.
In Janet Yellen's swan song as Chair of the Federal Reserve, she exited on a quiet note. The Federal Reserve did what just about everyone expected earlier today, keeping short-term interest rates unchanged while providing forward guidance that economic growth remains on track for further hikes in 2018.
You know the old saying about every cloud having a silver lining? Well, if you listen to some of the financial press, you'd think their motto was that clear skies are just clouds in disguise.
We've called the slow, plodding economic recovery from mid-2009 through early 2017 a Plow Horse. It wasn't a thoroughbred, but it wasn't going to keel over and die either. Growth trudged along at a sluggish – but steady - 2.1% average annual rate.
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.”
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.