The economy is stumbling out of the gate this year, with the painful government shutdown, a sudden drop in existing home sales, and a marked downturn in consumer sentiment behind much of this early 2019 slowdown. Of course, the big story is the shutdown.
Earnings reporting season is well under way, with expectations for the recently ended fourth quarter still quite positive. In all, forecasts call for another double-digit percentage rise in S&P 500 earnings, as companies capitalize on recent economic gains.
Wall Street is keeping a closer eye on the Federal Reserve, especially after its policy making committee suggested it would resume hiking borrowing costs rather soon. The Fed cited continued strong economic growth and a persistently low jobless rate as arguments for raising rates at its December meeting.
The often turbulent month of October has come and gone, and once again, it lived up to its reputation. True, the selloffs were not historic, in the mold of those suffered in 1987 and 2008. And there were intermittent rallies, some quite impressive. Still, there was considerable pain inflicted, as the indexes fell sharply during the 31-day span.
The Federal Reserve is assuming a more restrictive monetary stance, an adjustment that is leading to steadily rising interest rates. And that is not sitting well with investors.
Various factors are influencing market sentiment. When the focus has been on the healthy economy and the mostly upbeat second-quarter earnings performance, stocks have rallied. Conversely, when the attention has turned to tariffs and trade and to other global headwinds (most recently the financial crisis in Turkey), equities generally have weakened.
The employment outlook remains generally upbeat. True, job growth did slow in July, with 157,000 positions being added, or 30,000 fewer than forecast.
Earnings reports were still flowing in as July ended and August began. In general, the results have exceeded expectations. True, there have been shortfalls (and a few from high-profile companies), and in some cases, there has been disappointing guidance given for the coming quarters.
The economy was on a roll as the second half began, with much of this strength apparent in the manufacturing and non-manufacturing areas. The gains shown by these broad industrial and consumer categories were especially noteworthy in new orders and production.
Continuing economic tensions with China are front and center on Wall Street these days, with our fraught commercial dealings with that fast-growing nation in the headlines almost daily.