Positive month for markets caps off turbulent quarter
U.S. markets had a positive September. The S&P 500 returned 1.87 percent in September and 1.70 percent for the quarter. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had a 2.05 percent monthly gain and quarterly growth of 1.83 percent.
Headlines hit markets, but not much
September was full of newsworthy events. For example, there was a drone attack on Saudi oil facilities. Still, there was no sustained impact on U.S. equity markets. Oil prices spiked 20 percent, but they remain below levels seen a year ago. The U.S.-China trade war and Brexit also made news, although neither had much influence on markets. New negotiations between the U.S. and China were announced for October, which helped drive up equity markets. This bump didn’t last, as the S&P 500 ended the month below post-announcement highs. In September, Brexit’s impact on international markets was minimal. The ongoing negotiations may be a source of future volatility for internationally developed markets.
Economic fundamentals withstand the risks
Many economic releases came in better than expected, with consumer spending playing a key role. August retail sales figures revealed 0.4 percent growth. Consumers have been driving the economic expansion for the past two quarters. Personal income grew by 0.4 percent in August. Plus, August’s employment report showed wages up 0.4 percent on a monthly basis. The housing sector was also strong.
In September, homebuilder confidence increased to an 11-month high. Strong homebuyer demand and low mortgage rates boosted sales, with new and existing home sales beating expectations. August marked the second straight month of year-over-year growth in existing home sales (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Existing Home Sales, September 2014 – August 2019
Nonmanufacturer confidence saw a rebound in August, and manufacturing output rose by 0.5 percent.
Beware the risks ahead
Despite the positive fundamentals, risks remain. The uncertainty surrounding the impeachment proceedings may weigh on consumer and business confidence and spending. Slowing job growth and declining consumer confidence figures should also be watched. Abroad, the U.S.-China trade war and Brexit could affect markets.
Volatility is possible and even likely. But the healthy U.S. economic background should help calm fears of a sustained downturn if we face market turbulence. A well-diversified portfolio and a long-term view toward investing remain the best way forward in an uncertain world.
All information according to Bloomberg, unless stated otherwise.
Disclosure: Certain sections of this commentary contain forward-looking statements based on our reasonable expectations, estimates, projections, and assumptions. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve certain risks and uncertainties, which are difficult to predict. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets. All indices are unmanaged and investors cannot invest directly into an index. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted average of 30 actively traded blue-chip stocks. The S&P 500 Index is a broad-based measurement of changes in stock market conditions based on the average performance of 500 widely held common stocks. The Nasdaq Composite Index measures the performance of all issues listed in the Nasdaq Stock Market, except for rights, warrants, units, and convertible debentures. The MSCI EAFE Index is a float-adjusted market capitalization index designed to measure developed market equity performance, excluding the U.S. and Canada. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a market capitalization-weighted index composed of companies representative of the market structure of 26 emerging market countries in Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Basin. It excludes closed markets and those shares in otherwise free markets that are not purchasable by foreigners. The Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index is an unmanaged market value-weighted index representing securities that are SEC-registered, taxable, and dollar-denominated. It covers the U.S. investment-grade fixed-rate bond market, with index components for a combination of the Bloomberg Barclays government and corporate securities, mortgage-backed pass-through securities, and asset-backed securities. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate High Yield Index covers the USD-denominated, non-investment-grade, fixed-rate, taxable corporate bond market. Securities are classified as high-yield if the middle rating of Moody’s, Fitch, and S&P is Ba1/BB+/BB+ or below
Authored by Brad McMillan, CFA®, CAIA, MAI, managing principal, chief investment officer, and Sam Millette, senior investment research analyst, at Commonwealth Financial Network®.