Wall Street closed its best third quarter since 2010 after a wave of central bank actions across the globe (and expectations of future action) drove up equities in an unexpected summer rally. However, signs of weakness in the economy pushed markets down in the final week of September and may lead to further bearish sentiment. For the quarter, the S&P rose 5.76 percent, the Dow increased 4.32 percent and the Nasdaq rose 6.17 percent. Let's take a quick look back.July: July was a volatile month for stocks. Markets were kicked around by domestic indicators and news surrounding the debt crisis in Europe. During the final weeks of July we saw the release of corporate earnings reports for many major companies. Across the board, most companies showed weak revenue, with less than half exceeding revenue expectations. Even so, a number of companies were still able to beat earnings expectations, meaning they are getting better at doing more with less. August: August was the month of the summer sugar high rally as investors drove up stock prices on hopes that the Fed would undertake further quantitative easing. Retail sales in August beat expectations due to a strong back-to-school season, which could forecast robust holiday sales. These two shopping seasons are the most important for retailers, so a strong performance could lead to upbeat corporate earnings reports next quarter. September: Several market-moving events took place last month; markets were dominated by expectations of major Federal Reserve stimulus action and hope that the European Central Bank would unveil a new plan. Despite the Fed's historical reluctance to become involved in the election cycle, under the pressure of a disappointing August jobs report, the Fed finally launched the long-awaited additional quantitative easing. Under QE3, the Fed has made an open-ended commitment to buy mortgage-backed securities to the tune of $40 billion per month. The move is designed to lower long-term interest rates and spur more lending to businesses and consumers. In a similar move, the ECB launched a bold bond-buying program designed to reassure European investors and lower interest rates on Spanish and Italian bonds. What's next: The first week of October will provide plenty of market-moving data, with the release of third-quarter reports on GDP, manufacturing, consumer sentiment, and more. We will also see the Federal Open Market Committee minutes from last week's Fed meeting, which will provide more clarity into possible Fed moves this year. Earnings reports for Q3 will start trickling in during coming weeks, and although predictions indicate revenues and profits may be down across the board, we could get some surprises. As we look ahead to the final quarter of the year, markets could decline from their summer peak or rise to new highs. The market rallies of the summer indicate that investors are poised to respond to positive news, and should the economy show further signs of recovery, we may see more bullish market behavior. With the election cycle nearing its conclusion, markets may also react to political uncertainty surrounding the fiscal cliff and other economic issues. As an investor, it is wise to assess your own risk tolerance from time to time and make sure you are allocated suitably for your personal investment objectives. If you have questions about how your own portfolio should be positioned for the rest of 2012, please don't hesitate to contact us. We'd be very happy to review it with you and answer any questions you might have. Mark Ballenger is an investment and financial planning consultant offering services to individual investors and business owners. His company, Ballenger Asset Management, is located at 110 E. Beaver Creek Blvd. in Avon. Reach him at 970-471-9962. This report has been created with the cooperation of Platinum Advisor Marketing Strategies, LLC. Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, a broker/dealer, member FINRA/SIPC. Ballenger is an investment advisor representative for Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Ballenger Asset Management and Cambridge are not affiliated.
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