The big question last week was: What next? Markets slid as investors reacted to fears about post-election economic policy and renewed turbulence in Europe. Stocks logged their worst week since June, with the S&P losing 2.64 percent, the Dow sliding 2.12 percent and the Nasdaq falling 3.16 percent. The world tuned in on Tuesday to watch the end of a hotly contested U.S. national election. For those who missed it, President Obama won a second term in office. In Congress, Democrats won a majority in the Senate while Republicans maintained control of the House. Markets started the selloff first-thing on Wednesday as traders responded to concerns about the global economy, driving the S&P 500 down by 2.4 percent. Bonds experienced a dramatic swing as well, as worried investors were driven towards the perceived safety of government securities.Now that the election is over, analysts and media pundits are turning their attention to the issue that's been hanging over us for months: The fiscal cliff. The fiscal cliff will likely dominate headlines until an agreement is reached, meaning that we can expect markets to remain volatile. A split Congress will make it difficult for Democrats and Republicans to reach a compromise. Deep divisions between the parties remain, and the debate may continue through the New Year; though we really hope it doesn't.President Obama jumped right into the debate last Friday and staked out the Democratic negotiating position by announcing that any agreement must include tax increases on the wealthy. Since this is a major sticking point for Republicans, it is unlikely that a compromise will be reached soon. If Republicans do not give ground on the issue, Democrats may allow the Bush tax cuts to expire in order to gain bargaining power for their own "middle-income tax relief" plan in the New Year. A more desirable scenario would bring Republicans to the negotiating table for a bi-partisan plan to gradually phase in austerity measures instead of going over the cliff - similar to the 2010 Simpson-Bowles plan. This would set the stage for meaningful tax and budget reform over the next few years and reassure deficit-watchers that the U.S. is managing its debt. The crux of the matter is that while the U.S. needs to get its deficit spending under control (lest we end up like Europe), our still-fragile economy cannot withstand large-scale tax increases and government spending cutbacks.In short, now that election season is over, lawmakers are faced with major challenges, and we fear that they are more interested in partisan bickering than hammering out a compromise. On the bright side, we see the potential for markets to respond positively when an agreement is finally made. If economic reports remain upbeat, we could see further upside in the near future. As always, we encourage you to remain patient and focused on your long-term financial strategy.Headlines• China's economy may be turning the corner. The head of China's central economic planning agency claimed that China would meet its 7.5 percent GDP growth target in 2013. Data on Saturday showed that China's exports jumped significantly, surpassing expectations and lending credence to the claim. • U.S. Q3 growth higher than previously thought. According to analysts, U.S. third-quarter growth estimates may be revised upwards due to economic data that was not originally included. Recent reports of higher wholesale business inventories and an increase in U.S. exports may indicate that the economy is doing better than expected. • Oil rises above $86 per barrel. Higher projected U.S. economic growth led to a spike in oil prices as producers prepare for higher demand for petroleum products. Gasoline futures also rose on fears of distribution problems and tight supplies in Hurricane Sandy-affected areas. • Greece is running out of cash. Greek's downward spiral continues as its cash reserves are depleted and its coalition government struggles for survival. Although Greece has missed every key austerity milestone, it will likely receive further bailout funds since it is in the interest of other Eurozone nations to keep the country running (for now). Mark Ballenger is an investment and financial planning consultant offering services to individual investors and business owners. His company, Ballenger Asset Management, is located in Avon and can be reached 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 adviser representative for Cambridge Investment Research Advisors Inc., a registered investment adviser. Ballenger Asset Management and Cambridge are not affiliated.
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