Dow nears 18,000 again
The Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company — Vail Valley
The possibility of the Federal Reserve raising its benchmark interest rate in December became a probability by week’s end thanks to a blockbuster jobs report, and investors hardly flinched.
In fact, the S&P 500 was up for the sixth week straight, and the Dow inched closer to going back over the 18,000-point mark for the first time since July 21. Meanwhile, the yield on the two-year Treasury, seen as a yardstick of the Fed’s intentions, rose to a five-year high, and, as measured by The Wall Street Journal’s Index, the dollar surged to its highest level since 2002
The Fed had planned to raise its rate back in September, but the threat of a sluggish global economy triggered by China’s slowdown and a stubbornly low rate of inflation kept it from pulling the trigger. However, a mid-summer stock slump has since been recouped. The Fed’s Chairwoman Janet Yellen, a proponent of transparency even before she took over the top job, has been hinting that signs of economic good health in America would be enough to make the Fed act. Last Wednesday, she appeared before the House Financial Services Committee and said that while no decision has been made, the economy is “performing well” and that “it could be appropriate” to raise the rate at the December meeting. If the recent run of good news continued, she said, “December would be a live possibility.”
It was Friday’s jobs report that seemed to persuade investors that the Fed would be ready to go at its last meeting of the year on Dec. 15 and 16, a meeting followed by a press conference at which Yellen could make her case in the event of a hike. A robust 271,000 jobs were created in October, well above the forecast of 186,000, and the totals for August and September were upwardly revised by 12,000, bringing this year’s monthly average to 206,000. In addition, the separately calculated household survey jobless rate fell to 5.0 percent from 5.1 percent. Perhaps best of all, average hourly earnings rose a solid 0.4 percent after having been flat in September, adding up to a year-to-year increase of 2.5 percent, the fastest pace since July 2009. The underemployment rate fell from 10 percent to 9.8 percent, its lowest point since May 2008. A year ago it was 11.1 percent but the labor force participation rate remained unchanged at a 38-year low of 62.4 percent.
Making the case for the Fed
That wasn’t the only news last week that could be seen as buttressing the Fed’s case. Auto sales soared in October, with the notable – and not surprising – exception of Volkswagen. In fact, it was the best October in a decade, with 1.46 million vehicles being sold, up 13.6 percent from a year ago, according to Autodata. Plus, the annualized selling rate was over 18 million vehicles for two months straight, the first time that’s happened since 2000. In addition, the Fed said that consumer credit rose by $28.9 billion in September, the biggest monthly jump since the government started keeping track in 1941. The Institute for Supply Management Nonmanufacturing Index climbed from 56.9 in September to 59.1 in October – services account for two-thirds of the economy. The trade gap narrowed to -$40.8 billion in September, its lowest level since February (though the gap with China hit a new high of -$36.3 billion).
Still, last week’s reports were not all upbeat. On Monday, the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing Index fell to 50.1 in October from 50.2 the month before, its lowest reading since May of 2013 and one that put manufacturing on the brink of contraction. New orders for factory goods fell 1 percent in September after a revised drop of 2.1 percent in August.
The pipeline and the highways
After a seven-year review, President Obama cited global warming in rejecting the transcontinental Keystone XL pipeline, to the delight of environmentalists and the chagrin of the oil industry and the GOP. The House passed a bill to spend $300 billion to overhaul the nation’s roads and bridges, though the bill didn’t address the shortfall of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. That Fund is financed by a tax on gas. The rate hasn’t risen since 1993 and isn’t indexed for inflation, not to mention the fact that the GOP is adamantly against raising it. The bill has to be reconciled with the Senate version passed earlier this year.
China lowers its aim
China lowered its sights for GDP growth from 2016 to 2020 to 6.5 percent, well beyond the developed world, but a step back for an economy that registered double-digit expansion for decades. In comparison, the five-year plan that ends this year targeted annual growth of 7 percent. The new plan was released in a week during which China’s official Purchasing Manufactures’ Index for October came in unchanged at 49.8 (any reading below 50 signals contraction) while the Nonmanufacturing Index fell to 53.1, its lowest level since 2008.
Greece acts, but not fast enough
Greece’s parliament approved some of the steps demanded by its creditors to get the money for its third bailout, but put off some of the toughest legislation. Eurozone officials meet today to decide if more needs to be done for Greece to get the first bailout tranche of $2.2 billion.
A shutdown in Puerto Rico?
Beset by debt, Puerto Rico’s budget director said the government could run out of cash by Nov. 15, forcing a partial shutdown or reduced working hours for public employees.
A look ahead
This week’s updates will include the latest on small business optimism, wholesale inventories, retail sales, the Producer Price Index, business inventories and consumer confidence. The bond markets will be closed on Wednesday for Veterans Day but the equity markets will be open.
This commentary was prepared specifically for local wealth management advisers by Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company.
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