We started the year in the middle of a correction, as the S&P500 lost 13.3% between November 4, 2015 and February 11, 2016.
However, supported by a slow but continuing economic recovery, rising corporate profits and low interest rates, 2016 ended up being a pretty good year for the financial markets with the S&P500 rising 11.96%.
Concerns over China, falling oil prices, surging junk bond yields, recession fears, the rising dollar, Brexit, a four-quarter profit recession, a contentious U.S. election, weakness in U.S. manufacturing, and eurozone banking worries all conspired against bullish sentiment during various times of the year.
While the pundits credited a solid market prior to the election to the expectation that Clinton would win, we were surprised by the reaction to Trump’s win and the consequent exuberant market rally. Most of the year’s gains happened in the fourth quarter after the election.
Trump and the Republican Congress have made many promises, some of which appear to help sustain the financial markets. In particular the move to tax reform and limit regulations will probably be implemented and is viewed very positively by the business community.
Some proposals such as rebuilding infrastructure have the Congress and Trump at odds. Historically, infrastructure has not been a strong Republican concern. It remains to be seen whether a significant bill can pass Congress.
Some other initiatives are more problematic and could have consequences that have not yet been factored in the financial markets. The move to limit legal immigration and the intent to expel millions of undocumented immigrants could have a ripple effect throughout the economy, including Silicon Valley and the agriculture industry.
Talking about altering trade patterns, starting with the elimination of the TPP and various noises about import tariffs goes counter to decades of bipartisan free trade efforts. It is not clear what the net impact of these policies, which have not yet been fully defined, will have on the economy. However, restricting free trade is not a positive.
Last but not least, Republicans have a political imperative to deal with health care. Will they show the intestinal fortitude to go through with a full repeal of Obamacare, as has been talked about? A full “repeal now and replace later” could create chaos for States, employers, insurance companies, the healthcare industry, and the public. We’ll have to wait and see to evaluate the net effect.
The financial markets are demonstrating optimism in the midst of all this political turmoil, although we don’t know if the clouds on the horizon carry rain or not. Regardless the US economy is strong and resilient; it will survive our dysfunctional politics.
This post is extracted from our January 2017 newsletter. Please write to let us know that you would like a copy