Today marks the 10th anniversary of the failure of the Wall Street firm Bear Stearns, widely considered the opening act of the great financial crisis of 2008. Bear was done in, so the story goes, by a mix of ill-considered bets on mortgage securities and excessive borrowing.
I woke up this morning to a surprise. It had snowed, which was expected. After all the fear-mongering coverage, in fact, I expected the house to be covered, but it wasn’t so bad. The real surprise was the fact that a combination of wind and heavy snow had taken down several trees—including an 18-footer right across most of my driveway. All of a sudden, I was cut off.
Yesterday, I wrote that the markets were likely to continue to trend upward, on the idea that the U.S. tariffs were not really going to happen. But then the news that Gary Cohn had resigned as head of the National Economic Council was announced—and this has changed that perception entirely.
Yesterday, President Trump announced that the U.S. will be imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. This shocked markets here in the U.S. and around the world, driving them back down just as it looked like they were recovering from the downturn last month. What happened? And is this a more serious threat going forward? In a word, yes.
With the declines yesterday, U.S. markets are now in an official correction. Just to get the terminology straight, a “correction” means a 10-percent decline, while a "bear market" indicates a 20-percent decline. As of the close yesterday, the Dow was down 10.3 percent, and the S&P 500 was down 10.1 percent.
Today’s big news is the jobs report. It is the single most informative and important economic report there is. As such, it always gets a great deal of attention. In general, the news this month is quite good—but not perfect.
There is a market adage that states, “as goes January, so goes the year.” We certainly should hope this is the case for 2018, as January was another month of great stock market returns. The U.S. indices were up by 5 percent or more, while international markets—both developed and emerging—did the same.
With President Trump scheduled to give the annual State of the Union address tonight, I thought it would be a good time to consider the economic state of the union. As usual, of course, I am going to pass on the politics and instead take a big-picture look at the economy.
One of the dominating economic headlines of late has been the weakness of the dollar. These stories have been exacerbated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s comment that the “dollar is not a concern of mine.”
With the market surging and expectations high, I want to look at the actual corporate earnings numbers for 2017. Of course, it is early in the season to do any definitive analysis. But we can certainly set some context, which will be particularly useful for this year.