Stock Market Volatility, Geopolitics, and Midterms Elections– Oh My! Should You Be Worried?

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If you’ve spent any time watching market news this year, you’ve likely experienced the roller coaster of recent stock performance. I’ve had a lot of questions about whether it’s different this time, or whether we’re heading for a tough correction.

There are a lot of factors involved in this year’s market volatility, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad news out there.

What’s going on here?

A few of the major drivers of volatility this year have been around economic uncertainty, geopolitics, and what I’ll call generalized fear.

The Federal Reserve has started reining in the generous policies (like low interest rates) that were implemented after the financial crisis, which could have an impact on lending rates both at home and abroad. While the Fed is implementing more conservative policies as a result of a strengthening US economy, there are market observers who worry about implications on other economies – and to the stability of the US economy should our trade relationships undergo significant changes.

As the US renegotiates NAFTA and engages in trade negotiations with China, which have also been somewhat volatile, markets have been constantly trying to predict and absorb the potential implications.

Geopolitics is also a factor. From OPEC statements that led to uncertainty about future oil prices to the complicated situation in North Korea, we’ve seen varying degrees of hope, confusion, and volatility. More recently, political turmoil in Italy brought additional (and renewed) fears about prospects for the Eurozone and even the stability of the European Union itself.

The historical context

Finally, our own political climate could be having an important impact – but not in the way you might think.

Historically speaking, mid-term election years are more volatile than other years. In fact, in eight out of the last nine mid-term election years, the S&P 500 lost between 7% and 20%. Through April 2018, the S&P 500 was down about 10% from the high in January. However, as of this writing, the index is still slightly positive for the year.

If you ask me, that on its own tells you something. Markets don’t like uncertainty: the more there is, the more volatile things tend to become. In mid-term years, the political order could be upended and shift the balance of governance – which could shift the balance of policy and predictability.

But, taken together, all these factors have made for a year where we’ve seen market swings that are more numerous and more pronounced than anything we experienced in the previous two years.

In fact, according to Bloomberg, down days are 24% bigger in magnitude this year than up days, a difference in performance that hasn’t been recorded since 1948. Whether you feel confident about your understanding of what’s going on or not, it’s enough to give anyone pause.

Should you be worried?

All that said, there’s still a lot of good news that sometimes gets drowned out by the bad.

Large companies are doing very well in terms of earnings and activity, and implied volatility going forward is actually pretty low compared to historical averages. While economic growth in the first quarter came in lower than expected, it was still above the long-term average of 2%, and there are indications that second quarter growth will be even stronger.

There could also be important benefits for businesses (and thus investors) thanks to a trimming down of the Dodd-Frank Act, which had put more stringent rules on banks following the financial crisis. I believe smaller and medium-sized banks will now find it easier to operate – and to lend money.

Additionally, with lower taxes on corporations and repatriated profits because of the new tax plan, I believe we’re entering a period where companies will be able to invest in their operations, expand, and grow. This is potentially very good news for investors.

Global economic prospects are also positive. In fact, European markets have been more stable than ours this year as the European Union builds economic momentum.

Here’s what I think

Even if trade tensions continue and even if geopolitics remain challenging, the prospects both at home and abroad are positive. I believe we’re closer to the bottom of this challenging period than to the top, and I think it’s important to look beyond a few months worth of volatility to get a real sense of where we are and where we’re going.

Of course, markets can surprise anyone, and there’s always a chance of a curve ball throwing all our collective predictions off course. But in this situation, I think the numbers speak for themselves. If you have a longer-term investment time horizon and a prudent investment strategy that’s suitable for you, I don’t think volatility should be at the top of your mind

 

Written by Bradford Pine with Anna B. Wroblewska

 

Sources

Brinker Reports (provided)

Bad day stats: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-29/big-days-are-all-bad-ones-as-stocks-punish-optimists-yet-again

US market vol: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-02/global-market-volatility-now-a-made-in-the-u-s-a-phenomenon

Italy: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-30/treasury-volatility-reawakens-with-biggest-jump-since-2016

OPEC: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-30/oil-snaps-5-day-losing-streak-as-u-s-stockpiles-seen-shrinking

 

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Written by Bradford Pine
Bradford Pine Wealth Group – New York City Financial Advisors

The views and opinions expressed in an article or column are the author’s own and not necessarily those of Cantella & Co., Inc. It was prepared for informational purposes only. It is not an official confirmation of terms. It is based on information generally available to the public from sources believed to be reliable but there is no guarantee that the facts cited in the foregoing material are accurate or complete.

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