An important shift has taken place in this economic cycle. The Federal Reserve (Fed) was finally able to start following through on its projected rate hike path, raising rates twice in just over a three-month period. By doing so, the Fed showed increasing trust that the economy has largely met its dual mandate of 2% inflation and full employment, that the economy is progressively able to stand on its own two feet, and that fiscal policy may now provide the backstop to the economy that monetary policy has provided throughout the expansion. The gauges say growth engines and market drivers may have changed: power down monetary policy, power up business fundamentals, and potentially take fiscal policy and economic growth off standby.
Thus far in 2017, the consistency of this new fiscal-led dynamic has been uneven, leading to shifting market leadership amidst low volatility and a narrow trading range for major market indexes. To be sure, in the post-election rally, the financial markets began to price in many of the pro-growth policies offered by the Trump administration. Yet, despite an initial flurry of activity, political momentum slowed, and investor sentiment dampened even as consumer and business confidence remained high. It is important for investors to appreciate that despite these developments, U.S. equity indexes managed to progress through the first half of 2017 either at, or very near, all-time highs. Moreover, signs of financial stress, based on interest rates, credit spreads, and market volatility, remained largely absent. Most importantly, even with fiscal policy on standby, the return to business fundamentals, such as renewed corporate earnings growth, can now act as a market catalyst. The Fed will still have its role to play, but monetary policy is powering down as the driver of financial market strength.
Despite the significant role of monetary policy as a market driver throughout this expansion, general investing principles have held true. The ability to form a good plan and stick to it, with judicious adaptation to the market environment, is the time-tested foundation of continued progress toward financial goals. If we are shifting to new market dynamics, including a greater role for corporate profits and fiscal policy, understanding the evolving opportunities will be important for diversified investors.
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DEFINITIONS The U.S. Dollar Index (DXY) indicates the general international value of the U.S. dollar. The DXY Index does this by averaging the exchange rates between the U.S. dollar and six major world currencies. The S&P 500 Index is a capitalization-weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index is a broad-based flagship benchmark that measures the investment-grade, U.S. dollar-denominated, fixed-rate taxable bond market. The index includes Treasuries, government-related and corporate securities, MBS (agency fixed-rate and hybrid ARM pass-throughs), ABS, and CMBS (agency and non-agency). The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate Bond Index measures the investment grade, fixed-rate, taxable corporate bond market. It includes U.S. dollar-denominated securities publicly issued by U.S. and non-U.S. industrial, utility and financial issuers. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate High Yield Bond Index measures the U.S. dollar-denominated, high yield, fixed-rate corporate bond market. Securities are classified as high yield if the middle rating of Moody’s, Fitch and S&P is Ba1/BB+/BB+ or below. Bonds from issuers with an emerging markets country of risk, based on Barclays EM country definition, are excluded. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a free float-adjusted, market capitalization index that is designed to measure equity market performance of emerging markets. The MSCI EAFE Index is a free float-adjusted, market-capitalization index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of developed markets, excluding the United States and Canada.