In spite of a vote of confidence from the International Monetary Fund and solid first quarter GDP growth in China, the market’s faith in economic growth strong enough to move U.S. stocks up from current levels is fading.
You can see that in negative comments from Wall Street luminaries such as Blackrock CEOs Larry Fink. “There are some warning signs that are getting darker,” Fink, in an interview today on Bloomberg. Fink, who runs the world’s largest money manager, cited the downward tick in car sales and a slowdown in merger and acquisition activity. In the first quarter it looks like the U.S. economy will be the slowest growing among the big G-7 economies, he noted.
You can see it in the behavior of broad market indexes such as the Standard & Poor’s 500, which is down 1.49% in the last month. Since peaking at 2395.96 on March 1, the S&P 500 has fallen to a close of 2338 today, April 19. The index is now below its 50-day moving average at 2355.08.
You can hear it in comments from politicians and pundits downplaying the chances that any of the Trump reflation agenda stands a chance to getting through Congress and onto the President’s desk. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said that the earlier schedule for delivering tax cuts (aka tax reform to Paul Ryan) by August is now unlikely. The end of the year might be possible. Efforts to get money for The Wall, for additions to the military budget, and for massive hiring of border agents in the the continuing resolution needed to keep the government open after April 28 look to have hit a quick dead end. Nobody is talking about a meaningful infrastructure spending package.
And you can see it in the prices of growth sensitive commodities such as iron ore and other industrial metals. Iron ore, which is extremely sensitive to trends in growth and projections for future growth dropped 5% yesterday to near a six-month low on fears of a looming glut in China. Iron ore pries have plunged by nearly a third to $651.50 a metric ton yesterday from $94.50 a metric ton two months ago. Demand for China and other consumers isn’t increasingly nearly fast enough to absorb big increases in supply of 70 to 75 million metric tons from Australia, Brazil, and India. Stock piles have climbed by more than a third from the first half of 2016. Prices for other industrial commodities, such as copper, are also in a downward trend. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 3.55% today to $50.55 a barrel. That’s getting close to the $50 a barrel level that has marked the difference between optimism and pessimism in the oil markets lately.
Tomorrow I’ll have some suggestions for how to hedge against this market weakness without disrupting your entire portfolio.