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  • Third Quarter 2018

    US technology and small company stock indexes advanced strongly this quarter while international stock indexes, especially emerging markets lagged. In what could be considered a “tale of three markets” many US technology and small company stocks indexes achieved double digit returns the first nine months of the year, while many international developed country indexes declined modestly and some emerging market indexes posted double digit declines. As a result of losses in the international markets, global / world stock indexes only posted low single digit returns for the nine months.

    The US advance was spurred by strong corporate earnings, lower corporates tax rates, rising consumer confidence, low unemployment, and a significant increase in companies buying back their own stock with cash savings from lower tax rates.   Weak international results arose from threats of increased US tariffs, a rising US dollar and concern that a number of emerging market countries had incurred too much US dollar denominated debt at a time the US dollar was strengthening and their economies were weakening.

    The Federal Reserve has raised short term interest rates three times (to a range of 2.0% to 2.25%), an indication that the Fed believes the US economy is making progress toward its objectives of full employment and price stability. Economists expect the Fed will raise rates one more time in 2018 and continue raising them in 2019.  As a result of a strengthening economy the interest rates (for all maturities) have begun increasing more rapidly.  The interest rate on ten year US Treasury bonds rose from 2.4% at the beginning of the year to more than 3%.  Rising interest rates create a headwind for bond investors and the US aggregate bond index lost 1.7% in the first nine months of the year.

    Returns for key indexes were:

    1st Qtr


    2nd  Qtr


    3rd Qtr


    9 Months


    Dow Jones Industrials index 2.0% 1.3% 9.6% 8.8%
    S&P 500 index 0.8% 3.4% 7.7% 10.6%
    NASDAQ 2.3% 6.3% 7.1% 16.6%
    S&P 400 mid-cap index 1.2% 3.9% 3.3% 6.1%
    Russell 2000 small-cap index 0.1% 7.9% 3.6% 11.5%
    Total International, excluding US 0.2% 3.3% 0.3% 3.2%
    Dow Jones Global Stock index 1.4% 0.1% 3.4% 1.8%
    Barclays US Aggregate Bond index 1.5% 0.2% 0.1% 1.7%


    Economic and Market Outlook         The US economy remains strong, growing over 4% in the second quarter. US unemployment remains a low 3.9%, in contrast to more than 8% across Europe and 5.8% in Canada.  However unemployment varies widely by country.  Germany and Mexico are 3.4%, Japan and Switzerland are running 2.4%, and Singapore 2%.  Unfortunately unemployment is running above 10% in Italy, above 15% in Spain and above 20% in Greece.

    Strong US economic growth and low unemployment is reflected in American consumer confidence which rose to its highest level in 18 years in August.

    The recent reduction in the US corporate tax rate is contributing to positive earnings growth and US corporate profits are expected to grow nearly 20% this year, making US stock valuations more attractive. Corporations have used at least some of their earning to buy back their own shares as share buybacks increased 50% in the first half of the year.  These buybacks provide a boost to share prices since they increase earnings per share (fewer shares outstanding) and the demand for their stock.

    As a result of the strong economy, significantly lower corporate income taxes and strong earnings growth the S&P 500 index achieved new highs during the quarter and had its best quarterly gain since 2013.

    In spite of the underlying economic strength, there are reasons for caution. Interest rates are rising across the board and the increases seem to be accelerating.  Rates on two year US Treasuries have increased from 1.89% at the beginning of the year to 2.81% while rates on ten year US bonds have risen from 2.4% to more than 3%.  Although the twelve month inflation rate was only 2.7% (through August), that will likely increase and a significant jump would raise concerns for investors and could lead the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates more quickly than expected..

    The potential for escalation of US trade disputes present another reason for caution. If US tariffs lead to a full scale trade war there will no victors; all countries would incur economic damage.  While most political pundits believe that it would not make sense for the current US administration to prompt a trade war prior to the November election, there seems to be a widespread agreement that the current administration can be unpredictable and does things difficult to understand and not always in their own best interest.

    Other factors may also impact the market. The most likely scenario for the November election is the Republicans retain control of the Senate but the Democrats achieve a majority of the House.  Such a scenario would likely produce more gridlock in Washington, which may be positive for the stock market.  The Mueller investigation may still go in unpredictable directions and create even more serious legal problems for the Trump administration; however this could potentially impact the markets in either a positive or negative manner.

    Famous people who died without a Will include Picasso, Howard Hughes, Prince, Michael Jackson. Sonny Bono, Jimi Hendrix, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Aretha Franklin. When someone dies “intestate” the laws of the State where they resided dictate the disposition of their assets, thwarting any wishes they may have had, and making it more difficult for their children or spouses to settle the estate.  While each of these individuals had many admirable qualities, the failure to put together an estate plan was not one of them.

    Free Credit Freeze       It is now free to freeze your credit report.   A credit freeze makes it difficult, if not impossible, for someone to fraudulently open credit in your name.  We strongly recommend that you and everyone in your family (including minor children) freeze their credit.  The process of freezing your own credit is easy and can be done on-line at each of the three credit agencies (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax).  It is also very easy to temporarily unfreeze your credit when applying for a credit card, mortgage, etc.  It is more challenging to freeze your children’s credit since it involves mailing documentation to the credit agency.  However due to an increasing number of ID thefts victimizing children, freezing their credit is still recommended.  Please let us know if you have any questions or we can help.

    The Financial State of the States  “Truth in Accounting” released its most recent “report card” on the financial condition of the states.  States who passed with flying colors were AK, ND, WY, UT and ID.  Those failing miserably are NJ, CT, IL, KY and MA.  NJ scored dead last with liabilities of $61,400 per tax payer, with CT next to last with $53,400 per tax payer.  In contrast, first place AK has net assets of $56,500 per tax payer while SD has net assets of $24,900 per taxpayer.

    Continue reading →

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