Last week, major U.S. indices posted strong gains. That's welcome news, but the drivers behind share price appreciation appear to have little to do with company fundamentals.
Fourth quarter earnings season is underway. During earnings season, companies let investors know how profitable they were during the previous quarter. With 45 percent of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 (S&P 500) Index reporting, earnings are slightly down. If the trend continues, this will be the fourth consecutive quarter of year-over-year earnings declines, according to FactSet.
Falling company profits, in tandem with rising share prices, have made U.S. stocks very expensive. The price-to-earnings ratio of the S&P 500 Index was 25.04 on Friday. That's significantly higher than its long-term average of 15.78.
Expectations for economic growth may have been behind last week's gains. Axios reported, "U.S. economic data had been strengthening ahead of the [coronavirus] outbreak - last month the all-important services sector notched its best reading since September, a private payrolls survey showed the highest job growth in five years, and consumer confidence held at historically high levels."
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) estimates U.S. economic growth will be 1.7 percent in 2020, although the coronavirus could create issues that slow growth.
Economic growth also could be inhibited by the national debt. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis showed U.S. debt at about 105 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of the third quarter of 2019 (GDP is the value of all goods and services produced by the United States). According to the Council on Foreign Relations, high levels of debt can slow economic growth and divert investment from infrastructure, education, and research.
Ben Levisohn of Barron's suggested last week's gains might have been the result of limited supply and high demand for U.S. stocks, "...because the world's problems might actually make U.S. markets more attractive." Stock market gains may also owe something to supportive central bank policies.
During the next few weeks, stay calm and expect some volatility.
Data as of 2/7/20
|Standard & Poor's 500 (Domestic Stocks)
|Dow Jones Global ex-U.S.
|10-year Treasury Note (Yield Only)
|Gold (per ounce)
|Bloomberg Commodity Index
S&P 500, Dow Jones Global ex-US, Gold, Bloomberg Commodity Index returns exclude reinvested dividends (gold does not pay a dividend) and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; and the 10-year Treasury Note is simply the yield at the close of the day on each of the historical time periods.
Sources: Yahoo! Finance, MarketWatch, djindexes.com, London Bullion Market Association.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. N/A means not applicable.
DO YOU KNOW A FINANCIAL TWO-TIMER? In an online poll conducted by YouGov, CreditCards.com asked people how open and honest they are with their spouses and partners about money. The survey discovered financial infidelity is not uncommon. Respondents cheat financially in a variety of ways, including:
34 percent have spent more than their spouse/partner would approve
12 percent have secret debt
10 percent have secret credit card accounts
9 percent have secret savings accounts
8 percent have secret checking accounts
Respondents had a variety of reasons for secretive financial dealings:
36 percent said privacy and control were important
27 percent said they never felt the need to share
26 percent were embarrassed by the way they handle money (frequently cited by wealthiest respondents.)
Janice Wood of PsychCentral wrote, "Financial infidelity can take as big a toll on relationships as sexual infidelity and emotional dishonesty...A few things that couples can do to prevent financial infidelity is to talk more, get on the same page regarding both joint and individual goals they might have, and also budget for some occasional indulgences along the way of achieving their long-term financial goals..."
If you're looking for a great Valentine's Day gift, talking with your spouse or partner about money is a choice that could deliver long-term rewards.
Weekly Focus - Think About It
"It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not."
--Andre Gide, Author and Nobel Prize winner