Insights & Advice


Choppy markets have investors on edge

A spate of global stock market selling put an end to the atmosphere of growing complacency among investors this week. The turmoil came from a variety of sources including Europe, the Middle East and China. The jury is still out over the market’s next move.

Suddenly a host of unrelated issues have sprung up out of nowhere to spook the markets. A short list would include renewed fighting between Gaza militants and Israel. European markets reacted negatively when the financial problems of a major Portuguese bank sparked renewed concerns over the continent’s banking system. China’s exports in June were expected to top 10% but came in at ‘only’ 7.2%. Finally, the Fed officially set October as the end of its latest QE program.

So let’s take them one at a time. The problems in the Middle East are on-going geopolitical issues that on occasion create short-term spikes in energy prices. In this instance, the price of oil actually declined. It appears clear to me (from an economic point of view) that there is little beyond negative headline value to worry about in these latest rocket barrages.

At the center of the European sell-off was Banco Espirito Santo, one of Portugal’s largest banks. It has been known since May that the bank was in financial trouble. How much trouble became apparent on Thursday, when the bank’s international division delayed coupon payments on some of its short-term debt.

Investors in Europe, recalling the 2011 Euro zone debt crisis sold first and asked questions later. Portugal’s bourse dropped 4%. Spain and Italy saw greater than 2% drops and Europe overall was down over 1% in a day. European interest rates surged at the same time.

I do not believe this is the beginning of a second debt crisis in Europe. It does, however, make European stocks more attractive. Readers may recall that I have been warming up to European investments but cautioned that a pullback was needed before I would commit new money to Europe.  That time may be coming.

The China export data disappointment is transitory at best in my opinion. China is an attractive investment but it is not for the faint of heart. If and when the U.S. markets decline, China and the rest of the emerging markets will decline as well. Patience and a watchful eye for a reasonable entry level is my game plan.

The Fed’s official announcement that their last QE program will end in October is more symbolic than real news. The Fed has done a good job in communicating to the market their plans to wind down their bond-buying program. Please refer to yesterday’s column “The Fed turns off the spigot” for my take on this subject. It is interesting to note that there have been several QE programs. The end of each one marked a stock market decline.

What is an investor to make of all this negativity on a lazy week in July? Well, much of this news is simply a re-hashing of news we have heard before. Markets tend to discount news only once. What seems clear, however, is that this kind of outsized reaction is usually something you see when markets are overextended. That is clearly the case.

As a result, I would expect to hear many more calls for an imminent sell-off in the markets. That doesn’t mean it will, it simply means that more pundits are jumping on board the decline train.  They will then “be on the record” when the inevitable decline does occur. At that point you will be bombarded by a slew of “I told you sos.” Welcome to Wall Street.

Posted in At the Market, The Retired Advisor