Insights & Advice

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Lower interest rates equal higher stock prices

The math is simple. As long as the Federal Reserve Bank is neutral to positive on lowering interest rates, investors who want any kind of return are forced into the stock market. Until that changes, equities are in the buy zone.

“But, but, but,” moaned several readers, who called or emailed me from blue states, “What about Trump, and the Chinese and the Iranians and earnings season and everything else?”

That doesn’t matter, in my opinion, over the next few months, or until stocks become so over-extended that the markets fall upon their own weight. Think of a tree that grows so tall and its limbs and leaves so full that its roots can’t support it. Until then, enjoy the ride.

Unless you have been living under a rock (and some have), you should know by now that America’s outlook on things financial has become extremely polarized. Those in the Trump camp believe we are on the verge of the second coming of the Lord (if only we would all give the president a chance.) Those on the other side are convinced that Trump represents (as the Iranian leaders argue) the “Great Satan.”

The Trump camp of investors needs little encouragement when I paint a positive picture of what’s to come in the stock market, so let’s focus on calming the fears of the remaining equity investors. My advice is not to be swayed by your wall of worry. I do not mean to discount or make light of all the negatives that we hear and encounter time and time again. They are definitely out there. But none of those concerns are new, nor likely to erupt into something dreadful in the short-term.

There will continue to be sell-offs based on manipulative tweets. Trump and his henchmen will continue to threaten mayhem on China, Iran, or whatever other countries are next in line for Trump’s spur-of-the-moment policy decisions. Short-term, they can move markets, but remember that his “talk loudly, but carry a little stick” approach to world economics and politics is well-known by now.

Today, after two years of shock, world leaders, quite cynically, tend to acquiesce in words when Trump speaks, but ignore his bluster in the medium and long-term. Remember Mexico? Just a few short weeks ago, his threats to cripple our neighbor with new tariffs had the markets swooning and his base cheering.

Today, after Mexico simply promised to do more of what they were already doing to stem the tide of refugees seeking political asylum, Trump was on to the next thing. Has the number of refugees truly decreased, or is Mexico simply going along for now knowing Trump’s proclivity to claim victory without substance? There are dozens of similar examples both here and abroad.

This week, it is all about threatening pharmaceutical and biotech companies over drug pricing, while abandoning the administration’s previous plan to eliminate the middlemen in providing drugs to the end consumer. At the same time, Trump is threatening legal action against social media companies because he doesn’t like how they are treating him and other corporate socialists. Believe me, this too shall pass. But look at the bright side, his outbursts give investors the opportunity to buy these targeted companies at cheaper prices.

In the meantime, while the president rants and raves, investors are focused on the ball, that is, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s testimony before Congress this week. Walking a fine line between calming investors, who were fretting about whether the Fed will cut rates at all at the end of the month and reiterating the Fed’s independence in the face of continued pressure from the White House, he did not disappoint.

I credit for this weeks’ series of record highs in the benchmark S&P 500 Index (as well as the Dow) solely to Powell’s performance. In my last column, I had warned that expecting a 50-basis point cut in rates in July was just not within the realm of possibilities. This week, it appears that investors are also coming to my point of view and taking it in stride.

I am still counting on one 25-basis point cut by the Fed this month, followed by a wait-and-see attitude going forward for the remainder of the year. That should mollify both investors, if not the president as well, at least through the end of the summer. What happens after that will be largely dependent on the economic data. In turn, the economics will be dependent upon the impact that lower to negative interest rates worldwide will have and the outcome (if any) of Trump’s trade war.

Posted in A Few Dollars More, At the Market