This coming week will be a humdinger for the markets. The Federal Reserve is expected to begin a second round of quantitative easing and voters will deliver their verdict on the economy in mid-term elections. Both events will have ramifications for investors and stock markets worldwide.
The Fed’s decision to further stimulate the economy via a second round of quantitative easing (QE II) has already been priced into the market, in my opinion, but the impact of the mid-term elections has not. If the Republicans gain a majority in the House and additional seats in the Senate, as many political pundits predict, then the markets have reason to rally in the months, if not weeks ahead.
For me, the question is when, not if, the markets will gain more ground. Stocks (and some commodities) are somewhat overbought right now and looking for an excuse to pull back. Maybe the election results will precipitate a “sell-on-the-news” reaction in the very short-term. The question I ask is whether the lame duck congress will give investors an added excuse to sell?
Most readers are aware that the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire in 2010. Will Congress act to extend those cuts before the end of the year? If it does (by extending the tax cuts for many, if not all, Americans), then the markets could see substantial gains. On the other hand, if nothing is done and the tax cuts are allowed to expire than we may be in for a period of uncertainty.
Since I have been attending Charles Schwab’s yearly investor conference in Boston this week, it was a good opportunity to take the pulse of the best and brightest on Wall Street as they shared their views of the market and economy. Clearly, just about everyone I talked to is bullish. Not once did I hear the term “double dip recession,” and for the most part just about everyone was looking for strong markets between now and at least the second quarter of 2011.
In addition, no one likes bonds, especially U.S. Treasury bonds. “Bubble” was the term most often used when describing the $70 trillion investors have stashed away in the bond market. Most argue that the perceived safety that investors see in bonds is an illusion. The investment team from Gameco Investors, Inc. headed by famed value investor Mario Gabelli argued that bonds are “in the ninth inning of a 30 year run” providing holders with little yield, no growth prospects and a mountain of interest rate risk.
“Money markets are also not as safe as you think,” said Gabelli.
He points out that the $2.8 trillion in money market funds has a great deal of dollar risk in the form of depreciation, inflation and debasement, besides offering little in the way of yield or growth.
Currency wars was also a leading topic of discussion with most participants believing the battle between nations to keep their currencies weak will continue. The prognosis for the greenback is more weakness ahead as America attempts to export its way to greater growth. As a result, U.S. companies that export are in vogue, especially technology stocks.
Gold, precious metals and commodities in general was an area of heated arguments, with some dismissing the recent run ups as irresponsible speculation while others read the price moves as a rationale answer to declining currencies and the inevitable rise in inflation that lurks just around the corner.
Emerging markets are once again in favor as an area for long-term investment. Bulls point to the increasing percentage of global GDP (49%) represented by these fast growing economies as opposed to what they consider is an under-represented share of the world’s stock market capitalization (only 31%).
In the minus column, financial stocks stood out as an area that won’t regain its pre-2008 luster anytime soon, neither will consumer discretionary stocks. In both cases, these sectors suffer from the deleveraging that is underway among American consumers. Banks, whose major business is making loans to customers, will experience low growth since Americans are trying to reduce, not increase, their debt as a percentage of their personal income. Consumers are reducing that debt by cutting back on their discretionary spending.
All in all the tone was upbeat at the conference and it felt that business was beginning to get back to normal after several years of strife. Whether that is a good thing when discussing the financial services sector is a matter of opinion.