What’s good for Main Street is not necessarily good for Wall Street, at least in the short-term. As traders fret over a new era of rising interest rates, American workers may finally be coming into their own.
The 5.1% unemployment rate, coupled with a 0.30% increase in wage growth has convinced stock traders that the Fed will raise rates this month. Over the past five years, investing in the financial markets was a one-way street. It didn’t matter what the economy did, it was all about lower interest rates. The lower rates fell, the higher the market climbed. As the Fed prepares to reverse course and hike rates, investors are facing a brave new world and are nervous about that.
It will be a world where economics and its inevitable dislocations, will impact market valuations. Inflation will come back, as will wage growth, and productivity will start to matter again. As they have throughout history, interest rates will determine what investors are willing to pay for other financial assets. The end of massive central bank intervention will allow the American markets to function as they have in the past. Are we ready for that?
Yes, you may say, five years is long enough for all this government meddling. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that without the Fed’s “put” on the market, we have to assume the risks of the marketplace. For me, personally, I’m fine with that. I cut my teeth in those kinds of markets and grew up in this business using all those historical metrics that have not worked very well since the Fed started intervening in the markets in 2009.
Plenty of people have explained the so-called reasons for the present turbulence in global financial markets. It’s China, it’s the Fed, or slowing global growth. Declining prices for oil and other commodities also make the list. All of the above may be true, but it strikes me that this is a correction that is looking for a reason. Sometimes there is just no “because…” and I think this is one of those times.
Over the longer turn, history has taught us that what is good for our economy will also be good for our stock markets. Any discrepancies are usually short-term in nature. This is the crux of the matter. We all know that the typical investor’s time horizon has grown shorter and shorter as a result of the internet, the media and our own expectations of what we expect from life. Most of us want it now and we become mightily distressed when that doesn’t happen.
Why the lecture? In my opinion, all that is happening in the markets today is a sorting out of the potential risks we face in the near future. Are the markets correctly valued in a rising interest rate environment? How strong will the economy grow and how soon? Will the unemployment rate drop even further, maybe into the 4-plus % range. What will that mean? The “what-ifs” are endless, but that’s what makes a market.
I suspect it will mean a return to the old ways of doing business. High-frequency trading, computer algorithms and the intensely short–term mentality in the narrow-minded corridors of Wall Street will have to change. As long as the Fed “had our back,” traders could take all the risks they wanted. I’m betting that without that safety net, the casino-like element of the stock market will slowly subside. That will be a good thing for you and me.
I wrote last week that readers should expect continued volatility over the next several weeks. I remain convinced that we will re-test last Monday’s lows (and possibly even break them). If we did, that would create a last burst of panic and lead to a final washout.
Don’t try to trade this correction. Given the 200-point daily swings of the Dow, if the markets don’t scare you out, they will wear you out. Instead, start practicing your long-term perspective. Just give the stock market time to digest this transition. Your portfolios are going to come back by the end of the year. Focus on what’s really important over this holiday weekend. The economy is finally picking up speed. Wage gains are accelerating and employment is close to full capacity.