The Independent Market Observer

Is the Economy Shrinking?

April 29, 2022

Chalk another point up on the board for the importance of context. Yesterday’s economic data release showed that the economy actually shrank in the last quarter, down by 1.4 percent at an annual rate. This result was down from 6.9 percent in the prior quarter and well below the expected 1 percent growth rate.

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The 100K Project: Takeaways for Investors

April 28, 2022

This will be the last post on the 100K project because I finished it a couple of days ago, 364 days after I started. For those coming in fresh, the 100K project was a decision I made, 364 days ago, to start tracking my daily calorie balance—consumed less burned—over time. The goal was to get a net loss of 100,000 calories down, over an indefinite time period. You could think of it as taking 100,000 calories out of the fat bank.

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Putting Market Declines in Perspective

April 27, 2022

Following up on yesterday’s post about the recent market declines, I thought it would make sense to talk not just about the declines themselves (where they came from and where they are going), but also about what the declines mean from a larger portfolio perspective. To take the emotion out of it for a bit, and see what the larger picture can tell us.

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Why Is the Market Going Down?

April 26, 2022

The economy seems to be doing well, with job growth still at high levels, consumer spending still healthy, and businesses continuing to invest. But the stock market—which is supposedly a barometer of that economy—is acting very differently. The market has fallen significantly from its peak at the start of the year and, more recently, has taken a sharper drop. What’s going on here, and will it continue?

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Monday Update: New Home Construction Accelerates

April 25, 2022

There were several housing-related economic data releases last week. The reports showed that the pace of new home construction continued to improve in March, driven by long builder backlogs and a lack of existing homes for sale. This will be another busy week of updates, with reports that will touch on business spending, consumer confidence, first-quarter GDP growth, and personal income and spending in March.

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Alternative Investments and the Well-Balanced Portfolio

April 22, 2022

Earlier this week, my colleague Rob Swanke wrote about the relevance of the 60/40 portfolio in light of the current market environment. He asked whether this investment model, which seeks to balance the growth potential of equities with the volatility mitigation potential of fixed income, should be abandoned. Spoiler alert! Rob suggests we need to look forward, not backward, when making portfolio decisions, even though market conditions have changed. While short-term adjustments may help boost performance, the 60/40 portfolio can still be an attractive choice for the moderately aggressive investor.

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Global Inflation Outlook: Are Lower Numbers on the Horizon?

April 21, 2022

Inflation has grabbed headlines for the better part of a year now, as the Covid-19 response led to increased demand and supply constraints. That said, short-term inflation expectations have changed dramatically in recent months. In April 2021, inflation expectations for 2022 remained relatively subdued, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) calling for 1.6 percent consumer price inflation in 2021 and 1.7 percent in 2022 for advanced economies. In October 2021, these numbers had moved up to 2.8 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively. Since then, inflation in the U.S., euro area, and other advanced economies has continued to pick up, with the IMF’s most recent report from this month showing inflation for advanced economies at 5.7 percent in 2022 and 2.5 percent in 2023.

What has led to changes in this global inflation outlook? And what conditions are contributing to the IMF’s lowered inflation expectations going into 2023 and beyond?

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Bringing the 60/40 Portfolio Back to Life

April 20, 2022

Over the past few years, many people have been looking for alternatives to the 60/40 portfolio (a portfolio allocation of 60 percent equities/40 percent fixed income)—and for good reason. The Fed’s massive intervention to lower interest rates made the 40 percent allocation to fixed income in the 60/40 portfolio much less attractive. With inflation reaching levels we haven’t seen in decades and the Fed set to push interest rates higher, people have been wondering whether fixed income still provides the protection of principal that many investors are looking for. The Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index’s worst quarter in more than two decades has certainly increased this concern. This pain, however, has put fixed income in a much healthier position going forward with higher starting yields able to cushion investors from further declines in price.

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What's Ahead for Fixed Income Investors?

April 19, 2022

So far this year, we've seen a challenging start for fixed income investors. Rising interest rates caused prices for previously issued bonds to fall throughout the first quarter and into April, which led to declines for most fixed income sectors. As a result, many investors have been questioning what caused the selloff and what lies ahead. But, despite the rough start, there are reasons for optimism. Let’s look at what triggered the selloffs and why the rest of the year may offer opportunities for fixed income investors.

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Monday Update: Retail Sales and Consumer Sentiment Improve

April 18, 2022

Last week saw the release of a number of important economic updates. March’s inflation reports drew much of the attention, along with news on retail sales and consumer sentiment. The reports showed consumer and producer inflation picking up in March, in part due to rising energy costs. Nonetheless, retail sales growth remained solid during the month, and consumer sentiment improved to start April. This week will be busy once again, with a focus on the housing market update.

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Time to Unwind

April 14, 2022

Today’s post will be short, as tomorrow is a holiday leading into a long weekend—and next week is vacation! I have to admit, I am ready to get out of the office for a week. As much as I love Commonwealth and Massachusetts, a warm week at the beach isn’t bad either. Add in a chance to see my parents for Easter, and I’m very glad to be heading out.

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Should We Worry About Stagflation?

April 13, 2022

Following up on yesterday’s piece on inflation, I wanted to dig deeper into another topic I’ve been hearing about recently: stagflation. When people look at inflation and the fears of slower growth, the idea of stagflation comes back to life from the 1970s and 1980s. But that was a long time ago when few of us were paying attention to economics. So it’s worth going back to basics and thinking about what stagflation is before we start to worry too much.

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Is Inflation Peaking?

April 12, 2022

The most recent inflation data came in this morning, with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) up sharply again. The headline index was up by 1.2 percent for the month and by 8.5 percent for the year (a 40-year high). On the face of it, inflation is approaching a crisis. What if it keeps on rising?

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Monday Update: Service Sector Confidence on the Upswing

April 11, 2022

Several important economic updates were released last week, with the ISM Service sector confidence report serving as a highlight. The report showed that service sector confidence rebounded in March following Omicron-related declines to start the year. This will be a busy week of updates, with a focus on March’s inflation reports as well as a look at retail sales, consumer confidence, and industrial production.

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Monthly Market Risk Update: April 2022

April 8, 2022

My colleague Sam Millette, manager, fixed income on Commonwealth’s Investment Management and Research team, has helped me put together this month’s Market Risk Update. Thanks for the assist, Sam!

Markets rebounded in March, but it was not enough to offset earlier losses in January and February. The S&P 500 gained 3.71 percent in March, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) rose by 2.49 percent and the Nasdaq Composite increased by 3.48 percent. But the selloffs in January and February caused all three indices to end the quarter in negative territory. Despite the March gains, the S&P 500 lost 4.60 percent for the quarter, while the DJIA dropped 4.10 percent and the technology-heavy Nasdaq dropped 8.95 percent. The market decline to start the year is a reminder that risks remain that should be monitored going forward.

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What the Fed Meeting Minutes Mean for Investors

April 7, 2022

The most recent news bomb taking markets down was the release of the minutes from last month’s meeting of the Fed. The Fed raised rates, as was amply reported. In the following press conference, Fed Chair Jerome Powell was widely reported to be more hawkish, which is to say, likely to raise rates further. But what we did not know until yesterday was just how emphatic the decision was for the entire committee.

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Economic Risk Factor Update: April 2022

April 6, 2022

My colleague Sam Millette, manager, fixed income on Commonwealth’s Investment Management and Research team, has helped me put together this month’s Economic Risk Factor Update. Thanks for the assist, Sam!

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Looking Back at the Markets in March and Ahead to April 2022

April 5, 2022

We saw a bit of a bounce in stock markets in March, but not enough to recover from a terrible first quarter. U.S. markets were up between 2 percent and 4 percent for the month, and developed markets managed to squeak out a small gain, but everything else was down from 1 percent to 3 percent. For the quarter, markets were down between 3 percent and 8 percent, with blue-chip companies doing best and tech stocks getting hit the hardest.

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Monday Update: Strong Job Growth in March

April 4, 2022

There were several important economic updates last week, with the March employment report serving as a highlight. The report showed that hiring continued at a strong pace during the month, driving the unemployment rate to a new pandemic-era low. This will be another busy week of updates, with three major reports scheduled.

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Market Thoughts for April 2022 [Video]

April 1, 2022

We saw a bounce in stock markets for March, but everything was down between 3 percent and 8 percent for the first quarter. The reasons for this were twofold. First, with inflation at a 40-year high, the Fed was forced to raise interest rates. Second, the Russian invasion of Ukraine unsettled markets. Still, there were some positives. Hiring was strong, and business confidence and investment were healthy.

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