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OVERCOMING A WALL OF WORRIES

With weaker than expected jobs growth in May, the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) recent disappointing economic forecast, negative interest rates around the globe, and the Brexit, the list of worries for investors continues to pile up. The U.S. economic recovery will turn seven at the end of this month, but very few realize that or feel like it has helped them. In the face of all the bad news, the S&P 500 is still only 2.8% away from a new all-time high. So maybe things aren’t so bad?

This week we examine some of the biggest worries we have when it comes to the stock market and the economy, but we also list some reasons to be positive. The worries tend to dominate…

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ALL ABOUT THE DOT PLOTS

As the fourth of eight Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings of 2016 approaches later this week, the market and the Federal Reserve (Fed) again remain deeply divided over the timing and pace of Fed rate hikes. The FOMC’s latest forecast (March 2016) puts the fed funds rate at 0.875% by the end of 2016. As of June 13, 2016, the market (according to fed funds futures) puts the fed funds rate at around 0.50% by the end of 2016…

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BEIGE BOOK: WINDOW ON MAIN STREET

The latest Beige Book suggests that the U.S. economy is still growing near its long-term trend, and that the drag from a stronger dollar and weaker energy prices is fading. However, oil production — which has continued to decline despite the run-up in oil prices from the mid-$20 per barrel range in January 2016 to near $50 today — is weighing on economic conditions in the energy-producing states. In addition, our analysis of the Beige Book confirms that there continues to be some

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JAM-PACKED JUNE

There are a number of big market events coming up next month that may go a long way toward determining the direction of equity markets over the balance of the year:

ECB policy meeting (June 2). The European Central Bank (ECB) has embarked on a massive bond buying program (quantitative easing [QE]) — similar to the Fed’s programs in recent years — to help reinvigorate the region’s economy and fight deflation. A major shift in policy at the June meeting is unlikely given the central bank will not start…

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SPINNING OUR WHEELS

The one-year anniversary of the S&P 500’s all-time high took place on May 21, 2016. Stocks have largely been spinning their wheels for the past year. The S&P 500 has failed to return to its May 21, 2015, record high for 12 months. Stocks have actually been spinning their wheels for even longer, considering the S&P 500 is at the same level as it was on November 18, 2014 — an 18-month stretch. This week we take a look at what the stock market’s lackluster performance since the last record high might mean for the current bull market, now the second longest since 1950.

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CORPORATE BEIGE BOOK

Our analysis of earnings conference call transcripts for the first quarter earnings period provides a mixed picture. The good news is that economic fears and drags from oil and the dollar are abating and earnings are almost certainly putting in a growth trough. However, conference call transcripts do not suggest sentiment is improving much, and management commentary is consistent with a continued slow growth environment. All of this casts some doubt regarding the strength of a potential second half earnings rebound.

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TAKING STOCK AFTER THE RALLY

Stocks have had quite a nice run. Since the February 11, 2016 lows the S&P 500 has gained 14%. The rally has been driven by many factors — chief among them, better U.S. economic data, higher oil prices, the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) slower rate hike timetable, increased confidence in China, and more stimulus from overseas central banks. These factors have enabled stocks to trade more on fundamentals than fear, and have pushed the S&P 500 to just 2.4% below its all-time high. Here we assess the likelihood that the rally continues from this point forward, and, if so, how much further it might have to go.

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VOLATILITY SPIKES, BUT EQUITIES PROVE RESILIENT

U.S. economy weathers market volatility as labor market improves and manufacturing steadies. Based on data received so far, first quarter 2016 real gross domestic product (GDP) growth is tracking at 1.5 – 2.0%, following 1.4% growth in the fourth quarter of 2015 and 2.0% growth in the third. Concern about global economic weakness and tightening financial conditions prompted the Federal Reserve (Fed) to delay further rate hikes and lower its internal forecast from four 25 basis point (0.25%) rate hikes in…

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CHECKING IN ON TRADE

The U.S. has run a trade deficit (importing more goods and services from other countries than it exports) since the mid-1970s, which acts as a drag on overall gross domestic product (GDP) growth [Figure 1]. Although the trade deficit narrows during recessions, when imports typically fall faster than exports, the trade gap has increased over time, and currently stands at around 3.0% of GDP. Along with the massive budget deficit, the trade deficit is one of the major economic challenges facing the U.S. and has fostered the…

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BEIGE BOOK: WINDOW ON MAIN STREET

The latest Beige Book suggests that the U.S. economy is still growing near its long term trend, but that the drag from a stronger dollar and weaker energy prices, along with the slowdown in emerging market (EM) economies — most notably China, are still having a major impact on the manufacturing sector. In addition, our analysis of the Beige Book confirms that there has been some spillover of weakness from the energy and manufacturing sectors to other parts of the economy in recent months. Comments in the Beige Book also continue to indicate that some upward pressure on wages is beginning to emerge; but the wage pressures are not accelerating, which should keep the Federal Reserve (Fed) from raising interest rates aggressively this year.

Overall, the Beige Book described the economy as expanding at a “modest or moderate” pace in 7 of the 12 districts, a downshift from the 9 of 12 citing “modest or moderate growth” in the January 2016 Beige Book. In general, optimism regarding the economic outlook far outweighed pessimism throughout the Beige Book, as it has for the past two years or so, but pessimism is running high in the energy producing regions of the U.S. The Beige Book is a qualitative assessment of the…

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