In both late 1999 and 2007 we warned against the mentality that caused investors to overlook the dire-looking events that were swirling all around them. The warnings were generally ignored on the grounds that you couldn’t fight against a market that was continually rising. Of course, we now know the eventual outcome. Once again the market is rising despite a spate of negative factors that are widely known to the investing public. The main bullish theme is that the economic numbers are improving, corporate earnings are robust and the Fed will guarantee this will continue even if it has to institute QE3 and QE4. Unfortunately, however, a number of factors are indicating that the good fortune is about to end soon. We cite the following.
1) QE2 is ending on June 30th. The program will, by that time, have pumped $600 billion into the economy, meeting Chairman Bernanke’s stated goal of jump-starting the stock market. The end of the program means a defacto tightening of monetary policy. This has been the major factor holding up both the stock market and a fragile economy that will not be self-sustaining once the Treasury bond purchases are halted. A continuation of quantitative easing is highly unlikely as it would be politically difficult. Furthermore an increasing number of FOMC members are themselves hinting at a possible imminent tightening.
2) Fiscal policy is about to tighten as well. That is obviously what the discussion in Washington is all about. Whether the government temporarily shuts down or not is a non-issue. The fact is that, one way or another, both sides of the debate are now intent on reducing the federal deficit. So, whatever the merits, both fiscal and monetary policy will be less easy. That is a headwind against the economy and stock market
3) A broad array of commodity prices is rising. This is increasing corporate costs at a time when they will be difficult to pass on as consumers are strapped for income and are paying down debt. This is bound to squeeze profit margins in the period ahead and result in downward earnings guidance.