The first half of this year was shaky, and made some people wonder if the positive, bull market was coming to an end. Thankfully, the market stabilized in the second quarter, and made back much of the losses. The U.S. equity markets are back on the positive side.
The broadest measure of the U.S. market is the Wilshire 5000 Total Market index. For this last quarter, it finished up 3.83%. For the first half of the year, it was up 3.04%.¹
There are two closely-followed indices for the U.S. large company market: the Wilshire U.S. Large Cap index, and the Standard and Poors 500 index of large company stocks. The Wilshire index was up 3.41% in the last quarter, and up 2.62 from the beginning of the year.¹ The S&P 500 index was up 2.93% in the last quarter, and up 1.67% for the year.² The generous tax cut that Trump gave these companies, from 35% all the way down to 21%, took awhile to kick in, which is one reason why the second quarter performance was better than the first.
Over a longer period of time, small companies tend to grow faster than large companies. This makes sense, because it’s easier to double in size if you’re a small company, compared to doubling in size as a mega-company. Small U.S. companies are starting to have their day in the sun. The Wilshire U.S. Small Cap index rose 7.87% in the last three months, and is up 7.08% for the year. ¹ A comparable index is the Russell 2000 Small Cap index. It is up 7.66% since the beginning of the year.³
International stocks have been hit badly by the Trump trade tariffs. Because the U.S. economy is the strongest in the world, it’s like the 800-pound gorilla. Trump is likely betting that in an all-out trade war, weaker global economies will feel the pain more than the U.S., and so far this is happening. The EAFE (Europe, Australasia and Far East) index, which represents companies in developed foreign markets, lost 2.34% in the last quarter. The performance for the year is even worse, down 4.49%. Europe by itself has a loss of 2.74% over the last three months, and an overall loss of 5.23% for the year.
Emerging markets indices represent small, less-developed but quickly-growing economies, like China, India, Brazil and Russia. These suffered most of all from the trade war in the last quarter. The Shanghai Composite is already in a bear market, down more than 20% from its 52-week high. MSCI’s EM index is down 8.66% for the quarter, with a loss of 7.68% for the year.⁴
Trade tariffs act like an extra tax on the people. When the U.S. slaps tariffs on goods coming into the U.S., it doesn’t go into our pockets — it goes into the U.S. Treasury as extra revenue. Because domestic producers are not forced to reduce their prices from increased competition, U.S. consumers are left paying higher prices as a result. In a round-about way, the tariffs are helping the government pay for the tax cut to corporations, and Americans are paying the price at the cash register.
Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, has raised interest rates a couple of times already this year. He also announced possible further interest rate increases for September, December, next March, and next June. This has a direct impact on the bond market. Typically, when interest rates go up, bond values go down, with long-term bonds affected the most. When bond values go down, the coupon rate (which is relative to the lower value) goes up. Consequently, the coupon rate on 10-year Treasury bonds has risen to 2.86%, and for 30-year Treasuries, 2.99%.⁵
You’ll notice that the coupon rate between 10-year and 30-year Treasuries is not that different. This is called a “flattening yield curve,” and is a concern to economists because it’s an indication that the current bull market, which started in March of 2009, is running out of steam.
The stimulus given to corporations in the recent Tax Law gave an artificial boost of adrenalin to the U.S. market and economy. The benefits could be short-lived, but the long-term impact of the additional $1 trillion deficit can have dire consequences, especially if the Trump administration attempts to take it out of Medicare, Social Security and other programs that benefit everyone.