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July 2019 Market Recap: Fed Cuts Rates as GDP Growth Slows

With the economy showing signs of a slowdown, the Federal Reserve (Fed) cut interest rates by 0.25% on July 31 – the first rate cut since 2008 – to a target range of 2.00% to 2.25%.

Image 1

Fed chair, Jerome Powell, depicted the rate cut as a mid-cycle adjustment rather than the first step of a long-term rate-reduction policy, although he did not rule out further cuts if warranted by economic weakness.

Gross domestic product (GDP) growth was estimated at 2.1% in the second quarter of 2019, according to the advance estimate released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). That was well below the 3.5% growth rate in the second quarter of 2018 and slightly below the 2.2% rate in the second quarter of 2017. It was also well below the 3.1% rate in the first quarter of 2019.

Disposable personal income increased 4.9% year-over-year in the second quarter compared with an increase of 4.8% in the first quarter, according to the BEA report. Real disposable personal income increased 2.5% year-over-year in the second quarter compared with an increase of 4.4% in the first quarter.

Exhibit 1

Here are some other recent economic highlights, which are covered in greater detail later in this report (Exhibit 1):

  • Stocks inch up. The S&P 500® was up 1.31% in July.
  • Retail sales rise. Retail sales were up 0.4% from the previous month in June, according to the Department of Commerce.
  • Employment keeps climbing. The economy added 164,000 new jobs in July, and the unemployment rate remained at 3.7%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Bond yields flat. Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasuries continued to hover around 2% as the Fed cut rates.
  • Oil prices steady. Oil prices were virtually unchanged in July amidst a stable global market.

Drilling Down

Exhibit 2

U.S. stocks up slightly

The S&P 500 Index was up 1.31% in July, from 2,941.76 at the end of June to 2,980.38 at the July close (Exhibit 2). Through the first seven months of 2019, the S&P 500 is up 18.89%. (The S&P 500 is a market-cap-weighted index that represents the average performance of a group of 500 large capitalization stocks.)

The total return of the S&P 500 (including dividends) was 1.44% in July and 20.24% through the first seven months of 2019.

The NASDAQ Index also moved up in July, from 8,006.24 at the end of June to 8,175.42 at the July close – a 2.11% gain. For the year, the NASDAQ is up 23.21%. (The NASDAQ – National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations – is an electronic stock exchange with more than 3,300 company listings.)

Retail sales strong

Retail sales for June were up 0.4% from the previous month, according to the Department of Commerce July 16 report. Sales were up 3.4% from a year earlier.

Motor vehicle sales were up 0.7% from the previous month and 4.1% from a year earlier, building materials were up 0.5% from the previous month, but down 2.5% from a year earlier, and non-store retailers (primarily online) were up 1.7% for the month and 13.4% from a year earlier.

Employment still on the rise

U.S. employers added 164,000 new jobs in July after adding 224,000 jobs in June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.7%. The economy has added jobs for 106 consecutive months.

Exhibit 3

Average hourly earnings increased by $0.08 in July to $27.98. Over the past 12 months, wages have increased 3.2%.

Sectors mixed

Seven of the 11 sectors of the S&P 500 posted gains in July, while the other four sectors moved down. Leading the way were Communications Services, up 3.37%, and Information Technology, up 3.33%. On the flip side, Energy was down 1.78%, although it is still up 11.11% for the year, and Health Care was down 1.59% for the month. Health Care has been the worst performing sector this year, up just 6.35%.

Exhibit 4

Exhibit 3 shows the results of the 11 sectors for the past month and all of 2019.

Treasury yields flat

The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasuries barely moved in July, ending the month at 2.02% compared with 2.00% at the end of June (Exhibit 4). For the year, the rate is down 0.66% from the 2.68% rate at the end of 2018.

Exhibit 5

Oil prices hold steady

Oil prices were little changed in July, as the price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate, a grade of crude oil used as a benchmark in oil pricing, inched up just $0.11, from $58.47 at the June close to $58.58 at the end of July (Exhibit 5).

International equities slip

Exhibit 6

International stocks continue to face a challenging environment, as trade and tariff issues hinder the global economy. The MSCI EAFE Index dipped 1.31% for the month from 1,922.30 at the June close to 1,897.12 at the end of July (Exhibit 6). (The MSCI EAFE Index tracks developed-economy stocks in Europe, Asia and Australia.)

What’s ahead for the economy and the markets? See Global Economy Caught Between Consumer Strength and Manufacturing Softness by Mark Simenstad, CFA, Chief Investment Strategist

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