Appeared in the Ladue News by Benjamin Ola Akande, March 22, 2018
The resurgence of the stock market has much to do with confidence in it – confidence that continued to grow following Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election in November 2016.
But truth be told, the strategy that laid the groundwork for this remarkable ride actually originated with former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, a scholar of the Great Depression who unleashed a dramatic assault to address the 2008 Great Recession.
That assault began with the Fed cutting short-term interest rates to historical lows of 0.15 percent in January 2009. The essence of the strategy involved keeping short-term interest rates as close to 0 percent as possible to enable the U.S. economy to recover. And so it was for the next six years. In addition, the Fed bought long-term bonds and mortgage-backed securities over a 10-year period, peaking at a value of $4.4 billion in January 2018.
Perhaps the strategy can be nicknamed “the Bernanke” because it involved a relatively new monetary position, specifically designed to entice investors to stop buying bonds and to start purchasing equities and investing in real estate. It worked – as household wealth increased, leading to more consumer spending – and it also paved the way for the economic recovery we all are enjoying today.
The stock market awoke as the value of equities owned by the average American increased upward of 45 percent between 2011 and 2013. The net worth for households increased by $10 trillion in just 2013, so imagine the consequential impact on the S&P 500, which increased by more than 200 percent between 2009 and November 2016. But then the “Trump bump” happened, with the stock market increasing an additional 100 percent, now totaling 300 percent in the aftermath of the election.
Yes, the market has benefited from a higher level of confidence perhaps attributable to the election and Trump’s presidency. However, the price/earnings (P/E) ratio just before the election already exceeded historical averages by 49 percent. And now the Fed is expected to curtail the availability of easy money that fueled these good times. Given this sensitive balancing act, I myself suspect the Fed will get the job done without plunging the economy into another recession.
Not everyone on Wall Street agrees, though, which explains why we saw the Dow Jones industrial average fall 1,597 points in a single day. This panic-type selling originated from a fear that the Fed, under the leadership of its new chairman, would reverse the long streak of tepid inflation and that low interest rates will abruptly end.
The panic quickly subsided, though, and the market’s losses have been halved, although daily volatility remains. Rising yields mean higher borrowing costs for companies, and that may push the Fed to raise interest rates more rapidly, which would adversely affect stock prices. Some economists contend the stock market rise resembles a mountain climber scaling a steep slope – at some point, the “mountain climber” slows and maybe even descends a bit to regroup and regain strength, before continuing to climb.
Of course, as important as the stock market remains as an indicator of how the economy is doing, it alone doesn’t indicate economic prosperity and continued growth. Consider, for instance, these factors:
- The U.S. gross domestic product has been expanding at an annual pace of more than 3 percent after inflation for three straight quarters.
- Average hourly earnings rose to $26.74 in January, a 2.9 percent increase over the past year.
- The labor market participation rate has been around 63 percent for the past four months.
Given those positive trends, I would advise long-term investors not to panic. Market corrections of 10 percent or more frequently occur. This isn’t the time to undo your entire investment strategy.
Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande is the president of BOA Consulting and former president of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He has a Ph.D. in economics and previously served as dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology at Webster University.