2011 Quarter 1 Market Review
Spring has arrived in Wisconsin...which means cool (sometimes cold), windy, wet and sometimes threatening weather. I know this firsthand, as I am assistant coach of the Germantown High School boys tennis team and we have had two days of matches in which I was dressed in 3+ layers of clothing (including my winter coat one day) while the boys were trying to play in shorts and a t-shirt!
This sort of unpredictable weather is akin to the stormy events affecting the global economy during the first quarter of 2011. Political revolutions and civil wars across multiple countries in the Middle East, which may or may not signal the start of a global trend toward democratization, have raised concerns about worldwide oil supply during a period of increasing demand. A devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan led to a nuclear disaster and created uncertainty about the use of nuclear power as an alternate energy source going forward. Locally, the political events and massive demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin are indicative of pressures faced by municipalities around the country and have further deepened partisan ideology (which is unfortunate and unproductive, in my opinion).
Through all of these negative headlines (which could be perceived as "black swan" events), the global economy moved past the recovery stage and into expansion. While consumer confidence remains low in the U.S. and other developed countries (due to rising gas prices, depleted home prices, and a still high unemployment rate), the U.S. real GDP output recovered has now exceeded the output lost during the recession of 2007-2009. The recovery/expansion is now longer (8 quarters) than the recession (6 quarters). Global stock markets continue their relentless push forward, and the U.S. stock market is now up over 100% since the low point in March, 2009. In fact, small and mid cap U.S. stocks have now exceeded their values at the market peak in October, 2007.
How can all of this happen concurrently? Most professional investors began to realize in 2010 that the financial crises, while very damaging, is behind us. The swift (yet politically unpopular) actions of governments and the central banks helped preserve financial stability. Lending standards have eased, small business optimism is elevated, and corporate profits are very high. Interest rates and core inflation are low. Investors were too conservative in their asset allocations coming into 2011 and are rebalancing their portfolios (net inflows to stock funds and net outflows from bonds funds for the past 4 months), providing momentum to the stock market.
There are, of course, many questions regarding the future health of global economies. Headline inflation is creeping higher, with oil and food prices leading the way. Austerity measures are being initiated in some European countries, which could slow their economies. Many economists are now speculating the U.S. Fed will raise interest rates late this year to begin the fight against inflation, which can be a headwind for bond investors. Emerging markets economies are showing rapid growth, but their stock valuations have become relatively high. Of course, we continue to monitor current events and will suggest appropriate tweaks to your investment strategy as appropriate.
Download our Qtr 1 2011 Flash Report
As always, if you would like to meet with me to review your investment portfolio, please call Liz or me to arrange for an appointment.
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