An important shift has taken place in this economic cycle. The Federal Reserve (Fed) was finally able to start following through on its projected rate hike path, raising rates twice in just over a three-month period. By doing so, the Fed showed increasing trust that the economy has largely met its dual mandate of 2% inflation and full employment, that the economy is progressively able to stand on its own two feet, and that fiscal policy may now provide the backstop to the economy that monetary policy has provided throughout the expansion. The gauges say growth engines and market drivers may have changed: power down monetary policy, power up business fundamentals, and potentially take fiscal policy and economic growth off standby.
Thus far in 2017, the consistency of this new fiscal-led dynamic has been uneven, leading to shifting market leadership amidst low volatility and a narrow trading range for major market indexes. To be sure, in the post-election rally, the financial markets began to price in many of the pro-growth policies offered by the Trump administration. Yet, despite an initial flurry of activity, political momentum slowed, and investor sentiment dampened even as consumer and business confidence remained high. It is important for investors to appreciate that despite these developments, U.S. equity indexes managed to progress through the first half of 2017 either at, or very near, all-time highs. Moreover, signs of financial stress, based on interest rates, credit spreads, and market volatility, remained largely absent. Most importantly, even with fiscal policy on standby, the return to business fundamentals, such as renewed corporate earnings growth, can now act as a market catalyst. The Fed will still have its role to play, but monetary policy is powering down as the driver of financial market strength.
Despite the significant role of monetary policy as a market driver throughout this expansion, general investing principles have held true. The ability to form a good plan and stick to it, with judicious adaptation to the market environment, is the time-tested foundation of continued progress toward financial goals. If we are shifting to new market dynamics, including a greater role for corporate profits and fiscal policy, understanding the evolving opportunities will be important for diversified investors. Use LPL Research’s Midyear Outlook: A Shift In Market Control as your guide to the shift in growth engines fueling this market.