“Should feel happy… should feel glad… I’m alive and it can’t be bad… But back on Planet Earth they shatter the illusion… The world’s going round in a state of confusion…. I’m in a state… state of confusion… it’s a state… state of confusion…”
The legendary Ray Davies of the Kinks wrote “State of Confusion” in 1983. Thirty-five years later, the lyrics are marvelously appropriate for where we stand. Just look at some of the news highlights from the past couple weeks:
1) Kim Jung Un of North Korea and President Moon of South Korea appear like star-crossed lovers as they proclaim potential denuclearization and the end of their multi-decade conflict.
2) Presidents Trump and Macron also cooed like enamored birds before Macron repudiated much of Trump’s agenda in a speech before Congress.
3) President Trump admitted that his lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen did represent him in the Stormy Daniels affair after claiming two weeks previously that he had no knowledge of the incident.
4) Another Presidential would-be appointee steps down before confirmation in the wake of allegations of prior misconduct on the job.
5) First Lady Melania Trump was photographed smiling. Never mind that she was sitting next to former President Obama at the time during the funeral of Barbara Bush.
It’s difficult to get one’s arms wrapped around the daily news flow, let alone be able to anticipate what might come next. If indeed the Korean peninsula is able to stabilize, it will be a major victory for both the world and President Trump. The soon-to-be scheduled meeting between the leaders of the US and North Korea could be the most important event of the year.
Amidst all the confusion and surprise, the stock market was basically flat in April. I’m honestly a bit surprised at the performance given the strength of corporate earnings thus far. Perhaps it’s the old “sell the news” concept, but most companies that have reported in this cycle have given solid results. Through the first third of the year, we’ve had plenty of roller coaster weeks, but no major progress in the averages. Fixed income is slightly down for the year, and precious metals have also been flat. About the only major movement in April has been the rise in oil prices. Crude flirted with the $70./barrel mark, and gas at the pumps looks headed for the $3 level just in time for summer driving season. Conspiracy and collusion theories are welcomed on this latter point.
One of the themes that could have held back April stock performance is the continued climb in interest rates. The ten year Treasury crossed the 3% barrier last week for the first time in several years. Perhaps this is signaling the end of easy money from the Federal Reserve. Combined with rising gas prices and the specter of a Democratic flip of Congress in November, the uncertainty of the macro climate hasn’t helped equities growth.
That being said, I’m still cautiously optimistic that the stock market will begin to reflect earnings power at some point. If equities are so expensive, why did we have two more sizable merger/acquisition stories today (Sprint/T-Mobile and Marathon Oil/Andeavor)? Even though volatility has increased substantially this year, that doesn’t mean that the multi-year upward trend can’t be continued. The macroeconomic backdrop remains the same – low interest rates, solid corporate earnings, strong balance sheets, and perhaps a whiff of world stability if the Korean peninsula initiatives pan out. Let’s continue to be patient.
I’m pleased to say that our new relationship with W3 is going quite well. As I mentioned, their culture and business models parallel ours closely. We haven’t had any staff changes and thankfully there’s been very little client movement. We’re excited about the future, and we’ll be integrating best practices between our firms as the year goes on. I appreciate your continued support and trust.
Instead of dwelling on the seemingly perpetual state of confusion in American politics, let’s enjoy the lovely spring weather. The equinox might have been late here in the Midwest, but it’s in full bloom now (or so my allergies tell me). I look forward to talking with you soon.
The opinions expressed in this letter are those of William Schiffman and should not be construed as specific investment advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, no representation is made to its completeness or accuracy. All economic and performance information is historical and not indicative of future results. Diversification cannot assure a profit or guarantee against a loss. Indices are unmanaged and do not incur fees, one cannot directly invest in an index.