November 28, 2017, 4:30 pm EST
Stocks continue to rise today, up another 1% on the Dow. So year-to-date, the Dow is up 20% now, the S&P 500 is up 17% and the Russell 2000 is up 13%. Remember, most of Wall Street was expecting 3%-4% returns for stocks this year.
What did they miss? Mostly the rise in optimism surrounding the incoming pro-growth government.
With consumer and corporate balance sheets as good as we’ve seen in a long time, unemployment at 4.1% and corporate earnings growing at a 10% clip through the first three quarters, and tax cuts coming, we should expect almost everything to go up.
As for tax cuts, that got a step closer today, as it was approved by the Senate budget committee. Now it goes to a vote on the floor of the Senate.
All of this, and market interest rates are going nowhere. The 10-year yield, at 2.33%, is just about where we started the year. That’s, in part, being weighed down by some comments by incoming Fed Chair Jerome Powell.
Today, Powell gave prepared remarks and took questions for his confirmation hearing with the Senate today. The general view has been that Powell is a like-thinker to Yellen, but with partisan alignment for the president.
But under Yellen’s leadership at the Fed, the overly optimistic forecasts about inflation and the rate path affected consumer behaviors and nearly stalled the recovery last year. They had to reverse course on their projections and game plan early in 2016. And then we had the election, and the prospects of fiscal stimulus, and the Fed (under Yellen) went back to the script of telegraphing a more restrictive rate environment.
Now, with that in mind, I thought early on that Trump would show Yellen the door. And I expected him to appoint a new Fed Chair that was a clear dove–someone that would leave rates alone (given the weak inflation) and let fiscal stimulus feed into the recovering economy, to finally fuel some animal spirits. Do no harm to the economy. Even Bernanke suggested the Fed should let the economy run hot, warning not to kill the recovery by setting expectations for tighter credit coming down the pike.
From Powell’s comments today, it sounds like we may be getting less Yellen than people have believed. In his short prepared remarks, he made an effort to say he strives to support the economy’s progress toward full recovery. He implied the job market needs more improvement, and that he favors easing the regulatory burden on banks. This doesn’t sound like a guy that thinks the economy can withstand mechanically stepping rates higher in the face of weak inflation and sub-trend growth.