Quarterly Economic Update for Q1, 2019

Steven Story |

In this Q1 recap: the Federal Reserve alters its outlook, the truce in the trade dispute holds, the real estate market strengthens, and stocks make an impressive comeback from Q4, even as growth concerns mount.

Quarterly Economic Update


A review of Q1 2019, Presented by Steven Story



The strongest first quarter for stocks in 21 years featured all kinds of news. Central banks revised their outlook on monetary policy, seeing less robust economies in 2019. Faint glimmers of progress emerged in the U.S.-China trade dispute. Concerns over near-term corporate earnings and bond yields grew. The possibility of a “hard” Brexit loomed in Europe. The real estate market showed signs of heating up again. As the closing bell rang on the last trading day of March, the Standard and Poor’s 500 notched a 13% gain for the first three months of the year.1



Late last year, the Federal Reserve was forecasting two interest rate hikes for 2019 and maintaining a fairly hawkish outlook. On March 20, the central bank veered away from all that. It cut its 2019 growth forecast for the economy by 0.2% to 2.1%, indicated it would not raise interest rates this year, and projected just one quarter-point hike through 2021. At a press conference immediately after the release of the March policy statement, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell shared his view that the “growth of economic activity has slowed,” but he added that Fed policymakers did not foresee a recession developing.2

The financial markets reacted swiftly. Demand for longer-term Treasury notes rose. By March 22, the yield on the 10-year Treasury had fallen dramatically, to the point where the yield on the 2-year Treasury exceeded it. (Bond yields fall when bond prices rise.) Economists refer to this as an inverted yield curve. Some economists see an inverted yield curve as a recession signal, while others disagree. The sudden flight to longer-term Treasuries did seem to reflect a lessening of risk appetite among institutional investors. Just six days after the Fed made its pivot, the CMEGroup’s FedWatch Tool, which tracks market expectations about interest rate changes, gave the Fed a 71.7% chance of making an interest rate cut by the end of the year.3,4

Some of the incoming data during the quarter seemed to correspond with the Fed’s revised assessment of the economy, but some did not. (Some was actually delayed as an effect of the federal government shutdown that carried into late January.)

Inflation pressure eased. In October, the Consumer Price Index showed a 2.5% annualized advance. By February, inflation was running at just 1.5%.5

Job creation surged, then fell off. There were 311,000 net new jobs in January, but just 20,000 in February. From January to February, though, the unemployment rate declined from 4.0% to 3.8%, and the broader U-6 rate, encompassing the underemployed, dropped from 8.1% to 7.3%. (The federal government shutdown may have affected some of the above numbers.)6  

The quarter also ended with the Bureau of Economic Analysis downgrading fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP). The prior estimate was 2.6%; the revised estimate was 2.2%.7

One important consumer confidence gauge rose and fell during the quarter: the Conference Board’s index declined sharply to 124.1 in March, after hitting a 3-month peak of 131.4 in February. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index performed better: it started the quarter with a drop of 7.1 points in January, but by late March, it was at 98.4, a tenth of a point above where it was in December.8,9

The Institute for Supply Management’s monthly purchasing manager index, following manufacturing activity, was nowhere near 60 (a level it reached last summer), but remained well above 50 (the mark delineating sector expansion from industry contraction). ISM’s manufacturing PMI was at 56.6 in January, 54.2 in February, and 55.3 in March.10



Financial markets worldwide breathed a collective sigh of relief as the trade dispute between the U.S. and China eased. Negotiations between the two nations continued during the quarter, but no deal emerged. While some trade analysts see an agreement being reached in the second quarter, there are doubts that such an accord will resolve the issue at the center of the tariff fight – the concern that Chinese firms are using their technologies to steal U.S. intellectual property. In March, President Trump said that he would prefer leaving 25% tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese products in place, even if a new trade deal was forged.11

The quarter ended without a Brexit or even an accepted Brexit path – with the United Kingdom facing a potentially unpleasant outcome. The revised Brexit deal, which Prime Minister Theresa May brought to Parliament, was rejected for a third time in late March, raising the possibility of the U.K. leaving the European Union on April 12 without any kind of defined trade agreement. The European Central Bank surprised financial markets in early March with a decision to revive some of the economic stimulus measures it had recently ended, and it also indicated that would leave interest rates unchanged until at least 2020. The latest forecast from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) projects only 1% growth for the eurozone this year and less than that for the economies of Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom.12,13



The S&P 500 was just one of many equity benchmarks advancing double digits in the first quarter. In fact, nearly every foreign stock index posted a quarterly gain of some kind. China’s Shanghai Composite surged 26.77%; Italy’s FTSE MIB, 16.17%; Hong Kong’s Hang Seng, 14.41%; France’s CAC 40, 13.10%; all outperformed the S&P for Q1. Other notable gains: Canada’s TSX Composite, 12.42%; Euro Stoxx 50, 11.66%; Germany’s DAX, 9.16%; Brazil’s Bovespa, 8.56%; the United Kingdom’s FTSE 100, 8.19%; India’s BSE Sensex, 8.11%; Japan’s Nikkei 225, 7.56%; South Korea’s KOSPI, 6.19%. MCSI’s World index rose 11.88% in the quarter; MSCI’s Emerging Markets index, 9.56%.14,15



Oil outgained all other major commodities during the quarter. The value of West Texas Intermediate crude rose 29.98% on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), taking the per-barrel price to $60.18 at the March 29 close. Other major Q1 advances: unleaded gasoline, 25.52%; palladium, 14.98%; copper, 9.29%; platinum, 6.59%; lumber, 6.07%; cotton, 5.61%. The significant retreats: natural gas, 4.21%; cocoa, 6.44%; corn, 6.98%; coffee, 9.22%; wheat, 11.76%. Gold gained but 0.29% for the quarter, while silver lost 2.65%. On the NYMEX Commodity Exchange, gold was worth $1,290.80 per ounce at the close on March 29; silver, $15.10 per ounce. The U.S. Dollar Index closed out Q1 1.27% higher at 97.20.16,17



Is a buyer’s market returning? As the quarter ended, some real estate industry journalists and analysts wondered if that was the case. Existing home sales surged 11.8% in February, according to the National Association of Realtors. That was the largest monthly gain seen since December 2015. While residential resales were still down 1.8%, year-over-year, this latest NAR report was certainly encouraging. NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun cited “lower mortgage rates, more inventory, rising income, and higher consumer confidence” as contributing factors in the increase. Additionally, the Census Bureau said that the pace of new home buying improved 4.9% during February; economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast a 1.3% advance.18,19

As Yun noted, cheaper home loans factored in to all this. The decline in longer-term Treasury yields influenced mortgage rates. By the last week of March, a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was carrying an average interest rate of just 4.06%, according to the calculations of mortgage buyer Freddie Mac. Compare that with 4.95% as recently as November. (The 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage carried an average interest rate of just 3.57% as March ended.)20

In February, the median sale price of an existing home was $249,500, representing a year-over-year increase of 3.6%. The median new home purchase price was $315,300, and that was down 3.6% from a year earlier.18,19


T I P   O F   T H E   Q U A R T E R

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As the table below shows, the major U.S. equity benchmarks recorded great gains in the quarter. The closing settlements on the last trading day of Q1: Dow Jones Industrial Average, 25,928.68; S&P 500, 2,834.40; Nasdaq Composite, 7,729.32. The S&P Smallcap 600 ended the quarter at 939.30, advancing 11.17%.21














S&P 500









3/29 RATE

12/31 RATE







Sources: barchart.com, treasury.gov - 3/29/1821,22,23

Indices are unmanaged, do not incur fees or expenses, and cannot be invested into directly. These returns do not include dividends. 10-year Treasury yield = projected return on investment, expressed as a percentage, on the U.S. government’s 10-year bond.


Just as the bulls seemed beaten down, they came running right back. After diving nearly 14% in the last three months of 2018, the S&P 500 rebounded more than 13% in the opening quarter of 2019. While consumer spending is still strong, many analysts still see slightly less economic growth this year (between 2%-2.5%). Stock market analytics firm FactSet is now projecting 4% profit growth for S&P 500 firms in 2019; when 2018 ended, the projection was near 10%. Economies in Europe and China appear to be less robust, and that could put a drag on the revenue of S&P 500 companies, 40% of which comes from outside the U.S. An abrupt April Brexit could also be a negative for global equity markets. The financial markets showed great resilience in Q1, forcing some financial firms to reconsider their full-year outlook.1



Q U O T E   O F   T H E   Q U A R T E R


“The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.”




Steven Story may be reached at 801-689-2747 or slstory@unitedplanners.com https://stevenstory.advisorwebsite.com/

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This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. The information herein has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investments will fluctuate and when redeemed may be worth more or less than when originally invested. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All market indices discussed are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment. Indices do not incur management fees, costs, or expenses. Investors cannot invest directly in indices. All economic and performance data is historical and not indicative of future results. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted index of 30 actively traded blue-chip stocks. The NASDAQ Composite Index is a market-weighted index of all over-the-counter common stocks traded on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation System. The Standard & Poor's 500 (S&P 500) is a market-cap weighted index composed of the common stocks of 500 leading companies in leading industries of the U.S. economy. NYSE Group, Inc. (NYSE:NYX) operates two securities exchanges: the New York Stock Exchange (the “NYSE”) and NYSE Arca (formerly known as the Archipelago Exchange, or ArcaEx®, and the Pacific Exchange). NYSE Group is a leading provider of securities listing, trading and market data products and services. The New York Mercantile Exchange, Inc. (NYMEX) is the world's largest physical commodity futures exchange and the preeminent trading forum for energy and precious metals, with trading conducted through two divisions – the NYMEX Division, home to the energy, platinum, and palladium markets, and the COMEX Division, on which all other metals trade. The SSE Composite Index is an index of all stocks (A shares and B shares) that are traded at the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The FTSE MIB is the benchmark stock market index for the Borsa Italiana, the Italian national stock exchange. The Hang Seng Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization-weighted stock market index that is the main indicator of the overall market performance in Hong Kong. The CAC-40 Index is a narrow-based, modified capitalization-weighted index of 40 companies listed on the Paris Bourse. The S&P/TSX Composite Index is an index of the stock (equity) prices of the largest companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) as measured by market capitalization. The EURO STOXX 50 is a stock index of Eurozone stocks designed by STOXX, an index provider owned by Deutsche Börse Group. The DAX 30 is a Blue Chip stock market index consisting of the 30 major German companies trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The Bovespa Index, best known as Ibovespa, is the benchmark index of about 60 stocks that are traded on the B3 (Bovespa: BOlsa de Valores do Estado de São PAulo). The FTSE 100 Index is a share index of the 100 most highly capitalized companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. BSE Sensex or Bombay Stock Exchange Sensitivity Index is a value-weighted index composed of 30 stocks that started January 1, 1986. Nikkei 225 (Ticker: ^N225) is a stock market index for the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE). The Nikkei average is the most watched index of Asian stocks. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index or KOSPI is the major stock market index of South Korea, representing all common stocks traded on the Korea Exchange. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a float-adjusted market capitalization index consisting of indices in more than 25 emerging economies. The MSCI World Index is a free-float weighted equity index that includes developed world markets and does not include emerging markets. The CBOE Volatility Index® is a key measure of market expectations of near-term volatility conveyed by S&P 500 stock index option prices. The S&P SmallCap 600® measures the small-cap segment of the U.S. equity market. Additional risks are associated with international investing, such as currency fluctuations, political and economic instability and differences in accounting standards. This material represents an assessment of the market environment at a specific point in time and is not intended to be a forecast of future events, or a guarantee of future results. MarketingPro, Inc. is not affiliated with any person or firm that may be providing this information to you. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional.


1 - tinyurl.com/y23en223/ [3/29/19]

2 - cbsnews.com/news/fed-rate-hikes-none-in-2019-federal-reserve-projects-no-rate-hikes-slower-growth-this-year/ [3/20/19]

3 - bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-22/u-s-treasury-yield-curve-inverts-for-first-time-since-2007 [3/22/19]

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10 - instituteforsupplymanagement.org/ISMReport/MfgROB.cfm [4/1/19]

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12 - cnbc.com/2019/03/29/brexit-general-election-speculation-grows-after-may-loses-vote.html [3/29/19]

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14 - investing.com/indices/major-indices [3/31/19]

15 - msci.com/end-of-day-data-search [3/29/19]

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17 - money.cnn.com/data/commodities/ [3/29/19]

18 - nar.realtor/newsroom/existing-home-sales-surge-11-8-percent-in-february [3/22/19]

19 - cnbc.com/2019/03/29/new-home-sales-february.html [3/29/19]

20 - tinyurl.com/y27puujx [3/29/19]

21 - barchart.com/stocks/indices?viewName=performance [3/29/19]

22 - barchart.com/stocks/indices?viewName=performance [1/1/19]

23 - treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/interest-rates/Pages/TextView.aspx?data=yieldAll [3/29/19]