It's New Year's Eve, that time of the year when we say goodbye to another year, and look forward to what's in store for the next 365days.
For many, if not most corporations, today marks the end of their fiscal year. The time that they account for all of the business over the last 12 months, and will use those numbers to report their profit or loss to their shareholders.
But this is a very special year-end celebration: as in addition to ending the year 2019, it is also is the end of the first and second decades of the new 21st century. And in looking at the two decades that began this century, they really couldn't be much more different.
The first decade: from 2001 to 2010, began on a sour note, with stocks declining for three years before they finally started to rally. But it was a brief effort, and again by 2007 stocks began to decline again, this time one of the sharpest declines in recent memory. It was the bear market, which signaled the recession of 2008 and 09.
What was most remarkable about this recession was the extraordinary lengths to which the nation's central bank, The Federal Reserve, went to combat this financial crisis. Under both Chairmen: Ben Bernanke and later Janet Yellen, the Fed instituted a series of measures to stimulate the economy. These included lowering interest rates, injecting funds directly into the financial system, by purchasing what would become $4Trillion in US Treasuries and by bending certain bank regulations so that troubled banks would remain whole. Collectively we refer back to all of this as Quantitative Easing.
Now I put myself in the camp that felt that the Fed went too far in some of these policies, and I think there still remains some fallout from all of this that we will have to address in the future.
But bottom line: there is no denying that from the low point in the stock market, reached in 2009, it has been a straight shot higher and higher. With new records set month after month. And except for last December's drop, stock prices have been on a one-track path. So that markets today are roughly three times higher than they were at the 2009 lows.
So together these first 20 years of the new century, have been a study in contrasts.
The first decade: a lost decade, with stocks actually declining for those 10 years.
While the second decade has been one of the most profitable investing decades in our lifetimes. A 300% plus gain in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
So. based on that brief history, where do we think that 2020 will fall?
Of course, it's easy to say that I think that 2020 will fall somewhere in between the bear market decade that began the century and the bull market decade that we just completed.
There are, however, several things that we do know about 2020. First: we have gone a long way in strengthening our financial systems. The large money centered banks, at least one of which was on the verge of insolvency, are now healthy. And by all indications should remain so. However that huge pile of debt that we used to get them healthy, still remains.
The Fed tried to reduce its “balance sheet”, its borrowings. but was unable to sustain that policy. And so the Fed still holds about $4 trillion in bonds on its books. And the banks and many major corporations still hold record amounts of individual corporate debt.
Not the healthiest of situations.
On the other side of the equation, the little guy, the working man is in far better shape. Unemployment is at record lows, there are now indications that wages are begin pushed up as business tries to lure new hires with higher salaries.
And most of all consumer spending is way up, the twin results of better finances for workers, and increased consumer confidence. We have just emerged from one of the best holiday shopping seasons of all time.
On the balance, we begin this third decade on a high note. We begin with momentum both from the Strong Markets, and the Strong Consumer.
On the other hand, I see two clouds on our horizon: both political.
The first is the geopolitical trade battle. While I believe that this is a necessary and important step for the Administration to take. After all the annual trade deficits currently inflicting this country are simply unsustainable. But in every war, and this is a trade war, there will be casualties. So look out for some very unpleasant trade developments this year.
But even more disturbing is the political battle that is going on in Washington. It is clear that the political party which is out of power, the Democrats, have declared unlimited war against the President. The current strategy involves impeachment, but there is no indication that they will stop there. Their stated goal is to remove President Trump by any means, no later than the next election, which will take place in November of 2020.
Finally complicating this entire equation in Washington, is the unmistakable whiff of scandal. And make no mistake, it looks like scandal is deep on both sides of the aisle.
So put this all together: Trade War Fallout, Impeachment and Scandal in Washington, and there is real risk for the stock market. Which generally seeks only political stability from Washington.
So you see we begin 2020, just like we often do, with high hopes.
Hopes that this economy will continue to grow, powered by the everyday worker. The men and women who go to work everyday, providing the best products and services in the world.
And hopes that those politicians down in Washington, stay out of our way.
And that's how Wall Street looks this New Years' Eve 2020.
I'm David Reavill hoping you have a very Happy New Year!