This is it, gang — the halfway point for 2017. What an oddly strange year we’re having. Let’s take a look at where we’ve been, and then let’s try to reach some conclusions about where we’re going.
Where We’ve Been
We started the year with extraordinarily high hopes for inflation and economic growth. Why wouldn’t we? Last fall’s election left the government’s executive and legislative branches Republican hands, which Wall Street perceives as more business-friendly than Democratic control.
But how were we to know that GOP members couldn’t even get along with each other? Other than some deregulation, the Trump administration has been unable to make progress on policies that would unleash both economic growth and business spending.
And don’t even get me started on fiscal stimulus. The most powerful stimulus around would obviously be tax reform, but that’s going nowhere without healthcare reform. And that, my friends, is where we’re stuck.
The stickiest sticking points to healthcare reform are: a) repealing Obamacare’s 3.8% tax on investment income and b) the possibility that millions of Americans could lose insurance coverage. So, we’re left in a legislative morass between an existing Obamacare that’s unsustainable and Republican money-saving suggestions that seem heartless. Unfortunately, cutting taxes in a way that minimally impacts the national debt is nearly impossible without tackling healthcare first.
Beyond healthcare, you might recall that confidence surveys of all types started 2017 at or near multiyear highs and remain so today. However, the actual macro picture has become inconsistent at best as the year has worn on.
Nonetheless, the stock market has had a nice six-month run, with the S&P 500 up 8.2% during 2017’s first half. However, that’s mostly due to improving corporate earnings that came largely thanks to improving global economic strength. International exposure has paid off more than doing business solely within the United States, as seen in the fact the that small-business-centric Russell 2000 only added 4.3% in the first half.
Where Are Stocks Going?
History tells us that when the broad indices post decent gains over a year’s first half, then the second half’s prospects are very good.
For instance, the S&P 500 has an 87% historical probability to seeing second-half gains if it added 7% or more over the first six months, as it did this year. And going back more than 70 years, the S&P 500 has risen during the July-through-December period 69% of the time regardless of first-half performance.
The problem is that 2017 doesn’t “smell” normal to me. After all, monetary conditions aren’t normal, nor is the political climate.
Where Are Earnings Going?
It’s true that consensus projections are calling for year-over-year earnings growth to come in at about 6.6% for the second quarter. Market watchers expect nine of the S&P 500’s 11 sectors to show earnings gains — led by energy stocks, of all things (thanks to some easy comparisons).
Analysts predict the techs and the financials will finish a very distant second and third in second-quarter profit growth. Still, market watchers only expect discretionary stocks and utilities to report year-over-year earnings contractions.
So, S&P 500 stocks overall seem likely to show earnings growth for a fourth consecutive quarter. However, their three-quarter streak of successively rising earnings gains looks ready to end.