August Off to a Difficult Start

August 08, 2019 | Robert Britenbach, CFA, CIPM, Research Analyst, U.S. Equities

line chart showing S&P 500 price level from sept 18 through august 7, 2019

Since peaking late in the third quarter of 2018, U.S. equities have experienced large swings in performance. Following the worst December performance since 1931, the S&P 500 staged a dramatic rebound logging its best quarterly return since the first quarter of 1998. Equities continued their march higher culminating with the S&P 500 reaching an all-time closing high of 3,025.86 on Friday, July 26th. The year-to-date rally is attributable to a multitude of factors, however, a dovish pivot by the Fed and optimism around U.S.-China trade relations were key macro drivers facilitating the rebound.

However, fortunes quickly changed last week as the S&P 500 logged its worst weekly performance so far this year with a 3.1% drop and the sell-off continued into Monday with a steep one-day drop of 3%. Recent market volatility centers around changing expectations with respect to the economic outlook, market participants reconciling a smaller rate cut than was priced in, and an escalation in the trade war with China. U.S. officials had hinted throughout the year that a deal was close ­— and progress was being made — however that trade deal optimism is now in doubt. An additional 10% tariff on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods was announced last week and is set to take effect on September 1st. China retaliated by telling its state-owned companies to suspend U.S. agricultural imports and allowing its currency to fall to decade lows against the U.S. dollar.

Volatility is likely to stay elevated over the near-term as the economic and trade outlooks remain uncertain. Historically, August is a volatile month and on average the third quarter produces muted returns. It is worth noting that the S&P 500 still has a double-digit year-to-date return and is trading nearly 5% below all-time highs; whether or not the index remains in positive territory for the duration of 2019 will no doubt depend at least partly on how the U.S.-China trade issues play out over the next 5 months.

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The opinions expressed herein are those of Marquette Associates, Inc. (“Marquette”), and are subject to change without notice. This material is not financial advice or an offer to purchase or sell any product. Marquette reserves the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs.

Robert Britenbach, CFA, CIPM
Research Analyst, U.S. Equities

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