Wall Street had much to celebrate in August. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite both reached historic heights, with the Nasdaq crossing two 1,000-point milestones in a calendar year for the first time since 1999. The current bull market became the longest on record. U.S. stock exchanges outperformed many others around the world, as imposed tariffs and currency troubles in the emerging markets gave overseas investors pause. Major commodities largely lost ground. U.S. economic indicators were again strong for the most part, aside from those in the housing sector.1


As August ended, the White House was trying to forge a new multi-national trade deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico and the U.S. tentatively agreed to a new trade pact that would increase wages for Mexico’s workers, keep Mexican agricultural exports free from U.S. import taxes, and require 75% of the value of vehicles sold in North America to be produced in either America, Canada, or Mexico (a 12.5% increase). The Trump administration hoped to have Canada join the preliminary accord by September 1, but it decided not to do so, partly due to a disagreement over the treatment of dairy prices. Negotiations between the U.S. and Canada are set to continue this month.2,3
The most respected consumer confidence index in America displayed a remarkably high reading in August. The Conference Board’s barometer reached 133.4, gaining 5.5 points from its (revised) July mark. The University of Michigan’s index ended August at a solid 96.2; its initial August mark was 95.3.4
The latest Department of Commerce snapshot of consumer spending and incomes looked good: personal spending was up 0.4% for July, wages up 0.3%. Appropriately, July also witnessed a retail sales advance of 0.5%.4
As for job creation, the July report from the Department of Labor showed payrolls expanding by a net 157,000 positions; a Reuters poll of economists had forecast a gain of 190,000. Despite the miss, the main jobless rate ticked down 0.1% to 3.9%, while the broader U-6 rate, encompassing underemployed Americans, declined 0.3% to a 17-year-low of 7.5%. Annual wage growth remained at 2.7%.5
Yearly inflation, unfortunately, was running above 2.7%. The July Consumer Price Index measured it at 2.9% through July, the highest number seen since February 2012. (The headline Producer Price Index was flat for July; that left its year-over-year gain at 3.3% and the annualized advance of the core PPI at 2.7%.)6,7
The service sector and the factory sector expanded at a noteworthy pace in July, by the estimation of the Institute for Supply Management. ISM’s purchasing manager index for the manufacturing industry fell from a very high 60.2 reading to a mark of 58.1, but this nonetheless signals impressive expansion. The Institute’s non-manufacturing gauge dropped 3.4 points to 55.7 in July, still a good reading.8


China announced moves last month to try and ward off the potential economic impact of U.S. tariffs and to stimulate an economy that had slowed slightly to 6.7% growth during the second quarter. Its central bank poured the equivalent of $74 billion U.S. into its financial system in June, a record. Its government announced a new round of bonds to facilitate localized upgrades in infrastructure and forthcoming tax cuts. Its foreign ministry denied accusations of currency manipulation to stimulate exports. Southeast Asia’s largest economies were still projected for healthy growth in 2018, in some cases matching that of the P.R.C. A median forecast from Bloomberg puts Indonesia’s 2018 GDP at 5.3%; Malaysia, 5.5%; Singapore, 3.1%; Thailand, 4.2%; Vietnam, 6.8%; the Philippines, 6.7%.9,10
What if the Brexit occurred without any deal defining how the European Union and the United Kingdom could continue to do business? That troubling question was on many minds in Europe in July. U.K. Prime Minister Teresa May publicly stated back in 2017 that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” and the E.U. has been advising corporations and governments to prepare for the possibility of a “hard” Brexit. A “no-deal” Brexit is a real risk, with the customs border between Northern Ireland (part of the U.K.) and Ireland (part of the E.U.) as the major sticking point. The Netherlands, Belgium, and the U.K. have begun to stockpile cash and resources in case of potential economic shortages or hardships caused by a trade chasm. The projected date for the Brexit is March 29, 2019, but it could be postponed. Fifty-one percent of U.K. respondents to a July Sky News poll felt the Brexit was a bad move for the country, and 78% felt May’s government was doing a poor job of negotiating the separation.11,12


Chinese stocks did not fare well in August: the Shanghai Composite descended 5.25%. Other notable benchmarks took sizable losses: Spain’s IBEX 35 fell 4.78%; the U.K.’s FTSE 100, 4.08%; Germany’s DAX, 3.45%; Brazil’s Bovespa, 3.21%; the MSCI Emerging Markets index, 2.90%; the FTSE Eurofirst 300, 2.60%; Hong Kong’s Hang Seng, 2.43%. France’s CAC 40 lost 1.90%; Canada’s TSX Composite, 1.04%; Mexico’s Bolsa, 0.30%.13,14
Now onto better news: the August advances. India’s Nifty 50 gained 2.85%, and its Sensex improved 2.76%. The Nikkei 225 rose 1.38%; South Korea’s Kospi, 1.20%; Taiwan’s TSE 50, 1.09%; Russia’s Micex, 1.07%; MSCI’s World index, 1.04%; the Australian All Ordinaries, 0.97%.13,14


Cocoa was the big winner among headlining commodities in August, rising 7.70%. Heating oil and natural gas also scored big wins, respectively adding 5.61% and 5.03%. Crude’s August gain of 2.12% was also noteworthy; oil settled at $69.88 a barrel on the NYMEX August 31. The U.S. Dollar Index and sugar also notched small monthly gains, the former improving 0.63%, the latter 0.19%.15,16
Key metals suffered another month of setbacks. Gold lost 1.75% to end the month at $1,206.90 on the COMEX; silver, 7.02%, to wrap up the month at $14.43. Platinum futures slid 6.31%; copper futures, 6.38%. Unleaded gasoline took a tumble, losing 5.99%. Several major crop futures had a rough month: corn lost 5.44%; soybeans, 7.75%; wheat, 6.40%; coffee, 10.74%; cotton, 8.71%.15


August was another subpar month for home buying. The National Association of Realtors said existing home sales fell 0.7% during July, after declining 0.6% for June. Subsequently, the Census Bureau announced a 1.7% July retreat for new home sales, following a (revised) 2.4% June pullback. The NAR’s pending home sales index, which measures housing contract activity in the resale market, dipped 0.7% in July after its (revised) 1.0% gain a month earlier.4
Data again affirmed that homes and home loans had become less affordable. In its June edition, the 20-city S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index showed home values rising 6.3% in the past 12 months (the gain had been 6.5% in the May edition). Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey of August 30 reported the average interest rate on a conventional mortgage at 4.52%; in the first PMMS of 2018 (January 4), the mean interest rate was just 3.95%. Similar increases occurred for the average interest rate on the 15-year FRM, which went from 3.38% to 3.97% in that span, and the mean rate for the 5/1-year ARM, which rose from 3.45% to 3.85%.4,17
The Census Bureau’s latest monthly report on U.S. residential construction activity showed that the pace of building permits issued increased by 1.5% in July, while the rate of housing starts increased by 0.9%.4


Jumping 5.71% in a month, the Nasdaq Composite cracked the 8,000 ceiling for the first time, settling at 8,109.54 on August 31. The Russell 2000 also had a fine month, climbing 4.19% to finish August at 1,740.75; that left its YTD gain at 13.37%. The S&P 500 advanced 3.03% to 2,901.52 during its own record-setting month; across the three months ending in August, it gained 7.25%. Blue chips followed suit: the Dow Industrials rose 2.16% last month to 25,964.82. The CBOE VIX was fairly flat in August, up 0.23% to 12.86 and ending the month at +16.49% on the year.16

DJIA 5.04 18.30 15.06 12.54
NASDAQ 17.47 26.15 25.18 24.52
S&P 500 8.52 17.39 15.54 12.71
10 YR TIPS 0.78 0.36 0.68 1.68

What do you say about a nine-and-a-half-year-old bull market that sends the S&P 500 to an all-time high? Do you marvel at it? Do you question it? Do you worry about what might be ahead? If you are an experienced investor, you probably do all three. Despite this or that prognostication, the expiration date for this amazing bull is ultimately anyone’s guess. Cautious optimism may be warranted given what has been happening with tariffs and certain currencies. The healthy economy we see now could wane in coming quarters, when the business cycle enters the phase where supply exceeds demand (at some point, it will happen). The bulls may decide to just mill around in September and wait for the next earnings season to begin; whether they sit on the sidelines or not, this may be a good time to review the state of your investments and see just how much of your portfolio is held in equities. If you have not done this in the past few years, think about doing it today. An abrupt Wall Street downturn might seem improbable at the moment, but a nine-and-a-half-year-old bull market that suddenly propels stocks to record peaks also definitely qualifies as an improbability.

UPCOMING ECONOMIC RELEASES: The important news items across the balance of September include: ISM’s August non-manufacturing PMI and the ADP payroll report and Challenger job-cut numbers for August (9/6), the Department of Labor’s August employment report (9/7), a new Producer Price Index (9/12), the latest Consumer Price Index (9/13), the initial September University of Michigan consumer sentiment index, August retail sales, and August industrial production (9/14), August housing starts and building permits (9/19), a new NAR report on existing home sales and the Conference Board’s August leading indicators index (9/20), the latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller home price index and Conference Board consumer confidence index (9/25), a Federal Reserve interest rate decision and fresh Census Bureau data on new home sales (9/26), reports on August pending home sales and durable goods orders and the third estimate of Q2 GDP (9/27), and then August personal spending, the August PCE price index, and the final September University of Michigan consumer sentiment index (9/30).