Three market trends to watch for in ’10
Web posted at: 12/27/2009 11:51:49
Source ::: LAT-WP
Washington: In case you missed it, Treasury Secretary Timothy F Geithner this week promised America that there won’t be another financial crisis in 2010.
“We’re not going to have a second wave of financial crisis,” Geithner said in an interview with National Public Radio. “We’ll do what is necessary to prevent that. We cannot afford to let the country live again with a risk that we’re going to have another series of events like we had last year.”
Well, there it is. And you wonder why the stock market is at 14-month highs? Anyone who has deep-seated doubts about the financial system’s health may view Geithner’s explicit guarantee as a sign of dangerous government hubris, or simple naivete.
But his promise does address what is for some investors the pre-eminent question about 2010: Can the world avoid another calamity on the scale of what fueled the markets’ meltdown from September 2008 to March 2009?
To put it another way: Your financial planning for the new year would be a lot easier if you knew that the chance of another collapse was remote even if markets were likely to be volatile.
The strongest evidence against a second collapse is that the credit crisis has eased dramatically. That may not be evident in banks’ lending. But by many key barometers, including new issuance of corporate bonds and the rates banks charge each other for short-term loans, credit has begun to flow again worldwide.
If we assume that Geithner is right about the absence of another mega-crisis in 2010, I think there are three important financial trends that either got under way or accelerated in 2009 that also will be critical for investors and savers in the new year:
The Great Deleveraging rolls on. Many Americans piled on excessive debts in the 1980s, 1990s and first half of this decade. On that much, everyone agrees. Now, that total household debt load of $14 trillion is being worked down — voluntarily, as people pay off credit cards, for example, or involuntarily, as banks force foreclosures. Consumer credit excluding mortgages fell for a ninth straight month in October, a record stretch of declines, according to Federal Reserve data.
But debt reduction has a “long, long way to go,” says Ian Shepherdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York. The question is whether it can proceed without tipping the economy back into recession.
One ticking time bomb: a jump in 2010 in the number of homeowners with so-called option ARM loans who will see their loan rates reset at higher levels.
An obvious implication of consumers’ need to reduce debt is that people will save more and consume less than before. That will be a continuing drag on the economic recovery. I know we’ve all heard that a million times, but that doesn’t make it less true.
The upshot: no imminent rate relief for savers who now are lucky to earn 1 percent or 2 percent on their cash.
Corporate earnings keep improving. Expectations of a profit recovery helped stoke the stock market’s turnaround in March. Wall Street has been pleasantly surprised since then.
Starting with the current quarter, earnings are forecast to begin rising, albeit from extremely depressed year-earlier levels.
Sales have edged up for many companies this year as the global economy has begun to rebound. But a big part of the profit-recovery story has stemmed from companies’ slashing of their payrolls, driving the US unemployment rate above 10 percent for the first time since 1982.
Many investors keep looking for a middle ground on risk-taking. That means cash probably will keep pouring into bonds — at least until some people discover, to their surprise, that it’s possible to lose money in fixed-income securities, too.
Small investors usually are prone to chasing hot stock markets. Not this year. Even as the US stock market has continued to rally Americans have shunned domestic stock mutual funds. Each week since late August more cash has been pulled from them than has flowed in via new purchases, according to the Investment Company Institute’s data.