Market Commentary - Month of December 2014
“It is wise to apply the oil of refined politeness to the mechanisms of friendship.”
Make sure you take your 2014 RMD in time. The deadline is December 31; if you will be taking your very first RMD, it can be delayed until April 1. Remember that all of your IRAs need to be considered when calculating the RMD.
You saw me where I never was and where I could not be. And yet within that very place, my face you often see. What am I?
Last month’s riddle:
Last month’s answer:
The chain isn’t attached to anything.
THE MONTH IN BRIEF
DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH
Another key economic indicator improved further. The jobless rate had ticked down to 5.8% in October, with the U-6 rate (encompassing part-time workers, jobseekers and those out of the job hunt) falling 0.3% to 11.5%. Labor Department data showed companies adding 214,000 new hires to their payrolls in that month.3,4
While economists certainly found this encouraging, households weren’t feeling so upbeat. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index fell to 88.7 from its October reading of 94.5; the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index did better, finishing November 1.9 points higher at 88.8.5
The Consumer Price Index was flat in October, and up just 1.7% year-over-year. Still, the tenth month of the year brought only modest gains for consumer spending (0.2%) and retail sales (0.3%). Total Black Friday sales were down 11% from 2013 levels, according to National Retail Federation estimates; this could have reflected online sales growth and more stores having deep discounts on Thanksgiving Day.5,6
Declining gas prices across the month effectively put more money in consumers’ pockets, a factor that may lead to greater personal spending for November. By December 1, AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report showed regular unleaded averaging just $2.77 a gallon.7
U.S. manufacturing activity cooled a bit in November, but our factory sector was still hotter than many others worldwide. The Institute for Supply Management’s November manufacturing PMI came in with a reading of 58.7, down from 59.0 in October. (ISM’s service sector PMI had slipped 1.5 points to 57.1 in October.) Overall durable goods orders rose 0.4% in October, but core durable orders fell 0.9%. The headline Producer Price Index was up 0.2% for October, but only 1.5% annually.5,8,9
GLOBAL ECONOMIC HEALTH
The euro area hadn’t slipped back into recession yet, but it was coming perilously close in the eyes of many economists. Its yearly inflation measured just 0.3% last month and its jobless rate was at 11.5%. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said that ECB leaders would consider exceptional moves (such as buying sovereign debt) to ward off deflation. The Markit manufacturing PMI for the eurozone barely showed expansion for November with a 50.1 mark.10,11,12
Word came that China’s economy had grown 7.3% in Q3, putting it on pace for its worst year since 1990. China’s official factory PMI came in a half-point lower in November at 50.3, and the HSBC/Markit PMI for the PRC showed no expansion for the sector at all with a reading of 50.0 that represented a 6-month low. Markit manufacturing PMIs in Indonesia and Japan also fell, but India’s rose to a 21-month high in November.12,13
Major European indices saw the following November gains: CAC 40, 3.71%; DAX, 7.01%; IBEX, 2.80%; FTSE MIB, 1.17%; FTSE 100, 2.69%. Russia's RTS was the big November loser, retreating 10.74%.1
As for multinational and regional benchmarks, the Global Dow rose 1.72% in November, the Europe Dow 2.71% and the Dow Jones Americas 1.91%; the Asia Dow lost 0.53%. Europe’s STOXX 600 bourse advanced 3.10% for the month. The MSCI World Index gained 1.84%, but MSCI’s Emerging Markets Index lost 1.12%.1,14
On November 28, OPEC ministers made no move to reduce oil output from their respective nations. That cemented an awful monthly loss for NYMEX crude – prices fell 18.23% for November to a settlement of $66.15 a barrel. Heating oil (-12.60%) and RBOB gasoline (-12.54%) were also crushed last month. The same couldn’t be said for natural gas; it rose 5.72% in November. Cold weather was not only a boon to natgas futures, but also an aid to wheat futures: they rose 8.74% for November, standing out in a field of losses among crops. Corn did advance 0.27%, but coffee dipped 0.90%, cocoa 0.69%, cotton 5.16%, sugar 2.87% and soybeans 2.59%.15
Gold didn’t fare too badly in November, losing only 0.54% and settling at a COMEX price of $1.175.20 an ounce at month’s end. Copper fell 6.43% on the month, platinum 1.35% and silver 3.24% (it wrapped up the month at $15.49 an ounce). The U.S. Dollar Index tacked on another 1.43% to its YTD gain and ended November at 88.16.15,16
Home sales (new and existing) again improved to minor degree. The National Association of Realtors found resales up 1.5% in October – but most importantly, October brought the first year-over-year gain in sales (2.5%) seen in 12 months. Across a year of data, distressed sales had fallen to 9% of the market from 14%. (Not all the news from NAR was good; its pending home sales index fell 1.1% for October.) New home purchases increased in October as well – the Census Bureau measured a 0.7% gain, marking a third straight month of increasing sales volume.5,18
NAR stated that the median existing-home price was $208,300 in October, down from $209,700 in September. September’s S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index showed only a 4.9% annualized gain (this was across the full 20-city index).5,18
As for new projects, the Census Bureau also noted a 4.8% gain in building permits in November, with the indicator reaching a 6-year peak. A drop in multi-family projects sent overall housing starts down 2.8% in October, though single-family starts rose 4.2%.19
LOOKING BACK…LOOKING FORWARD
Indices are unmanaged, do not incur fees or expenses, and cannot be invested into directly. These returns do not include dividends. 10-year TIPS real yield = projected return at maturity given expected inflation.
The fall earnings season, the waning fears about Ebola invading the U.S. and the ease with which Wall Street accepted the end of QE3 were factors in a very positive November. Will stocks continue to rally in December as energy investors wait for a point of capitulation? One view says cheap oil is good for the consumer, the broad economy and the stock market. Another view sees an extended lack of demand not only hurting energy shares, but also breeding unemployment and deflation. Eyes will also be on the Fed – as we are on the cusp of 2015, its December policy meeting might be a moment at which some clues emerge about the timing of an interest rate hike. Still, stocks don’t seem too beset by obstacles as we head toward the New Year, and with any luck, the December 31 close for the S&P 500 just might be a record one.
UPCOMING ECONOMIC RELEASES: Here is a roll call of the important stateside reports and releases in the year’s final month: November’s ISM services PMI, a new Federal Reserve Beige Book and the November ADP employment report (12/3), November’s Challenger job-cut report (12/4), the November jobs report from the Labor Department and October factory orders (12/5), October wholesale inventories (12/9), November retail sales and October business inventories (12/11), the preliminary December consumer sentiment index from the University of Michigan plus the November PPI (12/11), November industrial production (12/15), November housing starts and building permits (12/16), a Fed policy statement and November’s CPI (12/17), the Conference Board’s leading indicator index for November (12/18), November existing home sales (12/22), the final estimate of Q3 GDP, the final December consumer sentiment index from the University of Michigan, and November new home sales, personal spending and hard goods orders (12/23), October’s Case-Shiller home price index and 2014’s last Conference Board consumer confidence index (12/30), and then finally NAR’s report on November pending home sales (12/31).
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The CAC-40 Index is a narrow-based, modified capitalization-weighted index of 40 companies listed on the Paris Bourse. The DAX 30 is a Blue Chip stock market index consisting of the 30 major German companies trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The IBEX 35 is the benchmark stock market index of the Bolsa de Madrid, Spain's principal stock exchange. The FTSE MIB (Milano Italia Borsa) is the benchmark stock market index for the Borsa Italiana, the Italian national stock exchange. The FTSE 100 Index is a share index of the 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange with the highest market capitalization. The RTS Index (abbreviated: RTSI, Russian: Индекс РТС) is a free-float capitalization-weighted index of 50 Russian stocks traded on the Moscow Exchange. The Global Dow is a 150-stock index of corporations from around the world created by Dow Jones & Company. The Europe Dow measures the European equity markets by tracking 30 leading blue-chip companies in the region. 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1 - online.wsj.com/mdc/public/page/2_3023-monthly_gblstkidx.html [11/30/14]
2 - nasdaq.com/article/us-thirdquarter-gdp-revised-up-to-39-advance-20141125-00467 [11/25/14]
3 - ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/national-employment-monthly-update.aspx [11/7/14]
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18 - forbes.com/sites/erincarlyle/2014/11/20/existing-home-sales-rise-1-5-in-october-hit-fastest-pace-in-more-than-year-says-nar/ [11/20/14]
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