No single cause is behind the market turbulence, but from trade antagonism to bubbles, plenty of red flags are flying.
This year has always carried a whiff of reckoning from the “omnibubble” of overheated asset prices that was evident in 2017.
But widespread anxiety didn’t hit until recently with the turmoil on Wall Street. Share prices are up today but that could change in a millisecond. The S&P 500 is down 1.5 percent this year and shares are perilously close to correction territory — a 10-percent drop from the market peak.
No one has a unified theory of what’s behind the pullback. Too many black swans are splashing around the pond: A potential U.S.-China trade war, the Mueller investigation, an inexperienced Federal Reserve, tech-stock jitters and the old age of this expansion.
Don’t forget Brexit, the consequences for the EU of French President Emmanuel Macron’s failure in economic reforms, as well as that omnibubble, where gravity and anxious investors finally take over.
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The omnibubble wasn’t restricted to stocks. Seattle’s nation-leading housing prices have shifted into reverse.
Economist Robert Shiller, who helped create the S&P/CoreLogic/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, recently wrote that nationally, we’re in the third-biggest housing boom since 1913. No, I’m not talking about 2006 — this is now.
Meanwhile, 2018 has been the worst year for hedge funds since the financial panic a decade ago.
My two cents? First, invoke Stein’s Law, named after economist Herbert Stein: If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.
What we might call the Trump dividend for the rich — big tax cuts and corporate tax reductions that translated into stock buybacks and rising share prices — always had a limited shelf life. Those stimuli could only extend the nine-year bull market so far.
Second, the stock market is driven by greed and fear. The latter has ample fuel now, especially with President Donald Trump’s self-inflicted economic crises, from NAFTA to tariffs against allies to using the blunt instrument of tariffs against China. Tariffs ultimately reward a few domestic players but cost most others, including American consumers in the holiday shopping season.
Fear should also be seeping into the corporate brains when even the Trump administration admits the huge costs now and to come from climate change. That Trump is teaming up with Russia and Saudi Arabia to keep the world burning carbon is no comfort for future earnings (or for the future).
This is Trump’s economy now. The fumes of the Obama slow-and-steady recovery are gone.
Finally, the passing of George H.W. Bush is a reminder that the American-led liberal world order he typified is fading, too. This has profound consequences.
As Barkley Rosser wrote on his Econospeak blog, “So … we see the widespread mourning for the late senior President Bush, as the world seems to be moving to being run by loudly nationalist and authoritarian leaders. Increasingly the danger seems not to just be trade war but war war.”
Half of all households own stocks, mostly indirectly. Also, as share prices decline job cuts tend to follow, or at least hiring freezes. So beyond war and war alarms, the turbulence on Wall Street requires attention.
To be sure, computerized flash trading distorts and accelerates market moves.
And, as the renowned economist Paul Samuelson cautioned in 1966, the stock market has predicted nine of the past five recessions.
- The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported county employment and wages for the second quarter. Among the 10 largest, King County turned in the biggest year-over-year percentage gain in average weekly wages, at 9.3 percent. Employment grew 2.5 percent.
- Seattle is one of a few North American cities singled out to see strong GDP growth in Oxford Exonomics’ new Global Cities 2030 report. From 2019 to 2035, Seattle is expected to see 2.5 percent annual gains. San Jose leads at 3 percent, and Portland is forecast to post 2.6 percent.