This article is from our archives as part of the 100th issue special, celebrating twenty-five years of quarterly newsletters.
Policy matters. Natural Investments has participated in public policy conversations and attended meetings on the Hill in Washington, D.C., for years and will continue to serve as a voice for fair and just financial regulations.
It’s been over a year since the fall of Lehman Brothers sparked major tremors in the U.S. financial system that rippled around the planet. Though lawmakers called for reform, much of the financial services industry remains unchanged a year later. The wholesale restructuring advocated by the social investment industry, economists, and academics has thus far been met with strong opposition from the industry, and Congress’ lack of expertise left them unable to do anything other than infuse large banks with cash.
The needed structural changes in our system remain conceptual and haven’t even been fully debated. Yes, there were calls for bonuses to be recalled and executive pay to be restricted,
Stocks and bonds continued to perform well during the second quarter, in spite of an uncertain trade environment and worrying international tensions with Iran. For the quarter, the stocks of U.S. large companies were up 5.0%, U.S. small companies rose 2.4%, and foreign stocks rose 4.3%. U.S. bonds were up 3.0%.
While the markets ended higher over the three-month period, the rise was interrupted in May, when markets declined steeply after the president increased tariffs on Chinese goods. Reports of slowing global economic growth also contributed to the sell-off. The president likewise imposed tariffs on Mexico but suspended them before they took effect.
Both stock and bond markets rebounded strongly during the first quarter of 2019. In the U.S., large company stocks rose 13.6%, small companies were up 14.6%, and bonds were up 2.9%. Foreign stocks rose 10%. The markets were lifted by news that the Fed had reduced the number of planned interest rate increases for 2019, from a prior estimate of three hikes down to zero. Reports of slowing global economic growth and low inflation contributed to the revised interest rate position.
Gross Domestic Product (GDP): who isn’t used to hearing about the ups and downs of this metric, commonly understood as the most important indicator of economic health? This statistic—the monetary value of finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders over a specific period—and the pursuit of its growth is embedded at the center of mainstream economic theory. But the question of whether GDP is still a meaningful metric in a world of persistent income inequality, intractable environmental challenges, and human exploitation is at the heart of Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Despite the title, this book offers a thoughtful, practical advice that any concerned citizen can use.
The final quarter of 2018 hit with a dramatic downturn for the stock market, while bond investments generally performed well. Large U.S. company stocks were down 13.5% over the quarter and down 4.4% for 2018. Small company stocks were down 20.2% this quarter and 11% on the year. Bonds were 1.6% higher for the quarter, though they were flat for the year.
The fourth quarter setback for stocks was abrupt and vexing. Large company stocks had recently risen 10.5% by the end of the third quarter. But by the year’s end, they were down 4.4% in a sharp reversal. Analysts have been reminding investors for years that a notable sell-off could arrive unexpectedly as the rising market endured longer and longer.
Stock markets were generally higher over the waning months of summer, with stocks of large US companies for the quarter up by 7.7%, small U.S. companies up 3.6%, and foreign stocks up 1.4%. Bonds, broadly measured, were flat for the quarter, though down 1.6% so far this year.
Trade tensions have remained front and center in economic news as the administration has continued to press for additional tariffs, as announced during the quarter. However, vigorous growth of the U.S. economy,
The stock market headed into summer on an up note, with large company stocks rising 3.4% for the quarter and small company stocks up 7.8%, though foreign stocks were down 1.2%. More interest rate hikes continued to weigh on bonds, which were off 0.2% over the three months.
The bond market is historically far less risky (volatile) than the stock market, though the market still does fluctuate. One of the key drivers of bond market fluctuations is movement in interest rates. The Fed, which sets short-term rates, has increased the rate twice so far in 2018 and has stated its intention to raise it twice more.
The rule of law is the principle that all people and entities are subject to laws that are fairly applied and enforced. No one, according to this principle, is above or outside the reach of the law—neither presidents nor corporations.
Unfortunately, the rule of law in the United States is being undermined. The current president is well known for attacking the federal judiciary in spoken and written word, though federal judges have life tenure, which affords them some degree of immunity from his political ravings. The more alarming shift—with profound, long-term implications for the rule of law—is the current administration’s nomination of partisan extremists to the federal bench and the record pace at which the Senate is confirming many of them. (It should be noted that some of these nominees are so poorly qualified that even Republicans turned their noses).
The extreme politicization of the judicial nomination process has already begun to erode the rule of law in the US. Perhaps the most egregious example of this is the Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote in the infamous Citizens United ruling, which invalidated parts of a federal law that had imposed limits on corporate money in politics.
Many people are motivated by the desire to be as prepared as possible for an uncertain future, but they recognize that this is no easy task. We encourage you to take a big picture view of the world and consider the many ways that the future could unfold. You’ll want to envision where you would like to be going in both the near-term and in years to come, and to keep abreast of the wide and growing range of investment choices available to you. By thinking in this broad, creative way, resilient investinggives you the tools to design a personalized plan. This will show you where you’re currently investing your time and money, highlight areas that you might be over or under emphasizing, and provide the guidance you’ll need to move forward in your chosen directions.
As you put your plan into action, you’ll notice a newfound sense of calm, one that rests on the knowledge that you’ve taken measured steps to future-proof your life and are ready to ride out the inevitable storms and surprises that come your way. You can’t eliminate risk, but you can dial down your stress levels and have more peace of mind by knowing that you’re prepared. Having a comprehensive and diverse set of investments will provide genuine benefits when one or another market you’ve invested in has a downturn (whether it be a sudden drop in the Dow, a dry spell that decreases yields in your garden or regional food network, or an unexpected health challenge). While it is always painful to suffer a hit in one area, investments in other Zones will likely be doing better and help carry you through.
In an exceptionally volatile quarter for investors, markets ended lower, with US large company stocks down 0.8%, US small company stocks lower by 0.1%, foreign stocks down 1.7%, and domestic bonds lower by 1.5%.
The stock market swooned in February as traders showed alarm about rising US interest rates. The market sell-off was related to the long-anticipated rise—and possible accelerating future rises—in US interest rates (considered a negative for stocks and bonds) as well as concerns that inflation may be brewing. It may not be just coincidence that this reaction happened in the wake of the recent federal tax cuts, which analysts say will stimulate—unnecessarily say some—the US economy, leading to things such as higher interest rates and inflation.
Tax cuts, along with stepped-up government spending (in March Congress passed a $1.3 trillion budget), may serve to overheat the US economy in coming months, though it is an open question as to whether the tax cuts will actually spur economic growth. Following the passage of the tax bill, there was a series of well-publicized employee bonus and capital investment announcements. (Keep in mind bonuses are one-time and not the same as wage increases.) These were meant to show that big businesses were sharing the bounty of the tax cuts with workers. Since then, however, studies and polls have shown that business investment has not increased as a result of the tax cut—and neither have wages.