After a strong start to the quarter, stocks pulled back from their recent highs in September. The US economy remains on solid footing, however there are several topics that are concerning markets. The first has to do with the US debt ceiling and both parties being far away from any compromise to allow the debt ceiling to increase risking a potential US default on its debt obligations. The infrastructure bill discussions continue to drag on without any breakthrough on the total size of the package. Inflation also continues to worry the market while supply disruptions continue to increase with container ships and rail backups along with energy prices continuing to rise. Last, but not least, China has continued its crackdown on many different areas in its economy such as real estate, online education, online gaming, and technology. China has also tried to reduce its energy consumption, especially coal, which is causing energy shortages and adding further strain on already frail global supply chains.
The debt ceiling debate is intensifying with US Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, warning that the US would be unable to pay its bills without the debt ceiling raised by October 18th. The issue is becoming very political and the potential risk of a US debt downgrade is looming large over markets. Hopes are that an agreement can be reached soon to avoid unnecessary stress on financial markets. Infrastructure discussions continue without any new breakthroughs to end the quarter. Congress was trying to pass two separate bills, but progressives continue to try to force the bills to be linked together. Progressive and moderate Democrats remain divided on the overall price tag of the bills. Expectations are that a compromise will be reached sometime during the month of October.
Inflation concerns continue to be an issue with the Fed’s stance that inflation will be transitory starting to come under question. Global supply chains continue to be fractured for a variety of reasons such as not enough workers, bottlenecks, Covid shutdowns, and lack of excess inventory. These factors are proving to take longer to unwind then the Fed had initially projected and shipping costs continue to increase. Interest rates have also started to rise from their extremely low levels with the Fed indicating they will begin tapering (reducing) their monthly bond purchases by the end of the year. Tapering does not mean tightening, though, so the Fed will remain very accommodative well into 2022. We will be watching for any indication from the Fed of when the first rate hikes will begin with expectations currently split between the first hikes happening at the end of 2022 or early 2023 according to the Fed’s most recent dot plot.
The Chinese government is also making headlines for their strong regulatory crackdown on many areas of their economy such as online gaming, private education, real estate, and the large technology companies. This has increased the risk for publicly traded stocks in China due to the growing risk of further government intervention. China is also dealing with trying to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, which is further slowing their manufacturing and adding to supply chain issues.
The fourth quarter is usually a strong period for stocks; however, we maintain our view to be mindful of the risks facing the market for the remainder of the year. We continue to recommend staying the course with your investment objective, and we will rebalance as year-end approaches to bring portfolios in line with our recommended allocations. We also recommend determining any short-term cash needs that you may have over the next six months as we continue to maintain appropriate cash levels for clients needing distributions. Creating this cash can help protect against an increase in volatility and short-term moves in the market. We recommend maintaining a more long-term focus on investment goals and objectives with an understanding that short-term headline risks rarely have a long-term effect on markets.