Investors who remained steady during December’s wild ride are probably pleased with their decision as stocks have gotten off to a strong start in 2019. Unfortunately, those who reduced their exposure to the asset class may be feeling the sting of missed opportunity.
Last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained about 3 percent. The Index is up 5.9 percent year-to-date, which is its best start in more than a decade, according to Ben Levisohn of Barron’s. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) and NASDAQ Composite also moved higher last week.1
Barron’s reported investors were encouraged by positive news about trade talks between the United States and China, as well as stronger-than-expected fourth quarter earnings. Eleven percent of S&P 500 companies have reported so far and, altogether, their earnings have beaten expectations by 3.2 percent, according to FactSet. (Quarterly earnings indicate how profitable a company was during the period being reported.)1, 2, 3
The FTSE All-World Index also moved higher last week. It is up almost 8.5 percent for the year.
Richard Henderson, Emma Dunkley, and Robin Wigglesworth of Financial Times offered the opinion investors could have been overly pessimistic during December, and their change in attitude might be attributed to a more dovish tone at the U.S. Federal Reserve, as well as evidence the U.S. economy remains strong.4
While investor confidence appears to be strengthening, consumer confidence wavered. The University of Michigan Survey of Consumers showed consumer confidence was lower in January 2019 than it was in January 2018. The Survey’s Chief Economist Richard Curtin wrote, “The loss was due to a host of issues including the partial government shutdown, the impact of tariffs, instabilities in financial markets, the global slowdown, and the lack of clarity about monetary policies.”5
How much would those burgers cost in Britain? Purchasing power parity, or PPP, is a straightforward idea with a tongue twister of a name. When two countries have PPP, people pay the same amount for the same goods, after adjusting for the exchange rate. For example, if one British pound is worth 50 U.S. cents, then an item that costs one British pound in the United Kingdom should cost 50 cents in the United States.6
The Economist developed ‘The Big Mac Index’ to measure burger parity. It’s an engaging way to look at local prices and exchange rates. The index measures the price of the seven-ingredient, double-decker burger in different countries and offers a rough estimate of whether a country’s currency is overvalued or undervalued relative to the U.S. dollar.6, 7
In January 2019, the index served up the news that almost every currency, in developed and emerging economies, is undervalued relative to the U.S. dollar. The only countries with currencies that appear to be overvalued are Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden.6, 7
So, how undervalued are other countries’ currencies?6
- The Canadian dollar is 8.9 percent undervalued
- The European Union’s euro is 16.8 percent undervalued
- The British pound is 27 percent undervalued
- The Chinese yuan is 45.3 percent undervalued
- The Russian ruble is 70.4 percent undervalued
The Economist explained, “It is not unusual for emerging-market currencies to look weak in our index. But, today the dollar towers over rich and poor alike. The pound, for example, looked reasonably priced five years ago. Today, Americans visiting Britain will find that [burgers] are 27 percent cheaper than at home.”7
The U.S. dollar is stronger than usual because higher interest rates and tax cuts made American assets more attractive to investors than other assets in 2018, reported The Economist.7
A strong dollar is a boon to travelers, who get more for their money in other countries. It also can make imports from other countries more attractive price-wise. There are disadvantages to a strong dollar, too. For example, it makes the United States a more expensive destination for travelers from other countries, which could discourage tourism. In addition, a strong dollar makes exports more expensive and that could make U.S. goods less competitive in overseas markets.8
Weekly Focus – Think About It
“Wealth begins in a tight roof that keeps the rain and wind out; in a good pump that yields you plenty of sweet water; in two suits of clothes, so to change your dress when you are wet; in dry sticks to burn; in a good double-wick lamp; and three meals; in a horse, or a locomotive, to cross the land; in a boat to cross the sea; in tools to work with; in books to read; and so, in giving, on all sides, by tools and auxiliaries, the greatest possible extension to our powers, as if it added feet, and hands, and eyes, and blood, length to the day, and knowledge, and good-will.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, American writer9
the Sweet Financial Services Team
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1https://www.barrons.com/articles/dow-gains-3-for-its-best-start-since-1997-51547857364?mod=hp_DAY_10 (or go to https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/peakcontent/+Peak+Commentary/01-22-19_Barrons-Dow_Gains_3_Percent_for_Its_Best_Start_Since_1997-Footnote_1.pdf)
4 https://www.ft.com/content/e5e72cbc-157b-11e9-a581-4ff78404524e (or go to https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/peakcontent/+Peak+Commentary/01-22-19_FinancialTimes-Markets_Get_their_Groove_Back_after_Chaotic_End_to_the_Year-Footnote_4.pdf)
5 http://www.sca.isr.umich.edu (or go to https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/peakcontent/+Peak+Commentary/01-22-19_SurveysOfConsumers-January_2019_Consumer_Confidence-Footnote_5.pdf)
6 https://www.economist.com/news/2019/01/10/the-big-mac-index (or go to https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/peakcontent/+Peak+Commentary/01-22-19_TheEconomist-The_Big_Mac_Index-Footnote_6.pdf)
7 https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2019/01/12/the-big-mac-index-shows-currencies-are-very-cheap-against-the-dollar (or go to https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/peakcontent/+Peak+Commentary/01-22-19_TheEconomist-The_Big_Mac_Index_Shows_Currencies_are_Very_Cheap_Against_the_Dollar-Footnote_7.pdf)
9 https://emersoncentral.com/texts/the-conduct-of-life/wealth/ (Click on Show More)
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