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Libor Surge May rule out September Fed Rate Hike

After rallying for weeks, the major indexes fell last week ahead of key remarks by Federal Reserve officials and turbulence in money markets.[i] For the week, the S&P 500 lost 0.68%, the Dow fell 0.85%, the NASDAQ dropped 0.37%, while the MSCI EAFE gained 0.16%.[ii]

Even as the Fed has kept interest rates flat, an unexpected surge in short-term interest rates triggered by an industry rule change is potentially doing some of the Fed’s work for it. If you ever tune in to the financial news, you may have heard the term LIBOR (pronounced LIE-bor) mentioned in reference to money markets (what we call the trade of short-term loans between banks and other financial institutions).

LIBOR, the London Interbank Offered Rate, is a benchmark used for a vast range of debt, including mortgages and corporate loans. Recently, the three-month LIBOR (the rate charged for lending dollars for three months) has reached multi-year highs (rising more than 30% since this June), tightening credit conditions without any action by the Fed.[iii]

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Earnings Drive Stocks Higher

Stocks ended last week mostly flat, falling slightly on Friday after the major U.S. indexes set new record highs on Thursday on positive earnings surprises. The NASDAQ also notched a seventh week of gains, its longest winning streak since 2012.[ii]

Earnings season is mostly behind us, and, with nearly all of the S&P 500 companies having reported in, we have a good overall picture of last quarter’s performance. Total earnings for the index so far were down 3.7% on -0.7% lower revenues relative to Q2 2015. However, 71.1% have managed to beat profit expectations, which has given stocks a boost in recent weeks.

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Another New High after Jobs Number

Stocks bounced last week, ending sharply higher after a better-than-expected jobs report. For the week, the S&P 500 gained 0.43%, the Dow rose 0.60%, the NASDAQ added 1.14%, but the MSCI EAFE lost 1.41%.[i]

Among last week’s major events was a shockingly good July jobs report. Last month, the economy added 255,000 new jobs, blowing away expectations of 180,000 jobs.[ii] Even better, the gains were broad-based and the labor force participation rate (an area of concern because fewer people in our population were actively participating in the labor force) ticked upward.[iii] Overall, not too shabby.

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Stocks Mixed on Disappointing GDP

Stocks broke their four-week winning streak, closing mixed after the release of a surprisingly low estimate of second-quarter economic growth. For the week, the S&P 500 lost 0.07%, the Dow fell 0.75%, the NASDAQ grew 1.22%, and the MSCI EAFE added 2.36%.[ii] Investors were understandably disappointed as they had hoped for a resurgence after a slow first quarter. Professional economists were also surprised. The New York Fed had forecasted GDP growth of 2.1% and the Atlanta Fed had predicted 2.3% growth.[iv]

So, though the headline number was a letdown, the underlying trends in consumer spending, labor market growth, and higher savings rates could set up a banner third and fourth quarter.

During last week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy makers voted to hold rates steady, surprising no one. Citing recent economic data, the central bank said that “near-term risks to the economic outlook have diminished,” setting the stage for the next rate hike.[vi]

On the positive side, the Fed seems confident enough in economic growth to cut back on stimulus. On the negative side, speculation around the timing of future rate hikes will continue to be a major market theme this year and may stoke additional volatility.

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S&P 500 Sets Another Record

Stocks ended a fourth straight week of gains, sending the S&P 500 index to another record high.[ii]

Second-quarter earnings season is in full swing, and the picture thus far is much like that of the last four quarters: uninspiring performance eked out on very little revenue growth. However, there are some encouraging signs that could deliver better performance in the months to come.

As of July 22nd, we have data from 126 S&P 500 companies, accounting for almost one-third of the index’s total capitalization. Overall Q2 earnings for these companies are down 1.1% from the second quarter of last year on 2.6% lower revenues. However, over 70% have managed to beat earnings estimates, indicating that managers did a good job of setting the bar low.[iv]

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