The markets and the economy are at a crux at this time. While oil prices fell recently, they remain relatively high and this cuts into the amount of disposable income consumers have. Gasoline prices continue to be at just below $3 a gallon.
Consumers also worry about the labor market, which continues to be mixed. The monthly non-farm payroll numbers have underperformed for the last four straight months and in eight of the past 12 months. Fear of job loss could play on the mind of consumers going forward.
Rising concerns regarding a slowing U.S. economy could impact stock markets for the remainder of this year. Just recently, the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index for August fell to a nine-month low coming in at below 100 for the first time since November 2005.
The August reading of 99.6 was below the estimate of 102.5 and the lowest since a 98.3 reading in November 2005. Whether this begins a new trend is still unknown but it does suggest that consumers are worry about the higher interest rates and financing costs. Consumer spending, accounting for two-thirds of the U.S. economic growth, is at risk.
The recent housing market data also helps to support a potential slowdown in the U.S. economy. Homeowners who were previously seeing their wealth rise with the hot real estate market are now faced with softer prices and declining net wealth. This translates into less confidence to spend and could trickle through to lower overall spending and impact economic growth.
As we near the end of the third quarter, there will be many things for investors to think about. We had the Fed FOMC meeting on September 20. The current feeling is the Fed will continue to stand pat on interest rates, fearing the impact of higher rates on the economy.
Investors will also await the third quarter results, which are estimated to fall from the second quarter. In addition, we continue to have geopolitical risk in the Middle East and terrorism threats.
All in all, it will be an interesting final quarter this year. Our advice is to remain prudent and not take any unnecessary risk. Begin to review your portfolio and separate the losers from the winners.