Investors Take Warning: Storm Clouds Gathering

Photo (cc) by paul bica

As parties go, this one’s been raging for quite a while. After dipping below 6,600 just two short years ago, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has now nearly doubled.

If you were fortunate enough to invest in stocks near the market bottom – and if you bought the right stocks – you’ve made a killing. (Take a look at my personal portfolio and you’ll see what I mean.)

But that’s history. If you don’t own stocks, stock mutual funds, or ETFs, is now the time to buy? And if you were lucky (or smart) enough to pull the trigger back in 2009, is it time to sell and protect your profits and/or your principal?

The answer to both questions is no. Back on March 11, in this Ask Stacy column, I said the market wasn’t looking good and that I’d be reluctant to buy in the immediate future. But I also believe that the economy will continue to recover, so there’s no reason to bail either. In short, this is one of those times when the long-term investor adjusts their expectations – but not their portfolio.

Trouble ahead?

When I say adjust your expectations, what I mean is brace for some short-term bruising. Here are a few economic headwinds around these days…

  • The end of QE2: The government’s second program to keep interest rates low – known as quantitative easing, or QE – is set to end in June. This program, through which the Federal Reserve has been buying about $75 billion in treasury bonds weekly, is designed to keep interest rates low. When the buying stops, some say rates could rise and stocks could fall. Here’s an article from U.S. News & World Report with more details.
  • Job growth is slowing: After last week’s announcement that only 54,000 jobs were created in May, economists are fretting that consumer spending will slow. Since consumer spending makes up 70 percent of the U.S. economy, that’s a potential drag on stocks.
  • Political wrangling over the debt ceiling. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, our nation is now bumping up against its credit limits. Some think refusing to increase the government’s ability to borrow isn’t that big a deal, while others think failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic. But one thing’s for sure: Stocks won’t respond well if the government is unable to meet all of its obligations when the limit is reached on August 2.
  • High gas prices: Money you spend on gas helps the Middle East and big oil companies but doesn’t help the American economy.
  • Housing prices: Home prices nationwide are now at their lowest since 2002. According to this AP article, homeowners have now lost more equity than during the Great Depression of the 1930s – back then, it took 19 years for prices to recover. If folks are afraid to buy or can’t sell, that’s another drag on the economy.
  • The European debt crisis: It may not seem that Greece’s problems could affect us, but with the increasingly global economy, when Europe sneezes, U.S. markets could catch a cold. Recently, Standard & Poor’s cut Greek government debt to junk status, and stocks worldwide took a hit.
  • Emerging market slowdown: While our economy has been sputtering, emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere – most notably, China – have been going gangbusters. But the Chinese government recently raised interest rates and took other measures to keep their economy from overheating – a negative for the many U.S. companies that do business there. According to this recent CNN/Money article, “It goes without saying that a healthy Chinese economy is key to keeping the U.S. and global recovery on track.”

Those are some of the problems that stocks are currently facing, and they’re reason enough to be concerned about the short-term. But as I said earlier, while these concerns are enough to keep me on the sidelines, they’re not enough to chase me out of the stock market. Why haven’t I sold a single share?

The good stuff

  • Interest rates are still low: Although the Fed’s QE2 program will end soon, the Fed has signaled they’re not concerned about inflation and will keep interest rates low until they’re sure the economy is growing again. Low interest rates are good for stocks.
  • The economy is still growing: While only 54,000 jobs were added during May – a number far below estimates – jobs were still added and the economy is still growing. An economy that’s growing at a snail’s pace isn’t the same as one that’s shrinking. In a speech this week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said, “The economic recovery appears to be continuing at a moderate pace, albeit at a rate that is both uneven across sectors and frustratingly slow from the perspective of millions of unemployed.”
  • Gas prices are coming down: At a national average of $3.76/gallon, prices are already down from a few weeks ago. From this May 7 AP article: “It’s going to be $3.50 per gallon this summer,” oil analyst Andrew Lipow said. “At the very least, you can expect prices to fall 40 cents or so over the next several months.”
  • Emerging markets are still growing: As I mentioned above, China is putting the brakes on its economy. But China’s economy is still expected to grow close to 10 percent this year. That’s a huge number.
  • The debt crisis will be dealt with: While politicians may take it down to the wire, they’ll probably approve an increase in our nation’s debt ceiling. And while the process of dealing with our massive budget deficit won’t be pretty, it’s a lot better for the country and the stock market than ignoring it.

In a January story called 3 Places to Put Money Now, I suggested putting money into stocks, real estate, and paying off debt. While paying off debt is always a great place to put money, my assumption regarding real estate was almost certainly too optimistic – at this point it looks highly improbable that housing prices will begin any sort of a turnaround this year. As for stocks, while the jury is still out, I’m concerned: I wasn’t expecting this degree of slowdown. But I’m still not throwing in the towel – yet.

Bottom line? Expect tough sailing in the immediate future and keep your eye on the news. If our economic recovery continues to falter, that’s going to be reflected as lower stock prices. Long-term, however, I’m still looking for stocks to do well. So if you’re putting money monthly into stock mutual funds at work or elsewhere, don’t stop. But don’t expect any easy money for the next few months.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
5 Ways Your Phone Can Slash Grocery Costs
5 Ways Your Phone Can Slash Grocery Costs

These free apps and websites can help you get cash back on groceries, shop more efficiently or squeeze the most from the ingredients you have on hand.

Brace to Pay More for These 26 Prescriptions in 2020
Brace to Pay More for These 26 Prescriptions in 2020

More than 600 drugs — including these commonly prescribed meds — have seen price hikes so far this year.

2 Costly Rewards Credit Card Mistakes — and How to Fix Them
2 Costly Rewards Credit Card Mistakes — and How to Fix Them

If you commit either of these credit card sins, you are likely losing money every time you use a card. Here’s how to easily right this wrong.

7 Hobbies That Help You Live Longer
7 Hobbies That Help You Live Longer

Research shows some hobbies can add years — or even decades — to your life.

11 Signs That You Chose the Wrong Place to Retire
11 Signs That You Chose the Wrong Place to Retire

Health and happiness in retirement rely on some key factors.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare
14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare

These services could save you money and help prevent costly health problems.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

10 Things You Should Never Do With Bleach
10 Things You Should Never Do With Bleach

Does the pandemic have you reaching for bleach more than ever before? Learn the ins and outs of using this powerful disinfectant.

15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.