Fed Pause Fuels New S&P500 Highs…Is It Real?

April 26, 2019

The big headline in markets this week – the S&P 500 pushed to a new all-time high in nominal terms.

But is it a new high in real terms? Most in the financial media don’t want to ask that question. They would rather join their Wall Street sponsors in celebrating a new official record.

President Donald Trump certainly didn’t miss the opportunity to boast about the stock market’s strength under his watch.

Donald Trump: The stock market and our country from an economic standpoint is doing the best probably it's ever done. We're hitting new highs again. We've hit new highs, I guess, close to or over 100 times since I'm president from the time of the election.

CNBC Reporter: You heard the President starting off there with the stock market, obviously he sees that as a piece of good news, and an overall barometer for the economy under his leadership. I asked the President how high he thinks the stock market can go; he didn't respond to that one.

The Trump tax cuts for corporations and his administration’s relative business-friendly approach to regulation have certainly given equity markets a boost. But stocks have also benefited from a general rising sea of liquidity thanks to the Federal Reserve.

Investors shouldn’t be fooled by records that get set because of artificial stimulus from central bankers. There has never been a clearer case of the Federal Reserve goosing the stock market than the current rally that began off last year’s pre-Christmas lows.

Under pressure from Wall Street and the White House Plunge Protection Team to back off on rate hikes, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell announced a pause. Earlier this spring he confirmed the pause would continue for the remainder of the year.

For Wall Street, it has been perhaps the greatest pause of all time judging by the nominal gains registered over the past four months.

Despite the celebratory mood surrounding stocks, there is a striking number of what market technicians call “non-confirmations.”

The transportation index hasn’t hit a new high. The small-cap Russell 2000 index is nowhere near a new high. And the S&P 500 itself is far short of a new high when measured against raw materials including crude oil and gold.

Yes, despite the gold market’s frustratingly sluggish performance over the past few years, the monetary metal has still outperformed the stock market over a longer term frame. It may be hard to believe given all the current hoopla around stocks, but since 2000, gold bullion has still doubled the gains of the S&P 500.

Stocks are up big in terms of dollars. In terms of hard money, though, it’s been a lost generation for equities. Investors won’t necessarily hear that inconvenient truth told to them by the talking heads on CNBC.

Precious metals markets faced headwinds this week from both a rising stock market and rising U.S. Dollar Index but finished the week strong. The dollar rose toward a 2-year high against its major foreign currency counterparts.

Even as the Federal Reserve has turned dovish, central banks around the developed world – from Japan to Sweden to Canada – have turned even more dovish. They are aggressively committing to ultra-low interest rates – in some cases even negative interest rates in the face of weak economies.

If this dynamic continues to push the dollar higher against foreign currencies, the Fed will come under increasing pressure to cut rates. Futures markets are currently pricing in a quarter point rate cut by the end of the year.

Fed policymakers haven’t yet signaled they will make such a move. But there are signs the economy is slowing significantly enough to give them justification. Despite the record high stock market and historically low official unemployment rate, GDP is slumping, and housing is hitting the skids.

Perhaps investor optimism toward stocks will finally begin to wane. The big question is whether the next round of Fed stimulus benefits primarily the stock market again… or whether monetary inflation gets reflected more in other asset classes such as commodities and precious metals. That question could start getting answered later this year.

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Mike Gleason is a Director with Money Metals Exchange, a national precious metals dealer with over 50,000 customers. Gleason is a hard money advocate and a strong proponent of personal liberty, limited government and the Austrian School of Economics. A graduate of the University of Florida, Gleason has extensive experience in management, sales and logistics as well as precious metals investing. He also puts his longtime broadcasting background to good use, hosting a weekly precious metals podcast since 2011, a program listened to by tens of thousands each week.

A single ounce of gold (about 28 grams) can be stretched into a gold thread 5 miles (8 kilometers) long.