The eight-year rise in the stock market continued during the first six months of 2017 amid qualified optimism from market strategists.
Although stock indexes generally were down in the first week of July, most commentators were buoyed by modest growth of the U.S. economy, employment growth and growth in Europe and other developed economies that have long lagged the United States.
“We are still positive on the U.S. equity market,” said Lisa Kopp, senior vice president and head of investments at U.S. Bancorp Wealth Management. “We’ve got solid U.S. consumer confidence. The economy is clicking along. And now we’ve got non-U. S. economic growth, which is good for U.S. businesses that do business overseas.
“We are more cautious on the fixed-income market because the Federal Reserve is likely to continue raising interest rates.”
The Piper Jaffray Minnesota Index of 60 state companies worth at least $100 million rose 2.5 percent over the first six months and 57 percent over the last five years.
That compares with the Russell 2000 index of small-to-medium companies that rose 4.3 percent during the first half and 77 percent over five years. The S&P 500 Index of America’s largest public companies rose 8.2 percent through June 30 and 78 percent over the last five years.
The favorites in the market over the last year or so have been huge technology and financial stocks. The Minnesota list skews smaller, once our 18 Fortune 500 companies are excluded. And small stocks have not done as well this year, though there have been exceptions.
For example, Minneapolis-based Tactile Systems Technology, a medical-products company that went public last year at $10 per share, topped $28 per share on June 30, on expectations of continued strong, profitable growth.
Tactile makes “home-therapy” devices such as compression bandages that help control swollen limbs connected to cancer of the lymph nodes
Meanwhile, down the street in northeast Minneapolis, Graco, the big manufacturer and exporter of industrial sprayers and other fluid-handling equipment, saw its stock run from $83 to more than $108 per share in the first half on the strength of domestic-and-overseas business.
Graco, which employs 3,470 around the globe, traded under $20 in early 2009 amid the global recession. Chief Executive Pat McHale, who started on the factory floor, gave everybody an extra annual vacation day when the stock crossed $100 per share in the spring. Most employees are shareholders.
Minnesota industrial stalwarts such as 3M, Toro and Donaldson finished the first half in positive territory.
General Mills, trying to recapture its mojo amid specialty and generic competitors, was off 18 percent.
U.S. Bancorp, the fifth largest banker in America was up 1.6 percent. Regional banker TCF Financial, long talk of a takeover by big U.S. or Canadian banks, fell 18 percent in the first six months of 2017.
Elizabeth Lilly, a veteran Twin Cities portfolio manager and founder and president of Crocus Hill Partners, attributed the overall strength in the market in the first half to investors seeking to get invested late in economic recovery.
There also was hope for President’s Donald Trump’s stated plans for infrastructure spending, tax cuts and regulatory reforms.
Lilly also noted the uptick in business spending and consumer confidence.
“I continue to believe that small-capitalization stocks will do well,” Lilly said. “They derive a majority of their revenue domestically and are not subject to the vagaries of geopolitical issues, the U.S. dollar and, to the extent that the U.S. economy continues to improve they will benefit.
“Barring any ‘Black Swan’ event such as Trump being impeached, missiles fired by North Korea at the U.S., or war in the Middle East, I think the market will continue to register gains through 2018.”
Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at the Leuthold Group, sees less of a true Trump effect and more of a global uptick at work.
“The ‘Trump effect’ on markets is far less than advertised,” Paulsen said last week. “It’s gotten even less as people start to ignore the Washington gyrations. His impact is not a tax cut or spending program. It’s just that we’re ending the regulatory cycle. I don’t know if he’ll get anything done, other than a little more free market capitalism. But a lot of that was starting to happen before the election.
“The economic fundamentals are good. Investor confidence is high. I think the biggest thing is that we are finally participating in a global recovery,” Paulsen continued. “We spent the vast majority of this economic recovery [since 2009] with the U.S. growing faster than most, even though growth was modest. We were the cleanest shirt in the dirty laundry. That was a problem for a lot of U.S. CEOs.”
Paulsen also noted that U.S. corporate sales and earnings are growing pretty well this year. “We’ve got 4.3 percent unemployment, a low postwar level; a high level of job openings and a high net percentage saying job prospects are pretty good. There’s some income growth. And confidence and growth in the housing market. A 2.3 percent Treasury bond, so low rates. And $2 gas prices.”
Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco, said he expects the economy to continue growing at a modest 2 percent rate.
Trump boasted that he would boost it to 4 percent. However, most analysts disagree amid retirement of thousands of baby boomers weekly, job shortages for skilled workers and lack of a big economic-productivity accelerant such as infrastructure spending or huge tech developments.
The bull market won’t last forever. Paulsen sees wages and inflation creeping over 3 percent over the next year or so, lowering bond prices, while inflating oil and other commodity prices. That could be good for some stocks. However, the bull will start to slow down within a couple of years.
“International markets will do better the rest of this recovery,” Paulsen said. “Ultimately what ends this recovery will be what ends most recoveries. Things get a little too hot and inflation goes up and forces the Fed’s hand to raise rates. I think we’re still a few years from that.”