Capital Market Commentary – 2018 Forecast and 2017 in Review

By: Stephen Clinton, President, Capital Market Securities, Inc.

The stock market continued its climb to new heights in 2017. The stock market was propelled by the election of President Trump, which brought the expectation of lower taxes, less regulation, and an administration favorable to businesses. The Dow ended 2017 at 24,719.22, an increase of 25.08% for the year. The S&P 500 also improved nicely, ending up 19.42%. The market, despite a correction in early February, has increased further from 2017’s year-end values.

The Fed continued its plan to move short-term interest rates higher in 2017. The Fed moved short-term rates up 25 b.p. in March, June, and December. The three-month T-Bill ended December at 1.39%, an increase of 88 b.p. from year-end 2016. Longer-term interest rates were little changed from year-end 2016, resulting in a flatter yield curve.

Job creation continued in 2017, and the unemployment rate in December was 4.1%. The unemployment rate is at a level not seen in 17 years. The low unemployment rate would typically lead to rising wages, but wage growth was only around 2% in 2017.

As we enter 2018, there are a number of items worth monitoring:

  • Economic Growth. U.S. economic growth for 2017 came in at 2.5%, comparable to prior years. The slow but steady expansion that began in mid-2009 ranks as the third longest economic expansion in U.S. history. Should the recovery continue into the second half of 2019, it would become the longest recovery on record, surpassing the 1990’s economic boom.
  • Housing. Home prices continued to rise in 2017. The S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index rose 6.2% in the 12 months ending in November. The rising price for homes has exceeded inflation and wage growth for several years. The limited housing inventory has aided the rise in prices along with historically low mortgage rates. U.S. single-family homebuilding surged to more than 10-year highs in November. Existing home sales were up 5.6% in December, while new home sales increased 17.5%.
  • Industrial Production. U.S. manufacturing activity remains strong. The Institute for Supply Management said its purchasing managers index rose to 59.7 in December, the second highest level since early 2011. A reading over 50 indicates expansion in the sector; below 50 suggests contraction. Boeing recently announced deliveries of 763 aircraft in 2017, a record for the company. Auto sales were down 1.8% in 2017, but with sales of 17.2 million vehicles, it marked the first time the industry has surpassed 17 million for three consecutive years.
  • Consumers. Consumer confidence is positive. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index average level for 2017 was the highest since 2000. A sign of the strong consumer sentiment is reflected in consumer debt. In the fourth quarter, consumer debt, excluding mortgages and other home loans, rose 5.5% from a year earlier. That is the highest amount since the Federal Reserve Bank of New York began tracking the data in 1999. Moreover, consumers’ non-housing debts accounted for just over 29% of their overall debt load, also the highest amount on record.
  • Inflation. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation in January was 2.1%, moving above the Fed’s target of 2% for the first time in a while. The anticipated 3% growth of the economy along with the tight labor market and rising interest rates is expected to finally push inflation upward.
  • Political Risks. There are a number of geo-political risks that could significantly change the outlook for 2018. Among these are the ongoing Brexit process, North Korea nuclear saber rattling, and President Trump’s plans to renegotiate NAFTA. Furthermore, the dysfunction in Washington creates uncertainty.

Predictions for 2018

  • Lending Activity. We anticipate an increase in lending activity. We think the lower tax rate for businesses will encourage businesses to expand their operations.
  • Interest Rates. The Fed has indicated that three rate increases are probable in 2018. We think that we will get those increases.
  • Home Prices. We expect the growth rate in home prices to be lower than in the past several years. We think higher interest rates will come into play and make housing less affordable. We also think that the less favorable tax status of the deductibility of mortgage interest will have an impact on some home buyers.
  • Inflation. We do see inflation moving up in 2018. As mentioned above, we expect wage increases to heighten. The low unemployment rate and the shortage of skilled labor in many markets will put pressure on employers to increase wages to attract and retain workers. We also think the growing economy will impact commodity prices.
  • Jobs. We envision unemployment to remain low as businesses expand.
  • Regulation. We expect bankers to be disappointed about the lack of regulatory relief in 2018. It will be difficult for regulatory relief to filter down the bank regulatory bureaucracy.

Merger and Acquisition Activity
Merger activity in 2017 was slightly higher than the activity in 2016. In 2017, there were 267 announced mergers of banks and thrifts compared to 244 deals in 2016. In terms of deal size, the total assets of sellers totaled $147 billion in 2017, compared to $188 billion in 2016 and $459 billion in 2015. Pricing on 2017 bank sales improved significantly from 2016’s pricing, recording a median price to book multiple of 162% and a price to earnings multiple of 20.9 times. We believe that 2018 will see increased merger activity spurred, in part, by bank buyers’ enhanced profitability from reduced corporate taxes

Capital Market Services
Young & Associates, Inc. has a successful track record of working with our bank clients in the development and implementation of capital strategies. Through our affiliate, Capital Market Securities, Inc., we have assisted clients in a variety of capital market transactions. For more information on our capital market services, please contact Stephen Clinton at sclinton@younginc.com or 1.800.376.8662.