Billionaire investor George Soros recently opined that the current financial environment reminded him of the "crisis we had in 2008." Or to cite the famous malapropism of the late Yankee philosopher Yogi Berra: "It's déjà vu all over again."
The big question now on Wall Street: Was last week's brutal sell-off in global markets an early warning of a U.S. recession, or a necessary correction that paved the way for buying opportunities and a resumption of upward momentum for stocks?
In the week ahead, important clues to economic strength will emerge in the latest earnings reports of major banks. Some of these banks are among the stocks recently bought by Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A - Get Report) , a strong indication that bank stocks could lead the way to growth in future quarters. The buying and selling decisions of Buffett are always worth noting.
Investors face the coming week with understandable trepidation. So far in 2016, the global losses have been staggering, with the S&P 500 down 8.0%, the Euro Stoxx 50 falling 9.6%, and the Shanghai composite off by 18.0%. Last Friday alone, the S&P 500 closed down 2.16%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 2.39%, and the Nasdaq composite plunged 2.74%.
The main culprit: a sharp drop in the Chinese currency, the yuan, on fears of sputtering growth in the world's second-largest economy, which in turn weighed on Chinese stocks. From its December high, the main Shanghai index is now down more than 20%. At the same time, the massive and growing glut of oil has pushed oil prices below $30 a barrel, a level not seen since the global financial meltdown of 2008.
To be sure, low energy prices stimulate the economy and provide a boon for consumers, but these positives are outweighed when prices fall too far for too long. With oil prices now more than 70% off the all-time high reached in mid-summer 2014, energy sector companies are curtailing projects, slashing employment, and in many cases going bankrupt.
And yet, several positives remain in place, especially in the United States, which to Wall Street's surprise has assumed the mantle of global growth engine. In 2016, year-over-year gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the U.S. is expected to reach about 2.5%. What's more, the jobless rate is on track to dip below 5%, a robust level of employment that even the much-touted Reagan Era never achieved.
But America's economic leadership right now is uneasy and tentative. Declining demand for U.S.-made products from troubled overseas economies, a strong dollar that puts domestic manufacturers at a disadvantage, a devastated energy patch, and a stock market officially in correction could trip up growth in the U.S.
Key indications as to whether the U.S economy has the mojo to withstand the inevitable strains of the coming year will be found in the operating results of major banks this week. Some of these banks are holdings of Berkshire Hathaway, and time has shown that it usually pays to follow the insights of the Oracle of Omaha.
Here are this week's scheduled earnings reports of financial services, energy, telecommunications, and industrial stalwarts that bear particular scrutiny:
January 18, Tuesday: Bank of America (BAC - Get Report) , M&T Bank (MTB - Get Report) , Morgan Stanley (MS - Get Report) , First Horizon (FHN - Get Report) , and Southwest Bancorp (OKSB) . Wednesday: Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) and Kinder Morgan (KMI - Get Report) . Thursday: Bank of New York Mellon (BK - Get Report) , Home Bancshares (HOMB - Get Report) , Pacwest Bancorp (PACW - Get Report) , Verizon Communications (VZ - Get Report) , and Schlumberger (SLB - Get Report) . Friday: SunTrust Banks (STI - Get Report) , General Electric (GE - Get Report) , and MB Financial (MBFI) .
Goldman Sachs, M&T Bank, Bank of New York Mellon, and Verizon Communications all belong to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. As 2016 gets off to a terrible and messy start, what does Buffett know that you don't? For our free and detailed report on his latest investment choices, click here. Buffett boasts a net worth of $62 billion, so his stock-picking decisions are always worth heeding. Our special report tells you exactly what the Oracle of Omaha is adding to Berkshire Hathaway and why.