In the wake of Friday's steep sell off, what's the right course of action when the markets open on Monday? To use a British expression, we're inclined to "keep calm and carry on."
Many stocks remain reasonably valued growth propositions and besides, the worst time to sell is in situations like these. Individual investors often jettison their holdings when the market falls, out of fear it will never recover. And yet, the record shows the opposite. Not only will the market eventually bounce back, but it will do so a lot sooner than you might think.
Given current volatility and risks, investors are understandably nervous. On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell nearly 400 points, or 2.13%, the S&P 500 (SPY - Get Report) index lost 53.49 points, or 2.45%, and the Nasdaq composite dropped 133.58 points, or 2.54%.
The culprits: a saber-rattling nuclear test by the rogue state of North Korea and comments from Federal Reserve officials suggesting that interest rates might be raised as soon as this month. Friday's plummet was the second-largest weekly drop for the Dow this year and the largest for the S&P 500 since early February.
Political turmoil in the United States also is weighing on investors, as the interminable Trump-Clinton presidential circus dispirits voters at home and causes consternation overseas. Investors have declared a pox on both the Republican and Democratic houses, although it's Trump and his bombastic protectionist rhetoric that seems to rankle the business establishment the most.
The conservative financial magazine The Economist has declared a Trump presidency one of the top 10 risks facing the global economy in 2016. Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg and Warren Buffett have come out against fellow billionaire Trump. But then again, history teaches us that the stock market does just fine over the long haul, no matter who occupies the White House.
The biggest investor fear now isn't Trump or Clinton; it's that the Fed will tighten the monetary spigot during its next two-day meeting, Sept. 20-21. Consequently, the hardest hit sectors on Friday were utilities and telecommunications, which have been strong performers this year because investors have coveted their high dividends amid low interest rates. The Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLU - Get Report) fell 3.72% and the SPDR S&P Telecom ETF (XTL - Get Report) fell 2.13%. Among the biggest decliners were Dominion (D - Get Report) (down 3.99%) and Southern Co. (SO - Get Report) (down 3.05%) in utilities, and Verizon Communications (VZ - Get Report) (down 3.32%) and AT&T (T - Get Report) (down 3.59%) in telecom.
But Friday's reversal should prove ephemeral. On balance, there are more positives than negatives for stock markets. The global economy over the past few years has proven quite resilient to shocks. Even a financial crash in China and Britain's unexpected vote to leave the European Union haven't derailed the stock market's upward momentum. Should global manufacturing bounce back in the U.S. and Europe, as appears likely, it would go a long way toward fueling continued growth.
Another positive factor is the sustained recovery in oil prices. Admittedly, crude took a hit on Friday, when West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the U.S. benchmark, fell 4.2%, and Brent North Sea crude, on which international oils are priced, fell 4.4%. But overall, oil prices have staged a stunning comeback in recent months after crashing to a 13-year low of $26 a barrel in February. Now, the global economic recovery appears to be on track, especially in the U.S., ensuring sufficient demand to keep energy prices from collapsing again. At the same time, supplies are tightening.
Both WTI and Brent are hovering between $40 and $50 a barrel. Oil needs to reach $50 a barrel for energy companies to "break even" on their operations, but if you listen to some of the most influential experts, oil will shoot past that threshold. Notably, strategists at exploration and production giant BP (BP - Get Report) expect oil prices to climb back to $100. They argue that fossil fuels will still be providing 80% of the world's total energy supply in 2035, despite the inroads from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.
Among the key economic reports to watch in the week ahead: Jobless Claims, Retail Sales, Industrial Production, the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, and Business Inventories (Thursday); and the Consumer Price Index and Consumer Sentiment (Friday). Also on Friday, expect a spike in volatility from "quadruple witching," when market index futures, market index options, stock options and stock futures expire.
The upshot: don't panic and dump inherently strong equities. Focus on quality and stay cautious. Before Friday's sell off, the broader markets were overvalued and needed a breather anyway. Now's an opportune time to hunt for bargains.
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