Treading Water: Economic & Market Trends Likely to Continue

Though there was quite a bit of backandforth stock market movement last week as investors reacted to some mixed economic data and earnings reports, stocks ultimately finished the week little changed.

Like stocks, economic fundamentals are also treading water, and I see more of the same ahead. As I write in my new weekly commentary, I expect a number of key economic and market trends to continue in the coming months.

Low inflation. Last week’s January’s Consumer Price Index reading showed that inflation remains well contained. Two factors are helping to keep inflation contained and less volatile than in the past – soft wage growth and dampened oil price volatility. If wage growth stays soft, I don’t expect to see any nearterm acceleration in inflation.

Low rates. Low inflation is good news for the economy, and for markets. It means that the Fed is under no immediate pressure to raise rates, and we expect shortterm rates to remain low for the remainder of 2014 and into 2015.

Moderately higher market volatility. The VIX Index, a measure of U.S. stock market volatility, has fallen a bit since it spiked in early February, but it’s higher than it was at the start of the year.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. economy, the Fed’s tapering, and the still fragile environment in emerging markets, I expect the relatively higher levels of equity market volatility to persist. To be clear, I’m not forecasting unusually high levels of volatility; rather, I anticipate volatility will continue to rise from what have been unusually low levels. Specifically, I expect the VIX to head from its current level of just under 15 back toward its longterm average of around 20.