The U.S. is in trouble. After expanding at a modest 2.2% in the 4th quarter, economic growth dimmed to a scant 0.2% in Q1 of 2015. Yet privately, many are acknowledging the likelihood that revisions to first quarter gross domestic product (GDP) will indicate a trend toward contraction.
Should investors actually concern themselves with economic uncertainty? If recessions are the primary reason for bear markets in stocks, then the answer is obvious: Yes. Still, U.S. stocks have thrived throughout six years of a sub-standard recovery. Unless recent weakness is anything more than a soft patch, market participants have little reason to fret.
Unfortunately, economic softness may not be as transitory as many would like to believe. For one thing, the Atlanta Federal Reserve anticipates 0.8% Q2 growth for the U.S. economy. Those expectations continue to drift lower. Secondly, stock enthusiasts do not have the U.S. Federal Reserve’s bond-buying stimulus (a.k.a. quantitative easing or “QE”) to fall back on anymore. In fact, voting members of the Fed publicly express a desire to raise overnight lending rates – a tightening measure that could further dampen growth prospects.
Risk may already be heading for the exits. According to FactSet, $16 billion left U.S. stock ETFs in April, with the lion’s share ($13 billion) leaving the S&P 500 SPDR Trust (SPY). Additionally, owners of more risky equity prospects – social media, biotech, small caps – have been liquidating. Russell 2000 iShares (IWM) is down nearly 5% from its mid-April pinnacle and now rests near its 2014 high from December.