The Markets

12.15.14

Ouch!

It was no fun to be an investor last week. The week prior, a commentary in The Wall Street Journal’s blog, MoneyBeat, offered this insight:

“Falling oil prices are thought to be good for stocks because they stimulate consumer spending and hold down inflation. The lower costs support economic growth, boost corporate earnings, and lessen pressure on the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. The stock market loves that mix.”

That was not the case last week. A selling spree, sparked in part by concerns related to energy, led to virtually every major world stock index (every one that Barron’s follows, anyway) moving lower. The single exception was the Shanghai Composite and that was flat.

It seems the International Energy Agency’s prediction that demand for energy would grow more slowly in 2015, combined with the fact supply of some resources has been growing, addled investors and they sold everything but the kitchen sink. Even industries that may be helped by lower energy costs – consumer goods, consumer services, health care, and others – lost value. In the United States, stock markets delivered their worst performance in more than three years, according to Barron’s.

Have investors lost sight of the fact the United States has a consumption-driven economy?

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reported personal consumption – how much Americans are spending on goods and services – was 70 percent of gross domestic product (the value of all goods and services produced) in the United States during the third quarter of 2014. Lower energy prices tend to put more money in the pockets of consumers so they can spend more and that can help the economy grow. In fact, U.S. News reported, “…approximately every penny decline in the price of a gallon of gasoline translates to about $1 billion in additional disposable income for American households.”

It’s interesting to note consumers – a group that overlaps with investors in a Venn diagram – are more confident than they have been in almost eight years, according to data released by the University of Michigan and cited by Barron’s.

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