Say goodbye to summer time. While fall may not officially start until later in the month, in my mind Labor Day is when everyone gets serious again.
It’s been a great summer in the Region, fairly cool and fairly dry, and I continue to knock on wood every time I say it but, "Where are the bugs?"
It has also been a nice summer in the financial markets as well with a review of the charts indicating major indexes up about 1.5 percent since Memorial Day, not including dividends, and very little volatility to be seen. Even interest rates have been stable, despite the Fed raising short-term rates in June.
With Congress in recess as well, the political drama has dissipated and with it much of the national stress level.
But as we’ve seen with the ill-fated lot of our friends in Texas this week, the weather should not be taken for granted, and I’ll throw in the stock market and Washington D.C. as issues not to get complacent about as well.
Unfortunately, with Congress coming back to session soon, I’m afraid political antics are back, and this time the stock market may be caught in the crosshairs.
Two intertwined issues are about to take center stage in the U.S., both are financial and both have the capacity to drive the stock market into a more volatile state.
The Federal government has once again maxed out its credit line, and will need Congressional authorization to borrow more money to keep operating. This issue, called the debt ceiling, will need to be resolved by the end of September or the government risks missing interest or principal payments on the national debt, which is called a default.
A U.S. debt default, while extremely unlikely, would be potentially catastrophic to the financial markets. During slightly less incompetent and cantankerous times in 2011, the debate around this process caused the bond rating agency Standard and Poors to strip the U.S. government of its AAA rating, which led the S&P 500 stock index to decline nearly 20 percent.
I sincerely hope our politicians learned their lesson, that despite the ideological revulsion some must have to authorizing expanding the national debt, this issue is not to be used as negotiating tool. With the current state of the political climate, however, nothing rational should be assumed.
If that isn’t enough, the other financial issue sure to be whipped up in the press is that of the dreaded government shutdown. Unlike the debt ceiling, this is more a matter of political theater, as a government shutdown has very little real-world implications, unless you’re at the gates of Yellowstone National Park, and from an economic or financial perspective even less.
The acrimony surrounding this possibility, however, is sure to be a bit unnerving to investors, especially when the battle lines are already being drawn around President Donald Trump’s border wall.
As we move into the fall and some of these issues come to center stage, I do expect volatility to increase from the extremely low current levels. With the stock market near all-time highs, now may not be a bad time to revisit the risk level in your portfolio and make adjustments if necessary. Winter is coming.