Many people start a new year with renewed optimism. However, the reality of each new year is not so detached from the previous.
That’s why on the first trading day of 2016, optimism in the markets was short-lived as news out of China was quick to spook investors.
Chinese manufacturing continued to contract for the 10th month in a row in December. The “blue chip” CSI 300 index fell until trading was halted, with losses capped at 7% – its biggest fall in nine years. China also lowered its guidance on the yuan, which dropped to its lowest levels since 2011.
These concerns, along with other disappointing numbers out of the US and UK, eventually spread to other markets. The Nikkei was down 3%, the FTSE 100 was down 2.4%, and the German DAX down 4.3% for its worst opening day to a new year in history.
U.S. markets were in the same boat, opening the day down 2%. Canada’s TSX and TSXV are down less than 1% with much of the damage to commodities already being done.
NEW YEAR, SAME PROBLEMS
Most investors and central bankers find themselves between a rock and a hard place to start 2016.
While unemployment itself has looked good enough and there has been some wage growth, the labor force participation is at 62.5%, which is essentially its lowest mark since 1977. Meanwhile, the stock market has been volatile, junk bonds have been hammered, and manufacturing contracted in December at the fastest pace in the U.S. in more than six years.
Most major central banks still have rates close to zero, which gives little policy ammunition for any additional stimulus. The flipside of these record-low rates has been soaring (or extremely bubbly) asset prices that have failed to trickle down to Main Street.
A slowing China and general oversupply has led to slumping commodity prices.
Oil has been hammered down to its lowest price since 2003. Copper is trading at $2/lb, which is comparable to its price during the Financial Crisis. These low input prices, in theory, are great for consumers and manufacturers. In reality, however, they usually mean that economic growth is grinding to a halt.
It’s hard to say where markets will turn in 2016, but for now it will continue to be much of the same volatility until the picture becomes clearer.