Tom Sowanick is Co-President and Chief Investment Officer at Omnivest Group in Princeton, N.J.
While the United Kingdom fell into an official recession last week, we learned on Monday that Spain has suffered the same fate of two consecutive negative quarters of GDP activity.
In the U.S, GDP came in at 2.2 percent (preliminary) vs. 3.0 percent from the 4th quarter of 2011. Weaker growth (globally) is beginning to give investors reason to adopt a more cautious stance.
It is our view that weaker growth in the U.S. may prove to be a “give-back” to the stronger-than expected economic activity that occurred during the November 2011 to February 2012 period. Specifically, labor-related data has been slowing over the past month. After averaging 223,000 job gains from November through February, the March data came in substantially weaker at 120,000. The four-week moving average for Initial Unemployment Claims has also started to trend higher from a low of 363,000 at the end of March to 381,000 on April 20th.
Purchasing Manager’s Indices (PMI) data is telling a similar story as evidenced by the 56.2 reading for Chicago PMI in April vs. 62.2 for March. And while these figures point to a slowdown, investors should remember that a reading above 50.0 still indicates growth.
Against this series of weaker data, Consumer Confidence and Retail Sales have surprised on the upside.
On the earnings front, 74 percent of companies that have reported their earnings for the first quarter have beaten expectations. To add to the overall confusing signals, we will now be faced with two important elections this weekend in Greece and France.
And while the landscape has become somewhat muddled in recent weeks, the one constant that we can rely on is the willingness of the Federal Reserve to act promptly if the data were to become unambiguously negative. Moreover, the Fed will become increasingly more concerned about the viability of the economy should Congress fail to take necessary steps to prevent the U.S. from tipping over the fiscal cliff at the turn of the year.
Admittedly, the U.S. will be entering a very difficult political period in the final six months of the year. While this is not new news, it could raise uncertainty and volatility in financial markets.