September, in the markets at least, is over for this year. As I wrote earlier in the month, this past month tends to be the roughest one of the year. But not this year.
Not only is it over, it will find a place in financial lore as one for the record books. At least from the standpoint of the S&P 500, this month was the least volatile September in 66 years. No small accomplishment. The change between the index’s closing high and closing low for the entire month was just 2.1%. Back in the fall of 2008, you may remember, there were days upon days where a daily move of only 2.1% was a cause for hope.
September, typically being the worst performing month of the year, has averaged a decline of 0.5% for the month. However, during 2017’s September, the market actually rose amid all kinds of potentially disruptive news. How much? About one-and three-quarters percent. Why? I think earnings were a major part, and a good, sound part, too
That allowed the market to stay above the fray of a series of potentially rally-threatening events. For starters, the richest company and stock in the world, Apple Inc., was down close to 7% in September, after rolling out three much-hyped iPhone models. Out came the phones and down went the company’s stock from which it has yet to recover.
Then take North Korea (please!). A war of words escalated between the leaders of our two countries, which has raised the threat of nuclear war. Usually, that would be more than enough to tank stocks. Also consider the punt by the White House and Congress of the debt ceiling deadline until December, when they’ll have to start negotiating all over again. Then, too, there was yet another belly flop of an attempt to repeal Obamacare fell. That one fell flat on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
There’s still more that might well have upended stocks rise this past month. The Federal Reserve said it just may raise interest rates one more time this year, surprising a lot of folks who thought, given recent inflation weakness, that the FED would stand pat for the rest of this year. What usually bugs investors about such a future move didn’t this time: stocks often have trouble marching higher as the Fed ratchets up rates. But then, you must realize that the FED is less “raising” interest rates than trying to return them to normal.
If anything, the market only grew calmer over the course of month. Last week, the S&P 500 traded in a range of just 0.5% — the smallest range its traded in since 1972. And it was only the ninth week this century that the trading range was smaller than 13 points.
If third quarter earnings continue like the last couple of quarters to come in strong, and global economic activity continues to accelerate, growth in our portfolios could continue. But the market has been so calm for so long that you have to be mindful that this can’t go on like this indefinitely. Now, that’s no hint that I sense a collapse or a recession is around the corner. It’s just the statement of a realist that “trees don’t grow to the sky,” and markets don’t rise forever. At some point, yes, they will take a break. But I don’t see the conditions yet that would tell me, “batten down the hatches.”