American stocks keep rolling with the punches.
China is in turmoil. Oil is at six-and-a-half-year lows. Copper and other metals are tumbling. Earnings growth has vanished. The strong U.S. dollar is hurting exports. And a rate hike from the Federal Reserve looms.
But the U.S. stock market seemingly can’t be knocked down. Stocks aren’t going gangbusters like in previous years — the S&P 500 is up just 1.5% — but they’ve performed admirably, all things considered.
Just look at last week. China’s surprise devaluation sparked a major midweek sell-off around the world, including in the U.S. But then the market made a big comeback on Wednesday, wiping out an intraday plunge of nearly 300 points for the Dow. By the end of the week, stocks were essentially flat.
“The U.S. is exhibiting tremendous resiliency and a lot of independence from the rest of the world,” said Seth Masters, chief investment officer at AllianceBernstein.
That ability to overcome challenges positions the market well if the U.S. economy starts revving up later this year.
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Here’s a quick recap of what stocks have battled through so far:
Earnings growth nonexistent: Six years into the recovery, corporate profits are barely growing. Thanks largely to oil-ravaged energy companies, second-quarter earnings from S&P 500 companies are expected to be flat.
Dollar is too strong: So far this year, the U.S. dollar has soared nearly 7% against a basket of currencies as investors bet on a Fed rate hike later this year. That strong dollar is making U.S. goods expensive and is eating into foreign demand for American goods like iPhones and cars.
China is a mess: Speaking of currencies, China surprised the world by devaluing the yuan last week. The move raised fears that China’s economy — now the world’s second-largest — is slowing even more than people realized.
Oil, metals get crushed: Weaker demand from China’s slowing economy has helped cause prices for raw materials like copper and iron ore and also oil to plunge. That’s slammed emerging markets in Latin America such as Brazil that rely on natural resources for growth.
Erratic U.S. consumer spending: Despite cheap oil and gas prices, Americans have been reluctant to open their wallets. Consumer spending — which makes up 70% of the U.S. economy — needs to display more of the strength shown in July to meaningfully boost growth. We’ll get a better picture on spending when major consumer brands like Gap (, )Home Depot (, )Target ( and )Wal-Mart ( report results this week. )
Stocks aren’t cheap: The U.S. equity market is trading at a richer valuation than most others. That makes it tougher for stocks to go higher absent real earnings growth.
Fed adds to uncertainty: Despite all of those factors, the Fed is expected to raise rates later this year. The move — the first rate hike in nearly a decade — is creating additional uncertainty and volatility.
But U.S. is in a better economic position globally
The good news is the U.S. still looks like one of the best houses in a bad neighborhood. Few are calling for a U.S. recession in the near future. American jobs continue to grow despite trouble in the oil patch and corporate profits remain near all-time highs.
“It leaves the U.S. looking attractive in relative terms. There’s a valuation premium on U.S. equities but perhaps that valuation is justified,” said David Lebovitz, head of the global market insights strategy team at JPMorgan Funds.
Related: Brazil’s economy is a big mess
Return of bull market
U.S. stocks may also be well positioned for a late-year rally in 2015. Unlike the past few years when the market took off, it’s hard to argue equities look overextended. The Dow is actually down 2% year-to-date, while the Nasdaq is only up 6%.
“There’s every reason to believe this bull market continues,” said Troy Gayeski, senior portfolio manager at SkyBridge Capital.
He pointed to the relative strength in the U.S. economy and the fact that oil prices can’t fall much lower than they already have.
“Unless you think we’re going to have a bear market soon — which we think is highly improbable — almost by definition the next move is higher,” said Gayeski.
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