After nearly six years of a surging American stock market, investors are getting worried about how much longer it will actually last. Suddenly, the views of Wall Street bears are getting a lot more attention. These bears build their case that a crisis is near on four factors: falling oil prices, stagnant wages, a strong US dollar and plenty of trouble abroad. Earnings and economic activity are actually weakening, not strengthening, according to one chief investment officer at a firm that manages over $8 billion.
One of the biggest problems that companies are currently facing is the strong US dollar. The euro recently hit an 11-year low of about $1.10 to the euro. This may sound good, since it’s more affordable to travel to Europe, but it also hurts US companies who want to sell their products abroad, since US-exported goods are quickly becoming more expensive (and therefore less attractive) to foreign buyers. Consider that Microsoft reported solid earnings yesterday, but its shares dropped as much as 10% because they’ve been forecasting weaker sales abroad due to the strong US dollar. The same goes for Procter & Gamble and United Technologies, some of America’s biggest companies.
Similar to the rise of the dollar, the drop in oil has two sides: Americans are now enjoying the fact that they can fill their gas tanks without doing much damage to their wallets. Yet oil has added over half a million jobs since the end of the recession in June 2009, making up 13% of all US job growth over that period. Now, however, energy companies and related sectors are laying off thousands, a trend that bears insist will be continuing. It’s already started to hurt corporate earnings. Yesterday, the Dow fell 291 points after Caterpillar, the largest building equipment company in the US, reported a 25% decline in profits due to business slowdown in oil-producing regions.
Beyond oil, the global economic picture makes many bears feel that the US can’t be the ones pulling the rest of the world ahead. Growth in China has been slowing. After a surprise move, the Swiss National Bank ignited a currency war earlier this month, the European Central Bank is throwing a life raft to its nations that are hurting from deflation and Japan is already deflating. In addition, Greece just elected a leader almost certain to cause tension with other European leaders, and tensions are once again flaring up between Russia and Ukraine.
Right now, the question is whether or not American consumers and businesses will spend enough to offset a global shutdown. So far, however, wages have been flat for many Americans during the recovery. Adjusting for inflation, median weekly wages were $790 in the fourth quarter of 2007, while they barely budged up 1% to $796 in the last quarter of 2014. Although jobs and economic activity have gained momentum in the past year, wages are still lagging behind. Certain bears view wages, as opposed to job growth, as the key deciding factor for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. Experts across the spectrum see 3.5% wage growth as the key number the Fed wants to see before it raises rates, although current wage growth is only 1.7% annually.