The curtain appeared to close on the first act of 2019 last week – and what an impressive act it was. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index delivered some dramatic returns and is less than 1 percent away from a new all-time high.
Despite relatively few shares changing hands, major U.S. indices eked out gains.
Investors were complacent even though news suggested trade talks with China were progressing well. They remained unruffled in the face of a Presidential tweet suggesting the United States will impose tariffs on Europe in retaliation for illegal subsidies to a European aerospace firm.
There was another interesting development in the United States last week. It was widely reported that a number of companies in retail and banking sectors increased entry-level hourly wages to levels well above the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The companies are paying $13 to $20 an hour, according to Renae Merle of The Washington Post and a report from Reuters.
That is good news for workers, but not such good news for investors since higher wages could lead to lower corporate profits, reported Joe Wallace and Akane Otani of The Wall Street Journal.
Filed under “How is this possible?” analysts are at a loss to explain how the stock market continues to rally amid an exodus of investors in U.S. equity funds. U.S. stocks posted their best quarter in nearly a decade at the end of March, but they did so without the help of investors in U.S. stock mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. According to data from Lipper and EPFR Global, those funds have seen sizeable outflows since the beginning of the year. Jared Woodward, investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said although it isn’t unprecedented for equity fund flows to be negative while stock prices climbed, the pace and magnitude of the stock market’s rise and equity outflows are much greater so far this year.
Back in 2016, equity outflows totaled $93 billion, but the accompanying 5% rise in global stocks was far less potent than this current period, the analyst said. Woodward and his colleagues theorized that the divergence between outflows and concurrent outsize gains can perhaps be explained by corporate buybacks. S&P 500 firms have repurchased $227 billion of their own stock in the first quarter of 2019, according to FactSet data, up sharply from the already-huge $143 billion in buybacks in the first quarter of 2018.