While Chinese stocks endured more losses in a week that now puts the A-Shares Index into correction territory, U.S. investors continue to preside over a range-bound market domestically. With U.S. equity indices near record levels and late quarter news flow reduced to a trickle, all eyes were focused on the U.S. Supreme Court decision this week regarding the legality of federal tax subsidies for states not running their own insurance exchanges. A high court ruling upholding a key tenet of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was greeted with a sigh of relief by investors who own hospital stocks, while sending speculators short names such as HCA Holdings running for cover. While minor tweaks to the ACA are still possible, such as the repeal of the medical device tax, this week’s key ruling all but assures that the key structure of the national healthcare law will remain intact at least until the Obama administration leaves office.
As healthcare stocks reacted to the Supreme Court drama, investors with more cyclical leanings received the latest confirmation that moribund first quarter consumption and weak retail sales were transitory. U.S. consumption spending in May rose at the fastest month-to-month rate in nearly six years, and the 0.9 percent surge easily outpaced a smaller increase in consumer income. Indeed, the U.S. consumer has not forgotten how to spend! Coupled with a strong job market confirmed by a surge in May hiring and an upbeat retail sales reported for the same month, we are left to conclude that the U.S. economy has picked up considerable pace from the slight contraction it experienced during the first quarter. Our best guess is that the Federal Reserve will exit zero interest rate policy sometime later this year, and it will most likely be in September.
Greece Ad Nauseum
The melodrama of Greece failed to find a resolution this week, but European stocks seem to have found their footing nonetheless. Regardless of whether ongoing talks with Greece are successful in retaining the country as a solvent member of the Eurozone economy, the European Central Bank (ECB) has demonstrated its commitment to do, as chief Mario Draghi famously observed several year ago, “whatever it takes,” to keep the Eurozone and its currency viable. Exhibit A of this commitment is the ECB’s ongoing program to enhance the European monetary base by purchasing $60 billion of European bonds every month until at least the fall of next year. Exhibit B, key in the latest Greek crisis, is the central bank’s commitment to fund Greek banks with loans to accommodate ongoing deposit flight from these institutions. Our main observation here is that if no acceptable resolution is reached and Greece ends up leaving the common currency, then Europe and its central bank will do what is necessary to keep the region’s banking system and economies liquid, thus preventing any lasting type of contagion from Greece’s exit.
Our Takeaways from the Week
- The U.S. economy is perking up after a slow start to the year
- Global capital markets are unlikely to suffer any lasting repercussions from Greece, regardless of how the melodrama concludes