Markets were shaken last week by a potent cocktail of central bank tapering and economic growth concerns mixed with coronavirus and a splash of the new Chinese privacy law.
On Wednesday, the minutes of the United States Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee Meeting were released. They confirmed the Fed could begin tapering – buying fewer Treasury and U.S. government agency bonds – sooner rather than later, reported Jack Denton and Jacob Sonenshine of Barron’s. While that wasn’t new information, investors startled like cats surprised by cucumbers, triggering a broad sell-off.
In the United States, economic data was mixed. The U.S. Census reported that retail sales declined in July, suggesting weakening consumer demand. Normally, that’s not great news because consumer demand drives U.S. economic growth. However, with inflation at the highest level in more than a decade, lower demand could help relieve upward price pressure.
Lower consumer demand was accompanied by improving supply. Lisa Beilfuss of Barron’s reported, “…business inventories rose in June at the fastest clip since October as wholesalers and manufacturers posted solid increases and retailers saw inventories rise for the first time in three months. From a year earlier, inventories across American businesses rose 6.6%, compared with a 4.6% pace a month earlier.”
Of course, we could see supply bottlenecks again if a COVID-19 surge results in new lockdowns and continued worker shortages.
Finally, on Friday, Chinese stocks dropped sharply after Beijing announced that a new strict data-privacy law will take effect on November 1, 2021. Investors remain concerned that China’s regulatory tightening will affect other market sectors, including fintech, gaming and education, reported Hudson Lockett of the Financial Times.
“American investors’ shock at an ongoing regulatory crackdown in China points to a fundamental difference between the two countries,” reported Evelyn Cheng of CNBC. “…whereas the U.S. system is designed to let corporations influence the government, China’s system is designed to bring corporations in line with government goals.”
Major U.S. stock indices finished the week lower. The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasuries finished the week where it started.
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