NEW YORK — Stock markets across the world showed the money in February. The Dow had its best month since October 2011 — gaining nearly 6%. Not to be outdone, the Nasdaq soared 7.2% and the S&P 500 rose 5.7%.
The good news just starts there.
Markets in Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden hit all-time highs. Japan, the poster child of deflation, saw its stock index reach its highest point in 15 years. Even Greece — Greece! — saw its stock market tick up.
You can toast central banks for the “fortunate February.”
Central banks for the win: Europe announced a stimulus plan in mid-January, and investors are giving it two thumbs up. It’s a much needed cure for the Euro zone economy, which has suffered from deflation woes and slowing growth.
Beyond that, the black cloud of uncertainty surrounding Greece’s debt dilemma cleared this week once the European Union agreed to shore up Greece for a few more months. The drama certainly isn’t over, but we’ve seen similar workout deals before.
In the U.S., Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen spoke confidently about the economy’s progress before Congress this week. Her hearings were another sign that the Fed could raise interest rates this year, perhaps as early as June. A rate hike would be a big vote of confidence about the economy’s health from the Fed.
“There is reason to feel good about the economic outlook,” Yellen summed up for Congress. The Fed predicts stronger economic growth in 2015.
Dot-com concerns: Of course, any time that stocks hit new highs, there’s legit concern that they are too pricey. The bull market is nearly six years old — one of the longest stock market expansions in history — and the stock market hasn’t had a 10% correction since 2011.
We’re overdue for a pullback, and the red flags are going up. Yale professor and Nobel prize winner Rober Shiller’s measure for stock values — the Shiller P/E — is at levels last seen before the financial crisis.
Consider also that 71% of IPOs had no earnings the day the company went public, a level last seen in the Dot-com bubble. That’s a lot of investing in stocks that only have promises and projections.
But the big name tech stocks offer reassurance that companies look better than they did before the Dot-com crash. Apple, Microsoft and others have tons of cash to weather a rainy day this year. That wasn’t the case 15 years ago.
Although investors are anticipating a correction, they’re not forecasting a massive crash. In fact, many experts still expect U.S. stocks to end the year with gains, albeit modest ones.
The Ides of March: Big events still loom ahead for global markets. The mess with Greece still isn’t figured out. If the Fed poorly times the rate hike, it could jolt markets in the wrong direction. And China’s growth is slowing down, which will trigger ripple effects across the world. Some argue the country’s past double-digit growth wasn’t sustainable and its slowdown is a good thing. On top of all that, geo-political threats continue with ISIS.
Volatility took a nosedive in February — falling 35% to the calm levels that dominated much of last year. But all that could change quickly. For now, celebrate the highs.