Markets are still on a roll

Additional gains propelled stocks higher this week with all three averages closing at record highs once again. Despite the fact that more and more experts are warning of a possible fall in the averages, investors continue to pile into stocks. Should you?  

The short answer is no, wait for that decline, unless you have no exposure to the stock market. That would be hard for me to believe if you have been reading my column regularly. My readers also know that the threat of a pullback hangs over the market all the time since we can expect as many as 2-3 declines in the stock market every year.

The economy, however, is still growing enough, and interest rates are still low enough, to justify the present level of stock prices. Friday’s nonfarm payroll data was just another example of the underlying support that is propelling stocks skyward.

The country’s official unemployment rate has dropped to 4.3%. That is a historically low number and most economists would say we are at full employment now. That’s not quite accurate, however, if you look at the “underemployment rate.”

That is the number of workers who are presently working part-time, but would prefer full-time work. If you add that category of workers with those who have a full-time job, you have an overall unemployment rate of 8.4%. That is quite a bit higher than the official rate but is still down from 8.6% in April and the lowest reading of the combined employment data since June of 2007.

Anecdotal evidence from several CEOs around the country over the past few weeks seems to indicate that Corporate America is having an increasingly tough time filling job positions. And we are not just talking about skilled labor like engineers and IT specialists. Even service sector jobs like fast-food are crying for help.

Corporate America has had its own way when it pertained to hiring for the last decade or so. They could get all the labor they wanted, at the price they wanted. Workers, if they wanted to work, had to take whatever salary was offered, as well as a cut in benefits. Well, times are changing, and it is only a matter of time before business managers wake up to that fact.

I have been watching wage gains in the payroll reports for over two years now. The good news is wage growth has more than doubled from an anemic 1% 18 months ago to 2.5% today. Granted, the gains are up and down, depending on the time of the year, but the trend is your friend if you are a U.S. worker. And that just adds more support to the markets, since consumer spending is the lynchpin of what makes this country grow. Higher wages means higher spending, everything else being equal.

Enough about economics! The bottom line is that, regardless of what Trump, the Republicans, or the rest of the world is doing, right now the U.S. economy is in pretty good shape. As such, the markets have a cushion under them. That should keep any selloffs contained. So, sure, expect a 5-6% pullback any day, week, or month now, but don’t let that get you down. It is the nature of investing. In the meantime, enjoy your gains.

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