USA Today identified the following as “The top 10 business stories of 2016.” I’ve added PnF charts for some of the topics mentioned in the article to provide some additional insight.
1. Donald Trump elected president. New presidents always portend massive changes. But the election of Trump, with his promises to upend Washington and roll back regulations, could shake business and economic establishments to their foundations. While he has hinted at keeping some popular provisions of Obamacare, Trump will be politically pressured to repeal much of the health care law that mandated universal coverage. Having promised to bring jobs back to Rust Belt states, Trump is likely to renegotiate trade deals and possibly even raise tariffs, a move that could trigger global disputes. The Dodd-Frank Act, enacted after the national financial crisis to lower excessive risk-taking by banks, could be under assault as lobbyists push for easing its restrictions. Trump has professed a desire to maintain the current low-interest-rate policy.
2. Brexit. In late June, the United Kingdom defied polling forecasts and voted to leave the European Union, setting off reverberations across the globe. U.S. stocks fell 5% as fears spread of disrupted trade relationships with Europe and of other countries that could follow the U.K.’s lead. Yet the market recovered within days as investors realized the immediate effects on American businesses were limited. There were even some winners among U.S. banks and tech firms that may have gained from a shift in investment from the U.K. But the economic fallout won’t really be clear until the U.K. renegotiates trade deals with European countries before it leaves the EU in 2019.
3. The Dow closes in on 20,000. Wall Street stumbled into 2016, with stocks suffering their worst-ever first week of trading. But the gloom gave way to bullish optimism, especially after the presidential election when the “Trump Rally” put the 120-year-old Dow Jones industrial average on a track for a “Dow 20,000” milestone, racking up more than 25 record highs in 2016 so far along the way. The stock rebound occurred despite the Federal Reserve’s decision to hike short-term interest rates for the first time in 2016 at its December meeting — when the central bank also let investors know it expects three more rate increases in 2017.
4. Prescription drug prices bring controversy. The rising cost of prescription drug prices captured headlines, generated rising criticism and sparked investigations. At center stage was Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli’s decision to impose a more than 5,000% price spike of a drug used to treat a parasitic illness suffered by AIDS patients. Summoned to appear before a congressional committee in February, he went silent, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid testifying against himself. But he unloaded after the hearing, calling members of Congress “imbeciles” in a tweet. Turing wasn’t the only drugmaker taking fire. Health care providers, patients and others criticized Mylan for a series of increases that raised the price for a two-pack of EpiPens, a potentially life-saving injection for allergy sufferers, to $600, up from about $100 in 2009. By year’s end, Mylan had introduced a generic version of the medication for $300 per two-pack. All of these events drew fire from a Senate committee report in December that warned “staggering” increases in the cost of some prescription drugs threaten the health of patients and “the economic stability of American households.”
5. Wells Fargo’s scandal. In September, the San Francisco-based bank agreed to a $185 million settlement with federal regulators after an investigation showed Wells Fargo had secretly opened millions of unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts that weren’t authorized by customers. An estimated 5,300 employees were fired over several years for pressuring customers to accept the largely unwanted accounts, the bank acknowledged in its settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Los Angeles city and county legal officials. Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf resigned in October, but investigations of the bank’s conduct continued.
6. Unemployment rate falls. The unemployment rate, which hit 10% in 2009, continued its remarkable descent, falling to 4.6% in November from 5% early in the year. Many economists believe that rate, the lowest since August 2007, represents full employment and can’t fall much further without generating a run-up in inflation as wages rise. The Federal Reserve is coming around to that view and so, at a mid-December meeting, unexpectedly forecast three interest rate hikes in 2017, throwing cold water on the post-election market rally. The low jobless rate is already pushing up pay increases as employers compete for fewer available workers. That smaller pool of workers is also tempering average monthly job gains, which have fallen from 229,000 in 2015 to 180,000 this year.
7. Oil prices plunge, then rebound. They fell below $27 per barrel in mid-February as a global glut of production fueled a surplus and concerns about economic growth dealt a blow. The commodity’s sharp descent, dropping nearly in half over a four-month stretch, contributed to bankruptcies of dozens of U.S. energy companies and thousands of layoffs. But oil rebounded to more than $50 per barrel after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and certain non-OPEC states, including Russia, agreed in November to slash production in a bid to bolster prices.
8. The U.S. dollar shines. The greenback hit its highest level vs. the euro in 14 years as global investors began pricing in less Fed stimulus and stronger U.S. growth. The dollar surged in value against currencies around the world following the election of Trump. It showed particular strength against the Chinese yuan, which Trump repeatedly targeted in his campaign after accusing the Chinese government of currency manipulation to benefit its economy.
9. Pressure on free trade. A decades-long movement toward free trade and globalization appeared to stop in its tracks as presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both vowed to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have relaxed trade restrictions with Asian nations. Trump threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if Mexico doesn’t renegotiate the deal and to slap Mexico and China with tariffs of 35% and 45%, respectively. His aim: to partly reverse the millions of layoffs at U.S. factories as jobs were offshored to China, Mexico and other countries. But many economists say those jobs aren’t coming back and tariffs risk retaliation that could ravage U.S. exports and jobs.
10. Fake news fears. Fake news bubbled up during the political campaign and became a business issue for the place where many people get their news: Facebook. A post-election analysis by BuzzFeed found that fake stories shared on Facebook outperformed real news stories during the final three months of the campaign cycle. The most shared story was a fake report about Pope Francis’ endorsement of then-Republican nominee Donald Trump. Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said it was ”extremely unlikely” that it affected the election outcome, but the company is making changes so users of the social network can more easily flag news that is fake. A Pew Research Center survey, released earlier this month, found that 63% say fake news creates “great confusion” among the public about current events.
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