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IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE INFORMATION

Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Steigerwald, Gordon & Koch, Inc.), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this blog will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this blog serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from Steigerwald, Gordon & Koch, Inc. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing. Steigerwald, Gordon & Koch, Inc. is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the blog content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. A copy of the Steigerwald, Gordon & Koch, Inc.’s current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees is available for review upon request. Please Note: Steigerwald, Gordon & Koch, Inc. does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked to Steigerwald, Gordon & Koch, Inc.’s web site or incorporated herein, and takes no responsibility therefore. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly.

 

Markets End Quarter on a Choppy Note  

June 30, 2017 

**An unexpected decline in U.S. orders for business equipment in May indicates cooling capital-goods investment may weigh on second-quarter economic growth, Commerce Department data showed Monday. Orders for non-military capital goods excluding aircraft fell 0.2% (the estimate was for a 0.4% gain) after a 0.2% increase in the prior month. Shipments of those goods, which are used to calculate gross domestic product, fell 0.2% after 0.1% gain the prior month. Bookings for all durable goods fell 1.1% (the estimate was for a 0.6% drop) following 0.9% decline in the previous month.   Excluding transportation equipment demand, which is volatile, orders rose 0.1% (the estimate was for a 0.4% gain). The broad slowdown in equipment orders and shipments raises the risk that business investment will provide less of a boost than anticipated to the economic rebound this quarter, leaving the heavy lifting to household spending. The outlook for capital-goods production is clouded by cooling automobile sales, while overseas markets -- though improving -- are yet to show the kind of demand acceleration that would spur exports of U.S. made goods. In addition, some companies may be waiting for clarity on more favorable tax policies from Congress before stepping up investment. 

We had a couple of Fed governors giving speeches this week with comments that were worthy of note. New York Fed President William Dudley indicated that easier financial conditions support the Fed tightening policy. A muted market response to plans to shrink Federal Reserve’s balance sheet “suggests that these communications have generally been effective in fostering an orderly adjustment in expectations about how we are likely to normalize our balance sheet,” he went on to say. “Monetary policymakers need to take the evolution of financial conditions into consideration,” Dudley said in remarks delivered Sunday at the Bank for International Settlements’ Annual General Meeting, in Basel, Switzerland and posted online Monday. “For example, when financial conditions tighten sharply, this may mean that monetary policy may need to be tightened by less or even loosened. On the other hand, when financial conditions ease, as has been the case recently, this can provide additional impetus for the decision to continue to remove monetary policy accommodation.” Additionally, Federal Reserve policy maker John Williams also spoke this week indicating he sees interest rates rising as inflation moves up. He made the case Monday for further gradual increases in interest rates, saying he expects inflation to rise to the central bank’s 2 percent target next year as unemployment edges lower. “Gradually raising interest rates to bring monetary policy back to normal helps us keep the economy growing at a rate that can be sustained for a longer time,” Williams said in remarks prepared for delivery at the University of Technology Sydney. The comments by the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco suggest that he’s lining up with Fed Chair Janet Yellen, his predecessor at the bank, in an emerging debate on how to respond to an easing in inflation during the last few months. While some Fed officials have argued for a pause in the rate-hiking campaign to wait for clearer signs that inflation is indeed headed higher, Yellen has played down the significance of recent weak price data and suggested that the Fed remains on course for higher rates. Williams seemed to agree. “Some special transitory factors have been pulling inflation down,” he said. “But with some of these factors now waning, and with the economy doing well, I expect we’ll reach our 2 percent goal sometime next year.” 

Those special factors include a steep drop in the cost of mobile-phone services. That helped pull down the Fed’s favorite inflation gauge to 1.7 percent in April from 1.9 percent in March and 2.1 percent in February. Williams also saw a danger in the Fed allowing the unemployment rate to fall too far. “The very strong labor market actually carries with it the risk of the economy exceeding its safe speed limit and overheating, which could eventually undermine the sustainability of the expansion,” he said. At 4.3 percent in May, the U.S. jobless rate was already below what Williams thinks is its long-run sustainable rate of 4.75 percent. And he sees it dropping some more. “Given the strong job growth we’ve been seeing in the United States, I expect the unemployment rate to edge down a bit further and remain a little above 4 percent through next year,” Williams said. The Fed earlier this month raised interest rates for the second time this year. Policy makers have penciled in one more rate increase for 2017 and three more for 2018, according to projections released after their June 13-14 meeting. Williams is not a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee this year but will vote in 2018. Williams affirmed the Fed’s intention to begin trimming its $4.5 trillion balance sheet this year, saying the central bank would start off “nice and easy.” The aim will be to gradually reduce bond holdings in a widely telegraphed and predictable fashion, he said. “I hope I’ll not be perpetuating an unfair stereotype about economists if I say that ‘boring’ is a virtue,” Williams said. “Indeed, my new mantra is, ‘Boring is the new exciting.’”  It’s nice to see a Fed governor with a sense of humor! 

In European Central Bank news, Mario Draghi called for continued euro-area stimulus this week even as the economy enters a new phase in its upturn, saying support is still needed to entrench the trend. “All the signs now point to a strengthening and broadening recovery in the euro area -- deflationary forces have been replaced by reflationary ones,” the European Central Bank president said on Tuesday in Sintra, Portugal. “However, a considerable degree of monetary accommodation is still needed for inflation dynamics to become durable and self-sustaining. So for us to be assured about the return of inflation to our objective, we need persistence in our monetary policy.” The comments at the annual ECB Forum reflect the intensifying public debate over whether the central bank should continue pumping liquidity into the financial system after more than four years of economic growth and improving resilience.  Policy makers didn’t use their latest policy meeting to discuss whether to wind down their 2.3 trillion-euro ($2.6 trillion) bond-buying program, which is scheduled to run until the end of this year, meaning investors may get relatively short notice of any change. The euro jumped as Draghi said that most factors damping inflation are temporary. The Governing Council used its June 8 meeting to say that risks to growth are now broadly balanced instead of tilted to the downside, and dropped its expectation that interest rates might be cut again. Draghi acknowledged that further changes in the policy stance are coming, but said they should be slow. “In the past, especially in times of global uncertainty, volatility in financial market prices has at times caused an unwarranted tightening of financial conditions,” he said. “So in the current context where global uncertainties remain elevated, there are strong grounds for prudence in the adjustment of monetary-policy parameters, even when accompanying the recovery. Any adjustments to our stance have to be made gradually, and only when the improving dynamics that justify them appear sufficiently secure.” The ECB president did leave room for policy steps that would signal a reduction in the pace of stimulus, without necessarily tightening financial conditions. That could encourage more hawkish members of the Governing Council to push for action. “As the economy continues to recover, a constant policy stance will become more accommodative,” Draghi said. “The central bank can accompany the recovery by adjusting the parameters of its policy instruments -- not in order to tighten the policy stance, but to keep it broadly unchanged.” We respect Mario Draghi and his position – traders seem to also have a great deal of confidence in his ability to lead the central bank. 

In other European news, euro-area economic confidence jumped to the highest level in a decade as the European Central Bank edged toward unwinding unprecedented stimulus. An index of executive and consumer sentiment rose to 111.1 in June from 109.2 in May, the European Commission in Brussels said Thursday.  The reading is the strongest since August 2007 and compares with a median estimate of 109.5 in a Bloomberg survey of economists. The report comes two days after ECB President Mario Draghi confounded investors by arguing that there’s room to adjust stimulus measures as the economy improves, even though he called for prudence and patience.  A gauge for private-sector activity signaled the euro-area economy recorded its fastest expansion in six years in the second quarter as business confidence in Germany hit a record and consumer sentiment in France surged. 

The job market continues to boost U.S. consumer confidence as expectations rise. An unexpected rebound in U.S. consumer confidence reflects a buoyant labor market and improved business conditions, though Americans are slightly less optimistic about where things will be in six months, data from the New York-based Conference Board showed Tuesday. The Confidence index rose to 118.9 (the estimate was for 116) from 117.6 in May. The present conditions measure increased to 146.3, highest since July 2001, from 140.6 the prior month. The gauge of consumer expectations for the next six months fell to 100.6, the lowest level since January, from 102.3 the previous month. Americans are drawing encouragement from an economy that continues to provide jobs, rising stock and home prices and steady pay gains, as the share of respondents expecting higher incomes was the second-highest since 2002. At the same time, the easing of the overall expectations index adds to other sentiment figures that suggest mounting skepticism about the ability of Washington lawmakers to enact economic policies that will drive growth. “Expectations for the short-term have eased somewhat, but are still upbeat,” Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, said in a statement. “Overall, consumers anticipate the economy will continue expanding in the months ahead, but they do not foresee the pace of growth accelerating.” 

Sustained increases for home prices in 20 U.S. cities in April indicate the housing industry is juggling stable demand with a shortage of inventory, figures from S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller showed Tuesday. The 20-city property values index rose 5.7% year-over-year (the estimate was for a 5.9% gain). The national price gauge increased 5.5% year-over-year. The seasonally adjusted 20-city index climbed 0.3% month-over-month (the estimate was for a 0.5% increase). Stubbornly low inventory in housing, particularly for more affordable properties, has helped drive steady home-price gains. While rising property values are helping cushion homeowners’ balance sheets, they also are inhibiting lower-end buyers, especially first-timers, from getting a piece of the action, as wage gains haven’t kept pace. At the same time, industry demand remains healthy, with solid job gains and low mortgage rates supporting purchases. “Since demand is exceeding supply and financing is available, there is nothing right now to keep prices from going up,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement. “The supply of homes for sale has barely kept pace with demand and the inventory of new or existing homes for sale shrunk down to only a four-month supply. All 20 cities in the index showed year-over-year gains, led by a 12.9 percent advance in Seattle and a 9.3 percent rise in Portland, Oregon.  

The U.S. economy’s first-quarter growth was less tepid than previously reported, as consumer spending and trade added more to expansion, Commerce Department data showed Thursday. Gross domestic product rose at a 1.4% annualized rate (the forecast and previous estimate were for 1.2%). Consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, rose 1.1% (the forecast and previous estimate were for 0.6%). Exports grew at a 7% rate, which was revised up from the prior estimate of 5.8% growth. While the revision was more positive than most analysts anticipated, the report still underlines a relatively weak start to the year, with consumer spending growing at the slowest pace since 2013.  Weather and other temporary factors in the period, along with rising wages and salaries, support the idea of a consumer-led rebound in the second quarter.  Federal Reserve policy makers raised interest rates earlier this month, seeing the first-quarter slowdown as transitory as the labor market improves further. The Commerce Department attributed the latest upward revision to spending data for financial services, insurance and health care.  Exports of industrial supplies and materials were higher than previously reported, boosting trade’s contribution to expansion in the period. Analysts estimate the U.S. economy will grow at a 3 percent rate in the April-to-June period, though the slowdown in equipment orders and shipments reported earlier this week raises the risk that business investment will provide less of a boost than anticipated.  Cooling automobile sales and a housing sector limited by a scarcity of affordable homes also remain headwinds for the economy this year. 

As always, stay tuned!

Yellen Affirms Fed Rate Hike Path While GOP Releases Tax Reform Blueprint

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said gradually raising interest rates is the most appropriate policy approach amid higher uncertainty about inflation, reinforcing the U.S. central bank’s forecast for another hike this year.  “It would be imprudent to keep monetary policy on hold until inflation is back to 2 percent,” she said Tuesday in Cleveland.  In addition, she said the Fed “should also be wary of moving too gradually.”  U.S. central bankers are monitoring progress on their 2 percent inflation goal, which they have mostly missed for the past five years.  Nonetheless, the Fed’s quarterly forecasts released last week continued to show most members projecting one additional rate hike this year and three more in 2018.  After her speech Tuesday, traders in the futures markets predicted a 70 percent probability of a hike at the Fed’s December meeting, up from 63 percent on Monday.    

Yellen, in her most detailed speech on inflation risks this year, described three areas of uncertainty in the inflation outlook.  “My colleagues and I may have misjudged the strength of the labor market, the degree to which longer-run inflation expectations are consistent with our inflation objective, or even the fundamental forces driving inflation,” she said.  Discussing each of these risks, Yellen said it’s possible that some slack in the labor market remains.  “If so, the economy could sustain a higher level of employment and output in the longer run than now anticipated -- a very beneficial outcome, albeit one that would require recalibrating monetary policy over time in order to reap those benefits and compensate for the accompanying reduction in inflationary pressures,” she said.  Yellen said the messages from survey and market measures of inflation expectations are mixed.  Another risk, she added, is that there are underlying changes in firms’ and consumers’ behavior that are keeping prices low.  Those forces range from foreign competition, to the growing importance of global supply chains in the production of goods, to online shopping.  Given all the uncertainties, Yellen said the policy makers will have to remain agile and be prepared to change their interest-rate assumptions.  “My colleagues and I must be ready to adjust our assessments of economic conditions and the outlook when new data warrant it,” she said.  Whatever strategy Yellen is putting forward now could be subject to change if President Donald Trump alters the leadership of the Board of Governors.  Yellen’s term as chair ends in February, and Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer will depart the central bank next month.  In listening to her speak, we are impressed with her willingness to adapt to a new environment and conditions today that are different than factors that impacted inflation and monetary policy 20 years ago.  We would be happy to see Trump keep Yellen on board – her speech was well received by traders as well. 

President Donald Trump and Republican leaders launched an urgent effort to get a major legislative win this year, announcing a long-awaited tax plan that will immediately set off a fight over how much top earners should pay.  The framework they released Wednesday proposes cutting the top individual rate to 35 percent -- but leaves it up to Congress to decide whether to create a higher bracket for those at the top of the income scale.  The rate on corporations would be set at 20 percent, down from the current 35 percent, and businesses would be allowed to immediately write off their capital spending for at least five years.  Pass-through businesses would have their tax rate capped at 25 percent.  The plan will set out three tax brackets for individuals -- 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent, down from the existing seven rates, which top out at 39.6 percent.  But that’s not firmly set, as congressional tax-writing committees will be given flexibility to add a fourth rate for the highest earners -- an effort to prevent the overhaul from providing too much of a benefit for the wealthy.  Trump has said that tax legislation -- which he calls essential for stimulating economic growth -- has been his main focus.  Trump has told others that he expects lawmakers to work at a brisk pace.  If not, he and the Republican Congress would end 2017 without a single major legislative victory. 

On the international side, the plan would move toward ending the U.S.’s unique worldwide approach to taxing corporate profits regardless of where they’re earned -- and focus on multinationals’ domestic earnings only.  Companies with accumulated offshore profits would be subject to a one-time tax on those earnings -- clearing the way for that income to return to the U.S.  The rate that would be applied is unclear, but it would vary depending on whether the income was held in cash or less liquid investments.  Firms would be able to pay the new tax over several years.  Under current law, companies can defer paying U.S. tax on their offshore earnings until they bring them to the U.S.  As a result, U.S. firms have stockpiled an estimated $2.6 trillion in profit offshore.  Going forward, the tax-writing committees will be responsible for determining ways to prevent companies from shifting U.S. profits overseas.  So-called pass-through entities, which include partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies, would see their rate capped at 25 percent.  Currently, those businesses -- which can range from mom-and-pop grocers to hedge funds -- don’t pay income tax themselves but pass their earnings through to their owners, who then pay tax based on their individual rates.  While the pass-through rate cut would represent a major tax break for lucrative pass-throughs, tax-writers would craft measures aimed at preventing individuals from recharacterizing their personal wages as business income.  

In terms of middle-class benefits, the framework outlines a near doubling of the standard deduction -- to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples -- and calls for “significantly increasing” the child tax credit from the current $1,000 per child under 17.  The tax plan will still lack extensive details about ways to offset its rate cuts with additional revenue.  It says most itemized deductions for individuals should be eliminated, without providing specifics -- while calling for mortgage interest and charitable giving deductions to be preserved.  However, the state and local tax deduction would be abolished.  Ending that break, which tends to benefit high-income filers in Democratic states, would raise an estimated $1.3 trillion over a decade.  The move faces some Republican headwinds from lawmakers in districts that use the deduction heavily.  The plan would also limit the interest deduction companies can take on their borrowing, but no additional details were provided, the people said.  Congress’s tax-writing committees will be tasked with limiting other business credits to help generate additional revenue.  Overall we are a long way from having actual tax reform but traders responded by sending interest rates and stocks higher on Wednesday.  The fact that the majority of key Republican players were on the same page on tax reform, unlike healthcare, was viewed as an initial positive sign. 

Home prices in 20 U.S. cities here in the U.S. climbed more than forecast in July, reflecting solid demand against a backdrop of modest listings of properties, figures from S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller showed Tuesday.  The 20-city property values index rose 5.8% year-over-year while the estimate was for 5.7.  The national price gauge increased 5.9% year-over-year as well.  Basically buyers are competing for a limited number of for-sale homes, allowing sellers to boost asking prices.  Property values are consistently outpacing wage growth, helping explain why the share of first-time buyers of previously owned homes in August was at a one-year low.  At the same time, owners’ equity as a share of total real-estate holdings climbed in the second quarter to the highest level in 11 years.  Home prices may also get a boost in coming months after hurricanes Harvey and Irma reduced housing supply in parts of Texas and Florida.  Affordability may remain challenging, as both sales and construction are interrupted by clean-up efforts.  At the same time, a strong labor market and low-borrowing costs continue to encourage hopeful homebuyers.  While home prices continued to advance strongly along the northwest part of the country, values were also picking up in Denver, Dallas and Las Vegas -- underscoring a broadening of appreciation throughout the U.S. Las Vegas, one of the hardest- hit cities during the housing collapse, registered the third- largest year-over-year advance in July.  “While the gains in home prices in recent months have been in the Pacific Northwest, the leadership continues to shift among regions and cities across the country,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement.  “Rebuilding following hurricanes across Texas, Florida and other parts of the south will lead to further supply pressures,” he went on to say. 

In European news, inflation in the euro area failed to pick up in September and underlying price growth weakened, keeping the European Central Bank waiting for the last chapter in the story of the region’s recovery.  The 1.5 percent annual increase in consumer prices was unchanged from August and fell short of estimates.  Separate reports showed Italian inflation slowed, though France saw an improvement.  While euro-area confidence is booming, unemployment is slowly falling and the economy is set for the fastest growth in a decade, a sustainable pickup in prices remains a key element that hasn’t appeared.  That’s crucial for the ECB, which aims for inflation just below 2 percent -- without stimulus support -- and whose policy makers will decide on Oct. 26 whether to start paring back bond purchases in 2018.  Core price growth -- excluding volatile items such as food, energy and tobacco -- weakened to 1.1 percent from 1.2 percent.  Italian inflation slowed to 1.3 percent from 1.4 percent, while the rate in France increased to 1.1 percent from 1 percent.  Figures earlier on Friday highlighted that the dilemma of strong growth and weak price gains extends to the euro zone’s biggest economy.  Germany reported a drop in unemployment to a record low, just a day after publishing inflation data that showed consumer-price growth missed estimates.  One concern is the euro, which is up 12 percent against the dollar this year and could act as a drag on import costs.  Producer-price inflation, generally a more volatile number, has cooled in recent months after picking up sharply since mid-2016.  The single currency was little changed at $1.1794 after the euro-area data was released.  Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau played down the importance of the exchange rate in remarks on Thursday, saying it’s offset by strong domestic demand, but still urged the ECB to be “pragmatic” in how it reduces the pace of bond purchases.  Inflation’s return to target is “too slow,” he said. 

Euro-area economic confidence surged more than economists forecast in September, giving European Central Bank policy makers more positive news to consider as they decide on the future of their bond-buying program.  The index of industry and consumer sentiment increased to 113 in September from 111.9 the previous month, the European Commission in Brussels said on Thursday.  The reading -- the highest in a decade -- was well above the median estimate of 112 in a Bloomberg survey.  The central bank’s Governing Council will have to weigh a booming economy against inflation showing few signs of a sustained pickup toward its goal, when it decides on adjustments to the asset purchase program on Oct. 26.  ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday the central bank will maintain as much stimulus as the euro-area economy needs.  The Commission’s report showed an improvement in sentiment “on the back of higher industry, retail trade and construction confidence.”  Sentiment in the industrial sector rose to 6.6 from 5 in August.  Among consumers, confidence increased to -1.2 from -1.5 in the previous month, while a separate business climate indicator rose to 1.34, the highest since April 2011.  In Germany, business confidence unexpectedly slid for a second month in September, according to Ifo Institute data on Monday.  While that’s a sign that Europe’s largest economy is struggling to improve on its pace of expansion, data on Wednesday showed Italian executives are the most optimistic they’ve been in a decade.           

 

 

As always, stay tuned!



INDEX
  • Markets Steady As Government Shutdown Looms
  • Markets Set New Records
  • Tax Changes Approved
  • Jobs Growth Continues
  • Yellen to leave next year
  • House Passes Tax Reform Bill; Senate Up Next
  • Markets move sideways as earnings season continues
  • Earnings season continues as the Fed gets a new chief
  • Fed Chair Decision Coming Next Week
  • And the Winner Is...
  • Inflation Mystery Continues
  • Employment Falls but Pay Rises
  • Yellen Affirms Fed Rate Hike Path While GOP Releases Tax Reform Blueprint
  • Time to Shrink
  • Economic Data Begins to Feel the Impact from Hurricane Harvey and Irma
  • Empty Chairs at the Fed
  • Market's Focus: Debt Ceiling and Jackson Hold
  • Fed Policy Makers Debate Inflation Outlook
  • Fed's Bullard Calls For Hold and Fed Rate Increases
  • Earnings Season Continues
  • Fed Leaves Rates Unchanged and Provides Guidance on Balance Sheet Reduction
  • Earnings Season Is Here
  • Janet Yellen Speaks and Markets Like What They Hear
  • Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
  • Markets End Quarter on a Choppy Note
  • Health Care Reform Vote Next Week
  • Fed Raises Rates as Expected
  • All Eyes On Fed Interest Rate Decision Next Week
  • Markets Set New Records
  • OPEC Meets as Markets Hover Near Records
  • Stocks Retreat, Bonds Rally on Concerns Administration's Pro-Growth Agenda will be Delayed
  • Economy Chugs Along as Earnings Season Slows
  • Fed Keeps Rates on Hold as Slowdown in Growth Deemed Temporary
  • Tax Reforms Released as Earnings Season Continues
  • All Eyes On Europe as Earnings Season Kicks into Gear
  • Earnings Season Begins
  • Payrolls Affected by Storm
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  • Markets Chug Along
  • No Surprise: Fed Raises Rates
  • Jobs Galore
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  • Fed's Next Move in Focus
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  • Earnings Season Continues
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  • Earnings Season in Full Swing as Dow Hits 20000
  • Earnings Get Off to a Solid Start as the Economy Continues to Chug Along
  • Earnings Season Begins
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  • Markets Book Eighth Consecutive Year of Gains
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