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Market Sentiment - A Word From Our President

By James P. Hamlett
President, Pension Fund of the Christian Church

The first three weeks of 2016 have been brutal for the financial markets, notwithstanding a modest rebound in week three. Some market strategists suggest that volatility has been based more upon fear than fundamentals1, while other strategists portend this to be the beginning of a new recession evidenced by a 'hostile market return/risk profile2.' It has often been said that a room full of economists will never come to a consensus on financial markets. This certainly seems to be the case today.

There is no debate about whether the U. S. economy will be in recession again one day. Such events are a normal part of the market cycle. The debate, however is about when a recession is most likely and its potential severity. The staff at Pension Fund has been evaluating information from a variety of sources, seeking to understand the forces that are affecting financial markets, whether political, financial or sentiment. Every market cycle has similarities to previous cycles and unique elements that may shadow or confuse. This cycle is no different. But to us it appears likely the economy will continue to grow modestly throughout 2016 and market volatility will subside.

Fundaments of the U. S. economy remain strong. In support of this idea, one can point to the continuing growth in employment, lower (4.9%) unemployment, strong earnings among high profile corporations like GE and McDonalds. Corporate leverage and bank balance sheets are in much better shape than in 2007. Interest rates remain low by historic norms. The glut in oil continues to suppress prices to below $30 a barrel on international markets, offering significant relief for consumers at the pump or for heating. Good news!

But, still there is fear in the market; fear that the Chinese economy is collapsing, fear that depressed prices will harm economies dependent upon oil production, fear that reduced oil exploration will dampen the U. S. economy, fear of the impact of terrorist threats on economic activity, fear (or hope) from the political rhetoric of presidential politics. Market declines in the first weeks of 2016 are more reflective of fear than fundamentals.

Participants in any of Pension Fund's pension and retirement savings programs are shielded from market volatility. Pension Fund assumes the market risk on the part of pensioners, plan participants and account holders. Reserves in excess of contractual obligations are maintained for each program, to enable Pension Fund to absorb the kind of volatility we have seen in recent weeks without reduction in account values or pensions.

As disquieting as the current volatility has been, it is not in any measure reminiscent of the last market collapse in 2008. We remain cautiously optimistic in this turbulent market.

1 Dr. David P. Kelly, Chief Global Stratigist, J. P. Morgan, Asset Management
2 John P. Hussman, Ph.D., Hussman Funds