According to Wikipedia, “herding cats” is an idiom “denoting a futile attempt to control or organize a class of entities which are inherently uncontrollable — as in the difficulty of attempting to command individual cats into a group.”
The best description I can offer about the week that just ended for the entire Big Four — stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities — is to describe it as five days of herding cats. The markets were “inherently uncontrollable” and fraught with volatility each and every day.
The craziness began over the weekend when a drone missile attack destroyed the two largest oil refineries in Saudi Arabia. The following Monday, the first trading day after the attack, Brent crude oil futures rose 19.5%, the largest one-day rise in history.
And because crude tends to be “the stick that stirs the drink,” a host of commodity markets also were sharply higher.
There is not enough room in this week’s column to describe the various movements seen with the Big Four due to a record-setting rally with crude oil.
Believe me: Every market was as wild as the proverbial March hare with huge price swings seen in stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities. The icing on the cake, so to speak, for the week was the fact the Federal Reserve lowered U.S. interest rates at mid-week by 0.25%.
An issue many had with the Fed hiking rates was the simple fact that there was dissention about the decision. For example, five Fed members thought the rates should not have been lowered at all.
Five members approved of the point cut, but also wished to keep rates unchanged through the rest of the year. And seven members favored at least one more rate cut this year. It was the most dissents for a Fed decision since December 2014.
The reason the Fed rate cut was because of the numerous signs showing the U.S. economy is slowing with loud hints a recession close at hand. In order to keep the economy expanding and to fight off a recession, rates were cut.
However, several well-respected Wall Street analysts were quick to remind everyone about the rate cut back in September 2007, 12 years ago when the economy also began to show signs of slipping into a recession.
Back in 2007, the Fed cut rates by a quarter point and stocks, as measured by the Dow Jones, still rallied into Oct. 9, 2007, when the market closed above 14,164, an all-time high. But exactly 17 months later, the Dow closed at 6,547, shedding more than half its value.
And from CBS News, in an article written by Alan Roth on Oct. 11, 2010, with a headline “3 Years After the Stock Market Peak: Here are the Lessons,” Roth wrote: “One year later, in October 2008, the market crashed, leading to the most painful economic hangover in our lifetimes. Lehman Brothers and AIG were household names. Suddenly, the risk mavericks were jumping ship like rats off the Titanic… And the market kept on falling, eventually bottoming out on March 9, 2009, when ‘The Great Depression Ahead’ was a best-selling book.”
It has been a very difficult week for investors, traders and agriculture producers. The situation with the bombing of the two largest oil refineries in Saudi Arabia remains in play in terms of retaliation or whatever. Any further cuts in Saudi oil production will spawn even more volatility.
And the Fed cut rates because they do not like what they see when it comes to the U.S. economy. Keep in mind that the fundamentals — economic weakness, in this case — that bring about rate cuts are not necessarily bullish for stocks or commodities.
I am not comfortable looking back in time and recalling the Fed cutting rates in September 2007 only to see the Dow peak out in early October 2008 and then dropping more than 50% in value over the following year and a half.
I am also not comfortable knowing that September is the most bearish month of the year for stocks with October being the month that has always had the largest one-day declines in history.
Moving forward, the environment unfolding will be as challenging and difficult as herding cats. It will be a landscape where conditions are “inherently uncontrollable.” Consequently, money will be made or lost based on timing, choice and judgment.