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The stock market is hitting all kinds of new records

by Peter A. McKay
Sep 18 2017, 12:01am

Politics, not profits, are helping to propel the stock market to fresh all-time highs.

The three most closely watched U.S. market indicators — the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the Nasdaq Composite — were all on track to set new records Monday if their midday gains can hold through the closing bell.

Over the short term, the market has been helped by reduced fear of war on the Korean peninsula after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered fresh details of a “peaceful pressure campaign” to get North Korea to abandon its development of nuclear weapons. In an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Tillerson said the U.S. will not seek regime change — a key concern for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

He reiterated that military action could yet be used as a last resort, but added: “Be clear, we seek a peaceful solution to this.”

Those remarks helped Asian shares trade higher, with South Korea’s benchmark index, the Kospi, hitting a six-week high. It was led by a 3 percent gain in bellwether Samsung Electronics.

Once U.S. trading began on Monday, the upbeat mood continued. With no major earnings reports released and the week’s major economic event — a Federal Reserve policy announcement — not scheduled until Wednesday, there was little to kill stocks’ recent momentum.

Monday’s gains are the latest advance in a long march higher that arguably began in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis. Since then, a mix of factors have worked in stocks’ favor. The Federal Reserve and other central banks have generally kept borrowing costs low. Chief executives have been ruthless about cutting costs to boost profits. And technology companies have grown to gargantuan market capitalizations, leading the way higher.

Other notable milestones:

  • The Dow, which is based on the prices of shares in 30 big-name companies, is on track for a seventh straight daily gain, recently trading at 22,345.94, up 77.60 points. It has risen 13 percent so far this year and has more than doubled from its lows set after the financial crisis erupted.

  • The tech focused Nasdaq Composite Index is up 20 percent for the year so far. It’s now more than 1,400 points above its 2000 high, set at the height of the first dotcom bubble.

  • Bloomberg reported that American consumers still have a remarkably optimistic outlook for U.S. stocks. Respondents in the latest University of Michigan survey of consumer sentiment said there was a 65 percent chance that $1,000 invested in a stock fund today will have appreciated in a year’s time. That’s the highest probability consumers have put on a rising stock market since 2002.

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