Global stock markets have tanked this year, leaving many investors worrying about a potential stock market crash in 2016. And Money Morning Global Credit Strategist Michael Lewitt has just told readers about the biggest factor that could lead to a 2016 stock market crash.
Before we get to that, here are the factors that have already driven the Dow Jones, S&P 500, and Nasdaq down this year…
- China: An economic slowdown in China, the world's second-largest economy, is a key concern for investors worldwide. In January, officials in the Asian nation reported 2015's annual growth rate was 6.9%. That was the slowest pace in 25 years. Many economists said the actual rate was probably closer to a range of 4% to 6%. Forecasts for full-year 2016 are even lower, at 6.5%. China's stock market has lost nearly a quarter of its value so far this year, and a flood of cash is leaving the country amid a liquidity squeeze. Fears of a China stock market crash continue to disrupt global markets.
- Negative interest rates: The number of global central banks implementing negative interest rates is growing. Central banks in Denmark, the European Union, Japan, Sweden, and Switzerland are all charging member banks to park money with them. According to Lewitt, a negative-interest-rate policy (NIRP) "is not merely some technical monetary policy tool; it is a tactic with profound political and moral consequences that must be exposed as a betrayal of the social compact between governments and citizens."
- Plunging oil prices: A number of big U.S. banks are just recently starting to feel the pain the oil patch has been enduring since the summer of 2014. Costs for bad energy loans and fears of contagion on other portfolios are just starting to emerge.
- Soft corporate earnings: With 96% of the companies in the S&P 500 reporting earnings to date for Q4 2015, the blended earnings decline is -3.3%, according to FactSet. Q4 2015 marks the first time the index has seen three consecutive quarters of year-over-year (YOY) declines in earnings since Q1 2009 through Q3 2009.
The MSCI All-Country World Index, a broad benchmark of global stocks, slipped into a bear market on Feb. 11, when it closed 20% below its April 2015 high. The Dow, S&P 500, and Nasdaq are down 8.51%, 7.39%, and 7.34%, respectively, from their 2015 highs.
Stocks have rallied over the last two weeks, but don't expect the gains to last, Lewitt warns.
In fact, Lewitt has just pointed out the most important factor for investors to watch in 2016. It's the biggest issue that could lead to a stock market crash in 2016…
The Biggest 2016 Stock Market Crash Factor to Watch
According to Lewitt, the U.S. Federal Reserve is out of time, out of options, and stuck in a corner.
"It is about to run out of excuses to delay raising interest rates any further," Lewitt writes.
"Not that it needs any excuses – intellectual integrity and consistency long ago departed the halls of the Fed's headquarters in the Eccles Building in Washington, D.C.," Lewitt continued. "But with the 'official' unemployment rate at 4.9% (the real unemployment rate is of course much higher because roughly 96 million people have left the work force) and 'official' inflation moving dangerously close to the Fed's target, the fig leaf covering the Fed's fecklessness is about to fly away in the wind."
If and when the Fed hikes rates, the result will be a stronger U.S. dollar against other currencies. And that's a problem.
You see, further dollar strength will send the stock market lower.
"Since the Fed believes that one of its jobs is to sustain high stock prices (it denies this but it is lying), it will be reluctant to do anything that would give additional teeth to the bear," he said.
That's why Lewitt believes that whatever the economic data, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen will not raise rates again in 2016.
While the Fed could very well lead the markets even lower, Money Morning experts have developed a way to protect your money, and even profit, during a stock market crash. Here's everything you need to know…