Weekly Market Commentary
April 5, 2021
Zoom, zoom, zoom.
Big economies tend to recover from recessions about as quickly as semi-trucks accelerate from stop lights. In other words, recovery tends to be slow. That may not be the case this time.
“Everything in this economic cycle is happening at great speed. That is in part a reflection of the scale of economic stimulus, and not only from the [Federal Reserve]. One big fiscal package seems set to follow another. A $1.9trn package has barely passed and a $3trn infrastructure bill is mooted,” reported The Economist.
Economic recovery has helped push stock prices higher, and concerns about inflation have pushed bond yields higher. Here are a few highlights from the first quarter of 2021:
March 29, 2021
Last week, unemployment claims were looking good and consumers were feeling good.
The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits declined. Just 684,000 people filed claims during the week of March 20, down 97,000 from the week before, according to last week’s report from the Labor Department.
Granted, that’s a large number – higher than the highest number of first-time claims during the Great Recession – but it’s the smallest we’ve seen since the pandemic began, according to Christopher Rugaber of the AP. He wrote:
“Economists are growing more optimistic that the pace of layoffs, which has been chronically high for a full year, is finally easing…Still, a total of 18.9 million people are continuing to collect jobless benefits…Roughly one-third of those recipients are in extended federal aid programs, which means they’ve been unemployed for at least six months.”
March 22, 2021
What are professional asset managers thinking?
Bank of America recently published the results of its March global asset managers’ survey, which polls 220 professional investors responsible for about $630 billion in assets, reported Julia La Roche of Yahoo! Finance.
Many of those surveyed were optimistic about 2021. During the next 12 months:
- 91 percent of those polled expect the economy to strengthen (that’s a record high)
- 89 percent anticipate global profits will improve
- 52 percent expect value stocks to outperform growth stocks
May 15, 2021
Investors had a lot to be enthusiastic about last week.
Major stock indices in the United States soared, finishing the week higher and setting new records along the way, reported Al Root of Barron’s. There was plenty of good news to fuel investor optimism:
- The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was signed into law. The plan provides $1,400 payments to most Americans. It also delivers child-tax credits, health-insurance subsidies, and extends unemployment benefits into September, reported NPR. Funds also were made available for schools, states, and vaccination efforts, as well as tax relief for people receiving unemployment benefits.
- The spread of the coronavirus appears to be slowing. The 7-day average number of cases in the United States dropped 11.2 percent week-to-week, reported the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). More than 20 percent of Americans have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 10 percent have been fully vaccinated. As circumstances have improved, a number of states have begun easing lockdown restrictions.
- Inflation remained low in February. For the 12 months through February 2021, the Consumer Price Index rose 1.7 percent, reported the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week. That’s well below the Federal Reserve’s usual target of 2 percent. However, food and energy prices increased significantly more than the index average.
March 8, 2021
Neanderthal DNA may make people more – or less – susceptible to COVID-19, reported The Economist. It all depends on whether you have the genes and, if you do, which DNA string you inherited.
No matter what your gene sequence looks like, vaccines can help fight the virus. So far, all of the vaccines available in the United States have proven to be effective in preventing hospitalization and death from coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
We saw the economic effect of accelerating vaccinations last week when the number of new jobs created in February exceeded expectations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 379,000 new jobs, primarily in the leisure and hospitality sector, which was hard hit by the virus and lockdowns.
March 1, 2021
Students of financial markets may have noted a historically unusual event last week.
On Thursday, the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes briefly matched the dividend yield for the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index. This type of convergence is uncommon. In normal times, the yield on 10-year Treasuries tends to be higher than the dividend yield of the S&P 500. Felix Salmon of Axios explained:
“The 10-year Treasury note is a risk-free asset: If you hold it for 10 years, you know exactly how much it's going to return…The S&P 500 dividend yield is normally lower than the risk-free rate. Investors earn less in dividends than [they] would holding the same amount of money in Treasury bonds, but they hope that rising stock prices will make up the difference.”
February 22, 2021
It’s a contrarian’s dream come true.
Contrarian investors like to buck the trend. They buy when other investors are selling and sell when others are buying.
Last week, Bank of America (BofA) delivered a contrarian’s dream. BofA’s monthly survey of 225 global asset managers, who are responsible for $645 billion in assets under management, showed the managers were almost fully invested, according to CNBC.
The survey showed asset managers’, “…cash levels at the lowest since March 2013, global equity allocations at a 10-year high, and a record number of respondents reporting taking a ‘higher than normal’ level of risk,” reported Randall Forsyth of Barron’s.
February 16, 2021
Way back, when radio disk jockeys played 45-rpm vinyl singles, the A-side of a disk was the song the record company was promoting and the other side – the flip side – held a song that sometimes had an equal or greater impact. For instance, the flip side of Queen’s We Are the Champions was We Will Rock You.
When it comes to the economy and financial markets, flip sides can have significant impact, too. For example:
- Stock market performance. Last week, major stock indices in the United States – the Standard & Poor’s 500, the Dow Jones Industrial, and the Nasdaq Composite – finished at record highs. That was happy news for investors.
The flip side:
Concern that share prices may not be sustainable. “The long, long bull market since 2009 has finally matured into a fully-fledged epic bubble. Featuring extreme overvaluation, explosive price increases, frenzied issuance, and hysterically speculative investor behavior…this bubble will burst in due time…,” wrote asset manager Jeremy Grantham of GMO in January 2021.
February 8, 2021
It’s not a black diamond ski run yet, but the yield curve for U.S. Treasuries is steeper than it has been in a while.
A yield curve is the line on a graph showing yields for different maturities of bonds. Yield curves provide insight to bond investors’ perceptions about the economy. There are four basic types of yield curves:
- Normal: The slope is upward because short-term bond yields are lower than long-term bond yields. A normal curve for U.S. Treasuries has a yield gap of about 2.3 percent between 30-year Treasury bonds and 3-year Treasury bills, according to Fidelity. On Friday, the difference was 1.78 percent.
- Steep. The upward curve is unusually steep. This may occur when an economic expansion is underway, demand for capital pushes interest rates higher, and inflation rises.
- Flat: There is no curve because short- and long-term bonds have similar yields. Flattening yield curves can be a precursor of economic slowdown and lower interest rates.
- Inverted: The curve slopes down. Long-term bond yields are lower than short-term bond yields. Some believe an inverted yield curve is a signal that recession is ahead.
Right now, the steepening of the U.S. Treasury yield curve is positive news, according to a source cited by Ben Levisohn of Barron’s:
February 1, 2021
They say people watching the same event often see different things. That seems to have been the case last week when share prices of a few companies experienced tremendous volatility.
Some cast the events as a David vs. Goliath morality tale, however, Michael Mackenzie of Financial Times saw it differently. He wrote, “…a speculative surge from retail investors using borrowed money…has in the past signaled a frothy market top.” (In financial lingo, a market is ‘frothy’ when investors drive asset prices higher while ignoring underlying fundamentals.)
No matter how you characterize it, the events of last week were unusual. Felix Salmon of Axios explained, “Almost never does a stock trade more than twice its market value in a single day…It has happened 7 times this week already, and 20 times this month…What we've seen in the past month, and especially the past week, is certain companies becoming little more than vehicles for short-term gambling."
January 25, 2021
Last week, as COVID-19 vaccination efforts continued, there was speculation about stock market corrections and asset bubbles.
On Sunday morning, Bloomberg reported 63 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine had been administered across 56 countries. In the United States, 21.1 million shots have been delivered – about 51 percent of the vaccinations that were sent to states. At that point, the pace of vaccination in the United States was just over one million doses a day.
Improvements in the pace of vaccinations could lift market optimism, according to Ben Levisohn of Barron’s, but a market correction is still a possibility:
Investors were rocked by economic data showing the economy hit the brakes hard in December.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices decelerated as investors gaped at the economic damage caused by the rising number of coronavirus cases around the world. There have been more than two million COVID-19 deaths globally, with more than 390,000 deaths in the United States. The spread has resulted in new lockdowns and restrictions and has hurt economic recovery.
Ben Levisohn of Barron’s reported:
“This past week – with the market looking ahead to the inauguration and what might be in store following the Capitol riots and Donald Trump’s second impeachment – was a terrible one for economic data. Whether it was small-business confidence, consumer inflation, or just about anything else, the numbers painted a picture of an economy that was slowing more rapidly than expected. Initial jobless claims, which spiked to their highest level since August, and retail sales, which fell 0.7 percent, were particularly frightening.”
January 11, 2021
The event at the United States Capitol building had a resounding impact around the world, but it didn’t deter global stock markets.
Last week, investors weighed the violent disruption of America’s 2020 presidential election process against the outcome of the Senate runoff in Georgia, and decided the latter was more significant. Financial Times reported the Democratic party’s win in Georgia improves the possibility of additional government relief spending in 2021:
“In turn, this renews the momentum behind trends within equity and bond markets that have been unfolding in recent months. These include rising long-term interest rates and inflation expectations that reflect hopes of an accelerating economy later this year.”
January 4, 2021
Last week was the cherry on top of a turbulent year for investors.
After the $900 billion fiscal stimulus bill was signed on Sunday, major U.S. stock indices moved higher. The Washington Post reported, “The S&P 500-stock index, the most widely watched gauge, is finishing the year up more than 16 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained 7.25 percent and 43.6 percent, respectively. The Dow and S&P 500 finished at record levels despite the public health and economic crises.”
U.S. Treasuries gained, too, as yields moved slightly lower. Thirty-year Treasuries finished the week yielding 1.65 percent. While government bonds didn’t offer attractive levels of income during the year, they “…lived up to their billing as a stock market hedge in 2020. Rates plunged as stocks collapsed in March, and the Treasury market finished 2020 with yields not much above the pandemic panic lows and down half a percentage point or more for the year,” reported Barron’s.
December 28, 2020
U.S. stock markets remained calm as a fresh chapter opened in the coronavirus stimulus saga last week.
Congress managed to cobble together a new stimulus package that was acceptable to both sides and pass it. The proposed package included money to help states distribute vaccines, an unemployment benefits extension, $600 checks for eligible Americans, aid for airlines, and other provisions, reported Mike Calia of CNBC.
“…fiscal support is seen as critical to keep the economic recovery from faltering as coronavirus cases rise and cities consider new shutdowns. Consumer spending has flagged, and labor market gains have begun to stall. While the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits declined last week, it still remains elevated compared with pre-COVID levels,” reported Colby Smith and Eric Platt of Financial Times.
December 20, 2020
Congress is at $900 billion, will they hear $1.4 trillion, $1.4 trillion, governments at $900 billion, who’ll go $1.4 trillion, $1.4 trillion…
The stimulus auction continued last week. Early on Sunday, The New York Times reported, “Lawmakers are on the brink of agreement on a $900 billion compromise relief bill after breaking through an impasse late Saturday night, with votes on final legislation expected to unfold as early as Sunday afternoon and very likely just hours before the government is set to run out of funding.”
Among other items, policymakers’ plan to deliver new stimulus and fund the government is expected to include:
December 14, 2020
When it comes to beverages, frothy can be delicious.
In what may be the least inspiring description of fizzy drinks ever written, a group of food engineers explained, “Aeration in beverages, which is manifested as foam or bubbles, increases the sensory preference among consumers.”
Stock markets can fizz up, too. Share prices bubble, enthusiastic investors invest, and prices go even higher. In a frothy market, share prices often rise above estimates of underlying value. The terms that describe this financial market phenomenon include irrational exuberance, animal spirits, and overconfidence.
Last week, there was speculation about whether some parts of the U.S. stock market have gotten frothy. Eric Platt, David Carnevali, and Michael Mackenzie of Financial Times wrote about an initial public offering (IPO) of stock by a hospitality company. They reported:
December 7, 2020
When is bad news good news? Take a look at last week.
Major stock indices in the United States hit all-time highs on Friday, despite a lackluster employment report and a surge in COVID-19 cases, reported Lewis Krauskopf of Reuters. During the week, we saw:
- The slowest jobs growth since the economic recovery began. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 245,000 jobs were created in November. “…a key sign of holiday enthusiasm – the hiring of thousands of workers to help with the holiday retail rush – simply didn’t happen this year. Some of those workers – but clearly not enough – are helping with online shopping duties, filling warehouses around the country, or driving vans from house to house,” reported Avi Salzman of Barron’s.
- New unemployment claims remain steady. More than one million people a week are filing first time jobless claims, reported Dion Rabouin of Axios. On November 14, more than 20 million Americans were receiving unemployment assistance.
November 30, 2020
Last week, vaccine optimism immunized investors against signs of economic weakness.
In previous commentaries we’ve written about narrative economics, which holds that popular stories may affect individual and collective economic behavior. Last week, diverse narratives had the potential to influence consumer and investor behavior, but not all did. You may have read that:
November 23, 2020
The U.S. economy is like a semi-trailer truck. No one likes being stuck behind a semi at a stoplight because big trucks don’t go from zero to 60 in 2.5 seconds. Neither does the U.S. economy.
When the pandemic brought our economy to a near virtual standstill early in 2020, the U.S. government and Federal Reserve (Fed) took extraordinary measures to help the economy get going again:
- Congress passed the CARES Act stimulus, which gave Americans and American businesses badly-needed fuel to support economic recovery. Businesses were able to stay open and people had money to spend. That’s important because consumer spending accounts for almost 70 percent of U.S. economic growth.
- The Federal Reserve paved the road and gave it a downward slope by creating a supportive interest rate environment and implementing special lending facilities intended to support businesses, as well as state and local governments. Some programs were funded by the CARES Act.
November 16, 2020
Vaccine can be a powerful word. It’s worth 14 points in Scrabble (42 on a triple word square) and, last week, it was worth a whole lot more than that to financial markets.
On Monday, a pharmaceutical company and a biotech company announced preliminary trials of their vaccine show it may be 90 percent effective, reported Financial Times. The revelation conjured tantalizing visions of a future in which virus precautions are unnecessary and life returns to normal.
Around the world, pandemic-fatigued populations cheered and markets rallied. CNBC reported:
November 9, 2020
It’s said markets hate uncertainty, but that wasn’t the case last week.
Despite tremendous uncertainty about the outcome of the United States election, major domestic and international stock indices moved higher and the CBOE Volatility Index, better known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, moved 35 percent lower. Ben Levisohn of Barron’s reported:
“By all accounts, it should have been a terrible week for the stock market. At the close of trading on Friday, we still didn’t know whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump had won or which party would control the Senate. There was also set to be at least two recounts – one in Georgia, and one in Michigan – with likely more to come. It’s the kind of uncertainty that the market is supposed to hate.”
Yet, there was little fear to be found in financial markets. Investors’ confidence may have been grounded in a wave of positive economic news:
November 2, 2020
Last week, financial markets and economic data told very different stories.
Reviewing economic data is a bit like looking in a rearview mirror. Typically, it offers information about what is behind us. For example, last week we learned:
- The U.S. economy grew by 33.1 percent during the third quarter of 2020. Strong growth helped boost America’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is the value of all goods and services produced in the nation. At the end of the quarter, GDP was about 3 percent lower than a year ago, reported The Economist.
- Personal income increased in September, and so did spending on goods and services. Americans bought more clothes, cars, and car parts, and spent more on healthcare and recreation.
- New claims for unemployment insurance moved lower last week. Unemployment remains high overall, but a slowdown in new claims is positive.
October 26, 2020
Stimulus talks led investors in a merry dance last week.
So far in 2020, stock markets have been sensitive to fiscal stimulus. Last week, there was optimism a new stimulus package could be negotiated before the election. There also was skepticism about whether it would happen. An expert cited by CNBC stated, “There’s a lot of back and forth on stimulus and every headline makes the market move a little bit, but there’s no follow-through because we don’t have a clear picture on that front.”
Economic data didn’t provide a clear picture either. Some data points suggested economic recovery was continuing, while other information indicated the pandemic was impeding economic growth. For instance:
October 19, 2020
It was a turbulent week for investors.
Waves of positive and negative news buffeted financial markets last week:
The financial sector delivered upbeat earnings news
Currently, many financial companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index have reported third quarter earnings and have done better than expected. Despite upbeat earnings, some companies’ shares declined because of uncertainty about the path of economic recovery. If recovery continues, some banks may have excess reserves; however, if recovery falters and a double-dip recession occurs, banks may need to add to reserves, reported Barron’s.
October 12, 2020
Yes. No. Maybe?
Markets were sharply focused on the status of stimulus last week. First, it was on. Then, it was off. Then, it might be on. Then, it was off again. There was a big bill. There was a smaller bill. There were stand-alone options.
‘Maybe’ was enough for investors
Major U.S. stock indices finished the week higher, per Barron’s, and global indices were bullish on Friday because of U.S. stimulus talks, reported Financial Times.
“Markets are dizzy from all the talk on both sides about what they want from a deal but believe that something will inevitably happen anyway…Markets are essentially drunk on massive government spending just as they are inebriated from all the Fed quantitative easing and zero-interest rate policy,” said an advisory group chief investment officer cited by Financial Times.
October 5, 2020
Last week, the third quarter of 2020 came to an end – and the fourth quarter delivered a doozy of an October surprise.
President Trump has the coronavirus
On Friday Americans awoke to the news President Trump had contracted COVID-19. Financial markets responded with relative equanimity. After a brief sell-off on Friday, major U.S. indices finished the week, and the third quarter, higher.
Market enthusiasm cooled in September
U.S. stock markets moved higher in July and August. Then, in early September, investors became skittish and major U.S. indices recorded losses for several weeks. The surge of uncertainty may have resulted from changing vaccine expectations, concerns about earnings, fears of a disputed election, and lack of new stimulus, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
September 28, 2020
For four weeks, the U.S. stock market has sparked and sputtered like a campfire in light rain.
Today, pandemic-driven demand is providing fuel for the investors. The need for certain types of products and services has accelerated and innovation is creating new opportunities. Consider:
- Technology. Today, digital technologies support nearly all group interactions, which has accelerated innovation. Traditional video communications platforms are in high demand, and multi-person virtual platforms are emerging. Robotics innovations are racing ahead, too. Robotic dogs enforce social distancing in Singaporean parks, reported Other types of robots sanitize streets and facilitate contactless delivery around the globe.
- Consumer products and services. COVID-19 increased demand for staples, cleaning, and personal hygiene products. The virus may have inspired deeper and longer-lasting changes in consumer behavior, too. Accenture reported people are favoring healthier lifestyles, consuming goods more conscientiously, and showing a preference for locally-sourced goods.
- Healthcare, drug development/delivery, and medical equipment. Last Friday, 316 COVID-19 treatments and 212 vaccines were in development around the world, reported the Milliken Institute. In some places, humans are collaborating with artificial intelligence to streamline drug discovery processes. Demand for telehealth services has increased dramatically. So has demand for personal protective equipment, reported Pankaj Singh of Plastics Today.
September 21, 2020
Investors weren’t happy with central banks last week.
After the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell confirmed the economy is recovering more quickly than anticipated:
“With the reopening of many businesses and factories and fewer people withdrawing from social interactions, household spending looks to have recovered about three-quarters of its earlier decline…The recovery has progressed more quickly than generally expected, and forecasts from FOMC participants for economic growth this year have been revised up since our June Summary of Economic Projections. Even so, overall activity remains well below its level before the pandemic and the path ahead remains highly uncertain…We remain committed to using our full range of tools to support the economy in this challenging time.”
September 14, 2020
Last week, the Nasdaq Composite Index set another record.
So far, 2020 has been memorable for many reasons, not the least of which is the incredible speed at which some events have been occurring in financial markets. This year, we’ve experienced:
- The end of the longest U.S. stock bull market in history
- A global stock market crash
- The shortest U.S. stock bear market in history
- Multiple record highs for major U.S. stock indices
Last week, we witnessed the swiftest correction on record as the Nasdaq fell by 10 percent in just three days. By the end of the week, the Index had recouped some losses and finished down 4.1 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and Dow Jones Industrial Average also finished the week lower.
September 8, 2020
Stock markets in the United States retreated a bit last week.
U.S. stocks have been trending higher for months. Last week, they gave back some gains. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 3.3 percent, while the S&P 500 Index fell 2.3 percent, and the Dow lost 1.8 percent, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
It was difficult to pinpoint a specific reason for the market’s retreat. Levisohn offered a litany of possibilities that included:
- The Labor Day holiday
- Corporate earnings guidance suggesting companies are pulling back on tech spending
- Anthony Fauci tempering expectations a vaccine will be available by November 1
- Fears a disputed election could disrupt stock markets
- Congress’s lack of progress on a new stimulus bill
August 31, 2020
The stock market rallies like it’s 1986.
August has been a good month for stock investors. At the end of last week, the S&P 500 Index was up 6.8 percent for the month. The Index is poised to deliver its best returns for the month since 1986, when it gained 7.1 percent, reported Financial Times.
The performance of U.S. stock markets is remarkable, in part, because, so far, company earnings – the profit that publicly-traded companies earn and report each quarter – haven’t been great in 2020. Earnings were down 31.9 percent during the second quarter of the year, reported FactSet. The decline in earnings reflected the impact of coronavirus closures
August 24, 2020
The shortest bear market in history is over.
The Nasdaq Composite and Standard & Poor’s 500 Indices finished at new highs last week. The stock market is considered to be a leading economic indicator, so strong stock market performance suggests economic improvement ahead.
There was a caveat to last week’s gains, though. One large technology company was responsible for 60 percent of the S&P’s weekly gains (0.7 percent), reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s. The same large company is also a component of the Dow Jones Industrials Index, which finished the week flat. Without that stock, the Dow would have finished the week lower. Levisohn wrote:
August 17, 2020
The Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index finished the week within a whisker of its February high, reported Randall Forsyth of Barron’s.
It’s a remarkable feat. The stock market has recovered in just 175 days. Historically, comparable recoveries (those following market drops of 20 percent or more) have taken about four years, reported Vildana Hajric, Lu Wang, and Claire Ballentine of Bloomberg Quint.
“The sharpness and speed of the downturn – and the immediacy of the overwhelming liquidity and fiscal response from the Federal Reserve and Congress – forestalled the kind of grinding, purgative action of typical bear markets, which wrings out excesses and resets valuations lower. There was also not the shift in market leadership that usually occurs in the crucible of a bear market,” reported Michael Santoli of CNBC.
August 10, 2020
There was good news and bad news in last week’s employment report.
The good news was the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics delivered better-than-expected data about employment. In July, the U.S. economy added about 1.8 million new jobs.
That’s about 300,000 more than the Wall Street consensus forecast, according to Jeff Cox of CNBC, who reported, “…there were wide variations around the estimates as the pandemic’s resurgence dented plans to get the shuttered U.S. economy completely back online. Forecasts ranged from a decline of half a million jobs to a rise of 3 million…”