Investors seem to sober up following the nine-week-long stock market party that closed out 2023, as the S&P 500 fell 1.5%, the Nasdaq Composite dropped 3.2%, and the Russell 2000 sank 3.8% in holiday-shortened trading. Declining issues almost doubled advancing issues, and the Tech sector fared the worst, led by analyst downgrades on Apple, the largest constituent of the sector and the overall market. The bond market also had a hangover. The yield on the 10-year Treasury jumped 17 basis points to 4.03%, its biggest weekly advance since October, as the minutes from the last FOMC meeting reignited “higher for longer” concerns. Those concerns were compounded by the BLS report on Friday that showed that the economy added many more jobs than expected in December, as nonfarm payrolls added 216,000, approximately 40,000 higher than the consensus estimate. However, the jobs report showed some signs of cooling as well, most notably the downward revisions from October (from +150k to +105k) and November (from +199k to +173k).
We don’t think there was any new information from the Fed minutes, as it was consistent with their statement and press conference following last month’s meeting. Whereas we are also not surprised by the continued hawkish jawboning from some Fed officials, we remain convinced that data, not words, will dictate the tone of the markets. Additionally, we certainly would not characterize the jobs report as “hot,” given the 71,000 downward revisions from the previous two months and other data points confirming the downward trend in wage increases. Furthermore, the government and healthcare sectors added the most jobs, the former simply a function of government spending and the latter addressing an acute shortage. In short, we believe we are still in a Goldilocks economy, not too hot and not too cold.
Harmonoius Economic Tune
The most significant market-moving news will be the December CPI report, which will be released on Thursday. The consensus forecast calls for headline inflation and the core rate to rise 0.3% month-over-month or 3.2% year-over-year. Other data releases include consumer credit, international trade balance, and the producer price index. The fourth quarter earnings season begins with eight S&P 500 companies reporting results, including UnitedHealth Group (UNH), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), and Bank of America (BAC). As a result of recent downward revisions in estimates, S&P 500 earnings are now expected to rise only 1.3% from the previous year’s quarter.
We are not deaf to the dissonance in the background to the otherwise harmonious economic tune of 2024. Once again, our friends in Washington have orchestrated a government shutdown drama, with funding deadlines over the next few weeks (January 19 and February 2). Every Treasury auction carries the risk of a buyer’s strike, and given the massive government debt, there will be lots of supply being offered over the next few years, including 3 and 6-month bills this week. Then there are the myriad geopolitical hotspots and our own extremely contentious political environment with a crescendo in store with the presidential election. Despite the sober start to the year and that laundry list of concerns, we still view the U.S. economy as solid and believe the financial markets could provide solid returns for investors.
Speaking of sober, it was a dry Sunday in Lambeau Field for the Chicago Bears, losers for the tenth straight time to the cursed Packers. We still stand with Justin Fields, who could use some help on the offensive line and another high-quality receiver. Given the sorry state of our professional and semi-professional (Division 1 athletics) franchises, we turn our attention to the University of Chicago basketball team. The Maroons are 9-3 following a thrilling 1-point victory over the #16 ranked Washington University Bears on Saturday in their University Athletic Association opener. We recommend readers visit the Ratner Center in Hyde Park this winter and watch the Maroons in action. No scandals, no NILs, just great athletes playing for the love of the game.
The stocks mentioned above may be holdings in our mutual funds. For more information, please visit www.nsinvestfunds.com.