Twas the week after Christmas and trading was light.
Stocks traded higher with a record in sight.
The Goldilocks economy overcame the doomsayers’ fears.
The Santa Claus rally kept rolling right into the New Year.
The S&P 500 gained 0.3%, the Nasdaq Composite increased 0.1%, and the Russell 2000 slipped 0.3%. It was a dead heat between advancing and declining issues on volume 30% lower than average. While the gains were modest, all the sectors except Oil & Gas finished in the green for the week. The yield on the 10-year Treasury ticked down three basis points to 3.87%, amazingly exactly where it started the year! Kudos to the Federal Reserve for its role in combatting inflation (albeit clumsily) and for finally abandoning its consistent contractionary policy-speak in late 2023, which will likely lead to tweaking its actual interest rate policy direction in the first half of 2024.
In retrospect, the relentless 2023 handwringing about how the high interest rates were a stiff headwind for the economy and the markets seems quite misplaced. The same came to be said of the “imminent recession” and “higher for longer” talking heads. Indeed, the economy grew at a healthy pace, and the fed fund futures suggest multiple rate cuts with a total of 150 basis points on deck.
2023 proved to be another year when the conventional wisdom was not! A few of the “consensus” views that turned out non-prophetic were that inflation would remain elevated in mid-single digits or higher, higher interest rates would crush housing prices, consumer spending would collapse, and oil prices would continue to rise toward $100 per barrel. While the consensus is sometimes right, we tend to see the most solid opportunities where we can make research-based bets against the consensus. In the next few weeks, a new year will bring new consensus on topics such as S&P 500 earnings growth, capital spending trends, inflation expectations, and other key financial market factors. North Star will be looking for prudent opportunities to challenge such consensus outlooks appropriately.
On the Chicago Sports Scene, the relentless handwringing about the quarterback position is also misplaced. Justin Fields is terrific, and with the first and fifth picks in the upcoming NFL draft, the Bears have an opportunity to build around him, D.J. Moore, and a great run defense. In Fantasy Football, North Star’s Brad Cohen and Eric Kuby were once again league champions. Yes, Justin Fields was their quarterback, and D.J. Moore was a wide receiver, providing another example of backing up our talk with our actions.
The markets were closed on Monday to celebrate the New Year. There will be several economic releases midweek, including updates on construction spending and the manufacturing PMI numbers and the release of the minutes from the last Fed meeting. On Friday, the nonfarm payrolls report is expected to show that the U.S. economy added 155K jobs in December, with a slight increase in the unemployment rate and moderating average hourly earnings. All these reports should continue the “Goldilocks” theme of a not-too-hot or too-cold economy.
The stocks mentioned above may be holdings in our mutual funds. For more information, please visit www.nsinvestfunds.com.