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Bulls Return; Fed, European Central Bank Face Divergent Paths

Published Jun 7, 2024

William RutherfordThis was not the May to follow the conventional wisdom of “Sell in May and go away.” The ongoing news about the power of generative artificial intelligence (AI) to disrupt so many aspects of the work and leisure worlds fueled continuing optimism among traders and investors who had been sitting on the sidelines, hoping for a pullback.

The Dow closed out the month with a monstrous, late-day rally, rising almost 575 points, or 1.5 percent, for its best day of 2024. This move reversed the drop on May 23 of 600 points, or more than 1.5 percent, on the Dow’s worst day since March 2023. This decline in 2024 was primarily due to a 7.6 percent drop in Boeing (BA) shares following an announcement of delayed plane deliveries.

Despite the eleventh-hour gains on Friday, fueled by the release of key inflation data that reassuringly met expectations, all three indexes lost ground over the week. The Nasdaq fell 1.1 percent on the week, snapping a five-week streak of gains. The Dow and S&P 500 lost 1 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. Yet the month remained a good one for all the indexes, with gains of 2.3 percent for the Dow, representing almost all its gains for the year, 4.8 percent for the S&P, and 6.9 percent for the Nasdaq. Year to date as of month end, the Dow was up 2.64 percent, the S&P 10.64 percent, and the Nasdaq 11.48 percent. On May 17, the Dow closed above 40,000 for the first time ever; but it ended the month at 38,686.

Stocks slid from record levels as interest rate worries dominated investor sentiment after blockbuster earnings […]

June 10th, 2024|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Bulls Return; Fed, European Central Bank Face Divergent Paths

Bulls Vanquish Bears; Outlook Promising For Stock Market | Opinion

Published April 5, 2024

William RutherfordThe U.S. stock market officially entered bull market territory in the first quarter: a 20 percent increase in the S&P 500 from its previous low. By that measure, and according to the S&P Dow Jones indices, the current bull market began on Jan. 19, 2024.

The S&P was up 10.2 percent for the first quarter of 2024 and closed at record highs 22 times during that period – the most since the first quarter of 1998. The Nasdaq rose 9.1 percent and reached record highs three times. The Dow Jones average was up 5.6 percent, with 17 record highs, and was closed in on crossing the 40,000 threshold for the first time. More good news for bulls: of the 16 times the S&P 500 has risen 8 percent or more in the first quarter from 1950 through 2023, only once did the index lose ground for the remainder of the year. That equates to the market having risen 94 percent of the time in years with such powerful first-quarter gains.

Robust economic indicators and company earnings reports are fueling the stock market rally. U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2023. For a developed economy, annual GDP growth is expected to be 2-3 percent. The tendency of stocks in the same sectors to move in the same direction has fallen to low levels, and the equal-weight S&P held its own against the market capitalization S&P. This means that individual company performance is having the most impact on share prices, as the market broadens out from being driven only by AI news. It also means that the indexes […]

April 8th, 2024|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Bulls Vanquish Bears; Outlook Promising For Stock Market | Opinion

Riding The Wave Of Innovation: A Surge In Market Optimism | Opinion

Published March 11, 2024

William RutherfordAs companies reported earnings in February, evidence of the broad acceptance and monetization of AI tools powered stocks to new record highs.

The Dow Jones was up 2.2 percent, reaching an all-time high of 39,131.53 on Feb. 23. The NASDAQ Composite ended the month at a closing record high of 18004.87, up 6.2 percent on the month and 8 percent for the year, fueled by three of its largest constituents: Nvidia, Amazon and Alphabet (Google). The S&P 500 also reached new highs, rising 5.2 percent in February and 6.8 percent year to date, surpassing 5,100. As of this writing, the S&P 500 has achieved 15 new highs since the beginning of the year.

History says February is a terrible month for the market, so what happened?

On Feb. 21, AI chip maker Nvidia reported Q4 2023 earnings which handily beat analyst estimates and, more importantly, gave positive guidance for continued strong growth in 2024. As of the end of February, Nvidia stock was up over 25 percent on the month, 60 percent for the year-to-date and 249 percent for the trailing 12 months.

The day after reporting earnings, the chipmaker added $277 billion to its stock market valuation, the largest daily gain ever achieved by a single company. Its market capitalization reached $2 trillion. The AI halo effect spread to other technology stocks and then to the market as a whole, underscoring the adage that “a rising tide raises all boats, even the leaky ones.”

Economic data released in February reflected the ongoing balance between inflationary pressures, employment and the underlying strength of the U.S. economy. The CPI, which measures the average change over time in the […]

March 14th, 2024|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Riding The Wave Of Innovation: A Surge In Market Optimism | Opinion

Markets Experience A Melt-up; Goldilocks Is Everywhere| Opinion

Published February 9, 2024

William RutherfordStocks rose for a third straight month in January. The S&P 500 advanced 1.6 percent between Dec. 29 and Jan. 31. At one point it was up as much as 3.4 percent but fell sharply to end the month. The Nasdaq-100 and Dow Jones Industrial Average also climbed, with all three benchmarks achieving new highs.

Technology stocks still dominated, surging to new records as news about widespread adoption of AI tools permeated company results. Microsoft edged ahead of Apple as the world’s most valuable company. In January, Microsoft traded above its 2023 highs, while Apple traded slightly below its all-time high reached in December. The market rally did not broaden out across other sectors, as many market pundits had been predicting.

Most economic news was stronger than expected, including job growth, gross domestic product (GDP) and retail sales. This was on top of inflation numbers continuing to moderate. Corporate earnings reports were robust. All this is positive for sentiment in the longer run and certainly for stocks, yet it gives the Federal Reserve less reason to cut interest rates. The realization that a rate cut is unlikely to happen in March contributed to the market pullback in late January.

The January jobs market report was an unexpected blowout, with an expansion of 353,000 – twice what economists had predicted. Unemployment remained stable at 3.7 percent, staying below 4 percent for 26 months now. January’s seasonal drop in employment was the smallest since 2012, except for 2021 and 2023.

Consumer delinquency rates have normalized. All this allays fears that the consumer, 70 percent of the U.S. economy, is overstretched and will not continue to spend. However, there […]

February 13th, 2024|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Markets Experience A Melt-up; Goldilocks Is Everywhere| Opinion

Financial Markets Defy Pundits And Soar To Record Highs | Opinion

Published January 11, 2024

William RutherfordFor much of 2023, economists continued to be doubtful that the Federal Reserve could achieve a reduction in inflation by reducing the money supply and raising interest rates without strangling growth in jobs and the economy. Many analysts were predicting a market sell-off as a result. But in November, the bond market began to sniff out the Fed’s success at tightening without sending the economy into a tailspin. The Goldilocks soft landing of not too little, not too much, but just right, was in sight.

Anticipating that the Fed would at last be able to loosen monetary policy, the 10-year Treasury slipped below 4 percent and the markets took off like a rocket for a much-desired year-end Santa Claus rally culminating in a nine-week win streak. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed out the year up 16.2 percent, the S&P 500 finished up 26.3 percent, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq climbed 43 percent for one of its best performances in two decades.

Tech stocks were led by chipmaker Nvidia and Facebook parent Meta, as investors became more and more confident of the disruptively positive impact of AI. Many consider AI tools to be as strong an economic driver as the advent of the internet and have bid up prices of the related stocks accordingly. As the month progressed, the rally broadened to other overlooked sectors, and analysts believe this trend will continue into 2024. The Nasdaq is now just 6.5 percent below the record high it reached in November 2021.

Lael Brainard, former Fed vice chair and current director of the National Economic Council, maintains that the U.S. economy is strong. Employment is up significantly, unemployment […]

January 19th, 2024|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Financial Markets Defy Pundits And Soar To Record Highs | Opinion

November Was One To Remember | Opinion

Published December 8, 2023

William RutherfordAs we arrive at the end of the year, all eyes still turn to the Fed. Interest rates continue to be the focus. The 10-year Treasury has declined 80 basis points from the beginning of November, when it had been flirting with rising over 5 percent, to reach a recent low of 4.2 percent.

The stock market responded with a robust rally, which broke a three-month losing streak. November lived up to its winning reputation, with monthly gains of nearly 8.8 percent for the Dow, 8.9 percent for the S&P 500 and 10.7 percent for the Nasdaq. Historically, November is the best month of the year for the stock market, and December is third, according to the Stock Trader’s Almanac.

The market was able to push higher, despite Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell saying that talk of cutting interest rates is “premature” and that more hikes could still happen. Many equity and bond investors assumed the Fed was done with its tightening cycle now that inflation and job growth have shown signs of moderating. Both sectors rallied, pushing the 10-year Treasury to its lowest level in years.

Proof that the Fed’s battle with inflation is working came when the central bank’s key inflation gauge continued its downtrend. The core PCE (Personal Consumption Expenditures) price index, which excludes the food and energy sectors, in October rose 0.2 percent for the month and 3.5 percent year over year. Both gains were lower than estimates. Furthermore, the ADP National Employment report showed that private payrolls in November increased by 103,000 jobs, which was below economists’ expectations of 130,000 and below the 250,000 jobs generally thought necessary to replace […]

December 11th, 2023|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on November Was One To Remember | Opinion

As Economy And Markets Diverge, Will Emerging Rally Continue? | Opinion

Published November 10, 2023

William RutherfordOnce the Federal Reserve started on its tight money policy trajectory, the equity markets and the economy diverged. The economy has been generally strong, while the stock market has struggled under the weight of ever-increasing interest rates.

At the close of October, stocks had registered a third straight month of declines, with the Dow down 1.3 percent, the S&P down 2.1 percent and the NASDAQ off 2.8 percent. Two days later, U.S. equity markets treated investors to the biggest weekly gains in a year. Ostensibly, this rally was caused by traders closing out short positions before the weekend due to a trifecta of good news that occurred in the last three business days of that week.

The stock market was boosted first by a pause on rate hikes by the Fed on Wednesday, second by a good enough earnings report from Apple on Thursday (Apple being the dominant stock in the NASDAQ index and in most equity funds), and third by a soft jobs report on Friday. This good news about the economy’s resilience, despite lower employment, allowed major indexes to clear significant benchmarks. The Dow Jones had its best week in a year, up 5.1 percent. The S&P and NASDAQ also had their best weeks since November 2022, up 5.85 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively, for the week. The tech-heavy NASDAQ index managed to close above its 50-day moving average – an encouraging development for stock market bulls. The NASDAQ was now up nearly 30 percent for the year. The S&P 500 followed close behind, also bullishly climbing above its 50-day moving average to a gain of 14 percent for 2023 year to […]

November 15th, 2023|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on As Economy And Markets Diverge, Will Emerging Rally Continue? | Opinion

Bull Markets Don’t Die Of Old Age; They Are Murdered By The Fed

Published October 5, 2023

William RutherfordWe have been in a long-term bull market, but now we seem to be coming to the end. An old adage is that bull markets don’t die of old age but are murdered by the Federal Reserve. Is that what is happening now?

Looking back, we see the market recovering from deep recessions in the early and later 2000s. When the market was in a deep trough, the Fed worked hard to lift it out of recession. The Fed proclaimed “quantitative easing” as the solution: lowering interest rates, including its lending rates to banks, and flooding the markets with cheap money by buying U.S Treasurys. The Fed forced money into the economy to lift it, while driving the cost of money unsustainably low. Modern monetary theory it was called. Congress added to the huge growth in money supply by creating ever-increasing deficits, funded by borrowing by the U.S. Treasury. The Federal Reserve bought this debt as did China and other countries with massive trade surpluses, such as oil-producing nations.

When the pandemic came, there was even more pressure to have deficit spending.

The budget deficit reached almost $1 trillion in 2019. That was nearly 4.6 percent of GDP, while the historical average was 3 percent. By FY 2020, the deficit was $3.1 trillion and by FY 2021 it was $2.8 trillion (14.7 percent and 11.8 percent of GDP, respectively). In 2022 it was 5.3 percent. As of August 2023, these deficits have accumulated to total about $33 trillion in national debt, which is increasingly being funded at current interest rates, thereby adding to […]

October 9th, 2023|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Bull Markets Don’t Die Of Old Age; They Are Murdered By The Fed

Fluctuating Interest Rates And Market Volatility: Bumps In The Road

Published September 8, 2023

William RutherfordThe market began the year on an up note, but reversed course in the summer, leading to a choppy year so far. It has been at the mercy of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has remained steadfast in his dedication to lower the inflation rate to 2 percent.

As interest rates increased and the threat of more increases prevailed, the market tumbled. Conversely, when rates decreased, the market rallied. The ride has been volatile.

In the meantime, the economy continued to appear strong, yet threats of a recession held on in the background. Chicken Little was everywhere, threatening a recession that did not arrive. At one point the NASDAQ had gained nearly 29 percent, showing a strong economy that was thwarting Powell’s effort to break the back of inflation.

As the Fed appeared to be at or near the end of its cycle to tighten interest rates, economists were anticipating no more than one more increase of 25 basis points in short-term rates. The economy remained healthy.

With memories of bank failures fresh in its mind, due in part to the rapid increase in interest rates over the past 18 months, the Fed retained a cautious posture. In the meantime, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s rating agencies put a number of regional banks on credit watch, sending a chill through the market. The economy began to cool. Consumer sentiment also cooled. Investors became suspicious about the Fed’s strategy to fight inflation. Wall Street thinking changed to believe that the Fed might possibly continue elevating rates to above 6 percent and not cut them. The market reacted negatively.

The bull case for the market right now is […]

September 8th, 2023|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on Fluctuating Interest Rates And Market Volatility: Bumps In The Road

OP-ED: Economic Expert: The Sky Is Not Falling | Opinion

Published August 4, 2023

William RutherfordOne day while sitting under an oak tree, an acorn fell upon the head of Chicken Little. She looked everywhere but could not find what had hit her. She concluded that what had fallen on her was part of the sky and decided it was so important that she had to tell the king. So off she ran to tell him that the sky was falling. She ran as fast as she could. Along the way she encountered friends who asked her why she was running so fast. She told them what had happened and that the sky was falling. Alarmed by this news, her friends joined her in running to tell the king, all of them yelling that the sky was falling. The king assured them that the sky was not falling.

Recently, a similar popular mantra has been that we must have a recession to slow inflation. People took up the recession alarm, until recently reported robust big bank earnings suddenly inspired economic optimism. All three of the largest banks beat analyst expectations for revenue and earnings. JPMorgan Chase’s earnings jumped 67 percent from a year earlier. Wells Fargo’s income was higher by 57 percent. Collectively, the three biggest banks earned $49 billion in net interest income in the most recent quarter – up 31 percent from the previous year.

Not only did the loans increase, but banks charged more. Loans to businesses increased. Higher credit card balances represented more loans to consumers at elevated finance charge rates. Even mortgage originations increased. The banks lifted their forecast for 2023 profits related to lending.

Previously, analysts sounding the alarm had forecast that the economy […]

August 14th, 2023|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Economic Expert: The Sky Is Not Falling | Opinion
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