Presented by The PensionmarkMeridien Team
S&P 500: A BREATHER AFTER THREE STRAIGHT POSITIVE QUARTERS
Overall, stock market bulls were on the retreat during the third quarter of 2023 as several major stock indexes traded lower in response to rising interest rates and a strong dollar.
In fact, after three consecutive positive quarters for the S&P 500,the large-cap index found some sellers in the third quarter. Utilities and real estate contributed to the selling1, while the energy sector surged2.
ECONOMY: SOFT OR HARD LANDING?
Rising interest rates and stubborn inflation remain front and center. The Federal Reserve has clearly communicated its “higher for longer” expectations on interest rates, and the message is starting to sink into the markets.
A recession induced by a rate-hiking Fed and pesky inflation is still a distinct possibility. Interest rates rose steadily across various durations and products throughout the quarter, and a tighter lending environment6 is a factor in the financial markets.
INFLATION MIXED FOR QUARTER, TICKS HIGHER
Inflation metrics were mixed in the third quarter, with consumer inflation reversing its previous downward trend and picking up in August and September data releases.
The last Consumer Price Index (CPI) release of the quarter showed a 3.7% rise7 year-over-year in August versus 3.6 % expected. This was much higher than the 3.2% rise year-over-year in July. The recent uptick in headline consumer inflation helps to support the higher-for-longer interest rate narrative that the Fed is broadcasting.
Core CPI (which removes volatile food and energy) ran a little hot in August but remains in its downtrend for 2023, providing a mixed theme on inflation.
With that said, we don’t need to be economists to realize that food and energy are the things that are hurting our pockets.
LABOR MARKET: GOLDILOCKS?
Labor market resilience persisted throughout the third quarter, with solid payroll gains (187,0008 in August, 187,0009 in July, and 209,00010 in June). Two out of those three numbers missed analyst consensus expectations, but not by much.
Some analysts call it the perfect labor market 11 for the Fed, even goldilocks-like, as a gradual cooling is noted, yet with continued strength. A continuation of this pattern in employment data could help to cool the Fed’s rate-hiking desires.
The unemployment rate also showed a mixed picture for the third quarter, but there was a notable spike in unemployment in the last monthly data release of the quarter.
FED SUMMARY & OUTLOOK
The third quarter featured two Federal Reserve meetings, with the Fed raising rates by 25 basis points in July and leaving rates unchanged at the September meeting. The result is a current target overnight lending rate of 5.25 – 5.50%, a 22-year high12.
While the Fed left rates unchanged at the most recent meeting, it did let us know that policy could remain “restrictive”13. The Fed also indicated it would need to see more evidence that inflation is under control for these restrictive levels to be changed.
At the end of the third quarter, markets were pricing an 81.7% probability of no rate hike at the November meeting (18.3% chance of a 25-basis-point hike) and a 64.8% probability of no hike in December (31.4% chance of a 25-basis-point hike), per the CME FedWatch Tool.
The consensus at the start of the fourth quarter is that there will be one more hike14 in 2023. The Fed is heavily data-dependent, so probabilities may shift over this quarter in relation to key data releases.
HOW HIGH WILL RATES GO?
That is the million-dollar question (or billion-dollar, adjusted for inflation)!
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, notably said15, “I am not sure if the world is prepared for 7%,” when referring to the Federal Funds Rate.
But, ultimately, opinions differ. Let us remember that the interest rate-corresponding 10-year note yield sat near 4.57% at the close of the third quarter, but it traded above 5.06%16 from 1967 to 1998! Yes, it spent 31 years above that threshold, and it actually reached highs north of 15% in 1981.
So, while many want to be the Nostradamuses in the room and say that the Fed is done hiking or rates have peaked, there is always the other side of the coin to consider.
It was an eventful quarter in the financial markets, and it is still a highly Fed-centric market, with any clues presented by labor and inflation data being front-and-center.
Investors may have to get used to higher rates, potentially even higher than present levels based on historical patterns. The good news is that the fourth quarter is historically the best quarter for stocks17. Time will tell if that pattern holds true this year.
With that said, if there are any third-quarter market developments on your mind, or if there is anything else we can help with, please feel free to email or call us at the number and email address below.
We are always here as a resource for you.
The PensionmarkMeridien Team may be reached at 866-871-9963 or
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This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and they should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.
1) Investopedia, September 29, 2023
2) Barrons’s, September 7, 2023
3) Trading View, October 1, 2023
4) Trading View, October 1, 2023
5) Trading View, September 30, 2023
6) Inc, August 2, 2023
7) CNN Business, September 13, 2023
8) CNBC, September 1, 2022
9) CNBC, August 4, 2023
10) CNBC, July 7, 2023
11) CNBC, September 1, 2023
12) CBS News, July 26, 2023
13) Federal Reserve, September 20, 2023
14) Forbes, September 20, 2023
15) Market Watch, September 26, 2023
16) Trading View, October 3, 2023
17) Market Watch, September 29, 2023
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