U.S. and International Equities
Stocks ended the week mixed as over half of the companies in the S&P 500 Index have reported first quarter earnings. FactSet reports that first quarter earnings metrics are presently ahead of their one-year averages. The communication services sector outperformed this week as Facebook parent Meta’s (META) first quarter earnings came in better than expected, with the company guiding estimates higher.
International stocks ended mixed this week amid improving economic reports. Germany’s April Consumer Price Index (CPI) was slightly better than economists anticipated as first quarter GDP came in unchanged versus the prior quarter. In addition, Japan’s March industrial output expanded for the second consecutive month while South Korea’s factory output jumped in March by the fastest rate in nearly three years.
Commodity Futures Trading Commission data revealed investors have increased their net short position in S&P 500 Index futures to over 680,000 contracts, representing the largest net short position since October 2011. Moreover, this marks the fourth week in five that investors have increased their wager on lower stock prices. This level of bearishness could help lift stocks, especially given economic data and earnings show improvement.
Fixed Income Higher
The Bloomberg Aggregate Bond Index finished higher as bond prices increased while yields declined. High-yield corporate bonds, as tracked by the Bloomberg High Yield index, ended the week unchanged.
For credit investors, the prospect of reduced credit availability will likely lead to steady rating downgrades, but not for all (or most) companies. Large and highly rated firms can adapt to tighter bank lending standards, which is why we’ve advocated for a higher-quality approach. If anything, the notable decline in yields since late October, coupled with robust investor appetite for high-quality debt, has eased financial conditions among high-quality borrowers.
U.S. Treasury yields have been range-bound over the past few months, with the 10-year Treasury yield ending the week last week nearly on top of its 200-day moving average. The trading range hasn’t stopped some investors from making outsized bets though. As discussed in a Bloomberg article this week, leveraged funds, aka hedge funds, have recently put on the largest short position in Treasury futures ever in a bet that rates will rise from current levels. However, asset managers and other institutional investors still hold amongst the most 10-year futures contracts ever. Please read our blog Are Rates Too High? Too Low? Just Right? Depends on Who You Ask for more details concerning Treasury yields.
Energy prices finished mixed for the week. Crude oil sold off while natural gas prices gained ground despite milder weather and weaker demand concerns. The major metals, gold, silver, and copper, ended the week mixed.
Economic Weekly Roundup
March Personal Consumption Expenditures
Last month’s Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) report revealed that the economy is still experiencing a dichotomy between goods and services inflation, but both growth rates are declining. Goods prices are up 1.6% from a year ago, while services prices are up 5.5% over the same period. Both growth rates are lower than the previous month. Food inflation is also easing, releasing some pressures on household budgets. Headline inflation rose 0.1% in March, slowing the annual rate of inflation to 4.2%. Month over month inflation was the softest since July.
First Quarter U.S. GDP
Gross domestic product (GDP) increased in the first quarter of 2023 to 1.6% year-over-year, matching economists’ expectations. Seasonally adjusted GDP only grew 1.1% year-over-year, which came in short of estimates. The increase in real GDP was supported by consumer spending, exports, federal government spending, state and local government spending, along with nonresidential fixed investment.
April U.S. Consumer Confidence
U.S. consumer confidence declined to a nine-month low in April as worries about the future economic landscape mounted as some believing the economy is headed for a recession later this year. Surveyed individuals planning to buy household appliances over the next six months dropped to 41%, which represents the smallest percentage since September 2011. In addition, the percentage of respondents planning to buy motor vehicles was the smallest in nine months.
March Eurozone Consumer Sentiment
Eurozone consumer confidence improved for the fifth consecutive month, reflecting optimism that the region may experience at the very worst a mild recession, despite the energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Consumer sentiment was also supported by a relatively mild winter, which helped reduce energy consumption amid increased gas storage initiatives last year.
China March Industrial Production
China’s industrial firms’ profits shrank at a slightly slower pace during the first quarter; however, the decline remained in the double-digits at over 20% year-over-year, as the nation continues to struggle amid last year’s zero-COVID-19 policy. During March, China’s industrial profits declined over 19% year-over-year. Slowing global demand is seen as the culprit, although some analysts expect a recovery later this year.
Weekly Unemployment Report
Initial and continuing claims for the latest week came in just below economists’ expectations as well as compared to the prior week. The labor market is expected to further loosen up during the second quarter as companies respond to slowing demand triggered by the Fed’s hawkish sentiment.
In addition to a busy week of earnings reports from corporate America, the following economic data is slated for the week ahead:
- Monday: S&P Global PMI Manufacturing (Apr), Construction Spending (Mar), ISM Manufacturing (Apr)
- Tuesday: Durable Orders (Mar), Factory Orders (Mar), JOLTS Job Openings (Mar)
- Wednesday: ADP Employment Survey (Apr), PMI Composite (Apr), S&P Global PMI Services (Apr), ISM Services PMI (Apr), FOMC Meeting
- Thursday: Weekly Initial and Continuing Unemployment Claims, Unit Labor Costs (Q1), Productivity (Q1), Trade Balance (Mar)
- Friday: Hourly Earnings (Apr), Average Workweek (Apr), Manufacturing Payrolls (Apr), Non-farm Payrolls (Apr), Private Nonfarm Payrolls (Apr), Consumer Credit (Mar), April Unemployment Report
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