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Weekly Market Commentary October 16, 2023

Weekly Market Commentary

October 16, 2023

 

The Markets

 

Markets were resilient.

 

Last week, investors had a lot to process – geopolitics, inflation, consumer sentiment, the possibility of government shutdown – and markets were volatile. Toward the end of the week, some investors were reassured when earnings season kicked off with reports showing major banks posted stronger-than-expected profits during the third quarter. Here’s a brief look at what happened during the week:

 

War in Israel. Hamas terrorists attacked Israel, and Israel declared war. The human toll has been high and continues to increase. The conflict has potential to spread across the region. While economics is a lesser concern, the war may disrupt energy supplies, keeping inflation – and interest rates – higher for longer, according to Ziad Daoud, Galit Altstein and Bhargavi Sakthivel of Bloomberg.

 

U.S. inflation proved persistent. In September, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed prices rose 3.7 percent year-over-year. When volatile food and energy prices were excluded, inflation was 4.1 percent year-over-year. Inflation has fallen a long way from its June 2022 peak of 8.9 percent, but the decline has stalled, and inflation remains well above the Federal Reserve’s two percent target. That reinforces the idea that the U.S. Federal Reserve may leave rates higher for longer, reported Chris Anstey of Bloomberg.

 

Consumers were less optimistic. Inflation is affecting the finances of individuals and businesses, according to the University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers Director Joanne Hsu. The October consumer sentiment survey found, “Assessments of personal finances declined about 15%, primarily on a substantial increase in concerns over inflation, and one-year expected business conditions plunged about 19%. However, long-run expected business conditions are little changed, suggesting that consumers believe the current worsening in economic conditions will not persist.”

 

U.S. budget negotiations remained stalled. Congress has about a month left to negotiate and pass the appropriations bills necessary to fund the U.S. government for fiscal 2024. However, the House of Representatives currently cannot proceed without an elected Speaker of the House. On November 17, stop-gap funding measures end. Without additional funding measures a government shutdown is possible, reported David Morgan, Richard Cowan, and Moira Warburton of Reuters.

 

Banks did well in the third quarter. Earnings season got off to a good start last week. Major U.S. banks were the first to report, and some saw profits rise significantly in the third quarter. One large bank reported its profit was 35 percent higher, year-over-year.

 

Major U.S. stock indices finished a volatile week higher. Bond markets produced mixed results with yields on longer maturities of U.S. Treasuries moving lower.

 

S&P 500, Dow Jones Global ex-US, Gold, Bloomberg Commodity Index returns exclude reinvested dividends (gold does not pay a dividend) and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; and the 10-year Treasury Note is simply the yield at the close of the day on each of the historical time periods. 

Sources: Yahoo! Finance; MarketWatch; djindexes.com; U.S. Treasury; London Bullion Market Association.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. N/A means not applicable.

 

WHERE IN THE WORLD DO PEOPLE SLEEP WELL? Scientists have been studying how to slow aging and extend longevity. One factor that can affect your lifespan is how well you sleep. According to a new study, there are five hallmarks of a good sleeper. They:

 

1)   Sleep 7 to 8 hours a night,

2)   Have little difficulty falling asleep,

3)   Stay asleep through the night on most nights,

4)   Feel well-rested after waking up most mornings, and

5)   Don’t rely on sleeping pills.

 

People who are good sleepers tend have longer life expectancy, reported the American College of Cardiology. Men who sleep well live 4.7 years longer, on average, and women who sleep well gain 2.4 years, on average.

 

Of course, there are always exceptions. Scientists have discovered that some people are naturally short sleepers. They can get far less sleep, often four to six hours a night, without suffering any negative effects. So far, research has identified three genes that allow people to sleep less without experiencing physical or cognitive costs, reported Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

 

Where you live may affect the quality of your sleep, too, according to a National University in Singapore study. It found that the least successful sleepers are in Asia, where people tend to snooze for less than 6.5 hours a night during the week. The most successful sleepers are in Ireland, New Zealand, Slovakia and the Netherlands. In general, people in countries with high-quality sleep averaged seven hours on weeknights. People in the United States weren’t far behind, slumbering for 6.9 hours, on average, from Monday through Friday.

 

Life expectancy is a key factor when planning for retirement. If you have any questions about how lifespan can affect retirement saving and retirement income, get in touch.

 

Weekly Focus – Think About It

“Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you.”

—Aldous Huxley, author

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Weekly Market Commentary October 9, 2023

Weekly Market Commentary

October 09, 2023

 

The Markets

 

Financial markets lost ground during the third quarter.

 

While year-to-date returns for the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index remain above the historic average, which was 10.24 percent, including dividends, from 1973 to 2022, the rally in U.S. stocks stalled during the third quarter of 2023, reported Lewis Krauskopf, Ankika Biswas and Shashwat Chauhan of Reuters.

 

Early in the quarter, U.S. stocks gained, driven higher by better-than-expected corporate earnings, falling inflation and optimism that the Federal Reserve (Fed) might be near the end of its rate-hiking cycle. Since March of 2022, the Fed has lifted the Federal Funds effective federal funds rate from near zero to 5.33 percent and reduced its bond holdings by $1 trillion through quantitative tightening, reported Michael S. Derby of Reuters.

 

The Fed’s actions are designed to bring inflation lower by slowing economic growth and reducing demand for goods and services. However, the U.S. economy continues to hum along. The labor market has been particularly resilient. Last week’s employment data showed number of jobs created in September was almost double the Dow Jones consensus estimate, reported Jeff Cox of CNBC. The U.S. unemployment rate remained near historically low levels, and the labor force participation rate increased over the quarter.

 

The strong economy has been a source of significant uncertainty. Some economists believe it is an indication the Fed has engineered a soft landing and inflation will reach targeted levels without a recession, although 60 percent of the economists surveyed by Bloomberg continue to say a recession is ahead, reported Rich Miller, Molly Smith and Kyungjin Yoo.

 

Government turmoil also has created uncertainty. In early August, Fitch Ratings surprised financial markets by lowering its rating on U.S. Treasuries from AAA to AA+. The company indicated that “a high and growing general government debt burden, and the erosion of governance” were the impetus for the downgrade.

 

In September, when Congress debated whether to approve the necessary appropriations bills to fund the U.S. government for fiscal 2024, Moody’s Investors Service – the only remaining major credit rating agency to award U.S. Treasuries a AAA rating – warned that a government shutdown would be a “credit negative” event, reported Matt Phillips of Axios. Congress temporarily avoided a government shutdown by passing a continuing resolution that provides funding through mid-November.

 

By the end of the quarter, optimism that the end of the Fed’s tightening cycle was near had faded amid uncertainty about the strength of the economy, the possibility of a government shutdown, and a growing number of labor disputes. In late September, the Fed released its economic projections, making it clear that an additional rate hike was possible in 2023, and rate cuts were unlikely before 2024.

 

The Fed’s hawkish outlook helped push stock and bond markets lower. In late September, the S&P 500 Index was down about 7 percent from its July high. From August through September, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose from 4.05 percent to 4.59 percent. Bond prices fall as yields rise.

 

Last week, despite the strong jobs report bolstering the likelihood of another Fed rate hike, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite Indices moved higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Index lost ground. Yields on U.S. Treasuries generally moved higher over the week.

 

S&P 500, Dow Jones Global ex-US, Gold, Bloomberg Commodity Index returns exclude reinvested dividends (gold does not pay a dividend) and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; and the 10-year Treasury Note is simply the yield at the close of the day on each of the historical time periods. 

Sources: Yahoo! Finance; MarketWatch; djindexes.com; U.S. Treasury; London Bullion Market Association.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. N/A means not applicable.

 

STRANGE BUT TRUE…The animal world is filled with wonders. For example, National Geographic reports that the world’s lightest mammal is the Bumblebee bat. It weighs in at two grams – about the same as two standard paper clips. See what you know about recent occurrences in the natural world by taking this brief quiz.

 

1.   Flamingos that may have been flying from Cuba to the Yucatan were blown off course by Hurricane Idalia. So far, they’ve been found in 12 U.S. states, according to news reports. What is the northernmost state where they have been found?

a.   Minnesota

b.   Wisconsin

c.    Montana

d.   Alaska

 

2.   Scientists believe that the ability to solve problems independently is a sign of intelligence among animals. In a recent study, scientists scattered “puzzle boxes with three differently configured compartments that contained highly aromatic jackfruit” across an area to see whether Asian elephants would be willing and able to open the boxes. How many of the 44 elephants that approached the boxes were able to figure out at least one way to open them?

a.   37

b.   24

c.    11

d.   4

 

3.   Blue is one of the rarest colors in nature. Last year, explorers in Thailand found a new species of creature with iridescent blue patches on its body. What type of creature was it?

a.   A sloth

b.   A snail-eating snake

c.    A tarantula

d.   An owl

 

Weekly Focus – Think About It

 

Dreams

By Langston Hughes

 

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

 

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

 

Answers: 1) b; 2) c; 3) c

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Weekly Market Commentary October 2, 2023

Weekly Market Commentary

October 02, 2023

 

The Markets

 

Inflation is slowing but consumers aren’t feeling it.

 

In August, for the first time in two years, inflation (excluding volatile food and energy costs) dropped below four percent. Last week, one of the Federal Reserve (Fed)’s favored inflation measures – the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Price Index – indicated that prices rose 3.9 percent, year-over-year, in August 2023. That’s an improvement from January, when prices rose by 4.9 percent, year-over-year, but it remains above the Fed’s target of 2 percent.

 

While slowing inflation is good news, many Americans are not feeling relief. “Even as the Federal Reserve’s favored measure of price gains eases, the cost of food, gasoline, car insurance and other essentials is still elevated after two years of persistent increases…It costs $734 more each month to buy the same goods and services as two years ago for households who earn the median income,” according to a source cited by Mark Niquette, Jarrell Dillard and Michael Sasso of The Washington Post.

 

Ongoing pain in the pocketbook is due, in part, to higher oil prices, which are not included in core inflation numbers. The price of crude oil rose to the highest level in more than a year last week, before falling slightly. Rising prices resulted from low inventories and reduced production levels among OPEC+ (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries plus 11 other non-OPEC members) that reduced global oil supply, reported Lee Ying Shan of CNBC. In August, the cost of gasoline, lubricants, and other oil-related products rose, reported Jeffry Bartash of MarketWatch.

 

Regardless of oil prices, investors were hopeful last week that the Fed might not raise rates again in 2023. Revised economic data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed the economy grew at a slightly slower pace in the second quarter of 2023 than it did in the first quarter. In addition, consumer spending, which is the primary driver behind economic growth in the United States, cooled. The data suggest the Fed is making progress – reducing price pressures by slowing economic growth and lowering demand for goods.

 

Stocks moved higher on Thursday before reversing course. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Standard & Poor’s 500 Index finished the week lower, according to Barron’s. Yields on longer-term U.S. Treasuries moved higher over the week.

 

S&P 500, Dow Jones Global ex-US, Gold, Bloomberg Commodity Index returns exclude reinvested dividends (gold does not pay a dividend) and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; and the 10-year Treasury Note is simply the yield at the close of the day on each of the historical time periods. 

Sources: Yahoo! Finance; MarketWatch; djindexes.com; U.S. Treasury; London Bullion Market Association.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. N/A means not applicable.

 

THE DOS AND DON’TS OF CELLPHONE ETIQUETTE. Many people of a certain age were taught a set of rules for making phone calls (between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.), talking on the phone (never do it while eating or brushing your teeth), and greeting callers (“Hello” or “Good morning/afternoon” and never “What do you want?”).

 

As cellphones have become ubiquitous, the etiquette of phone calls has changed. Here are a few “dos and don’ts” of evolving cellphone etiquette:

 

·        Don’t leave voicemail messages. Many people read transcripts of voice messages rather than listening to the message itself. Often transcription is inaccurate. If information needs to be communicated in a timely and accurate way, it is better to send a text message, reported Heather Kelly of The Washington Post.

 

·        Do text before calling. While baby boomers grew up making and receiving phone calls (often on landlines with long tangled cords), younger generations find phone calls to be inefficient, time-consuming, presumptuous, and disruptive, according to a survey conducted by the BankMyCell blog. They also find phone calls to be stressful, and four-in-five indicated they must ratchet up their courage before making a call.

 

·        Don’t take calls in a public place (or use your speakerphone in public). Find a private area to take the call or offer to call the person back when you have privacy. It is discourteous to the people around you to chat in public and it may jeopardize the privacy of the person on the phone. For similar reasons, it is never a good idea to use a speakerphone in a public place, advises Lisa Lyons of Events & Etiquette.

 

Despite a growing preference for texting, calling is not passé. “While hopping on the phone may be less common or involve more planning than it used to, it’s still a wonderful way to communicate. Talking to a person in real time can strengthen relationships, improve mental health, and lessen loneliness,” reported The Washington Post.

 

Weekly Focus – Think About It

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

—Anne Lamott, author

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Weekly Market Commentary September 25, 2023

Weekly Market Commentary

September 25, 2023

 

The Markets

 

How high will they go?

 

Just as the market anticipated, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) chose not to raise interest rates last week. However, Fed officials made it clear another rate increase might be necessary before the end of 2023 as continued economic strength, higher energy prices, robust consumer spending, and rising wages in a strong labor market have kept upward pressure on inflation.

 

FOMC economic projections indicate the Fed anticipates the effective federal funds rate will remain higher for longer than many hoped. The median projected rates were:

 

·        5.6 percent in 2023,

·        5.1 percent in 2024, and

·        3.9 percent in 2025.

 

Fed Chair Jerome Powell indicated that an economic soft landing – a slowdown in economic growth that results in lower inflation without a recession – remains a possibility, reported Howard Schneider and Michael S. Derby of Reuters.

 

Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers warned that any expectation for a soft landing might be too optimistic as significant risks remain, including upward pressure on wages, slowing consumer spending, and higher borrowing costs, reported Chris Anstey of Bloomberg. As a result, it’s possible the Fed could be surprised by weaker economic growth or higher inflation.

 

After the FOMC meeting, yields on bonds moved higher. The yield on a one-year United States Treasury bill finished Wednesday at 5.47 percent, and the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note closed at 4.35 percent.

 

U.S. stock markets moved lower as investors considered the potential effects of high interest rates for longer. Rising interest rates (and tightening bank lending standards) make borrowing more difficult, lifting the cost of capital and lowering profits. When company profits drop, share price valuations tend to move lower, reported Mary Hall in Investopedia.

 

As investors mulled the Fed’s outlook, the possibility of a government shutdown, and other factors, major U.S. stock indices finished the week lower, according to Barron’s. Yields on U.S. Treasuries generally moved higher over the week.

 

S&P 500, Dow Jones Global ex-US, Gold, Bloomberg Commodity Index returns exclude reinvested dividends (gold does not pay a dividend) and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; and the 10-year Treasury Note is simply the yield at the close of the day on each of the historical time periods. 

Sources: Yahoo! Finance; MarketWatch; djindexes.com; U.S. Treasury; London Bullion Market Association.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. N/A means not applicable.

 

THE RULES WILL CHANGE IN 2026. Since 2001, workers who are age 50 or older have been able to make catch-up contributions to their workplace retirement plans. As the name implies, the idea was to help people who are behind on saving for retirement catch-up by saving more. For example, if older plan participants reach the annual contribution limit of $22,500, then they can choose to contribute an additional $7,500 in catch-up contributions.

 

However, Secure 2.0 changed the rules for higher-income earners, reported Paul Mullholland in PlanSponsor.

 

Plan participants who earn $145,000 or more each year will no longer be able to make catch-up contributions to traditional plan accounts. Instead, higher-income earners in 401(k) and similar types of retirement plans must direct any catch-up contributions to Roth plan accounts.

 

As a reminder, contributions to traditional plan accounts are typically made with pre-tax dollars so they may help reduce the amount of taxes owed today. In addition, any earnings in traditional plan accounts grow tax deferred. Taxes are owed when a distribution is taken.

 

In contrast, contributions to Roth plan accounts are made with after-tax dollars. While there is no immediate tax benefit, the contributions and any earnings grow tax-free. Distributions are tax-free, too, after the account has been open for five years and the owner has reached age 59½.

 

The change was originally slated for 2024. However, many workplace retirement plans don’t have designated Roth accounts, which presents a problem for higher-income earners who want to save more. To give plan sponsors and administrators time to adjust to the new rules, the change will now take place in 2026.

 

Secure 2.0 also included an opportunity for older retirement plan participants to supercharge their savings efforts. In 2025, participants who are between the ages of 60 and 63 can make bigger catch-up contributions – either $10,000 or 50 percent more than the regular catch-up contribution amount for the year.

 

If you have any questions about retirement plan contributions or how to generate enough income to live comfortably in retirement, please get in touch.

 

Weekly Focus – Think About It

“[In retirement] we do have something we never had before: we have the added pressure of time. We can no longer wait around for the ideal opportunity. If we have not achieved our early dreams, we must either find new ones or see what we can salvage from the old. If we have accomplished what we set out to do in our youth, then we need not weep like Alexander the Great that we have no more worlds to conquer. There is clearly much left to be done, and whatever else we are going to do, we had better get on with it.”

—Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president

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Weekly Market Commentary September 18, 2023

Weekly Market Commentary

September 18, 2023

 

The Markets

 

Adding new ingredients to the economic blender.

 

The performance of United States economy in 2023 has been as unexpected as a lentil-avocado-cinnamon smoothie – a tasty surprise. Last week, economic data suggested the Federal Reserve may need to do more to slow the economy. The consumer price index showed inflation edging higher, wholesale inflation was higher than expected (largely due to higher energy prices), and retail sales were healthy.

 

Stronger-than-expected economic data inspired market optimism that the Federal Reserve will bring inflation down without a recession. However, new ingredients are being added to the economic mix that could prove less palatable. These include:

 

·        A government shutdown. It seems unlikely the House of Representatives will pass the 12 appropriations bills required to fund government operations by the September 30 deadline. It’s possible a temporary spending bill will keep federal agencies operating, but that’s not a certainty. In the past, government shutdowns have been short-lived and had little effect on markets and the economy, reported Matt Phillips of Axios Markets.

 

·        The autoworkers’ strike. Autoworkers went on strike against the Big Three automakers last week. The economic effect is expected to be modest although it affects diverse industries. “The strike will likely cause spillover effects in industries that support domestic vehicle manufacturing, such as petrochemicals, steel and glass, as well as to suppliers that produce component parts, electronics and software,” reported Megan Leonhardt of Barron’s.

 

·        The resumption of student loan payments. “The end of the moratorium on student loans payments is set to take place this fall…monthly payments are expected to resume in October. This will be a major financial shock and additional burden to younger renters or millennials, especially those in the low- and moderate-income group who are rent burdened,” reported Thomas Lasalvia, Nick Villa, Christopher Rosin, Lu Chen, and Mary Le of Moody's Analytics.

 

It's possible these events will result in increased market volatility in coming weeks.

 

Last week, major U.S. stock indices moved lower, according to Barron’s, and yields on longer maturities of Treasuries.

 

S&P 500, Dow Jones Global ex-US, Gold, Bloomberg Commodity Index returns exclude reinvested dividends (gold does not pay a dividend) and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; and the 10-year Treasury Note is simply the yield at the close of the day on each of the historical time periods. 

Sources: Yahoo! Finance; MarketWatch; djindexes.com; U.S. Treasury; London Bullion Market Association.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. N/A means not applicable.

 

AND THE WINNERS ARE…The 33rd First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony honored 10 winners for conducting research into improbable ideas that make people laugh and, also, make them think. The awards “celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative – and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.” The official mascot of the Ig Nobel Prize is “The Stinker,” a graphic of The Thinker toppled onto its back. This year, the winning research included:

 

·        Augmented Gustation Using Electricity won the Nutrition Prize. In a shocking bit of research, Professor Homei Miyashita and Associate Professor Hiromi Nakamura explored flavor and electrification. They explained, “Electric taste is the sensation elicited upon stimulating the tongue with electric current…Our method involves changing the taste of foods and drinks by using electric taste. First, we propose a system to drink beverages using straws that are connected to an electric circuit. Second, we propose a system to eat foods using a fork or chopsticks connected to an electric circuit.”

 

·        The The The The Induction Of Jamais Vu In The Laboratory: Word Alienation And Semantic Satiation received the Literature Prize. Fans of Ted Lasso are familiar with semantic sensation – when repetition causes a word to lose meaning. Chris Moulin, Nicole Bell, Merita Turunen, Arina Baharin, and Akira O’Connor, “…sought to document that the subjective experience of jamais vu can be produced in word alienation tasks, hypothesizing that déjà vu and jamais vu are similar experiential memory phenomena.” They had study participants write the same word over and over and over again, and documented the results.

 

·        Eating Fossils won the Chemistry and Geology Prize. In The Paleontology Association Newsletter No. 96, Professor Jan Zalasiewicz discussed why scientists lick rocks. “Wetting the surface allows fossil and mineral textures to stand out sharply, rather than being lost in the blur of intersecting micro-reflections and micro-refractions that come out of a dry surface…The taste, now, was likely merely registered as generically-slightly-dusty and then instantly forgotten; I had always thought it entirely superfluous to identification. But perhaps not so…”

 

The winners received Zimbabwean 10-trillion-dollar notes. (Relics from a period of hyperinflation in Zimbabwe.) Ig Nobel recipients’ 24/7 lectures, which include a complete technical description delivered in 24 seconds and a concise summary that anyone can understand in just seven words, are available on the Improbable Research website.

 

Weekly Focus – Think About It

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

—Albert Einstein, scientist

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