Weekly Market Commentary May 13, 2024

Morgan Kenwood |

The Markets

Higher rates are doing what they’re supposed to do.

Last week, Federal Reserve officials spoke about keeping the federal funds rate higher until it becomes clear that inflation will reach the Fed’s two percent target rate.

While people typically don’t mind earning more interest on their saving and investment accounts, higher rates are painful for consumers. That pain is why higher rates help lower inflation. They discourage borrowing and cause people to buy fewer goods. Lower demand for goods and services should lead to lower inflation, reported Trina Paul of CNBC.

So far, the biggest fly in the inflation-reduction ointment is housing. Diccon Hyatt of Investopedia explained:

“In the first two decades of the 21st century, the U.S. built 5.5 million fewer homes than were needed, the National Association of Realtors estimated in a 2021 report…The effects of that housing shortage are rippling through the economy, most obviously in the form of soaring home prices…official inflation rates, which are designed to measure the cost of living, are highly sensitive to any changes in housing costs. Housing costs make up 45% of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the most widely watched measure of inflation.”

May data show consumers are feeling discouraged.

The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment dropped 13 percent from April to May. “[The] decline is statistically significant and brings sentiment to its lowest reading in about six months. This month’s trend in sentiment is characterized by a broad consensus across consumers, with decreases across age, income, and education groups…They expressed worries that inflation, unemployment, and interest rates may all be moving in an unfavorable direction in the year ahead,” stated Surveys of Consumers Director Joanne Hsu.

While consumer sentiment dragged on markets, first quarter corporate earnings reports were stronger than expected, which lifted U.S. stocks. “With well over 80% of the S&P 500 having reported results, companies are on track to have increased earnings by 7.8%, well ahead of the April expectation of 5.1% growth,” reported a source cited by Lewis Krauskopf of Reuters.

Declining sentiment caused U.S. stocks to stumble on Friday; however, major indices finished the week higher. Yields on many maturities of 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.

DATA PRIVACY WILL VARY. For decades, companies have plundered the digital world for valuable treasure – information about you. When it comes to controlling how personal data are used, some people are better protected than others. It often depends on where you live.

For example, in 2016, the European Union (EU) adopted its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The law is built on the idea that individuals have the right to own their personal information and decide who can use it, reported Fredric Bellamy of Reuters.

In contrast, federal law in the U.S. allows businesses and organizations to collect personal data without the express consent of the people whose information is being collected. The government may step in to prevent or mitigate harm to the individual in certain sectors.

In addition to choosing the type of data websites may collect, consumers can consult the free buyer’s guide created by a software firm’s foundation. The guide, called *Privacy Not Included, rates the privacy and security of connected toys, gadgets, and smart products. Among the many groups that have earned a warning label in the buyer’s guide are:

  • Dating apps. “Most dating apps (80%) may share or sell your personal information for advertising…It’s a bit strange because…apps work on a subscription model. So with dating apps, it’s not your money or your privacy. It’s often both. We also couldn’t confirm whether half (52%) of the apps do the bare minimum to keep all your personal information safe, by meeting our Minimum Security Standards,” reported Jen Caltrider, Misha Rykov and Zoë MacDonald.

  • Automobile companies. “Car makers have been bragging about their cars being ‘computers on wheels’ for years to promote their advanced features. However, the conversation about what driving a computer means for its occupants' privacy hasn’t really caught up…[car brands] can collect personal information from how you interact with your car, the connected services you use in your car, the car’s app (which provides a gateway to information on your phone), and can gather even more information about you from third party sources.” One company sold personal driving data to brokers who used the information to formulate “risk scores”. The scores were then sold to insurance companies, causing some drivers’ premiums to increase significantly.

Some states have stepped in to provide additional protections for their residents. In March of 2024, there were “…15 states – California, Virginia, Connecticut, Colorado, Utah, Iowa, Indiana, Tennessee, Oregon, Montana, Texas, Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, and New Hampshire – that have comprehensive data privacy laws in place,” reported Bloomberg Law.

In April, federal lawmakers proposed a law, the American Privacy Rights Act, that could give consumers control over how their information is used by companies that collect it, as well as the right to opt out of certain types of data collection, reported Cristiano Lima-Strong of The Washington Post.

Weekly Focus – Think About It 

“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.”

--Jeff Bezos, CEO