Corporate earnings results for Google and Meta helped push the averages higher this week, while Microsoft results were somewhat disappointing. The net result was higher stock prices for many sectors of the markets.
The most interesting change that I perceived in the overall markets this week was the FOMC's lack of impact on financial markets. Over the past year, these monthly two-day Fed events were market-moving. Investors parsed every word of every sentence in the meeting notes and spent hours and even days interpreting every answer that Chair Jay Powell uttered in the Q&A session.
This week, the Fed raised Fed fund rates yet again to a 22-year high at 5.25 percent. They also insisted that there could be more hikes to come if the data warranted. Nothing changed in their hawkish policy stance and yet, the markets closed flat on the day. It appears investors were far more interested in the earnings results of Meta which were announced after the close than on what the Fed had to say.
Granted, the markets expected and had already discounted a rate raise and a continuation of the Fed's policies. They also believe that even another rate raise or two is not going to have much of an impact on the overall health of the economy and corporate earnings.
Lending strength to this argument was the latest data on the U.S. economy which grew at a faster-than-expected pace in the second quarter of 2023. Gross Domestic Product grew at an annualized pace of 2.4 percent, which was faster than the consensus forecasts of 1.8 percent.
Readers may recall that the first quarter was revised upward to a 2 percent growth rate. Both consumer spending and nonresidential fixed investment were the engines of growth behind the results. To put this in perspective, these results were achieved despite 11 hikes in interest rates over the last year. At the same time, this week's unemployment claims continued to fall, indicating that employment is still robust. In addition, the Fed's favorite inflation gauge, the Personal Consumption Expenditures Index (PCE) dropped last month to its lowest level since March 2021.
What does that mean for the financial markets? It means that the era of a Fed-driven stock market may be coming to an end.
In the future, barring any drastic change in the world economies such as a rebound in inflation, a severe global recession, or another geopolitical event, investors may begin to emphasize fundamentals over Fed policy. Things like economic prospects, future revenues, income, profits, and the like could take a front seat in determining the proper level of equities in general and individual stocks in particular.
One change overseas caught my attention. The Bank of Japan's (BOJ) monetary policy has been dovish for years, but that may be changing. The central bank loosened its yield curve control that has anchored the yield on their ten-year government bond (JGB) at 0 percent for some time. The BOJ is planning to start purchasing 10-year JGBs at 1 percent through fixed-rate operations. Although minor, the change may indicate that Japan may be reversing its interest rate policies just as other countries are cutting or slowing their rate raises. If so, this could have a far-reaching impact on U.S. interest rates (higher) and the dollar(lower).
The S&P 500 Index topped 4,600 this week, so we are getting closer to my 4,630 target. At this point, it would not surprise me to see a pullback in August of the 5-6 percent variety sometime in the next few weeks.
Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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