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Market Update: Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Market Update

  • Stock advance continues following record-setting week. (10:15am ET) U.S. stocks are moving higher in early trading as markets reopen following the Presidents’ Day holiday. All three major averages ended the prior week at record highs; the S&P 500 (+0.2%) advanced modestly as telecom (+0.9%) was the best performing sector. Equities in Asia closed mostly higher overnight amid a quiet session, though the Hang Seng lost 0.8%. European markets are seeing broad strength in afternoon trading (STOXX Europe 600 +0.5%) as investors sift through PMI data that came in mostly above expectations; the U.K.’s FTSE is the exception (-0.1%) as disappointing earnings in the banking sector drag it lower. Finally, Treasuries are losing ground as the yield on the 10-year note is up to 2.44%, WTI crude oil ($54.78/barrel) is up 1.9%, and COMEX gold ($1234/oz.) is slipping 0.4%.

Macro View

  • Treasury prices initially lower, then rebound late week. Last week began with Chinese consumer price index (CPI) and producer price index (PPI) data rising much more than analyst estimates, setting the tone for more inflationary pressure on U.S. Treasuries. On Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chair Yellen, in her semi-annual testimony before Congress, stated that it would be “unwise to wait too long to hike interest rates.” This moved the yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury higher by 8 basis points (0.08%) to 2.52%, as investors began to price in a March rate hike. Thursday’s session saw a slight rebound in prices following a move lower in European yields as the Greek bond market stabilized. This week, investors will be watching the economic calendar for more evidence of inflation.
  • Inflation expectations edge up. The 10-year breakeven inflation rate finished last week slightly higher, moving from 2.01% to 2.02%. Importantly, the breakeven rate is above the Fed’s 2% inflation target. In this week’s Bond Market Perspectives, we take a deeper look at Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) and why, despite solid performance relative to Treasuries in the second half of 2016, there may be further opportunity within the asset class for investors seeking credit and inflation protection.
  • Municipals supply lower on the week. Muni supply, as measured by the Bond Buyer 30-day visible supply data, remains below the 10-year average of approximately $11 billion, coming in at $7.5 billion last week. Supply is expected to remain light due to the holiday-shortened week. However, March and April supply is expected to grow as the Bloomberg fixed rate calendar supply data already shows an increase in supply from $6 billion on Thursday, February 16 to $7.6 billion today.
  • Investment-grade corporates spread breaches 1.2% level. As measured by the Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate Index, this level had provided resistance since late January. As equities made a decisive move higher over the last two weeks, investment-grade corporates have followed suit. Equity strength, investors’ demand for high-quality yield (above that of Treasuries), and increased prospects for corporate tax reform were all contributed to the spread contraction.
  • Earnings dipped last week but estimates still holding firm. Q4 2016 earnings for the S&P 500 are now tracking to a 7.5% year-over-year increase (as measured by Thomson), down about 1% over the past week on insurance industry declines. Financials and technology are still on course for solid double-digit earnings gains. While a 7.5% growth rate is certainly nothing to sneeze at, the better news may be that consensus 2017 estimates are down only 1.1% since earnings season began (and still up over 10% versus 2016), buoyed by flat or positive revisions to financials, energy and industrials estimates. Interestingly, these sectors are particularly policy sensitive, suggesting policy hopes are seeping into analyst and management team outlooks
  • We share five observations about Q4 earnings in our latest Weekly Market Commentary. Fourth quarter earnings season has not been a blowout by any stretch, but growth has been solid and puts the earnings recession further in the rear view mirror. While potential policies out of Washington, D.C. have dominated discussions, there are many other things to talk about, including resilient guidance, strong profit margins, and solid results from the financials and industrials sectors.
  • Leading indicators rise. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI), an aggregate of indicators that tends to lead overall economic activity, rose a strong 0.6% month over month in January, beating the expected 0.4% increase and better than December’s also-strong 0.5% gain. The LEI is now up 2.5% year over year, a rate of change that historically has been accompanied by low risk of recession in the next year.
  • Domestic oil markets in focus in our Weekly Economic Commentary. The addition to U.S. supply from shale deposits over the past decade is well known, but demand has changed as well, influenced heavily by our choice of vehicles as well as fuel efficiency standards. President Trump has signed a number of executive orders related to energy, most notably on the Keystone XL Pipeline. However, the administration has not weighed in on other issues, such as fuel economy standards. Any policy changes, as well as how they are enacted, could influence both U.S. supply and demand considerations.
  • European economic growth accelerates. A series of PMI data was released in Europe overnight, pointing to growth increasing at a faster rate than expected. Data from the two largest countries, France and Germany, were better than expected. The Eurozone composite reading (including services and manufacturing) registered 56, the highest reading in 70 months. Inflation in France remained contained at 1.3%, though many in Europe believe that the stronger economy will lead to higher inflation data in the near future.
  • More new highs. Equities staged a late-day rally on Friday to close at new record highs. In fact, the S&P 500 closed at its ninth record high for 2017. This is halfway to the 18 from 2016 and nearly to the 10 record highs made during 2015. Although no one knows how many more new highs will be made this year, it is important to note that they tend to happen in clusters potentially lasting decades. Going back to the Great Depression[1], there have been two long clusters of new highs – from 1954 to 1968 and from 1980 to 2000. The years in between were marked by secular bear markets and a lack of new highs. Could the current streak of new highs that started in 2013 last for many more years? We will take a closer look at this question today on the LPL Research blog.
    [1] Please note: The modern design of the S&P 500 stock index was first launched in 1957. Performance back to 1928 incorporates the performance of predecessor index, the S&P 90.
  • Four in a row. The S&P 500 gained 1.5% last week, closing higher for the fourth consecutive week for the first time since July 2016. The last time it made it to five weeks in a row was coming off of the February 2016 lows. Of the last 12 times the S&P 500 has been up four consecutive weeks, 10 of those times it has closed even higher two weeks later, so momentum can continue in the near term. The S&P 500 has been up only 3.5% in the current streak – the weakest four-week win streak in nearly five years. Going back to 1990, when the S&P 500 is up four weeks in a row, but with a total gain less than 4%, the average return the following two weeks is twice as strong (1.0% versus 0.5%) as the average return after all four-week win streaks.

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