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Market Brief: September 2023

September 1, 2023

The Markets (as of market close August 31, 2023)

August proved to be a tough month for stocks, with each of the benchmark indexes listed here ending the month notably lower. Investors tried to decipher mixed economic data throughout the month, attempting to gauge the course of the economy, while trying to determine what the Federal Reserve will do with interest rates moving forward.

Speaking of the Federal Reserve, it did not meet in August, so interest rates remained unchanged. However, Fed Chair Jerome Powell spoke at the Jackson Hole Economic Symposium (see below) and reiterated the Fed's intent to continue its restrictive policy until interest rates fell to 2.0%.

Throughout Europe and North America, countries continued to direct economic policy aimed at curtailing consumer price increases. Though inflation certainly cooled, it remained well above targeted levels, prompting central banks to focus policy toward stifling rising prices.

Consumers increased their spending on durable goods and nondurable goods and services. The increase in spending included higher prices for energy. Gross domestic product accelerated in the second quarter (see below), but at a slower pace than in the first quarter. Nevertheless, the economy has advanced each quarter since the second quarter of 2022.

Job growth slowed since the first quarter. The monthly average for job gains in the second quarter was 228,000 compared to 312,000 in the first quarter. Wages continued to rise, however, increasing nearly 4.4% over the last 12 months. Unemployment claims are up from a year ago (see below).

Corporate profits in the United States rose by 1.6% in the second quarter of 2023, surpassing market expectations that predicted a nearly 6.0% decline. Of the 91.2% of S&P 500 companies that reported earnings results, 78.7% reported earnings above analyst expectations, which surpasses the prior four-quarter average of 73.4% and is well-above the long-term average of 66.4%.

The secondary housing market retreated, primarily due to lack of inventory and advancing mortgage rates. However, sales of new homes advanced. Sale prices for existing homes declined, while prices for new, single-family homes increased.

Industrial production, which had declined for two straight months, picked up the pace, albeit minimally (see below). According to the latest survey from the S&P Global US Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index™, purchasing managers also noted a retraction in manufacturing. However, the services sector remained strong.

While the economy remained relatively strong, the stock market followed a strong July with a tepid August. The economic-sensitive Russell 2000 was hit the hardest, falling more than 5.0%. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq each snapped streaks of five straight months of gains. Overall, despite the August downturn, stocks remained in the black for the year.

Each of the market sectors ended August lower, with the exception of energy, which gained 1.3%. Utilities fell more than 6.5%, while consumer staples and real estate dropped more than 3.0%.
Bond prices fell in August, with yields increasing over the previous month. Ten-year Treasury yields rose 18.0 basis points from July. The 2-year Treasury yield ended August at 4.86%, down 5.0 basis points from a month earlier. The dollar climbed higher against a basket of world currencies. Gold prices ended August lower. Crude oil prices climbed in August for the third straight month. After falling for much of the year, a cutback in crude oil production has driven prices higher. Rising oil prices also impacted prices at the pump. The retail price of regular gasoline was $3.813 per gallon on August 28, $0.056 higher than the price a month earlier but $0.014 lower than a year ago.

Chart reflects price changes, not total return. Because it does not include dividends or splits, it should not be used to benchmark the performance of specific investments.

Looking Ahead

The Federal Open Market Committee meets in September, having not convened since July. Indications are that the Committee may be inclined to hike interest rates up 25.0 basis points at this time, and possibly once more before the end of the year. Despite seeing interest rates increased to historic levels, the economy has survived thus far. Gross domestic product has risen in each of the first two quarters of the year. While manufacturing and housing have slowed, job gains have remained steady, while unemployment has changed minimally throughout the year.

Data sources: Economic: Based on data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (unemployment, inflation); U.S. Department of Commerce (GDP, corporate profits, retail sales, housing); S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index (home prices); Institute for Supply Management (manufacturing/services). Performance: Based on data reported in WSJ Market Data Center (indexes); U.S. Treasury (Treasury yields); U.S. Energy Information Administration/ Market Data (oil spot price, WTI, Cushing, OK); (spot gold/silver); Oanda/FX Street (currency exchange rates). News items are based on reports from multiple commonly available international news sources (i.e., wire services) and are independently verified when necessary with secondary sources such as government agencies, corporate press releases, or trade organizations. All information is based on sources deemed reliable, but no warranty or guarantee is made as to its accuracy or completeness. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed herein constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any securities, and should not be relied on as financial advice. Forecasts are based on current conditions, subject to change, and may not come to pass. U.S. Treasury securities are guaranteed by the federal government as to the timely payment of principal and interest. The principal value of Treasury securities and other bonds fluctuates with market conditions. Bonds are subject to inflation, interest-rate, and credit risks. As interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall. A bond sold or redeemed prior to maturity may be subject to loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investing strategy will be successful.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a price-weighted index composed of 30 widely traded blue-chip U.S. common stocks. The S&P 500 is a market-cap weighted index composed of the common stocks of 500 largest, publicly traded companies in leading industries of the U.S. economy. The NASDAQ Composite Index is a market-value weighted index of all common stocks listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. The Russell 2000 is a market-cap weighted index composed of 2,000 U.S. small-cap common stocks. The Global Dow is an equally weighted index of 150 widely traded blue-chip common stocks worldwide. The U.S. Dollar Index is a geometrically weighted index of the value of the U.S. dollar relative to six foreign currencies. Market indexes listed are unmanaged and are not available for direct investment.

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