2019 Starts with a Bang – Like 2018 Did
Stocks rose for the third consecutive week to start the new year and the comparisons to the beginnings of 2018 are eerily similar. In 2019, small–caps are outperforming, and the recent gains dragged the Russell 2000 Index out of bear market territory (a decline of 20% or more from recent highs), making it the last major benchmark to climb out of its bear market malaise.
With a few more weeks like this past week, we will be right back to celebrating the market cresting that psychological 25,000–point barrier, which it did in early January 2018.
Eyes and Ears on the Fed
Minutes from the Fed’s December meeting were released on Wednesday and the general interpretation is that the Fed has some room to slow down the pace of future rate hikes.
Fed Chair Powell noted that the Fed would let incoming economic data guide policy and current inflation numbers are well within the Fed’s comfort zone of 2%, especially in light of the fact that consumer prices fell last month, mainly due to a drop in fuel prices. Stripping out food and energy, core inflation is up approximately 2.2% in the past year.
The markets appear to be pricing in at least two quarter–point rate hikes in 2019 toward the second half of the year.
The yield on the benchmark 10–year Treasury note ended the week slightly higher as the flight to its safe–haven slowed down.
Government Shutdown Not Moving the Markets – Yet
Interesting to note that the markets have returned three consecutive weeks of positive gains despite the partial government shutdown that is also entering its third week, with not much hope for a resolution soon.
Common sense would suggest that the longer the shutdown occurs, the greater the impact it will have on the economy and markets over time, but so far the impact to the markets have been small.
There are a few data points, however, that investors will watch carefully. Specifically, small business optimism fell in December and the Institute for Supply Management’s gauge of service sector activity fell much more than expected.
Then to close the week out, the Labor Department reported that consumer prices rose in line with consensus forecasts, with the core inflation (which excludes food and energy costs) increasing by 2.2% versus a year ago. The Consumer Price Index numbers were in line with expectations.