Market Commentary - Week Ending 1/27/2018


  • Healthcare stocks lead the market to fresh new highs
  • International emerging markets continue to outpace other markets around the world
  • The economy remains strong but slipped below the 3% desired growth rate in the fourth quarter

Market Performance Summary

Source: S&P Compustat, www.yahoo.com/finance for Commodities

Notable Market Headlines

Again, stocks continued their record setting run but this week was even better than the last as every sector of the market and every major asset class moved higher! U.S. large stocks, measured by the S&P 500, surged higher by +2.2% and are now +7.4% year-to-date. The Dow Jones Industrials have done slightly better for the year with a gain of +7.7% and the NASDAQ even better up +8.6%. It has been an incredible start to 2018 but, as noted in this blog a couple of weeks ago, it’s not unprecedented.

Small U.S. stocks have been lagging behind in 2018 and did so again this week by a large margin gaining only +0.6% and higher year-to-date by +4.7%. The general view is that investors believe the new U.S. tax plan tends to benefit large multi-national companies more so that it does smaller domestically focused companies.

Again, every major market sector was higher this week with Healthcare stocks surging +3.8% and higher by +10.6% for the year. The only sector in negative territory year-to-date are Utilities but they did reverse the trend this week with a gain of +2.0%. As the accompanying graph shows, the Consumer Discretionary sector is the second best performer so far in 2018 helped by stocks such as Netflix (NFLX) gaining +43.1% (see below for more on Netflix) and traditional retailer Kohl’s (KSS) up +26.1%.

Source: S&P Compustat

It has been a globally synchronized stock market rally with International Stocks performing extremely well also. Developed country stocks are higher by +7.0% year-to-date including this week’s gain of +1.5%. A couple of standout countries are Italy’s markets up +13.1% for the year and Spain’s by +10.6%. Emerging markets are doing even better with the average surging +3.3% for the week and higher by +10.5% in 2018. The emerging market star for the week was Brazil’s market surging +6.4% to a record higher influenced by the conviction of the former President on Wednesday.

All three major alternative asset classes gained for the week including real estate higher by +1.4% which is a reversal of the trend since the start of the year. As interest rates rise, or at least the expectation of higher interest rates, there could be downward pressure on this group. Commodities continued to surge gaining +2.8% for the week and now higher by +9.5% year-to-date. This continues a strong trend that started in mid-2017. Gold gained 1.3%...an investment that could benefit long-term from higher interest rates and higher inflation if it materializes.

Bonds did inch higher by +0.2% for the week, pushing yields slightly lower, but prices remain down year-to-date by -0.9%. Potentially having a huge impact on bonds long-term was the, as expected, final Senate approval of the new Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. It is believed that his views are generally similar to those of current Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s which is expected to result in multiple rate hikes in 2018.

Winners and Losers by Sector

Source: S&P Compustat

Stock Highlights

Netflix (NFLX), the leading provider of internet television, reported stellar earnings driving its stock higher for the week by a phenomenal +24.6%! The company added 8.33 million new subscribers in the fourth quarter, the highest ever and better than Wall Street expectations. The company went on to say the first quarter is shaping up better than expected.

Netflix stock is up a stunning +43.1% for the year following a great 2017 gain of +55.1%. 2017 and 2018 are not entirely unusual for this stock though as it has been the best performing stock in the S&P 500 since its initial public offering in May 2002 with a cumulative gain of +17,733%! This tops the performance of other leading technology stocks during the same time as the accompany graph shows.

Source: S&P Compustat

Intel (INTC), the global leader in the computer chip business, reported fourth quarter earnings that exceeded Wall Street estimates by 20% on a 4% increase in revenue to $17.1 billion. The company has had some recent bad news regarding its chips and security that brought its stock price down. This week, though, it surged to new recent highs up +11.7% for the week. In spite of this gain, the stock remains below its 2000 high more than 17 years ago by 34%.

Whirlpool (WHR), the household name in home appliances, reported fourth quarter earnings that were somewhat disappointing but hinted at improvements in profit margins going forward. Expected to help the company is the new tariff on washing machines making foreign made competitors machines more expensive. Whirlpool’s stock gained +11.0% for the week but remains below its 2015 high.

Apple (AAPL) stock fell -3.9% while the rest of the market had one of its best weeks in recent memory. The stock has gotten off to a disappointing start to the year with a gain of just +1.3% as compared to the tech-heavy NASDAQ up +8.6%. This stock did outperform the NASDAQ in 2017 but investors may be showing some concern about the number of iPhones sold during the holiday shopping quarter.

United Continental (UAL), one of the nation’s largest airlines, reported strong earnings for the fourth quarter. At the same time the company said it will be growing its capacity by 3.5% - 4.5% in the first quarter. This is apparently spooking investors with the stock dropping -13.0% for the week. Other airlines fell in sympathy including American Airlines (AAL), Delta Air Lines (DAL), and Southwest (LUV).

Economic Indicator - Reported

The first estimate of for fourth quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) came in below estimates at 2.6%. This was below the 3.0% growth rate in the second and third quarters but still remains above the 2.0% level generally experienced since 2000. The economy is considered to be healthy and growing even after being the third longest expansion in history. Optimism for continued growth is high as consumer spending and business investment is strong fueled in part by the reduction in Federal tax rates.

The headlines for Durable Goods Orders, orders placed with U.S. manufacturers, came in far above expectations at +2.9%. When excluding the volatile transportation sector the gain was just +0.6% as economists had expected. The was generally a good report but some weakness exists in orders for computers and communications equipment.

New Home Sales declined -9.3% in December to an annual rate of 625,000 which was far below economists’ estimates of 683,000. This report though is in comparison to November which was a record month during this long economic expansion suggesting that December’s report was still relatively health. Existing home sales were similar with November being a record month since the current economic expansion began but were lower in December.

Economic Indicators – Upcoming

The January employment report will be the economic highlight of the week with estimates of the economy adding 176,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remaining unchanged at 4.1%. This 17-year low unemployment rate suggests the economy is at or near full employment which has been expected to put upward pressure on wages that has yet to materialize. Average hourly earnings are up +2.5% year-over-year through December and are expected to inch higher in January.

The Case-Shiller Housing Price Index for 20 large cities is expected to have increased by +0.6% in the most recent month for a gain of 6.4% year-over-year. A combination of rising home prices and a rising stock market have resulted in a tremendous increase in wealth for many Americans in 2017.

There are host of other reports expected. Fourth quarter Productivity is estimated to have improved by +1.1% which is believed to have kept cost pressures contained. Consumer Confidence, a government survey, trended sharply higher in 2017, reaching multi-year highs, and is expected to have improved again just slightly relative to the prior month’s reading. On the other hand, Consumer Sentiment, a survey done by the University of Michigan, has flattened out a drifted lower in recent months. Economists estimate that it will also up slightly from the prior month.

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