More treats than tricks for markets in October
October was another positive month for markets. The S&P 500 gained 2.17 percent in October and finished the month at a new high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average grew by 0.59 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite led the way with a 3.71 percent return.
The MSCI EAFE Index increased by 3.59 percent during the month. It spent the beginning of October below its 200-day moving average before breaking above the trend line for the rest of the month. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index increased by 4.23 percent and finished above the trend for the first time since July.
The Federal Reserve cut the federal funds rate by 25 basis points at its October meeting. Interest rates rose slightly on the long end of the curve. The 10-year Treasury yield started the month at 1.65 percent and ended at 1.69 percent. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index increased by 0.30 percent during the month, and the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate High Yield Index gained 0.28 percent.
Economic data points to slower growth
October’s positive returns came despite recent data releases that painted a picture of slower growth. Annualized third-quarter gross domestic product growth came in at 1.9 percent, down from 2 percent in the second quarter and 3.1 percent in the first quarter. While slowing growth is disappointing, economists had forecast a larger drop to 1.6 percent, so there is some reason for optimism here. This result was driven by stronger-than-expected consumer spending, which offset a slowdown in government spending and business investment.
Manufacturer confidence hit a 10-year low in September. After rebounding in August, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Nonmanufacturing index fell to 52.6 in September. The ISM composite index, which aggregates the manufacturing and nonmanufacturing indices, has fallen sharply since reaching a high point in September 2018 (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. ISM Composite Index, 2009–Present
Durable goods orders fell by 1.1 percent in September, against expectations for a more moderate decline of 0.7 percent. Industrial production fell 0.4 percent, and manufacturing output fell 0.5 percent. This trend points toward continued weakness in business confidence and spending for the immediate future.
Consumer confidence rebounds as spending continues
The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index increased from 93.2 in September to 95.5 in October, supported by strong markets and low unemployment. Consumer spending increased by 0.2 percent in September, marking the seventh straight month of growth. This result was supported by a 0.3 percent increase in personal income.
Political risks shift in October
We entered October with concerns about the escalating trade war between the U.S. and China, as well as the risk of a “no-deal” Brexit. Both of these risks receded during the month, but new concerns have emerged to take their place.
Short-term risks remain, but fundamentals are solid
Economic fundamentals remain solid in the U.S. While growth appears to be slowing, slower growth is still growth. Rebounding consumer confidence and continued strong consumer spending indicate the economy is in a better place than the headlines suggest. If business confidence and spending can follow suit, the economy would be poised for accelerated growth. While short-term volatility may be likely given the political risks, the strong fundamentals should continue to support markets.
All information according to Bloomberg, unless stated otherwise.
Disclosure: Certain sections of this commentary contain forward-looking statements based on our reasonable expectations, estimates, projections, and assumptions. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve certain risks and uncertainties, which are difficult to predict. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets. All indices are unmanaged and investors cannot invest directly into an index. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted average of 30 actively traded blue-chip stocks. The S&P 500 Index is a broad-based measurement of changes in stock market conditions based on the average performance of 500 widely held common stocks. The Nasdaq Composite Index measures the performance of all issues listed in the Nasdaq Stock Market, except for rights, warrants, units, and convertible debentures. The MSCI EAFE Index is a float-adjusted market capitalization index designed to measure developed market equity performance, excluding the U.S. and Canada. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a market capitalization-weighted index composed of companies representative of the market structure of 26 emerging market countries in Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Basin. It excludes closed markets and those shares in otherwise free markets that are not purchasable by foreigners. The Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index is an unmanaged market value-weighted index representing securities that are SEC-registered, taxable, and dollar-denominated. It covers the U.S. investment-grade fixed-rate bond market, with index components for a combination of the Bloomberg Barclays government and corporate securities, mortgage-backed pass-through securities, and asset-backed securities. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate High Yield Index covers the USD-denominated, non-investment-grade, fixed-rate, taxable corporate bond market. Securities are classified as high-yield if the middle rating of Moody’s, Fitch, and S&P is Ba1/BB+/BB+ or below.