Weekly Market Commentary - Nov 20th, 2023
Stocks posted a third straight week of gains as optimism grows over moderating inflation. The Nasdaq rallied 2.4%, the S&P 500 rose 2.2%, and the Dow gained 1.9%. However, conflicting signals on consumer health and Fed policy temper enthusiasm.
Dovish Shift Hopes Lift Stocks
Markets rallied as Treasury yields tumbled on hopes inflation is peaking. The 10-year yield dipped under 4.4% before recovering to 4.6%. But celebrating prematurely poses risks if price relief fades.
The cooler October CPI report bolstered expectations for an earlier Fed pivot. The Nasdaq surged over 5% in just two days mid-week as rate hike bets eased. But one month of data does not make a trend. Extending gains with inflation still high could backfire if tightening continues.
Though optimism is growing, a clear downward inflation trajectory is needed to solidify a dovish shift. Until unambiguous signs emerge, volatility may persist around Fed uncertainty.
Conflicting Consumer Signals
Uneven jobs data muddied the economic outlook. Jobless claims increased by 13,000, signaling softness aligned with inflation relief. But continuing claims also rose, reflecting labor market resilience that allows Fed hawkishness.
With spending wavering but employment solid, assessing recession risks and the Fed’s policy latitude is challenging. More defined trends in both inflation and jobs data are likely needed to provide clarity and direction.
Some retailers highlighted softening demand trends, while Gap cheered markets with better guidance. Household resilience remains critical for navigating Fed tightening. Mixed signals warrant a balanced stance.
Yields Retreat, But Risks Remain
Policy-sensitive shorter-dated Treasury yields declined the most as rate hike expectations moderated. But quantitative tightening still looms large.
The yield curve bull flattened dramatically, but any inflation reacceleration could quickly push yields higher again. For now, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst appears prudent.
Commodities Pressured from Two Sides
Oil suffered a fifth straight weekly loss, now down over 20% from September’s peak. Demand destruction resulting from China’s COVID surge and broader global growth concerns weighed heavily.
Crop prices also dipped amid ample supplies. But natural gas extended gains on cold weather risks. The Fed’s resolute tightening stance further strengthened the dollar, also hampering commodities.
Until China’s activity improves and the dollar weakens, commodity headwinds persist. But markets may be underestimating how quickly fundamentals could recover as conditions evolve.
Cautious Optimism for Investors
With risks still skewed to the downside, exercising moderation and avoiding complacency is prudent as the rally ages and uncertainty lingers. Patience and preparedness for potential setbacks prevent overextending at the wrong time.
For conservative investors focused on capital preservation, the decline in Treasury yields provides opportunities to selectively lengthen portfolio duration at relatively attractive income levels. However, maintaining exposure to high credit quality remains vital amid still murky economic fundamentals and policy outlooks.
Dividend-paying stocks can augment income streams at valuations that appear favorable relative to bonds. Emphasizing companies exhibiting durable earnings growth allows participating if the equity rally has further room to run while providing resiliency if headwinds return.
Raising cash reserves helps guard against residual volatility in coming months. Keeping dry powder on hand allows deploying into subsequent pullbacks as bargains emerge while limiting overexposure during rallies. Fixed income tentatively appears poised to benefit from cooling inflation but still warrants cautious positioning given policy uncertainties.
For growth-oriented investors seeking to outperform broader indexes, this week’s sizable rally provides a chance to trim extended growth stock allocations in order to take profits, maintain balance, and reduce portfolio risk exposure after substantial gains.
However, long-term growth potential still warrants exposure to fundamentally sound innovative firms gaining market share through disruptive transformations rather than chasing excessive momentum among speculative names. Their secular trajectories appear more immune to shifting macro crosscurrents.
Tactically taking profits allows rotating capital into inevitable pullbacks, so maintaining upside equity exposure makes sense for participating in bullish trends while exercising moderation.
With volatility likely persisting, proactively rebalancing toward conviction holdings suits the times.
For opportunistic investors able to withstand turbulence, the pronounced equity rally provides an opening to generate income from richly valued momentum growth stocks through options strategies. Collars allow maintaining upside exposure while establishing downside risk protection.
Given lingering risks across markets, protecting recent gains through tactical hedging with puts or collars makes sense. Buying low-delta hedges avoids market timing challenges.
Periods of dramatic volatility create potential opportunities. Deploying cash selectively into depressed areas as downside fears overshoot fundamentals offers attractive risk rewards when under-the-radar upside catalysts emerge. With patience and prudence, instability enables generating alpha.