Stocks recorded their first back-to-back weekly gains since late January / early February. U.S. equities rose modestly, as strong economic data was checked by geopolitical tensions. Investors’ attention will be focused this week on inflation and jobs data. The Fed is betting on a soft landing for the economy, but the outcome is far from certain.
Last Week – Conflict Overseas Reaches 2nd Month
Last week, the Dow Jones Industrial average was up 0.3%. The S&P 500 was up 1.8%, and the Nasdaq Composite rose 2%. Year-to-date, the numbers are still negative. In housing news, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate reached a 3-year high of 4.5%. This is boxing out some buyers as new and pending home sales fell in February. Inventory remains limited, keeping asking prices high.
Nonfarm payrolls are expecting to be 450,000 for March, a drop from the 678,000 in February. The unemployment rate is expecting to be 3.7% for February. A slight tightening from the 3.8% the month prior. The consensus sees a slight rise in personal income to 0.5% for February. Personal spending is expecting to show a sharp slowdown at 0.6% in February, versus 2.1% in January. This goes along with inflationary pressures that consumers are feeling, especially elevated gas prices at the pumps.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell stated the Federal Reserve will be more aggressive with monetary policy. Key economic data out last week included: New home sales, durable goods orders, and UMich Consumer Sentiment. One significant weekly data point was initial jobless claims which posted at 187,000 for the week ending March 19, its lowest number in 50 years, and a sharp decline versus the week prior of 215,000.
New home sales came in at 772,000 SAAR for February versus a consensus of 825,000 and compared to a revised 788,000 SAAR in January. The final UMich Consumer Sentiment number posted at 59.4 for March, slightly lower than the 59.7 expected. Consumer sentiment of course has pressure from volatile oil prices and the conflict in Ukraine.
The Week Ahead
Key economic data releasing this week include nonfarm payrolls, the unemployment rate, personal income and spending, and Real GDP. In this time of inflation and geopolitical uncertainty, all of this data matters. The Federal Reserve is carefully considering each data point to help decipher the health of the overall economy. The labor market remained strong, with initial jobless claims falling to the lowest level since September 1969.
As the war in Ukraine enters its second month, and with negotiations seemingly at a stalemate, investors’ attention will focus on inflation and jobs data. The Fed is betting on a soft landing for the economy, but the outcome is far from certain. The labor market is tight. The Fed’s preferred inflation measurement, the Core PCE Price Index, is the main event on Thursday, while ISM Manufacturing PMI joins a busy end of the week.
In Europe, Germany will publish preliminary CPI for March along with monthly retail sales and consumer confidence. These numbers have turned pessimistic given the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Year-to-date index performance; Dow down 4.06%, S&P down 4.68%, and Nasdaq down 9.43% through the close on Friday.
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