ND&S Weekly Commentary 02.18.20 – Markets Continue to Shrug Off Coronavirus Fears

February 18, 2020

Markets pushed higher last week despite ongoing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus. Helping the markets move higher were encouraging comments from Fed Chair Jerome Powell and mostly better-than-expected economic news.

For the week, the DJIA advanced 1.17% while the S&P 500 gained 1.65%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq jumped 2.23% as investors flooded into cloud-related stocks. International markets were mixed. For the week, the MSCI EAFE index (developed markets) inched lower by 0.02% while emerging market equities (MSCI EM) jumped 1.37%. International markets remained under pressure due to uncertainty regarding the impact of the coronavirus on global growth. Small company stocks, represented by the Russell 2000, finished higher by 1.90% for the week. Fixed income, represented by the Bloomberg/Barclays Aggregate, finished the week essentially unchanged as bond investors remained on the sidelines for the week. As a result, the 10 YR US Treasury closed at a yield of 1.59% (unchanged from the previous week’s closing yield of ~1.59%). Gold prices closed at $1,582.70/oz – up 0.81% on the week. Oil prices rose 3.38% to $52.05 despite adequate supply and weakening demand. Low oil prices serve as a tax cut to consumers and businesses and are a contributing factor (along with low unemployment) to robust consumer sentiment and retail sales.

Economic news released last week confirmed a resilient jobs market, still moderate inflation, and elevated consumer sentiment. On Thursday, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the Consumer Price Index (CPI)  advanced 0.1% in January, below expectations of a 0.2% gain. Over the past 12 months core CPI has risen 2.3%, ahead of the 2.2% consensus and in-line with annual gains seen in October, November and December. Also on Thursday, the Department of Labor reported that initial jobless claims for the week ending February 8 were 205,000, below expectations of 210,000 … another sign of a strengthening labor market. Jobless claims have remained under 300,000 for 257 consecutive weeks – the longest streak on record. On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that January retail sales advanced 0.3%, matching expectations. The Federal Reserve announced on Friday that January industrial production fell 0.3%, more than the expected 0.2% decline (likely due to fears around global growth as a result of the coronavirus outbreak). Finally, on Friday the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index rose to 100.9 in February – the highest level since March 2018.

Most economic and market fundamentals remain reasonable although traditional market valuations are a bit stretched. We suggest investors stay close to their long-term target asset allocations with a slight defensive bias as markets are due for a pause.

“There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt