Wentz Weekly Insights
Big Week for Big Caps

It was another week of gains for stocks with the S&P 500 seeing a 1.06% increase for the week. In fact, it was the 12th week of gains out of the past 13, with the S&P 500 seeing five consecutive days of new record high closes through Thursday (thanks to the “Magnificent 7” stocks!). Meanwhile, volatility in the Treasury market has subsided. There was little movement last week – the 10-year Treasury yield rose just one basis point to 4.14% and has remained in a range of 3.90% to 4.20% since mid-December after falling from its 17-year high in October.
One thing keeping momentum going was recent data. Last week we received the first estimate on fourth quarter GDP that showed the economy grew at a 3.3% annualized pace in the quarter, well above the consensus estimate of around 2.0%. The main driver of economic growth in the U.S., consumer spending which accounts for roughly 70% of GDP, grew 2.8% in the quarter, while down from recent quarters was still stronger than expected. In addition, growth was seen in government spending (which has been higher than average since the pandemic), residential (housing) and business investments, and net exports.
The other big data release was personal income and outlays that showed a 0.7% increase in consumer spending in December (nearly double estimates) and a 0.4% increase in wages and salaries. One thing driving higher consumer spending has been a historically low savings rate which fell back to one of the lowest levels (3.7%) ever recorded. Also in the data release was a 0.2% increase in the PCE price index, the favorite inflation reading for the Fed. The core index (which strips out food and energy prices because they are more volatile) rose 0.2% and is up 2.9% over the past year, the lowest in almost 3 years. This was welcoming data for market and the Fed and gives more confidence inflation is decelerating back to the Fed’s target and supports rate cuts later this year.
From a micro perspective the biggest headline was Netflix’s 11% gain on Wednesday after it reported its fourth quarter financials which included a 13 million increase in subscribers, one of its largest quarterly increases ever. It appears its crackdown on password sharing is leading to more subscribers, along with momentum in its newer and cheaper ad-supported subscription where 40% of new subscribers are moving. The focus was also on its move into live programming after it announced a deal to become the exclusive home of WWE.
From a bigger picture, earnings are still coming in slightly below consensus expectations, although still over half the S&P 500 has yet to release results. Coming into the quarter, fourth quarter aggregate earnings were expected to increase 2%, but this has come down to a 1.5% decline due to mostly to lower profits from banks.
The upcoming week will be the most important with over 40% of the S&P 500 index companies reporting, including the five largest companies in the U.S. These five companies (Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Meta, and Alphabet), plus Nvidia (who reports in three weeks) are projected to be the top contributors to earnings growth for the index, with analysts seeing 54% growth in profits from the same quarter a year earlier, according to FactSet. The other 494 companies are estimated to see earnings decline of 10.5% over the same period. And combining all 500 the estimates are at a 1.5% decline. So, the trajectory of earnings projections will be largely dependent on this week, specifically these five companies. It will be a big week for the big cap stocks.
Week in Review:
The week started off with a lack of news or any catalysts, and the path of least resistance for stocks has been higher, resulting in another record close for the S&P 500 and Dow indexes. There were several company specific headlines but nothing market moving. The S&P 500 gained 0.22% while small caps outperformed, seeing a 2.01% increase.
The Bank of Japan held its policy meeting Tuesday with no changes to its zero-interest rate policy, one of the very few central banks to not raise rates. Also overseas, China has been considering several measures to help prop up its stock markets, which are down 25% over the past year, and boost economic growth. In U.S. markets, earnings remained mixed, with stocks mixed as well but the S&P 500 finished another 0.29% higher.
One of the bigger headlines Wednesday was Netflix’s 10% increase after it saw a larger jump in subscriber growth to end 2023 than expected, with momentum in its ad-supported subscription service. Overseas, China stepped in to support its economy and markets with a 0.50% cut to its reserve requirement ratio for banks, freeing up billions in liquidity. It was another day light of data reports with focus continuing to be on the mixed earnings reports. Stocks were relatively flat with Treasury yields slightly higher.
Stocks were slightly lower premarket Thursday but reversed when GDP data revealed the economy grew faster than expected (3.3% annualized) in the fourth quarter. Other highlights included a disappointing Tesla report but other companies like Lam Research and IBM higher over increased AI adoption/spending. The S&P 500 rose 0.53% with afternoon strength for its fifth straight record high.
Friday’s highlight was stronger than expected data on consumer spending and personal income for December while inflation data (the PCE price index – the Fed’s favorite inflation data) showed inflation decelerated as expected. Although it was solid data, markets may have already priced much of this in with stocks opening unchanged and rates not moving much. Outside the data it was a quieter day. Stocks saw relatively little movement with the S&P 500 down 0.07% and the NASDAQ down 0.36%.
Stocks saw a gain last week for the 12th time out of the past 13 weeks, driven again mostly by the mega cap stocks. The Tresaury market saw little movement with the 2-year Treasury yield falling 4 basis points to 4.34% while the 10-year yield rose 1 basis point to 4.14%. Volatility in Bitcoin subsided as well as the cryptocurrency rose 0.5%, while gold fell 0.6%, the dollar index increased 0.1%, and oil rose 6.5% over a very cold stretch and continued Middle East tensions. The major U.S. stock indices finished as follows: Russell 2000 +1.75%, S&P 500 +1.06%, NASDAQ +0.94%, and Dow +0.65%.

Recent Economic Data

  • Economic growth for the fourth quarter was expected to be somewhere between 1.5% and 2.5% (measured quarter over quarter and annualized), but the first GDP estimate showed it grew a much stronger than expected 3.3%. The most important category, consumer spending, grew 2.8% in the quarter, contributing 1.9% to GDP. Spending on goods increased 3.8% while services spending grew 2.4%. Government spending has been trending much higher since the pandemic and grew another 3.3% in Q4, contributing 0.6% to GDP. Residential investment like housing grew 1.1% while non-residential investments like business investments grew 1.9%, each contributing 0% and 0.3% to GDP, respectively. Exports grew 6.3% while imports grew 1.9% resulting in a 0.4% increase in net exports which helped GDP. Finally, the change in inventory investment increased 0.1%.
  • Durable goods orders were flat in December versus the expected 1.0% increase. The important number we always refer to, which reflect core shipments and is a direct input to GDP – shipments of nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft, rose 0.1% in the month and comes after a 0.2% decline and no change the prior two months.
  • In December the supply of money (including cash, deposits at banks, money market balances, etc) saw a large uptick in the month, increasing 0.5% for the largest increase since May. If you recall, money supply saw a massive increase during the pandemic due to government stimulus, increasing 40.5% from pre-pandemic levels to the highest level of the pandemic in July 2022, which has led to the inflation problem. Since then, money supply saw the largest decline on record into the first half of 2023, but is back to rising, although still down $1 trillion from the highs.
  • Sales of newly constructed homes increased 8% in December (coming off the weakest level of new home sales since late 2022) to a seasonally adjusted annualized pace of 664,000 homes and 4.4% above the level from December 2022. For the calendar year 2023, 668,000 new homes were sold, about 4.2% above 2022 figures. As has been the case, supply is still challenging with just 453,000 new homes for sale, but it has approved slightly over the year.
  • The number of unemployment claims jumped 25k to 214,000 in the week ended January 20. The four-week average moved down slightly to 202,250. The number of continuing claims was 1.833 million, up 27k from the prior week, with the four-week average at 1.835 million. Still very low unemployment claim levels, coming off last week which was the second lowest since the 1960s.
  • Money is flowing, and people are spending. Data on personal income and outlays was released Friday morning with details below:
  • The data showed personal incomes rose 0.3% in December as expected. Wages and salaries were up another 0.4% in the month and now higher by 5.9% from a year ago, up from the 4.0% increase from November. Because of a 13.3% annual decline in tax rates combined with incomes up meaningfully, disposable income has grown 7.9% over the past year.
  • Meanwhile, consumer spending increased 0.7% in December, almost double expectations, continuing a streak of strong spending by consumers that continues to exceed expectations and economists’ estimates. Spending on goods has rebounded over the past several months, up a strong 0.9% in the month and now up 6.7% from a year ago, while spending on services was up 0.6%, also strong, and up 7.3% from a year ago (it has been trending at an annual rate of 8%-9% most of the year).
  • The result of income and spending is the savings rate falling to 3.7%, back down to (tying) the lowest in 14 months.
  • In addition, the PCE price index, the inflation reading the Fed puts most weight on, rose 0.2% in the month as expected, with the core index also up 0.2% as expected. The 12 month inflation rate decelerated to 2.6%, matching November’s, while the core 12-month rate decelerated to 2.9%, down from 3.2% in November and the lowest in almost 3 years.

Company News

  • Macy’s rejected a $5.8 billion ($21/share) takeout bid by private equity firms Arkhouse Management and Brigade Capital Management. The two firms are threatening to go straight to shareholders with the offer and say they could increase their proposal if they get access to necessary due diligence from the company. Macy’s said the PE firm’s proposal is not actionable and fails to provide value to Macy’s shareholders. Later in the week, shares moved higher after another report that PE group Sycamore Partners has been in talks with Macy’s and was exploring a bid for the company.
  • Netflix and TKO Group, parent company of WWE, announced a $5 billion partnership in which Netflix would become the exclusive provider of WWE events starting January 2025. Separately, Netflix shares were up over 10% after it reported its fourth quarter financial results that were mixed, but its subscriber growth of 13.1 million was well over expectations as its password sharing crackdown is working to create new subscribers and its ad-supported subscription gains traction.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration said it will not allow Boeing to expand production of its 737 MAX planes, saying this will stay in place until they are “satisfied that the quality control issues” are resolved. In addition, the grounding restriction of all 737 Max 9 planes has been lifted following a comprehensive inspection of all planes in service. Separately, aircraft suppliers are recovering after preliminary reports show Boeing was responsible for the in-flight emergency on the Alaskan Air flight earlier this month as the door plug that blew off was removed then reinstalled improperly by Boeing.
  • Microsoft market cap reached $3 trillion last week, only the second company to ever reach this level (Apple did last June).
  • Salesforce said it would lay off another 1% of its workforce, equal to about 700 employees. This comes after it laid off 10% of its staff in 2023 after it said it hired too many people during the software boom of 2021-2022. Microsoft said it will be laying off 1,900 employees in its gaming unit, reflecting about 10% of its gaming employees. The layoffs will affect most employees at Activision Blizzard – the gaming company it acquired last year for $69 billion. Other layoffs included Business Insider, the LA Times, and Paramount. According to layoffs.fyi, there have been 24,500 layoffs between 89 tech companies so far this year. In 2023 there were over 260,000 layoffs by nearly 1,200 tech companies.

Other News

  • China intervened in effort to try to stop the drawdown in its stock markets and its currency, the yuan. Chinese state owned banks tightened liquidity in the foreign exchange market and actively sold US dollars. Its index of mainland stocks, the CSI 300, is down almost 25% over the past year and has fallen to a five-year low. On Friday, its brokerage firms suspended short selling to help prevent more downside. Early last week, Bloomberg reported Chinese authorities were considering a package of measures to prevent a further decline in its stock market, after previous attempts fell short. The measures reportedly include mobilizing about $280 billion from offshore accounts from Chinese state owned enterprises to a state owned stabilization fund to buy onshore shares through the Hong Kong exchange. Then, around mid-week, China said, to further support its economy and markets, it would cut its reserve requirement ratio by 0.50% for all banks. China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, said the move is expected to inject about $140 billion of liquidity into the financial system.
  • Central Bank updates:
  • The Bank of Japan as expected kept its monetary policy unchanged, keeping rates slightly negative and continuing its yield curve control which means not letting its 10-year government bond yield rise above 1.0%. The Bank of Japan has been one of the only major central banks to not raise interest rates or tighten policy over the past couple years (its inflation remains low and economic growth has been very low).
  • The Bank of Canada said at its most recent policy meeting it will keep monetary policy unchanged, holding rates at current levels of 5% for the fourth straight meeting. The statement on policy was slightly more dovish with it removing the statement on it being prepared to raise rates again if needed. However, it did discuss its continued concerns about inflation remaining too high and risks that inflation could persist.
  • The European Central Bank said it will keep its policy rate unchanged after its most recent meeting, saying the economy appears to be developing as expected. The ECB did not give many hints on rate hikes or cuts in the near future, saying rates will stay “sufficiently restrictive for as long as necessary.” Separately, reports from Reuters say the ECB has asked some banks to monitor social media to monitor sentiment and look for any early signs of bank runs.

Did You Know…?

Technology’s Big Weighting

A note by Bespoke Investment Group showed the technology sector’s weight in the S&P 500 has rose to over 30%. This has only happened once in history – during the tech bubble of the late 1990s. The increase in the weighting of the tech sector could largely be attribute to the massive gains in some of the mega cap stocks including Apple, Microsoft, and Nvidia, whose stocks rose 49%, 58%, and 239% in 2023, respectively. These three stocks now make up more than 50% of the technology sector’s weighting in the S&P 500.

WFG News

Economic & Market Outlook Meeting

Thursday, February 1 – 6:00 pm – WFG Auditorium in Hudson, OH
Thursday, February 8 – 12:00 pm – WFG Auditorium in Hudson, OH
Thursday, February 8 – 6:00 pm – WFG Auditorium in Hudson, OH
Wentz Financial Group will be holding its semi-annual Economic and Market Outlook Seminars on the dates above. Join us as we recap a surprisingly positive 2023, explain how we got to where we are today, as well as give our expectation and forecast on the economic and market environment and how that will affect portfolios in another challenging year ahead. We will have three seminar times, one during the lunch hour and the other two in the evening. Please RSVP by responding to this email or by calling the office at 330-650-2700. Seat are limited for each event and will be on a first come first served basis. A buffet style meal will be served approximately 30 minutes before each event.

The Week Ahead

This week will be one of the busiest of the quarter, full of quarterly earnings reports, economic data, a Fed meeting and Treasury announcement. On the earnings side, there will be about 40% of the S&P 500 companies reporting their fourth quarter results this week with notable reports coming from the mega cap tech companies Alphabet, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Meta. Other notable reports will come from General Motors, UPS, Pfizer, Starbucks, AMD on Tuesday, Boeing, Qualcomm, Mastercard on Wednesday, Honeywell, Altria, Merck on Thursday, and AbbVie, Exxon Mobil, and Chevron on Friday. On the economic calendar the focus will be on the labor market. The job openings and labor turnover survey results are released Tuesday morning, followed by ADP’s employment report Wednesday, jobless claims on Thursday, and the Department of Labor’s employment report on Friday. The consensus estimate currently sees 170,000 new jobs in December, slightly lower than recent trend. Other economic data releases include the Case Shiller Home Price Index and consumer confidence on Tuesday, the employment cost index on Wednesday, fourth quarter productivity and costs data, the PMI and ISM manufacturing indexes, and construction spending on Thursday, and wrapping up with factory orders and consumer sentiment on Friday. Investors will be focused on the Treasury market Wednesday morning when the U.S. Treasury announces its quarterly funding needs, which includes how much and which securities will be offered and the dates. Last quarter the Treasury announced more funding than expected which attributed to the rise in Treasury yields three months ago. Also on Wednesday, investors will be focused on the Federal Reserve in the afternoon after the FOMC meeting concludes with a policy decision announced at 2:00 pm. While no change in policy is expected at this meeting, markets will be looking for clues on when rate cuts will begin.