Stocks advanced last week, propelled by hopes that legislators may reach an agreement for a new fiscal stimulus package and optimism generated by a few corporate deal announcements and initial public offerings.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.87%, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 increased 1.52%. The Nasdaq Composite index gained 1.48% for the week. The MSCI EAFE index, which tracks developed overseas stock markets, advanced 1.56%.1,2,3
The Quarter in Brief
In Washington, the Federal Reserve altered its monetary policy stance and forecast low-interest rates for the near future. Hopes for another economic stimulus dimmed in Congress. On Main Street, the coronavirus pandemic remained top of mind, but improvements in hiring, consumer confidence, and retail sales were evident.
Entering the fourth quarter, analysts wondered how adroitly the financial markets might manage some unknowns: a potential uptick in COVID-19 cases in the fall, the pace of vaccine development, the outcome of the presidential election, and undetermined prospects for additional economic support of businesses and households.
The U.S. Economy
Consumer confidence, as measured by the Conference Board's monthly index, leaped to 101.8 in August from 86.3 in July. Households kept up their buying—retail sales were up year-over-year through August even though supplemental unemployment benefits expired at the end of July.8
Industries also grew, according to research from the Institute for Supply Management. When ISM's Monthly Purchasing Manager Index for the manufacturing and services sector surpasses 50, those sectors are judged by ISM to be expanding. ISM's services PMI was at 58.1 in July and 56.9 in August; its manufacturing index reached 54.2 in July (a month that saw a 6.4% rise in U.S. factory orders) and 56.0 in August.9
Home sales soared as summer began, and although that momentum tailed off, sales did not retreat. Residential resales were up 24.7% in July, and another 2.4% in August. New home buying increased 4.8% for August after a 14.7% July climb. Housing starts and building permits were both up 17.9% in the first month of the quarter, but then they both declined; permits dipped 0.9% and starts 5.1% in the eighth month of the year.10
For more than a century, the Federal Reserve has had two primary monetary policy objectives: to manage inflation and to guide the economy toward a state of maximum employment. Historically, managing inflation has come first. So, it made news on August 27 when Fed Chairman Jerome Powell announced that the central bank would "seek to achieve inflation that averages 2 percent over time," rather than proactively adjust short-term interest rates when inflation approaches that established target. In other words, it would tolerate a little more inflation than it had in the past as a trade-off for spurring the economy. The Fed kept the federal funds rate in the 0%-0.25% range in the quarter, and its September consensus interest rate forecast showed it expected no change for short-term interest rates through 2022.11,12
The Global Economy
The quarter ended with no agreement yet on a post-Brexit trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union, as the post-Brexit transition period ends December 31. Complicating matters, U.K. lawmakers introduced a bill that would disregard conditions for trade with Northern Ireland established as part of Brexit, which the E.U. has hotly protested. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants both parties to reach a free trade agreement this month; Johnson is aiming for a pact without quotas or tariffs attached, similar to the arrangement the U.K. has with Canada.14
Looking at foreign stock exchanges, some significant quarterly gains stand out. South Korea's Kospi index rose 11.2% in three months; no other consequential overseas benchmark advanced double digits in Q3l. China's Shanghai Composite added 7.82%, Taiwan's TWII 7.70%, Argentina's Merval 4.69%, Japan's Nikkei 225 4.02%, and Germany's DAX 3.65%. On the other side of the ledger, Hong Kong's Hang Seng retreated 3.96%, and Spain's IBEX 35 dipped 7.12%. MSCI's EAFE index, which tracks large companies across developed countries in Europe and Asia, rose 4.90% in Q3.15,16
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Then, reservations about the rally surfaced. Traders began to question the sustainability of the summer economic recovery, and whether a fall uptick in coronavirus infections might hurt business and consumer spending. The S&P ended September at 3,363.00, retreating 3.92% for the month. The Dow lost 2.28% in September to fall to 27,781.70, and the Nasdaq gave up 5.16%, declining to 11,167.51.19,20
The 10-year Treasury yield spent all of Q3 between 0.52% and 0.74%, reaching the top of that range in late August.21
Wall Street enters the fourth quarter with a bit of uncertainty. The November election results may produce any number of reactions. There are only educated guesses as to when coronavirus vaccines may appear, and how effective they may be. The first reading on 3rd-quarter Gross Domestic Product growth is on October 27, roughly one week before election day.
Federal Reserve officials expect low-interest rates and very little inflation through 2022. Sustained low-interest rates could drive more borrowing and business investment, and improve the outlook for the housing market.
THE WEEK AHEAD: KEY ECONOMIC DATA
Source: Econoday, October 2, 2020
THE WEEK AHEAD: COMPANIES REPORTING EARNINGS
Source: Zacks, October 2, 2020
1. The Wall Street Journal, October 2, 2020
2. The Wall Street Journal, October 2, 2020
3. The Wall Street Journal, October 2, 2020
4. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, September 25, 2020
5. CNN Business, September 30, 2020
6. Investing.com, September 30, 2020
7. Forbes, September 16, 2020
8. Investing.com, September 30, 2020
9. Investing.com, September 30, 2020
10. Investing.com, September 30, 2020
11. Forbes, September 16, 2020
12. New York Times, August 27, 2020
13. Nasdaq.com, September 30, 2020
14. Associated Press, September 29, 2020
15. Barchart.com, September 30, 2020
16. Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2020
17. CNBC, August 31, 2020
18. Business Insider, September 2, 2020
19. CNBC, September 30, 2020
20. Google Finance, September 30, 2020
21. Treasury.gov, September 30, 2020
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