Notes Along the Path: Market Update for Week 14

Gordon Achtermann |

Market Recap


The S&P 500 fell this week to start Q2 on a sour note as Federal Reserve officials indicated they were in no rush to cut interest rates. The benchmark equity index ended Friday's session at 5,204.34, down from last week's record-high close of 5,254.35.

The week saw volatility creep back into asset markets as Federal Reserve Governors made comments during their intermeeting speeches that seemed to fly in the face of what we were told by the Fed after their last meeting.

At that time, the Fed’s “dots” were still pointing to rate cuts in 2024. However, two different speakers told us that the door was open to no cuts this year. Personally, I do not think these speakers should be opining about the path of rates intra-meeting, especially when their message differs from what we were just told.

Even more especially if you are not a voting member this year…Mr. Kashkari, I am speaking to you.

But truthfully, no one should be surprised by what these speakers said; the market has been calling the rate cut bluff for the past few weeks.

The benchmark equity index ended Friday's session at 5,204.34, down from last week's record-high close of 5,254.35. Health care and real estate posted the steepest weekly declines among sectors, while only energy and communication services closed higher.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said this week that most policymakers believe it will be appropriate to start reducing interest rates at some point in 2024, though more evidence was needed that inflation is easing. Several other Fed officials echoed similar remarks throughout the week.

Last month, the central bank's Federal Open Market Committee kept its benchmark lending rate unchanged, its fifth straight pause, and maintained expectations for three cuts this year. The FOMC started tightening monetary policy in March 2022 to tame inflation.

About 97% of traders are expecting the committee to leave its target rate unchanged at 5.25%-5.5% at its two-day meeting on April 30 and May 1, according to the CME FedWatch Tool.

Nonfarm payrolls climbed by 303,000 last month, exceeding the Street's views for a 214,000 gain, the US Labor Department said in a report on Friday. The unemployment rate came in at 3.8%, meeting market expectations.

US manufacturing activity expanded in March, while the services sector continued to grow, though at a slower sequential pace, data from the Institute for Supply Management showed.

Among sectors, health care slid 3.1% amid outsized declines in shares of Humana (HUM), CVS Health (CVS) and UnitedHealth Group (UNH) after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the government would increase payments to Medicare Advantage plans by 3.7% on average year over year.

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) agreed to acquire Shockwave Medical (SWAV) in an all-cash deal with an enterprise value of $13.1 billion.

Real estate slipped 2.9% for the week, while consumer staples lost 2.7% as a 25% plunge in Lamb Weston's (LW) shares more than countered a 4.9% gain in Conagra Brands (CAG). Lamb Weston logged weaker-than-expected fiscal Q3 results and lowered its full-year outlook. Conagra's fiscal Q3 results topped the Street's estimates as volume trends improved.

Consumer discretionary was down 1.9%, led by a 15% slump in Ulta Beauty (ULTA) shares after the beauty retailer's management offered downbeat views on the beauty category.

Financials dropped 1.4%, while technology shed 1%, weighed down by a 12% decline in Intel (INTC) shares after the chipmaker restated operating losses for its foundry business as it reorganizes its financial reporting structure to save costs and provide greater transparency.

Utilities fell 0.7% for the week, and industrials lost 0.2%, despite a 12% jump in General Electric (GE) shares after the industrial conglomerate completed the separation of its renewable energy business, GE Vernova (GEV). Materials were down 0.1% for the week.

Energy jumped 3.9%. Schlumberger (SLB) agreed to buy oilfield technology solutions provider ChampionX (CHX) in an all-stock deal.

Communication services rose 2.5%, led in part by a 1.7% gain in Paramount Global (PARA) shares. The company was reportedly in discussions about entering into exclusive talks over being acquired by media company Skydance. Paramount would continue to trade publicly under the Skydance Media offer, CNBC reported.

Separately, Endeavor Group (EDR) agreed to be taken private by private equity firm Silver Lake in a $13 billion buyout deal.


Bond Update

Get real! (What do I mean by that?) Many people have come to me recently, heavily invested in bonds yielding 4% to 5%. That's great for parking your money that you know you will need in a couple of years or for your emergency fund.

The problem is some folks say they can live off the income and never touch the principal. I hate to burst people’s “feel good” bubble, but my advice is to “get real,” as in, know that the real rate of return is after-tax and inflation-adjusted. After taxes, they may be getting 2.7% to 3.3%, and most, if not all, of that will be eaten up by inflation. These rates are great for the short term but don't for a second think that you can make that the core of your retirement. It is likely to fail.

Oh, and rates have inched up a bit as the prospect of multiple Fed rate cuts this year seems less likely.


Up Next


Next week's economic calendar will feature the key official consumer and producer inflation reports for March and an initial reading of consumer sentiment for this month. The minutes of the FOMC's March meeting are scheduled to be released on Wednesday.


All the Best!

Gordon Achtermann, CFP®