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We have had such extreme volatility since the first trading day of 2016, that most investors would describe this market as ‘madness’. March will be critical to see if the bulls can push further or if the bears can regain control and push the markets lower.
Markets closed out another solid week of gains on the back of higher oil prices and some positive economic data. For the week, the S&P 500 increased 1.58%, the Dow grew 1.51%, and the NASDAQ added 1.91%.1
Investors got their second look at fourth-quarter 2015 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) last week. The latest data shows that the economy grew 1.0% last quarter versus the 0.7% originally reported. Economists had forecast a drop in GDP growth to 0.4%, so the increase was a welcome surprise and helped tamp down recession worries.2
In another positive sign, consumer spending rose steadily in January and inflation increased closer to the Federal Reserve target of 2.0%. These encouraging indicators could support another rate hike since they bolster the growth picture for this year.3 Though the Fed could technically raise rates at the next meeting in March, most economists don’t expect to see higher rates until June at the earliest.4
Though we expect volatility to continue over the next weeks and months, one contributor to volatility may be losing its grip. Over the last few months, U.S. equities have followed Chinese stocks over the edge, responding to worries about the health of the world’s second-largest economy. However, last week, though Chinese equities tumbled again, American stocks closed out the week positive. The divergence is a relief because it could indicate that the short-term connection between U.S. and Chinese markets is breaking down as investors return to fundamentals.5
Does this mean that what happens in China will cease to affect American investors? Probably not, but we can hope that investors stop worrying about every little twitch in China’s markets.
The week ahead holds more economic data, the highlight being the February jobs report that comes out on Friday. Based on the weekly gains reported so far, we’re expecting a solid showing and hoping for continued increases in wages, which could help boost consumer spending this year. Investors will be looking for signs that the domestic economy can withstand trouble abroad and hoping for signs of increased economic activity in the first quarter of 2016. Election-year politicking may add uncertainty when votes are tallied on Super Tuesday this year.
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