2023 was a year of haves and have-nots.
While the S&P 500 rose 26% at the headline level, it was almost entirely due to just seven “magnificent” tech stocks. The remaining 493 names contributed very little – on average up just 4%. This concentrated market condition continued through October when we finally enjoyed broadening market participation. Small cap stocks began a long-awaited turn-around with a two-month advance of 16%. The broad International Index rose 18%. Both are areas we overweighted in 2023 due to their relative valuations. While we think these sectors will continue to waffle back and forth for several months (as January has already shown), we expect a further broadening of market performance once we get some assurance on timing of Federal Reserve rate cuts.
Interest rates have been the story since early 2022 and October showed what happens when our uncontrolled fiscal deficit intersects with decreasing foreign demand for Treasuries. The 10-year Bond went from a yield of 3.3% in May to 5% in October as auctions witnessed a pullback in foreign investors. This will become a larger theme in the future should our deficit growth continue unabated. Nevertheless, as inflation readings continued to decrease during the Fall and the market began anticipating rate cuts, the yield on the 10-year treasury ended 2023 at 3.9%.
We wrote last quarter that we were cautiously optimistic.
But the year ended better than, even we, anticipated. Surprising employment strength and increasing home prices have remained dominant forces keeping the U.S. from entering recession. As consumers spend down COVID savings, they remain heartened by job stability, so overall spending has remained quite strong. Strong home values have also buoyed consumer confidence. This is very different from the historical pattern (although welcome and needed). In a normal economic contraction, people lose jobs and must sell homes, increasing housing inventories which bring prices down. In this rate cycle over 90% of existing homes carried mortgages under 4%. People were not forced to sell and have no desire to trade a 3% mortgage for a 7% mortgage. Inventory remains tight while demand stays solid, so prices have risen. The banking system remains resilient, financial conditions have eased, and financial market performance followed.
Heading into 2024, we see light at the end of the tunnel, while recognizing the risks that are still present.
So, enjoy today and tomorrow, and let us do the worrying!
Call us to review your investment approach at (404) 941-2800.