Market Commentary – April 2021
Stocks climbed higher in April on the heels of strong first-quarter corporate earnings reports and encouraging employment data. Vaccine distributions increased and several states relaxed COVID-related restrictions. More stimulus checks were given out, which encouraged consumer spending.
The number of jobless claims decreased, while nearly 1,000,000 new jobs were added. The Federal Reserve noted that the economy was improving, but that accommodative measures would remain in place. President Biden offered a plan to infuse nearly $2 trillion of capital into the United States infrastructure, to be paid for by a slew of corporate tax increases.
Each of the benchmark indexes listed here posted solid monthly gains in April, led by the Nasdaq, followed by the S&P 500, the Global Dow, the Dow, and the Russell 2000. Year to date, the Russell 2000 remains well ahead of its 2020 closing value, followed by the Global Dow, the S&P 500, the Dow, and the Nasdaq.
The market sectors ended the month higher, with communication services and consumer discretionary advancing 10.0% and 8.0%, respectively. Information technology (6.8%), financials (6.2%), and real estate (6.2%) were the other sectors enjoying a notable monthly boost. The yield on 10-year Treasuries fell 11 basis points in April. The dollar declined. Crude oil prices climbed 7.0% to close at $63.50 per barrel.
|Market/Index*||2020 Close||Prior Month||As of April 30 th||Monthly Change||YTD Change|
|S & P 500||3,756.07||3,972.89||4,181.17||5.24%||11.32%|
|Federal Funds||0.00% – 0.25%||0.00% – 0.25%||0.00% – 0.25%||0 bps||0 bps|
|10-yr Treasury||0.91%||1.74%||1.63%||-11 bps||72 bps|
*Chart reflects price changes, not total return
Last Month's Economic News
- Employment: Employment increased by a robust 916,000 new jobs in March after adding 379,000 new jobs in February. In March, the unemployment rate fell by 0.1 percentage point to 6.0%, down considerably from its April 2020 high but is 2.5 percentage points higher than its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. The number of unemployed persons decreased by 300,000 to 9.7 million, a positive trend, but still 4.0 million higher than February 2020. Among the unemployed, the number of persons on temporary layoff decreased in March by 203,000 to 2.0 million. This measure is down considerably from the recent high of 18.0 million in April 2020 but is 1.3 million higher than in February 2020. In March, the number of persons not in the labor force who currently want a job, at 6.9 million, is unchanged over the month but is 1.8 million higher than in February 2020. March saw notable job growth in leisure and hospitality (280,000), up 18.5% since February 2020. Nearly two-thirds of the increase in leisure and hospitality was due to a surge in food services and drinking establishments (+176,000). Both the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio inched up 0.1 percentage point to 61.5% and 57.8%, respectively. Average hourly earnings fell by $0.04 to $29.96 in March but are up 4.2% from a year ago. The average work week increased by 0.3 hour to 34.9 hours in March.
- FOMC/interest rates: The Federal Open Market Committee met in April and decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at its current 0.00%-0.25%. Noting that there are signs that employment and the economy are coming back from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, they still have not reached their pre-pandemic levels, and inflation remains below the Committee's 2.0% target. Overall, the Committee indicated that it would continue to maintain an accommodative stance. However, the FOMC would be prepared to alter its current stance if it were deemed warranted by changing economic conditions.
- GDP: The economy accelerated at an annual rate of 6.4% in the first quarter of 2021 after advancing 4.3% in the fourth quarter of 2020. Consumer spending, as measured by personal consumption expenditures, increased 10.7% in the first quarter after rising 2.3% in the fourth quarter. Nonresidential (business) fixed investment climbed 9.9% following a 13.1% increase in the fourth quarter; residential fixed investment continued to advance, increasing 10.8% in the first quarter after soaring 36.6% in the prior quarter. Exports decreased 1.1% in the first quarter of 2021, after advancing 22.3% in the fourth quarter of 2020, and imports (which are a negative in the calculation of GDP) increased 5.7% in the first quarter (29.8% in the fourth quarter of 2020). Federal nondefense government expenditures climbed 44.8% following a fourth-quarter decline of 8.9% due primarily to added federal stimulus payments and aid.
- Housing: New single-family home sales rebounded in March after plunging in February. New home sales rose 20.7% in March after declining 18.2% in February. Sales of new single-family homes have increased 66.8% since March 2020. The median sales price of new single-family houses sold in March was $330,800 ($349,400 in February). The March average sales price was $397,800 ($416,000 in February). The inventory of new single-family homes for sale in March represents a supply of 3.6 months at the current sales pace, down from the February estimate of 4.8 months.
- Inflation/consumer spending: Inflationary pressures continued to advance in March. According to the latest Personal Income and Outlays report, consumer prices edged up 0.5% in March after advancing 0.2% in February. Prices have increased 2.3% from March 2020. Excluding food and energy, consumer prices increased 1.8% over the last 12 months. Personal income increased 21.1% in March after falling 7.0% in February, and disposable personal income climbed 23.6% in March after dropping 0.8% the previous month. The increase in personal income in March is more a reflection of stimulus payments and increasing job growth. Consumer spending rose 4.2% in March after declining 1.0% in February. Over the last 12 months, personal consumption expenditures (consumer spending) have dipped 2.7%.
- The Consumer Price Index climbed 0.6% in March following a 0.4% increase in February. The March increase was the largest 1-month rise since a 0.6% increase in August 2012. Over the 12 months ended in March, the CPI rose 2.6%. Gasoline prices continued to increase, rising 9.1% in March, accounting for over half of the overall CPI increase. Consumer prices less food and energy rose 0.3% in March. The CPI, less food and energy prices, is up 1.6% over the past 12 months ended in March. Food prices rose 0.1% in March after edging up just 0.2% in February. In February, prices for apparel fell 0.3% after falling 0.7% the prior month. Prices for new vehicles were unchanged in March, while prices for used cars and trucks climbed 0.5%.
- Prices that producers receive for goods and services continued to climb in March, increasing 1.0% after advancing 0.5% in February. Producer prices increased 4.2% for the 12 months ended in March, which is the largest yearly gain since climbing 4.5% for the 12 months ended in September 2011. Producer prices less foods, energy, and trade services rose for the eleventh consecutive month after advancing 0.6% in March. Energy prices continued to contribute to the increase in the PPI, climbing 5.9% in March following a 6.0% jump in February.
- Manufacturing: New orders for durable goods increased in March for the tenth time out of the last eleven months, increasing 0.5% following a 0.9% decrease in February. Motor vehicles and parts (5.5%) and communications equipment (4.3%) led the overall increase in new orders. New orders for nondefense aircraft and parts plunged 46.9% in March, after soaring 101.8% the previous month. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 1.6% in March. Excluding defense, new orders increased 0.5% in March. After advancing 2.9% in February and 8.7% in January, new orders for capital goods fell 3.5% in March, pulled lower by a 4.7% decrease in new orders for nondefense capital goods. In March, new orders for defense capital goods rose 3.8%, after falling 9.7% in February.
- International markets: There are certainly signs that several of the world's economies are turning the corner, particularly in the United Kingdom and Canada. However, some economic indicators in the Eurozone and China still remain well below pre-pandemic levels. Inflationary pressures may be ramping up globally. While the EU unemployment rate was unchanged from the previous month, 13.6 million people remain out of work. China's GDP advanced 0.6% in the first quarter of 2021, after climbing 3.2% in the previous quarter. On the other hand, Japan's industrial production increased 2.2% in March and is up 4.0% year over year. In the markets, the EURO STOXX Europe 600 Index gained about 1.4% in April; the United Kingdom's FTSE rose 3.7%; Japan's Nikkei 225 fell nearly 2.0%; and China's Shanghai Composite Index lost nearly 1.1%.
- Consumer confidence: The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index® climbed sharply in April after a significant gain in March. The April index stands at 121.7, up from 109.7 in March. The Present Situation Index, based on consumers' assessment of current business and labor market conditions, soared from 110.1 in March to 139.6 last month. The Expectations Index, based on consumers' short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions, rose to 109.8 in April, a modest gain over March's 108.3.
Eye on the Year Ahead
May should see continued economic recovery. As more people are vaccinated, the number of reported COVID-19 cases should decrease. Businesses hit hardest, such as restaurants and airlines, are expected to see a significant uptick in activity. Investors, encouraged by these economic advances, are likely to continue to favor stocks.
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