Market Commentary – May 2021
Stocks were volatile in May, likely a reflection of strength in the U.S. economy as well as concerns about inflation and the timing of when the Federal Reserve might begin to taper its accommodative policies. Regarding inflation, members of the Federal Open Market Committee acknowledged that prices may run higher than the 2.0% target set by the Committee due to transitory supply-chain bottlenecks, which are expected to fade.
Strong first-quarter corporate earnings reports, coupled with declining jobless claims, helped bolster equities during May. Stocks began the month on a high note, despite a lower-than-expected jobs report. Stocks retreated mid-month as inflation indicators pointed to price growth, while cryptocurrency volatility added to investor uncertainty. Nevertheless, stocks rebounded during the last week of May to pull the major market indexes higher, with only the Nasdaq failing to outperform its April value. Otherwise, the Global Dow led the benchmarks for the month, followed by the Dow, the S&P 500, and the Russell 2000. Year to date, the Global Dow is up nearly 17.0%, followed by the Russell 2000, the Dow, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq.
The market sectors ended the month mixed, with financials (5.6%), materials (4.6%), energy (3.2%), industrials (2.9%), and consumer staples (2.8%) closing the highest, while consumer discretionary (-3.5%) and information technology (-2.5%) fell the most. The yield on 10-year Treasuries fell 5 basis points in May.
|Market/Index*||2020 Close||Prior Month||As of May 28 th||Monthly Change||YTD Change|
|S & P 500||3,756.07||4,181.17||4,204.11||0.55%||11.93%|
|Federal Funds||0.00% – 0.25%||0.00% – 0.25%||0.00% – 0.25%||0 bps||0 bps|
|10-yr Treasury||0.91%||1.63%||1.58%||-5 bps||67 bps|
*Chart reflects price changes, not total return
Last Month's Economic News
- Employment: Employment is expanding, but not at the pace that was forecast. April saw 266,000 new jobs added, well below the level predicted. The March figure was revised down from 916,000 to 770,000 — an indication that job gains were not quite as robust as had been estimated. In April, the unemployment rate edged up 0.1 percentage point to 6.1%, the first increase in a year. The number of unemployed persons rose by roughly 100,000 to 9.8 million in April. Among the unemployed, the number of persons on temporary layoff increased in April by 100,000 to 2.1 million. This measure is down considerably from the recent high of 18.0 million in April 2020 but is 1.4 million higher than in February 2020. The number of persons not in the labor force who currently want a job fell from 6.9 million in March to 6.6 million in April. Notable job growth in April occurred in leisure and hospitality, which increased by 331,000. More than half of the increase in leisure and hospitality was due to a rise in food services and drinking establishments (+187,000). In April, the labor force participation rate inched up 0.2 percentage point to 61.7%, and the employment-population ratio rose 0.1 percentage point to 57.9%. Average hourly earnings increased by $0.21 to $30.17 in April after declining $0.04 in March. Average hourly earnings are up 0.3% from a year ago. The average work week increased by 0.1 hour to 35.0 hours in April.
- Claims for unemployment insurance have maintained a fairly steady pace over the past few months. According to the latest weekly totals, as of May 15th there were 3,642,000 workers receiving unemployment insurance benefits, down marginally from the April 17th total of 3,660,000. Since April 17th, the insured unemployment rate remained unchanged at 2.6%. During the week ended May 8th, extended benefits were available in 14 states (15 states during the week of April 10); 51 states and territories reported 6,515,657 continued weekly claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits (6,974,068 in April), and 51 states and territories reported 5,191,642 continued claims for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits (5,192,711 in April).
- GDP/budget: According to the second estimate, 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 11.3% in the first quarter after rising 2.3% in the fourth quarter. Nonresidential (business) fixed investment climbed 10.8% following a 13.1% increase in the fourth quarter; residential fixed investment continued to advance, increasing 12.7% in the first quarter after climbing 36.6% in the prior quarter. Exports decreased 2.9% 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 6.7% in the first quarter (29.8% in the fourth quarter of 2020).
- Inflation/consumer spending: Inflationary pressures continued to advance in April. According to the latest Personal Income and Outlays report, consumer prices edged up 0.6% in April after advancing 0.6% in March. Prices have increased 3.6% since April 2020. Excluding food and energy, consumer prices increased 0.7% in April and 3.1% since April 2020. Personal income decreased 13.1% in April after climbing 20.9% in March. Disposable personal income dropped 14.6% in April following a 23.4% advance the prior month. The decrease in personal income in April primarily reflected a decrease in government social benefits, as payments to individuals from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and unemployment insurance decreased. Consumer spending increased 0.5% in April following a 4.7% increase in March.
- The Consumer Price Index climbed 0.8% in April following a 0.6% increase in March. Over the 12 months ended in April, the CPI rose 4.2% — the largest 12-month increase since a 4.9% increase for the period ended in September 2008. Core prices, excluding food and energy, advanced 0.9% in April and are up 3.0% over the last 12 months, which is the largest gain since January 1996. Energy prices slipped 0.1% in April but are 25.1% higher than a year ago. Food prices rose 0.4% in April and are up 2.4% since April 2020. Overall, nearly every component of core prices rose in April, led by a 10.0% increase in prices for used cars and trucks.
- Prices that producers receive for goods and services continued to climb in April, increasing 0.6% after advancing 1.0% in March. Producer prices increased 6.2% for the 12 months ended in April, which is the largest yearly gain since November 2010 when 12-month data was first calculated. Producer prices less foods, energy, and trade services rose for the twelfth consecutive month after advancing 0.7% in April. Food prices rose 2.1%, while energy prices fell 2.4% in April.
- Housing: In April, sales of existing homes fell for the third consecutive month, declining 2.7% after decreasing 3.7% in March. Nevertheless, over the past 12 months, existing home sales increased 33.9%. The median existing-home price was $341,600 in April ($329,100 in March), up 19.1% from April 2020. Unsold inventory of existing homes represented a 2.4-month supply in April, slightly higher than the 2.1-month supply in March. Sales of existing single-family homes decreased 3.2% in April following a 4.3% drop in March. Year over year, sales of existing single-family homes rose 28.9%. The median existing single-family home price was $347,400 in April, up from $334,500 in March.
- New single-family home sales declined in April after advancing in March. New home sales fell 5.9% in April after increasing 20.7% in March. Sales of new single-family homes have increased 48.3% from April 2020. The median sales price of new single-family houses sold in April was $372,400 ($334,200 in March). The April average sales price was $435,400 ($400,500 in March). The inventory of new single-family homes for sale in April represents a supply of 4.4 months at the current sales pace, up from the March estimate of 4.0 months.
- Manufacturing: New orders for durable goods decreased in April for the first time in 11 months, falling 1.3% after advancing 1.3% in March. New orders for transportation equipment (-6.7%), motor vehicles and parts (-6.2%) and defense aircraft and parts (-8.5%) contributed to the overall downturn in April. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 1.0% in April. Excluding defense, new orders were unchanged. New orders for capital goods fell 0.5% in April following a 2.7% decline in March.
- International markets: Inflationary pressures are beginning to mount globally as countries begin phasing out lockdowns. Consumer prices rose 0.5% in Canada in April and are up 3.4% on the year. In April and over the last 12 months, consumer prices have risen in several countries including Germany (0.7%/2.2%), France (0.3%/1.4%), the United Kingdom (0.6%/1.5%), and China (0.6%/1.5%). However, inflationary pressures have been slow to develop in Japan, where prices dipped 0.4% in April and are down 0.4% for the year.
Eye on the Year Ahead
The easing of COVID-related restrictions in June should encourage more travel. Labor should see more new jobs added, while unemployment claims are expected to decrease. Overall, economic activity is expected to pick up. However, rising inflation will remain a concern, especially based on April's Consumer Price Index and Personal Income and Outlays report.
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