The stock market saw broad-based gains this week as it continued to recoup losses from the previous weeks. The S&P 500 index saw gains across various sectors, with energy being the biggest gainer in Monday’s trading. Traders were optimistic about the latest read on inflation, as the consumer-price index data released on Tuesday showed a slight increase in prices, but not enough to cause concern.
Wednesday’s retail sales figures provided a glimpse into the health of the U.S. consumer. The debate over whether we are heading towards a hard or soft landing continued, with economists divided over the outlook for the year ahead. The Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest-rate increases over the past year have caused some to worry that the highflying economy may lose its surprising strength in hiring and consumer spending.
However, demand for autos and housing has remained strong, and there are signs of an economic growth upturn. Tomorrow’s consumer-price index report will be closely watched by the Federal Reserve as they decide on their benchmark rate. While the economy has been cooling off in recent months, inflation has remained below the Fed’s target of 2%. The federal-funds rate currently stands at 4.5 percentage points, after the Fed raised it three times last year. The Fed is widely expected to raise the rate by another quarter-point at their meeting in March, bringing it to 4.75%.
Despite the fastest pace of rate increases since the early 1980s, most economists believe that the investment and hiring momentum will continue. The Labor Department reported that 517,000 jobs were added in January, bringing the unemployment rate down to 3.4%. Job openings in December were also at an all-time high, indicating a strong labor market. However, some forecasters worry that climbing interest rates may slow down the pace of growth.
Marc Giannoni, an economist at Barclays, believes that Fed policy may need to become more cautious as companies face higher prices and customers feel the pinch. Household income and spending on goods and labor-intensive services will be affected, as employers and workers see wage growth slow down. In January, average weekly hours worked and aggregate weekly payrolls were used as a proxy for wage and salary income, which rose by 8.5% over the past 12 months.
Manufacturing also showed signs of strength, as the index for factory activity rebounded last month, according to Goldman Sachs. However, the probability of a recession in the next 12 months has increased to 25%, up from 20% last month, while the chance of inflation rising above 3% and the unemployment rate above 4% has climbed to 35%. Overall, the pace of the economy is expected to slow down to the long-run trend of 2%.
As the market continues to digest economic data and Fed policy, investors should remain cautious and be prepared for volatility. While the economy has shown surprising strength, the Fed’s interest-rate hikes have raised concerns over inflation and growth. It is important for investors to stay diversified and avoid making hasty decisions based on short-term market movements. The market will continue to be driven by economic data and Fed policy, but long-term investors should focus on fundamentals and remain patient.
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