Week In Review: Waiting on Washington
Equities ticked higher this week as investors geared up for an end-of-year showdown in Washington.
The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average both advanced 0.4%, closing Friday's session at fresh record highs, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq underperformed, losing 0.1%. Small caps struggled this week, pushing the Russell 2000 lower by 1.0%.
Investor sentiment was upbeat at Monday's opening bell after the U.S. Senate passed its version of a tax reform bill over the weekend, allowing the GOP to enter the final stretch of its quest to rewrite the tax code. House and Senate Republicans are hoping to reach an agreement on a final bill and pass said bill in their respective chambers before December 22.
In addition to the GOP's self-imposed tax reform deadline, December 22 is the new end date for government funding after Congress agreed to a two-week stopgap spending bill on Thursday evening. The risk of a government shutdown was on investors' minds throughout the week, helping to keep the bulls in check.
With the legislative agenda for the rest of the year virtually set, investors appeared to be in wait-and-see mode for much of the week, taking some profits and readjusting their portfolios. However, the Employment Situation Report for November, which was released on Friday, helped equities finish the week on a positive note.
The Employment Situation Report for November showed a larger-than-expected increase in nonfarm payrolls (228K actual vs 190K Briefing.com consensus) and a smaller-than-expected rise in average hourly earnings (+0.2% actual vs +0.3% Briefing.com consensus).
In other words, job growth has remained strong while wages--which are positively correlated with inflation--have remained relatively subdued. This combination has proven to be highly beneficial for the stock market as it points to steady economic growth but leaves out the inflationary concerns that typically accompany said growth.
The S&P 500's eleven sectors finished the week mixed, with seven settling in the green and four closing in the red. The financial sector was the top performer, adding 1.5%, followed closely by the industrial group (+1.4%). Within the industrial space, transports showed particular strength, pushing the Dow Jones Transportation Average higher by 2.1%.
On the downside, the energy sector lost 0.7% amid a decrease in the price of crude oil; West Texas Intermediate crude futures declined 1.8% to $57.30 per barrel. The utilities space (-1.0%) also struggled as energy providers like Edison (EIX) faced outages due to wild fires in Southern California; EIX shares lost 11.1% for the week.
Corporate news was pretty light this week, but it's worth noting that CVS Health (CVS) acquired health insurer Aetna (AET) for $207 per share in cash and stock. That price represents a premium of about 29% to where Aetna shares were trading before the Wall Street Journal reported that the companies were in talks in October.
Looking ahead, the Fed is widely expected to announce a rate hike of 25 basis points next week, which would bring the fed funds target range to 1.25%-1.50%.
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