Week In Review: Bang! Off to the Races
The stock market began 2018 with a bang, advancing to new record highs in each of this week's four trading sessions. The Nasdaq Composite jumped 3.4% to 7136.56, the S&P 500 climbed 2.6% to 2743.15, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 2.3% to 25295.87. Markets were closed on Monday in observance of New Year's Day.
This week's rally followed an impressive 2017 campaign for Wall Street, during which the S&P 500 surged nearly 20%, and defused the belief that the new lower tax rates, which took effect on Monday, would invite some profit taking at the start of the new year.
Cyclical sectors, which typically do well when the outlook for the economy is favorable, set the pace this week with the technology (+4.2%), materials (+4.0%), and energy (+3.9%) groups being the top performers.
Energy shares benefited from an increase in the price of crude oil, which touched a three-year high amid anti-government protests in Iran--although the protests weren't expected to have an impact on the country's oil production. Oil prices were also supported by the Department of Energy's weekly inventory report, which showed that U.S. crude stockpiles declined by 7.4 million barrels last week. West Texas Intermediate crude futures gave back some gains on Friday but still ended with a weekly gain of 1.7% at a price of $61.47 per barrel.
Meanwhile, in the top-weighted technology sector, chipmakers had a solid week, bouncing back from some profit taking at the end of 2017; the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index ended the week higher by 5.8%. Intel (INTC) struggled, however, following reports that its chips contain security flaws. INTC shares finished the week lower by 3.1%.
The minutes from the December FOMC meeting were released on Wednesday, showing that most FOMC members backed a continued path of gradual rate hikes. Some members even saw the possibility for more aggressive tightening due to the new tax code, which Fed officials expect will boost consumer and capital spending.
Investors also received the Employment Situation Report for December, which bucked the longstanding trend of above-consensus headline growth and lagging wage growth. Nonfarm payrolls increased less than expected (148,000 actual vs 188,000 Briefing.com consensus), but the November reading was revised to 252,000 from 228,000. Average hourly earnings came in as expected, showing a month-over-month increase of 0.3%.
With the labor market believed to be approaching full employment, disappointing headline readings could become more commonplace. This would be indicative of employers struggling to find workers with the right skillset, which in turn should translate into upward pressure on wages.
The market dialed up its rate-hike expectations following this week's economic data. The CME FedWatch Tool points to the March FOMC meeting as the most likely time for the next rate-hike announcement with an implied probability of 68.1%, up from 51.7% last week.
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