Week In Review: Light Volume Overshadows Gains
Wall Street had a good week in terms of gains, but volume was light, pointing to a lack of conviction among investors -- who spent the week digesting a steady stream of headlines. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite led the major indices higher, adding 2.8%, while the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 2.0% and 1.8%, respectively.
The stock market began the week on a positive note following weekend interviews from several White House officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, that helped to alleviate fears that the U.S. is barreling towards a tit-for-tat trade war with China. Chinese President Xi Jinping helped further improve investor sentiment with a speech at the Boao Forum on Tuesday, saying that he plans to "significantly" cut tariffs on imported automobiles, reduce duties on other imported goods, and improve the intellectual property rights of foreign firms.
Moving to the Middle East, geopolitical tensions were heightened following a suspected chemical attack from the Syrian government on the rebel-held town of Douma that killed at least 40 people over the weekend. The situation escalated even further on Wednesday morning when Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, warned that it would shoot down any missiles fired at Syria -- to which U.S. President Donald Trump replied "get ready Russia, because they will be coming."
As of this writing, the U.S. has yet to strike the Syrian government, but it could happen at any moment. The attack was first thought to be imminent, but President Trump muddled that belief on Thursday by tweeting that it could happen "very soon or not so soon at all!"
In addition to the situation in Syria, a missile attack aimed at Saudi Arabia by pro-Iranian rebels in Yemen served to further escalate tensions in the region. Saudi air defense forces intercepted one missile over the capital Riyadh on Wednesday, while two others were intercepted over the southern areas of Jazan and Najran.
With all the concerning headlines out of the oil-rich Middle East, traders pushed oil prices substantially higher this week, betting that the tensions will eventually lead to a slowdown in production. West Texas Intermediate crude futures surged 8.4% to $67.26 per barrel, closing Friday at their highest level in more than three years. The S&P 500's energy sector benefited from the jump in oil prices, finishing at the top of the week's sector standings by a comfortable margin; the group added 6.0%.
In Washington, Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill this week, answering questions regarding the company's Cambridge Analytica data scandal and Russia's alleged use of Facebook to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Mr. Zuckerberg was grilled for 10 hours by nearly 100 lawmakers, but the market seemed satisfied with his answers. Facebook shares climbed 5.3% over the two days of testimony, eventually finishing the week with a gain of 4.7%.
On Friday, big banks kicked off the first quarter earnings season, with JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC), and Citigroup (C) all beating profit estimates on in-line revenues. However, shares of the three lenders, and the broader financial sector, sold off in the wake of the reports. The financial sector settled the week with a gain of 1.0%, which placed it in the middle of the sector standings. The lightly-weighted utilities and real estate groups finished at the back of the pack, losing a little more than 1.0% apiece.
Investors received the minutes from the March FOMC meeting this week, but the report contained few surprises. Some key inflationary data was also released this week -- namely the CPI readings for March -- but was met with a largely muted response from the market. In short, the consumer prices report showed a firming (though not scary) inflation trend that will keep the Federal Reserve wedded to its tightening bias and its belief that at least two more rate hikes are warranted this year.
The CME FedWatch Tool still anticipates that the next rate hike will occur at the June FOMC meeting with an implied probability of 95.0% (up from 85.2% last week). The market also still believes there will be a total of three rate hikes in 2018, but the chances for a fourth hike increased to 36.8% (from 26.3% last week).
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