Markets were driven lower in another volatile week of trading, ending the first month of 2015 in the red. For the week, the S&P 500 lost 2.77%, the Dow fell 2.87%, and the Nasdaq dropped 2.58%.
One of the major contributors to the week's losses was an unexpected miss in fourth quarter economic growth. The first estimate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) showed that the economy grew an underwhelming 2.6% in the last three months of 2014. This is a significant drop from the 5.0% growth the economy saw in the third quarter and below economists' expectations of 2.8%-3.0% growth. However, consumer spending was higher than expected, showing that Americans are still buying. Also, keep in mind that this is just the first estimate of GDP growth. A lot of economic data has yet to be analyzed, and we can hope for upward revisions in the months to come.
Earnings season marches onward and the news is mixed. While the reports we've seen from 228 S&P 500 companies show that earnings are up 5.5% over the same period in 2013, revenues are up just 1.7%. Overall, U.S. companies appear to be struggling with three factors:
- Falling oil prices, which are seriously affecting energy companies and interrelated businesses.
- The strength of the U.S. dollar, which is hitting companies that depend on foreign demand hard. A strong dollar makes it more expensive to buy U.S. products.
- Weak global economic growth. This factor is also pressing down forward-moving guidance from companies, many of which are expecting a tough business environment in 2015.
Even if overall earnings numbers may not look inspiring, there are a lot of individual success stories in each sector. Though volatility is stressful, it can provide opportunities for investors.
Oil prices continued to slide though some analysts believe we may be approaching an oil price floor. One industry insider believes that oil prices could double by the end of 2015 as oil companies respond to the supply glut by slowing down production.
Looking forward, the week ahead is filled with more economic reports, including the January Employment Situation Report, which will hopefully show continual improvement in the labor market. Markets are likely to remain volatile in the days and weeks ahead, but we can hope that positive data might encourage investors to "buy the dip.
Monday: Personal Income and Outlays, PMI Manufacturing Index, ISM Mfg Index, Construction Spending
Tuesday: Motor Vehicle Sales, Factory Orders
Wednesday: ADP Employment Report, ISM Non-Mfg. Index, EIA Petroleum Status Report
Thursday: International Trade, Jobless Claims, Productivity and Costs
Friday: Employment Situation
Notes: All index returns exclude reinvested dividends, and the 5-year and 10-year returns are annualized. Sources: Yahoo! Finance and Treasury.gov. International performance is represented by the MSCI EAFE Index. Corporate bond performance is represented by the DJCBP. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.
Durable goods fall sharply in December. Orders for long lasting U.S. manufactured goods dropped 3.4% in December after falling 2.1% in November, raising questions about the health of one of the economy's most important sectors. Though demand for automobiles grew, a core indicator of business investment fell for the fourth straight month.
Consumer sentiment brightens in January. Optimism about better job and wage prospects sent a measure of U.S. consumer sentiment to its highest level since 2004. Hopefully, increased confidence in the economic expansion will translate into higher consumer spending this quarter.
Chinese factory growth slides. China's manufacturing sector unexpectedly shrank in January to the lowest level since 2012. Since factories often experience a bump just before an important spring holiday, the drop could presage further gloom for China's economy.
Jobless claims fall to 14-year low. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level since 2000. Claims had been trending higher in previous reports, so the sudden drop is an indicator that the labor market is returning to its positive trend.
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