Stocks continued their advance on generally strong earnings reports this week despite the GDP report showing a slow first quarter economy. The S&P 500 rose 1.51%, the Dow gained 1.91%, and the NASDAQ added 2.32%. On Tuesday, the NASDAQ posted record highs as it closed over 6,000 for the first time. Internationally, the MSCI EAFE was up 2.97%.
On Friday, April 28, we learned that first quarter GDP increased a modest 0.7%, lower than the reported consensus expectations of approximately 1%. Oil drilling and housing performed well, but consumer spending fell, largely due to poor auto sales and lower utility bills. Consumer spending, the largest segment of our economy, rose by only 0.3%.
While this growth is slower than the 2.1% last quarter – and the lowest we’ve experienced in three years – the picture is likely not as negative as it may seem at first. Not only did mild weather affect consumer spending on heating, but the government has also acknowledged its challenges accurately calculating data for first quarter GDP.
In addition to these GDP readings, a number of other events and data releases contributed to market performance this week.
Corporate Earnings Were Largely Positive: Thus far in the first quarter, 79% of reporting companies published strong profits. In particular, consumer discretionary companies and commodity producers reported robust earnings while phone services and real estate investment trusts had weaker results.
- General Motors
- Alphabet (parent company of Google)
- Procter & Gamble
- U.S. Steel
Trump Announced Tax Plan: President Trump outlined his new tax proposal, including plans to cut corporate taxes to 15%. Individual tax rates would fall to 10%, 25%, and 35% if Congress adopts the president’s plan.
North American Trade Experienced Tension: On Wednesday, April 26, reports that the U.S. may pull out of NAFTA created concern in financial markets. By Thursday, however, markets calmed after President Trump said he would agree to requests from Canada and Mexico’s leaders to renegotiate the decades-long trade deal. As these negotiations continue, two controversies lay in the background:
- U.S. dairy farmers’ claims that Canadian action concerning milk imports violates the trade agreement
- A new tariff of up to 24% on Canadian softwood lumber that President Trump announced last week.
Finding the right solution for the negotiations is important to the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. NAFTA affects a significant portion of each country’s economy, including industries such as farming, automotive, and energy. Trade with the two countries accounted for approximately $584 billion in U.S. exports in 2016.
French Elections Moved Markets: Political newcomer Emmanuel Macron emerged as the frontrunner in the French election while ultra-right nationalist Marine Le Pen’s chances of winning the May 7 final election appear to be fading. After the first round election results eased investor concerns about a possible Le Pen victory, the markets reacted positively with $2.4 billion flowing into European equities by April 26. Asian equities also rallied.
With Congress avoiding a shutdown last week, the markets should focus this week on:
- Earnings reports
- Construction spending
- April auto sales
- Manufacturing data
- Federal Reserve meeting on Wednesday
By Friday, most remaining S&P 500 companies’ earnings reports will be in, including Apple, Facebook, and Pfizer. Looking ahead, we will watch for what economic stories emerge from the data we receive, including the upcoming jobs report. For now, despite the first quarter’s initially slow GDP growth of 0.7%, expectations continue for 2.5% growth in 2017.