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April Market Update: An Excellent First Quarter for Stocks

April Market Update: An Excellent First Quarter for Stocks

April 05, 2024

The first quarter is in the books, and it was an excellent one for stocks. The S&P 500 index rode a resilient U.S. economy, easing inflation, rising corporate profits, and anticipation of summertime rate cuts from the Federal Reserve (Fed) to solid gains in March, the fifth straight winning month, and the best first quarter since 2019.

With stocks having done so well, it’s natural to think about selling. If you haven’t rebalanced in a while and hold more equities than targets, shifting some stocks into bonds or alternative investments may make sense. If your investing time horizon is long, the case for trimming equities is stronger because valuations matter more three to five years out.

If you’re focused on the next few months, consider that the latest data suggests the economy is growing steadily and inflation pressures continue to ease. Investment in artificial intelligence — still in the early innings — is giving corporate profits a boost and looks more like the early-internet period of the mid-1990s than the speculative bubble in 1999–2000. Double-digit gains in S&P 500 companies’ profits this year, which seemed like a long shot at the start of the year, are now possible.

History also suggests staying the course. Since 1950, the S&P 500 has risen 93% of the time in the 12 months following a five-month streak, with an average gain of over 12%. And down years are rare after strong first quarters. So, while stocks are due for a pullback, as the choppy start to April suggests, it’s extremely difficult to sidestep a 5–10% decline. It’s tough to make a case for a big drop — one that might make sense to try to avoid — because of healthy market fundamentals.

The common refrain from the bears that the stock market’s gains are too concentrated has not held up lately. Technology stocks showed signs of fatigue in March, while cyclical value stocks that benefit from the improved economy picked up the slack. This rotation helped the energy, financials, and industrials sectors outperform in March while the average stock beat the index.

Turning to bonds, yields remain attractive following the latest rise in rates. A gradually slowing economy and easing inflation should limit additional selling pressure in the bond market, especially if the Fed cuts rates this summer as expected. Last week’s successful Treasury note auctions were encouraging. Corporate bond yield spreads, which tend to sniff out trouble before stocks, are about as calm as they get compared to Treasuries.

Solid fundamentals and history suggest investors stay the course, though a small allocation shift may make sense for those overdue for a rebalance or with long investing time horizons. Risks seem manageable at this time, though we continue to watch inflation, rates, and geopolitics closely.


 

 












 

 

Important Information

This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that the views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change.

References to markets, asset classes, and sectors are generally regarding the corresponding market index. Indexes are unmanaged statistical composites and cannot be invested into directly. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment and do not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

All data is provided as of April 3, 2024.

Any company names noted herein are for educational purposes only and not an indication of trading intent or a solicitation of their products or services. LPL Financial doesn’t provide research on individual equities.

All index data from FactSet.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P500) is a capitalization-weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.

This Research material was prepared by LPL Financial, LLC. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, LPL Financial makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Asset allocation does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.

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