Quarterly Economic Update Second Quarter 2023

Economic Recap: The delayed effects of monetary tightening and tighter credit availability should dampen U.S. economic growth. However, the enduring strength of the labor market has shifted the expected start of the economic downturn closer to the end of this year or perhaps later. The peak-to-trough decline could be a modest 0.7%.

Congress passed legislation suspending the debt ceiling through the end of 2024 just weeks ago, avoiding what would have been the first default in U.S. history. The financial sector has also avoided contagion that would have triggered widespread instability in the banking system during the second quarter.

Over the past month, data releases have revealed a still-strong economy not yet on the brink of recession. As of May, the labor market registered a 14-month streak of better-than-expected payroll gains. While small business hiring plans are trending down, the descent has been gradual, and hiring plans have remained historically elevated.

There was a recent 0.5% jump in real consumer spending. Upward revisions to forecasts for payrolls and disposable income have pushed up consumer spending expectations through the year’s end.

As the tight labor market has boosted real incomes and spending, price pressures have eased only gradually. As a result, slightly higher inflation could occur with the increase in the Personal Consumption Deflator (the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge), averaging 4.5% in 2023.

Nonresidential investment has been bolstered by an influx of new projects in electric vehicle and semiconductor manufacturing; however, a challenging environment for commercial real estate could weigh on nonresidential investment in the quarters ahead. More broadly speaking, higher costs and lower business earnings in recent months could put downward pressure on investment spending throughout the economy.

Outlook: The U.S. economy showed fresh signs of cooling, with a reading of supplier inflation moderating and applications for unemployment benefits rising. U.S. economic growth slipped in the first quarter, and consumer spending stagnated in April and May. Additionally, the cash stockpiles that consumers accumulated over the past few years have gradually been eroded. Real personal consumption expenditures could decelerate in the coming months, lowering headline GDP growth. The Fed’s expected tightening in July will exert further headwinds on the economy.

Weaker economic growth should soon begin to weigh on hiring intentions – putting upward pressure on the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate should rise by more than one percentage point by mid-2024, reaching a peak of 4.6%, before gradually moving back to its long-run average of 4%.

Inflation has slowed from its multi-decade highs, though more recent data has shown some stalling in the disinflationary process. The fed funds rate should reach 5.25% in Q2-2023 and remain at that level through the fourth quarter of 2023. As higher rates cool demand-side pressures and inflation moves meaningfully back towards 2%, the U.S. economy is likely to slip into a modest recession towards the end of this year, but it is expected to be shallow and short-lived.

Source: Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, Bloomberg, Eurostat, Peoples Bank of China, European Central Bank

Market Commentary

Recap: June’s equity wins worldwide added to what has already been a successful year for shareholders. The resolution of the debt ceiling standoff and the Federal Reserve standing pat with their interest rate hiking cycle in June were macro wins that the market liked despite softening corporate profits. Investor frenzy surrounding all things artificial intelligence continued to express itself in the strong leadership and multiple expansions for those companies deemed to be beneficiaries of the mainstreaming of this new technology.

Stocks gained more ground as the first half ended. The broad U.S. equity indexes finished June on a positive note, and for the quarter, the large-cap S&P 500 posted an 8.7% return, the Russell Midcap was up 4.7%, and the small-cap Russell 2000 gained 5.2%.

Growth stocks slightly outpaced Value stocks in June, resuming their recent performance dominance, and for the entire quarter, posted a 12.5% return for the Russell 3000 Growth Index and just 4.0% for the Russell 3000 Value Index.   Q2 large, mid, and small-cap Growth stocks dramatically outpaced their Value counterparts. Most of the Growth Leadership, and frankly, return for the overall market, has been driven by a handful of mega-cap stocks, including Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, Netflix, NVDIA, and Tesla. While their profits have grown, investor enthusiasm has driven these stock prices to significantly expanded price earnings multiples making other parts of the market look much more reasonably priced or downright cheap.

International equities also posted positive returns for June and Q2, except for China which lost almost 10% for the quarter. Returns were significantly lower for international and emerging markets equities than U.S. equities. In Q2, the MSCI All Country World Index ex-U.S. was up 2.4%, the MSCI European, Australian, and Far East Index was up 3.0%, and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index was up 0.90%.

The bond market faced the headwinds of rising interest rates and concerns about the stickiness of core inflation and the increasing probability that interest rates will stay higher for longer. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Index was down 0.4% in June, and down 0.8% for Q2, the High Yield Index gained 1.7% in June and 1.8% for Q2, while the Global Aggregate ex-U.S. was up 0.3% in June but down 2.2% for all of Q2.

Outlook: The outlook for stock returns remains uncertain given the slowly deteriorating dynamics of the economy, the higher trajectory of interest rates, and the negative impact on corporate profits. The U.S. is likely headed into a period of slower economic growth, if not an outright recession. A recession is the price that will likely need to be paid for the Fed to crack the strong inflationary impulse in the U.S. That recession will likely result in lower consumer and business demand and higher unemployment. However, the equity market seems to be looking past this well-telegraphed recession to a period of falling interest rates and better corporate profit performance.

However, the outlook for bonds has brightened since last quarter mainly due to the likelihood that the Fed is closer to the end of its rate hiking cycle, inflation is coming down, and now bonds offer a respectable coupon rate after years of ultra-low interest rates.

There continue to be downside risks to the capital markets, which should be kept in mind as 2023 progresses. Those risks include the Fed possibly overshooting their rate increases, a deeper-than-expected recession occurring, more stress in the banking system emerging due to the industry’s deposit level declines, an increase in credit defaults as the economy slows, a possible escalation in the conflict in Ukraine with its potential impact on the prices of oil and commodities and of course, other unexpected geopolitical events.

A longer-term view of markets suggests that the tailwinds stock and bond investors enjoyed for the past decade, including massive fiscal stimulus and declining and ultra-low interest rates, will not resurface soon. Securities’ values are more likely to be driven by the organic operational successes of businesses rather than help from the federal government, speculators, or leverage. That will likely result in lower market returns than in the recent past.

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