By: Gene Walden, Senior Finance Editor September 05, 2017
The stock market has been fairly flat this summer in spite of improving economic growth, an expanding employment market, and solid retail sales and consumer spending. After finishing July at 2470.30, the S&P 500 closed August about a point higher at 2471.65.
What’s holding the market back? Gridlock in Washington, D.C., tensions over North Korea, a sluggish oil market, and concern over corporate earnings growth may all have played into the lackluster performance of the market recently.
Here are some highlights from the month:
- GDP growth revised up. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth was revised up to 3% annualized for the second quarter from the initial estimate of 2.6%, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce GDP report issued August 28.
- Retail sales rebound. Retail sales were up 0.6% in July, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
- Employment growth continues. Employers added 156,000 new jobs in August following 189,000 new jobs in July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Report September 1. The unemployment rate was little changed at 4.4 percent.
- Oil prices retreat but gasoline surges. After a quick jump in July that pushed the price of oil to just over $50 a barrel (West Texas Intermediate), prices dipped back into the high $40s in August, closing the month at $47.23. However, gasoline prices jumped to the highest level of the year due to supply issues caused by Hurricane Harvey. However, those prices are expected to drop back to the normal range once distribution centers have recovered from the hurricane.
U.S. Stocks Flat in August
The S&P 500 was essentially the same at the close of August as it was at the close of July, moving from 2470.30 July 31 to 2471.65 August 31. The S&P 500 is up 10.40% for the year with a total return of 11.93%.
The NASDAQ was up 1.27% in August, from 6348.12 at the end of July to 6,428.66 at the close of trading in August. The NASDAQ is up 19.42% for the year.
Employment Keeps Climbing
Employment grew modestly the past two months, increasing by 189,000 jobs in July and 156,000 in August, marking 83 consecutive months of job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Report on September 1.
Although August job growth was modest by recent standards, it is still significant considering the low 4.4% unemployment rate. While recent surveys by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve have shown that businesses are interested in adding staff, finding qualified workers has become an obstacle to business growth – and may continue to be a problem in the months ahead.
But while job growth has been good, wage growth is still very slow. Wages grew a very disappointing 3 cents over the previous month in August – and are up 2.5% over the past 12 months.
Retail Sales Rebound
After a slow start to the summer, retail sales were up 0.6% in July, according to the Retail Sales Report issued August 15 by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Sales are up 4.2% year-over-year.
Online sales have been particularly strong this year – with “non-store” sales up 0.5% in July and 11.5% year-over-year.
August was a fairly flat month for most sectors of the S&P 500. Information Technology led the way with a 3.47% gain, followed by Utilities with a 3.25% gain, and Health Care, with a 2.85% gain. The biggest losers included Energy, down 5.18%, and Telecom Services, down 3.02%
The chart below shows the results for all 11 sectors:
Bond Yields Sinking
Market interest rates on 10-year U.S. Treasuries have been dropping slowly for the past few months. Rates dropped again during August, from 2.29% at the end of July to just 2.12% at the close of August.
Euro and Yen Both Gain Versus Dollar
The Euro continued its strong gains versus the dollar in August, up 0.84% for the month. For the year, the dollar has dropped 12.72% versus the Euro, reversing a long upward trend by the dollar in recent years.
The Yen also improved against the dollar in July, up 0.39% for the month and 5.64% for the year.
Oil Sinks Again
After a hopeful July rebound, oil prices dropped back down to under $50 a barrel in August, closing the month with a 5.86% decline. The price dropped from $50.17 per barrel (West Texas Intermediate) at the end of July to $47.23 at the close of August.
Gold Prices Up
Gold prices moved up in August over political uncertainty, rising tensions regarding the North Korean missile crisis, and Hurricane Harvey. Gold closed August at $1,322.20 per ounce, up 4.2% from the July close of 1,268.40 per ounce.
International Inches Down
The international stock markets dipped slightly in August. The MSCI EAFE Index, which closed the month at 1930.82, was down 0.31% from its July close of 1,936.91. It is up 14.66% for the year.
See our September Market Outlook from the Chief Investment Officer to find out what we expect in the weeks and months ahead.
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Media contact: Callie Briese, 612-844-7340; firstname.lastname@example.org
All information and representations herein are as of 9/1/17, unless otherwise noted.
The views expressed are as of the date given, may change as market or other conditions change, and may differ from views expressed by other Thrivent Asset Management associates. Actual investment decisions made by Thrivent Asset Management will not necessarily reflect the views expressed. This information should not be considered investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or product. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Investment decisions should always be made based on an investor's specific financial needs, objectives, goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance.
Indexes are unmanaged and do not reflect the fees and expenses associated with active management. Investments cannot be made directly into an index.
The S&P 500® Index is a market-cap weighted index that represents the average performance of a group of 500 large-capitalization stocks.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a price-weighted average of 30 significant stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the NASDAQ.
The NASDAQ (National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations) is an electronic stock exchange with more than 3,300 company listings.
The MSCI EAFE Index measures developed-economy stocks in Europe, Australasia and the Far East.
West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is a grade of crude oil used as a benchmark in oil pricing.
Performance data cited represents past performance and should not be viewed as an indication of future results. Current performance may be lower or higher than the performance data quoted.
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