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Stocks See Upbeat End to Tumultuous 2023 as Investors Look to New Year

Markets
0 min read

Major U.S. stock indexes edged higher at the open on Thursday, putting the S&P 500 on the verge of notching its longest weekly winning streak since 2004 and cementing an overall standout year for equities.

The S&P 500 rose 0.2% to kick off the final trading session of the week, hovering near its all-time closing high of 4,796.56. The benchmark index is up over 19% year-to-date and on pace to close out its ninth consecutive week of gains. The last time the S&P 500 posted such an extended weekly rally was back in November 2004.

Powering the upbeat performance is the technology-focused Nasdaq Composite, which has skyrocketed more than 44% in 2023 – its biggest annual gain since 2003. Tech stocks have proven remarkably resilient despite rising interest rates, which tend to especially pressure growth names. On Thursday, the Nasdaq edged up 0.3% to add to its banner year.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average also joined in on the gains, rising 0.2% in early trading thanks to lifts from constituent stocks like Nike and Boeing. The 30-stock index remains on track to gain nearly 7% in 2023, making it one of the rare years in the past decade that the Dow has lagged the broader S&P 500.

While stocks are closing 2023 on an undeniably high note, the road to this point has been bumpy. The first half of the year was dominated by fears of surging inflation and the Federal Reserve’s aggressive policy response. The Fed’s supersized rate hikes aimed at cooling price growth fueled worries that they would ultimately tip the economy into a recession.

The second half brought some relief on inflation and allowed the Fed to moderate its tightening campaign. But economic uncertainties still abound, especially as consumer spending shows signs of weakening and the housing market continues to slide.

That backdrop makes this year-end rally all the more remarkable. It suggests investors are looking past immediate headwinds and betting on the economy’s resilience over the long-term.

The still-strong jobs market is a major pillar supporting optimism. The latest weekly unemployment claims data edged slightly higher but remain near historically low levels. That implies employers are hanging onto workers despite growing recession concerns.

However, other corners of the economy are flashing warnings signs. Pending home sales were unchanged in November and languish around their lowest levels since 2001. Mortgage rates above 7% continue to sideline prospective buyers, pointing to sustained housing market weakness into 2024.

While pockets of weakness exist, the overall economic data suggests a soft landing remains possible, though far from guaranteed. The Fed’s efforts to cool demand without crushing it could pay off, setting the stage for a rebound later next year.

That’s the outcome equity investors seem to be betting on during this year-end rally. Risk appetite remains healthy despite the rocky macro backdrop. And with interest rates climbing and bond yields rising, stocks look relatively more attractive, providing support to multiples.

Of course, the flipside is also possible if inflation proves stubborn and forces more aggressive Fed action. Navigating recession risks make for tricky times ahead.

But for now, Wall Street is focused on capping off 2023 with a flourish. The Nasdaq leading the way signals belief in tech and growth stocks’ durability even if rates keep climbing. And sustained equity inflows suggest cash on the sidelines is being put to work.

As long as the economic data doesn’t deteriorate sharply and corporate profits remain resilient, this stock rally could keep running into 2024. But selectivity will be key, with investors wise to favor quality names with healthy balance sheets in case challenging times emerge.

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