The S&P 500 index rose 1.9% last week, led by the materials sector, as investors were encouraged by stronger-than-expected services sector data and a Fed official’s comments supporting a “slow and steady” approach to monetary policy.
On Tuesday, the S&P 500 closed out February with a 2.6% monthly loss as investors worried about the impacts of inflation and interest rate increases on the economy. Concerns were magnified last month after companies including Home Depot (HD) and Walmart (WMT) issued weaker-than-expected earnings guidance.
However, the index is still up 5.4% for the year to date thanks to a 6.2% January jump that had come on hopes for the pace of rate increases to slow.
While concerns about the pace of rate increases weighed on the market in February, investors found some comfort on Thursday in comments from Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic, who told reporters that “slow and steady is going to be the appropriate course of action.”
Investors were also encouraged on Friday by two reports showing US services sector activity was stronger than projected in February. The Institute for Supply Management’s purchasing managers’ index for February came in higher than the consensus estimate and showed a second consecutive month of growth. Separately, S&P’s services PMI gauge for February ended a seven-month sequence of contraction and surpassed the consensus estimate. S&P’s report also showed year-ahead output expectations were the strongest since May 2022.
The materials sector had the largest percentage increase last week, up 4%, followed by increases of 3.3% each in communication services and industrials. Just two sectors fell: Utilities slipped 0.7% and consumer staples edged down 0.4%.
This week, economic data will be fairly light earlier in the week but all eyes will be on February jobs data later in the week.
January factory orders are due on Monday, followed by January wholesale trade and consumer credit on Tuesday. February private-sector jobs data from ADP will be released on Wednesday, followed by weekly jobless claims on Thursday and the February nonfarm payrolls and unemployment reports on Friday.
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