On the surface, last month’s performance of the stock market as measured by the S&P 500 index (+0.3%) seemed encouraging, but rather pedestrian. Fears of sticky-high inflation, more potential Federal Reserve interest rate hikes, contagion uncertainty surrounding a mini-banking crisis, along with looming recession concerns led to a -3.5% monthly decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (-1,190 points). The good news is that inflation is declining (see chart below) and currently the Federal Reserve is expected to pause from increasing interest rates in June (the first time in more than a year).
Source:Calafia Beach Pundit
Overall stock market performance has been a mixed-bag at best. Adding to investor anxiety, if you haven’t been living off-the-grid in a cave, is the debt ceiling negotiations. Essentially, our government has maxed out its credit card spending limit, but Republicans and Democrats have agreed in principle on a resolution for an expanded credit line. More specifically, the House of Representatives just approved to raise the debt ceiling by a resounding margin of314 – 117. If all goes well, after months of saber rattling and brinksmanship, the bill should be finalized by the Senate and signed by the President over the next two days.
Beyond the Washington bickering, and under the surface, an artificial intelligence (AI) revolution has been gaining momentum and contributed to the technology-heavy NASDAQ catapulting +5.8% for the month and +23.6% for 2023. At the center of this disruptive and transformational AI movement is NVIDIA Corp., a leading Silicon Valley chip manufacturer of computationally-intensive GPUs (graphics processing units), which are used in generative AI models such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT (see NVIDIA products below). Adoption and conversations surrounding NVIDIA’s AI technology have been spreading like wildfire across almost every American industry, resulting in NVIDIA’s stratospheric stock performance (+36% for the month, +159% for the year, +326% on a 3-year basis).
Source:NVIDIA Corp. – the computing engines behind the AI revolution.
Why Such the Fuss Over AI?
Some pundits are comparing AI proliferation to the Industrial Revolution – on par with productivity-enhancing advancements like the steam engine, electricity, personal computers, and the internet. The appetite for this new technology is ravenous because AI is transforming a large swath of industries with its ability to enhance employee efficiency. By leveraging machine learning algorithms and massive amounts of data, generative AI enables businesses to automate repetitive tasks, streamline processes, and unlock new levels of productivity. A study released by MIT researchers a few months ago showed that workers were 37% more efficient using ChatGPT.
If you have created an account and played around with ChatGPT at all you can quickly realize there are an endless number of potential applications and use-cases across virtually all industries and job functions. Already, application of generative AI systems is disrupting e-commerce, marketing, customer service, healthcare, robotics, computer vision, autonomous vehicles, and yes, even accounting. Believe it or not, ChatGPT recently passed the CPA exam! Maybe ChatGPT will do my taxes next year?
Other industries are quickly being disrupted too. Lawyers may feel increased pressure when contracts or briefs can be created with a click of the button. Schools and teachers are banning ChatGPT too in hopes of not creating lazy students who place cheating and plagiarism over critical thinking.
At one end of the spectrum, some doomsday-ers believe AI will become smarter than humans, replace everyone’s job, and AI robots will take over the world (see Elon Musk warns AI could cause “civilization destruction”). At the other end of the spectrum, others see AI as a transformational tool to help worker productivity. As generative AI continues to advance, its impact on employee efficiency will only grow, optimizing processes, driving innovation, and reshaping industries for a more productive future. Embracing this transformative technology will be critical for businesses seeking to thrive in the new digital age.
2023 Stock Performance Explained – Index Up but Most Stocks Down
Although 2022 was a rough year for the stock market (i.e., S&P 500 down -19%), stock prices have rebounded by +20% from the October 2022 lows, and +9% this year. This surge can be in large part attributed to the lopsided performance of the top 1% of stocks in the S&P 500 index (Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc., NVIDIA Corp., and Alphabet-Google), which combined account for almost 25% of the index’s total value. These top 5 consumer and enterprise technology companies have appreciated on average by an astounding +60% in the first five months of the year and represent a whopping $9 trillion in value. It gets a little technical, but it’s worth noting these larger companies have a disproportionate impact on the calculation of the return percentages, and vice versa for the smaller companies. To put these numbers in context, Apple’s $2.8 trillion company value is greater than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of many entire countries, including Italy, Canada, Australia, South Korea, Brazil, and Russia.
On the other hand, if we contrast the other 99% of the S&P 500 index (495 companies), these stocks are down -1% each on average for 2023 (vs +60% for the top 5 mega-stocks). If you look at the performance summary below, you can see that basically every other segment of the stock market outside of technology (e.g., small-cap, value, mid-cap, industrial) is down for the year.
2023 Year-To-Date Performance (%)
S&P 500: +8.9%
S&P 500 (Equal-Weight): -1.2%
S&P Small-Cap Index: -2.3%
Russell 1000 Value Index: -2.0%
S&P Mid-Cap Index: -0.7%
Dow Jones Industrial: -0.7%
While most stocks have dramatically underperformed technology stocks this year, this phenomenon can be explained in a few ways. First of all, smaller companies are more cyclically sensitive to an economic slowdown, and do not have the ability to cut costs to the same extent as the behemoth companies. The majority of stocks have factored in a slowdown (or mild recession) and this is why valuations for small-cap and mid-cap stocks are near multi-decade lows (12.8x and 13.0x, respectively) – see chart below.
The stock market pessimists have been calling for a recession for going on two years now. Not only has the recession date continually gotten delayed, but the severity has also been reduced as corporate profits remain remarkably resilient in the face of numerous economic headwinds. Regardless, investors can stand on firmer ground now knowing we are upon the cusp of an AI revolution and near the finish line of a debt ceiling resolution.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in NVDA, AAPL, MSFT, GOOGL, AMZN and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.