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This Baby Bull Has Time to Grow

This Baby Bull Has Time to Grow

January 02, 2024

You may have witnessed some fireworks on New Year’s Eve, but those weren’t the only fireworks exploding. The last two months of 2023 finished with a bang! More specifically, over this short period, the S&P 500 index skyrocketed +13.7%, NASDAQ +16.8%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average +14.0%. The gains have been even more impressive for the cheaper, more interest-rate-sensitive small-cap stocks (IJR +21.8%), which I have highlighted for months (see also AI Revolution).

For the full year, the bull market was on an even bigger stampede: S&P 500 +24%, NASDAQ +43%, and Dow +14%.

Although 2023 closed with a festive explosion, 2022 ended with a bearish growl. Effectively, 2023 was a reverse mirror image of 2022. In 2022, the stock market fell -19% (S&P) due to a spike in inflation. Directionally, interest rates followed inflation higher as the Fed worked through the majority of its 0% to 5.5% Federal Funds rate hiking cycle.

To sum it up simply, the last two years have been like riding a rollercoaster. For the year just ended, much of the year felt like a party, but 2022 felt more like a funeral. When you add the two years together, it was more of a lackluster result. For 2022-2023 combined, results registered at a meager +0.1% for the S&P, +3.7% for the Dow, and -4.0% for the NASDAQ (see chart below).

For those saying the good times of 2023 cannot continue, investors should understand that history paints a different picture. As you can see from the stock market cycles chart (below) that spans back to 1962, the average bull market lasts 51 months (i.e., 4 years, 3 months), while the average bear market persists a little longer than 11 months. This data suggests the current one-year-old baby bull market has plenty of room to grow more.

Source: Visual Capitalist

Why So Bullish?

What has investors so jazzed up in recent months? For starters, inflation has been on a steady decline for many months. With China’s stagnating economy, it has helped our inflationary cause by exporting deflationary goods to our country. As you can see from the Personal Consumption Deflator chart below, this broad inflation measure has declined to the Federal Reserve’s 2% target level. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve Chairman has been paying attention to these statistics, as evidenced by the central bank’s forecast at the Fed’s recent policy meeting last month on December 13th for three interest rate cuts in 2024. This so-called Powell Pivot is a reversal in tone by the Fed, which had been on a relentless rampage of interest rate hikes, over the last two years.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

This interest rate cycle headwind has turned into a tailwind as investors now begin to discount the probability of future rate cuts in 2024. The relief of lower interest rates can be felt immediately, whether you consider declining mortgage and car loan rates for consumers, or credit line and corporate loan rates for businesses. This trend can be seen in the benchmark 10-Year Treasury Note yield, which has declined from a peak of 5.0% a few months ago to 3.9% today (see chart below).

Source: Trading Economics

Declining inflation and interest rates explain a lot of investor optimism, but there are additional reasons to be sanguine. The economy remains strong, unemployment remains low, AI (Artificial Intelligence) applications are improving worker productivity, trillions of potential stock market dollars remain on the sidelines in money market accounts, and corporate profits have resumed rising near all-time record levels (see chart below).


What could go wrong? There are always plenty of unforeseen issues that could slow or reverse our economic train. Geopolitical events in Russia or the Middle East are always difficult to predict, and we have a presidential election in 2024, which could always negatively impact sentiment. This new bull market had a great start in 2023, but in historical terms, it is only a baby. Time will tell if 2024 will make this baby cry, but whatever the market faces, declining inflation and interest rates should act as a pacifier.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (January 2, 2024). Subscribe Here to view all monthly articles.

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