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Stock Market Report For Week Ended September 22, 2017

STOCKS END MIXED BUT LARGE-CAPS HIT NEW HIGHS

The major indexes ended the week mixed. The large-cap benchmarks were flat to modestly higher, with both the S&P 500 Index and the narrowly focused Dow Jones Industrial Average setting record highs early in the week before falling back a bit. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index also hit new highs but ended the week down moderately. The smaller-cap benchmarks performed best for the week but stayed below the peaks they established in late July. Interest rate-sensitive utilities and real estate shares performed poorly for the week as Treasury yields increased, and consumer staples shares also lagged. Energy stocks fared well as oil prices hit a three-month high, helped by increasing demand from refineries in the Gulf of Mexico coming back online. Financials also recorded solid gains.

POLITICS DRIVES SENTIMENT, BUT NOT IN FIRM DIRECTION

T. Rowe Price traders observed that political developments continued to play a large role in driving sentiment, although not in a decisive direction—volatility was muted, and trading volumes remained subdued through much of the week. Investors did not appear to react to President Donald Trump’s strong words about North Korea on Tuesday, and new threats in response from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un early Friday morning appeared to have only a limited impact when trading opened in New York. Likewise, new Republican efforts to pass a health care bill seemed to have little broad impact, although health care services stocks—particularly those of companies heavily reliant on Medicaid clients—fell sharply on Tuesday before recovering somewhat.

BONDS: YIELDS INCREASE ON EXPECTATIONS FOR RATE HIKE, GOOD ECONOMIC DATA

Investors also kept a close eye on the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting on Wednesday, but the results of the meeting were largely in line with expectations—the Fed kept rates steady but announced that, beginning in October, it would reduce the amount of payments on its bond holdings that it reinvests—and did not appear to move stock prices. The impact was more profound in the bond market, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note briefly touching its highest level since early August following the meeting. An increased chance that the Fed will raise rates at its December meeting was partly behind the increase in yields, but T. Rowe Price analysts noted that some positive housing data may have also been a factor, with both August housing starts and new housing permits coming in above expectations. The lower Treasury prices dragged municipal bond prices down as well. Munis outperformed Treasuries, however, as the municipal market continued to benefit from high demand for new issues.

Investment-grade corporate bonds benefited from supportive technical conditions amid light new issuance, higher rates, and ongoing demand from overseas investors. Credit spreads (the additional yield over Treasuries with similar maturities) across most sectors narrowed, with the technology and media/telecommunications sector a notable outperformer. The technology, media, and telecom segment saw strong demand, due in part to reports that AT&T is contemplating a sale of its pay TV division in Latin America to reduce debt. Dealer inventories are approaching their lows for the year, according to T. Rowe Price analysts, contributing to the strong technical environment.

The high yield market was mostly quiet with the exception of credit-specific headlines. The acquisition of Rite Aid by Walgreens received government approval after yet another adjustment to the terms of the deal. In other merger news, reports surfaced that Sprint and T-Mobile had resumed talks and seemed closer to reaching an agreement. Below investment-grade funds reported inflows for the week.

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