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Stock Market Report For Week Ended July 14, 2017

LARGE-CAP INDEXES REACH NEW HIGHS

Stocks rose for the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index were the only benchmarks to touch new intraday highs, but the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite performed best for the week. Trading volumes were generally subdued through Thursday as investors awaited the start of earnings reporting season, which kicked off Friday with the release of second-quarter results from several major banks. Stocks rallied into the close of the week, which some attributed to hopes for a repeat of the previous quarter’s upward earnings surprises.

Markets were generally flat early in the week, with the S&P 500 suffering only a brief sell-off on Tuesday morning after President Trump’s son released emails showing that he had had contact with a Russian lawyer before the election. Politics were also in focus in terms of the Republican health care bill. T. Rowe Price traders noted that the announcement later Tuesday that the Senate was delaying its August recess to deal with health care helped the market recover from the email revelations. 

MARKETS RISE ON YELLEN’S DOVISH TONE

Attention on Wednesday shifted to the Federal Reserve. Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s semiannual testimony before Congress struck a generally dovish tone, according to the firm’s traders. Yellen signaled that the Fed was in no rush to tighten monetary policy, and offered reassurances on the current state of the economy. Investors may also have been relieved that she avoided repeating the reference she had made in late June to asset prices as being “somewhat rich.” 

The bank earnings released Friday offered both positive and negative surprises, but the group as a whole moved lower in early trading. Disappointing economic data may have been to blame, with retail sales in June falling for the second straight month. Investors may also have been discouraged by continuing weakness in core (less food and energy costs) inflation, which rose only 0.1% for the month. T. Rowe Price Chief U.S. Economist Alan Levenson notes that four consecutive months of subdued core inflation may complicate the Fed’s plans to raise interest rates. Indeed, in her Wednesday testimony, Yellen referred to weak recent inflation readings and stated that “monetary policy is not on a preset course” but that “the Committee will be monitoring inflation developments closely in the months ahead.”

TREASURY PRICES RISE ON SOFT INFLATION DATA

The soft inflation data helped U.S. Treasuries produce positive returns for the week. Municipal bonds also posted positive absolute returns but trailed Treasuries. With a heavy new issuance calendar setting the pace of the week, yields rose along with global rates. The heavy calendar had a spillover impact, increasing activity and demand in the secondary markets.

The investment-grade corporate bond primary calendar was very active early in the week. With U.S. banks slated to begin reporting earnings on Friday, their non-U.S. peers sought to take advantage of the healthy tone and issue bonds in advance of the expected near-term supply increase. The energy sector bounced following recent pressure. Away from financials and energy, technical conditions continued to drive sentiment. Spreads (the additional yield relative to Treasuries of comparable maturities) moved very little during the week.

STABILIZING OIL PRICES HELP HIGH YIELD MARKET

The high yield market traded in an orderly fashion as recent weakness seemed to have abated, at least temporarily. Stability in oil prices helped the overall tone of the market given the heavy presence of energy issuers in the segment. However, traders noted that most investors seemed biased toward putting money to work in non-commodity sectors given the recent weakness in oil. New issuance was muted this week, and credit spreads narrowed marginally. Spreads for securitized sectors (residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities, as well asset-backed securities) were all marginally tighter during the week. Issuance of asset-backed securities (bonds backed by assets such as credit card receivables and auto loans) has surged to $129 billion this year, up from $100 billion at this time last year.

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