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Stock Market Report For Week Ended May 22, 2015

U.S. stocks end mixed in pre-holiday trading
U.S. large-cap stocks ended mixed this week in light trading as a lack of market-moving economic data and corporate news reassured investors that the Federal Reserve would not raise interest rates until this year's second half. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index ended Friday off record levels touched earlier in the week. Trading was quiet ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, with daily volume well below average levels for the year.

Fed minutes indicate June liftoff unlikely
On Friday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said the central bank is still on track to raise interest rates this year but gave little insight into timing of the first increase. Economic reports this week showed that consumer prices, excluding food and fuel, rose at a faster-than-expected 0.3% pace in April—indicating that inflation is edging closer to the Fed's 2% goal—while housing starts climbed in April from March to the highest level in seven years. Despite the solid readings, minutes from the Fed's April meeting showed that many Fed officials "thought it unlikely" that data in June would show that the U.S. economy was strong enough to raise short-term interest rates. T. Rowe Price's Chief Economist Alan Levenson believes that the Fed's initial "liftoff" will likely occur by September.

First-quarter earnings edge higher...
The wind-down of the corporate earnings season contributed to the market's muted activity. Including results from the 488 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results as of Friday, first-quarter earnings are on track to rise 0.3% from a year ago, according to FactSet. At that pace, it will be the lowest quarterly earnings growth pace since the third quarter of 2012.

...But slowing profit growth raises valuation concern
The combination of slowing profit growth and relatively high stock prices has caused some T. Rowe Price portfolio managers to anticipate lower stock returns in the U.S. The forward 12-month price-to-earnings ratio for S&P 500 companies currently stands at 17—above the trailing 5- and 10-year averages—though analysts expect year-over-year declines in earnings and revenue to continue through this year's third quarter, according to FactSet.

On the plus side, T. Rowe Price's Asset Allocation Committee notes that U.S. corporate balance sheets and profit margins remain healthy. First-quarter earnings growth, while muted, is still better than earlier forecasts of a year-over-year decline. Looking ahead, stabilization of the U.S. dollar and energy prices could support domestic corporate earnings growth by removing these headwinds to the nation's energy, manufacturing, and export-oriented sectors.


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