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Stock Market Report For Week Ended April 21, 2017

STOCKS FINISH HIGHER AFTER UP-AND-DOWN WEEK

Stocks closed higher following a week of seesaw trading. The Nasdaq Composite Index outperformed, while disappointing results from Goldman Sachs, IBM, and Johnson & Johnson weighed on the narrowly focused Dow Jones Industrial Average. The smaller-cap indexes, which typically see larger swings, outperformed for the week but continued to lag for the year to date.

The week brought the first significant round of first-quarter earnings reports, which are generally expected to show the best rise in overall corporate profits in several years. Anticipation of Netflix’s earnings seemed to boost broader sentiment on Monday, according to T. Rowe Price traders, although the stock dipped a bit and then recovered after the media giant reported after the close of trading that it had missed revenue expectations while surpassing earnings estimates. Goldman Sachs’ miss on Tuesday, along with lighter-than-expected revenues from Johnson & Johnson and negative guidance from health care services firm Cardinal Health, combined to push the indexes back lower.

WAGE GAINS PUT PRESSURE ON PROFIT MARGINS

Even as earnings reports flowed in, uncertainty about tax reform and other economic and political issues managed to steal the spotlight on occasion. The firm’s traders noted that the release of the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book—an anecdotal summary of economic conditions—seemed to push stocks into negative territory on Wednesday afternoon. The report indicated some concerns that economic activity was being restrained by uncertainty about fiscal policy, as well as only minimal inflation pressures. The Beige Book simultaneously indicated a pattern of solid wage gains, suggesting that firms might be swallowing the higher costs. Scott Berg, a manager of global growth equities at T. Rowe Price, observes rising wage inflation has implications for corporate profit margins—a challenge that may be currently underestimated in the market. Rising wage pressures will separate out those companies that are able to defend margins by exercising pricing power in the coming months, he notes.

TAX REFORM PROMISES HELP EQUITIES BUT HAVE LITTLE IMPACT ON BOND YIELDS

On the positive side of the ledger, assurances from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday afternoon that tax reform plans were progressing appeared to drive a late rally. Mnuchin’s comments eased concerns that Trump’s fiscal agenda is floundering, the firm’s traders observed.

Renewed faith in tax reform did not feed through into higher Treasury yields, but this may have been partly due to investors seeking a “safe haven” in the wake of the Paris attack on Thursday evening (see below). Long-term yields, which had decreased significantly in previous weeks as fiscal stimulus expectations waned, remained near their five-month lows as Treasury prices stayed in a tight range. The municipal market benefited from a light new issuance calendar for the week, according to T. Rowe Price analysts.

INVESTMENT-GRADE MARKET ABSORBS BANK SUPPLY

Investment-grade corporate bond investors focused on new issuance as the much-anticipated supply from U.S. banks hit the market. The asset class was resilient overall despite some equity weakness. Broad market themes noted by T. Rowe Price traders include a gradual reduction in appetite for new issues amid rising geopolitical risk, along with lower U.S. rates tempering demand from investors in Asia.

The high yield market was quiet with limited participation as the week began, but new issues were met with robust demand when trading activity returned to normal. Sector performance was somewhat mixed. More volatile bonds underperformed, most notably in the utilities and energy sectors. In the supermarkets segment, Rite Aid bonds traded lower on news that the Federal Trade Commission may sue to block its merger with Walgreens.

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