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Insights & Education

February 2024 Monthly Commentary

Updated: Apr 9

February 2024 Monthly Commentary

February Market Review

February’s macroeconomic landscape was more normalized following positive data and a slightly more hawkish Federal Reserve. Equities continued their upward trajectory, fueled in part by Nividia’s earnings release, which “out-hyped” even the Superbowl. Interest rates continued to rise, reversing the robust performance witnessed in the previous quarter. Factors such as economic growth, inflation data, and the actions of the FOMC collectively contributed to the decline in bond prices throughout the month.

The equity markets delivered a strong performance, witnessing positive total returns across every sector of the S&P. A classic “risk-on” shift prevailed, with consumer discretionary stocks leading the way, boasting an 8.71% increase. Industrial sectors capitalized on robust economic data and earnings reports, while defensive sectors like utilities lagged behind, experiencing a modest 1.12% increase. Other riskier assets, including Bitcoin and commodities like oil, also posted noteworthy gains, with Bitcoin surging by 45% and oil prices rising over 6%.

Meanwhile, the bond markets continued their trend of “mean reversion,” experiencing a sharp increase in rates over the course of the month. Notably, the “belly” of the yield curve (2yr-5yr) had the most significant shift as investors recalibrated previous expectations of substantial rate cuts.

Some analysts even suggested that the FOMC might refrain from lowering interest rates in 2024 and could revisit rate hikes if inflation persists. Short-term T-bills remained relatively stable, but the “belly” surged by over 40 basis points during the month. Longer tenors also saw increases ranging from 20 to 35 basis points. The mid-month inflation data was a pivotal factor in February’s market movements, alongside a robust jobs report and affirmations from the Fed.

Credit markets displayed mixed performance in the past month:

  • High yield bonds and emerging market bonds managed to generate slightly positive returns amid the backdrop of robust equity markets.

  • Conversely, the investment-grade bonds followed the government sector lower, and underperformed treasuries.

  • The highlight for corporate bonds was the record amount of new bond issuance as companies flocked to the new issue market. Issuers including Cisco Systems, AbbVie Inc, Honeywell International, and Bristol-Meyers Squibb, participated in large multi-tranche deals, contributing to a record-setting $198 billion of supply for February.

  • Despite the uptick in interest rates, the demand for investment-grade debt remains robust, with appealing risk premium spreads for both high-yield and investment-grade borrowers. This remains a risk to the corporate bond sector.

Municipal bonds are expected to see significant supply in the upcoming month. In February, municipal yields were surprisingly stable, despite the sharp move higher in treasury rates. Municipal bonds, in fact, provided slightly positive performance during the month, making them relatively expensive in the high-grade space.

Noteworthy developments emerged in the world of taxable municipal bonds, regarding “Build America Bonds” issued during the financial crisis. The federal government interest subsidies on these bonds diminished which allows them to be called or redeemed at stated spread. This development may enhance the new issuance of tax-free bonds, as the potential for over $20 billion in redemptions is possible.

Data Recap

February market themes swung week-to-week. It began with strong economic data that propelled both interest rates and stocks higher. Non-farm Payroll data for January surpassed expectations, with 353,000 jobs added, coupled with upward revisions to prior months, more than doubling the estimated figures. This positive employment backdrop surprised investors as many company earnings reports detailed upcoming job cuts. Despite some mixed data points, the continued healthy employment data raised questions about the likelihood of six imminent rate cuts.

The Federal Reserve has been notably vocal, with Chairman Powell emphasizing on 60 Minutes that he is cautious about cutting interest rates too soon, expressing a desire to avoid undermining the progress made on inflation. Various other Fed officials echoed similar sentiments, with some adopting a slightly more hawkish stance. A few Fed governors even suggested the possibility of three rate cuts starting in the summer, contingent on whether inflation keeps falling towards the 2% target. However, given the inflation data from the past month, this remains uncertain.

Mid-month CPI and PPI data both exceeded expectations, which led market participants to scale back expectations of monetary easing. Coupled with strong jobs reports and a data-dependent Federal Reserve, this contributed to the upward movement of interest rates. Notably, Core PCE data, the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, met expectations right at the end of February.

Equity markets were less phased by the economic data, as earnings season was in full swing. Volatility was pronounced in big tech names, with Nividia’s exponential growth making a significant impact on the market in February. The impressive earnings “beat” and the potential for AI advancements continued to support equity markets.

February did not come and go without its share of questions and concerns.

  • In the beginning of the month, markets grappled with the inherent problems that caused New York Community Bank to falter.

  • Commercial real estate continues to pose a persistent risk to the macroeconomic landscape, impacting markets such as municipal bonds.

  • As the month progressed, weaker data, including a decline in retail sales and housing starts, began to emerge.

  • Despite a strong GDP report and personal income figures, consumer confidence seems to be declining rapidly.

Investors remained wary of lingering issues, including geopolitical risks, escalating interest expenses on the budget, and the upcoming election, which will continue to influence market sentiment in the upcoming months.


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