Stock prices moved erratically throughout May as investors digested more solid corporate earnings reports, accelerating inflation and mixed economic signals. With 95% of S&P 500 constituent companies reporting, 86% have reported positive earnings surprises (earnings higher than the consensus of the estimates of stock analysts). The estimated earnings growth rate was 51.9%, the highest rate since the first quarter of 2010.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.93%, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.55%. The Nasdaq Composite, home for many technology and high-growth companies, dropped 1.53%.
Inflation has been a popular topic, and the emerging inflation story dampened investor optimism to an extent. The latest Consumer Price Index report saw consumer prices rise 0.8% in April 2021 and by 4.2% year-over-year. A 6.2% year-over-year spike in the Producer Price Index followed, representing the most significant jump since 2010.
Most industry sectors were positive in May, with gains in Communication Services (+3.60%), Consumer Staples (+2.79%), Energy (+7.58%), Financials (+5.92%), Health Care (+0.47%), Industrials (+2.96%), Materials (+5.01%), and Real Estate (+1.51%). Losses were posted in Consumer Discretionary (-2.98%), Technology (-3.61%), and Utilities (-1.34%).
Gross Domestic Product: The second estimate of the first quarter’s GDP growth remained unchanged at 6.4%.
Employment: Employers added just 266,000 jobs in April, a figure well below expectations. The unemployment rate ticked higher to 6.1%.
Retail Sales: Retail sales were flat in April, following stimulus check-funded increases in the previous month.
Industrial Production: Industrial output rose 0.7%, despite a substantial decline in auto production due to a chip shortage.
Housing: Housing starts declined 1.5%. Year-over-year, housing starts were 39.2% higher. Existing home sales fell 2.7% as rising prices and declining inventory continued to crimp sales. Sales of new homes dropped 5.9% as the median price surged by 20.1% from a year earlier.
Consumer Price Index: The prices of consumer goods surged in April, jumping 0.8% month-over-month and posting a 4.2% increase over last April's prices. Strong consumer demand, supply chain kinks, and comparisons to the previous year's pandemic-induced price declines contributed to the spike in prices.
Durable Goods Orders: Durable goods orders fell 1.3%, registering the first monthly decline in 11 months. The shortage of semiconductor chips weighed on auto production, which contributed to April’s decline.
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) released the minutes of its two-day April 2021 meeting. The minutes showed that a number of committee participants had raised the idea that—if the economy continues to make progress—it might be appropriate to adjust the pace of the Fed’s monthly bond purchase program. But for now, there was no change in the purchase program.
“In addition, the Federal Reserve will continue to increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $80 billion per month and of agency mortgage‑backed securities by at least $40 billion per month until substantial further progress has been made toward the Committee’s maximum employment and price stability goals,” Fed officials said in a prepared statement. “These asset purchases help foster smooth market functioning and accommodative financial conditions, thereby supporting the flow of credit to households and businesses.”.
A pick-up in vaccination efforts in Europe led to broad global gains, with the MSCI-EAFE Index picking up 2.50% in May. European markets led the gains in overseas markets. France rose 2.83%, Germany added 1.88%, and the United Kingdom tacked on 0.76%. Pacific Rim stocks also joined the rally. Australia gained 1.93% while Japan edged higher, adding 0.16%. Argentina’s volatile Merval index jumped 20.82%.
What Investors May Be Talking About in May 2021
The inflation worries that roiled the stock market in May are likely to persist as investors try to gauge whether inflationary pressures are truly transitory, as the Fed believes, or if they will become a more permanent feature of the economic landscape.
Investors may expect to keep a close eye on the Consumer Price Index, the Producer Price Index, the Personal Consumption Expenditures Index, and the wage growth component of the monthly employment report that captures job growth and the unemployment rate. Recent news that some companies have hiked wages to attract workers has intensified concerns that rising wages may spark sustained inflationary pressures. Such costs typically pass on to us as consumers.