September’s arrival usually means fresh school supplies and investment ideas, but for now Wall Street is expecting more of the same—and that may not be a bad thing.
The S&P 500 is up 21% this year and while few on the Street expect that it can continue climbing at such a rapid pace for the last four months of the year, there’s little reason to doubt that stocks will continue marching on despite what happens elsewhere in the world.
Need proof? Over the past week, much of the East Coast was pummeled by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Many lost their homes and others remain without power and yet stock indexes notched new highs.
Then on Friday, the Labor Department announced that there were 235,000 jobs added to the economy in August—well below the 750,000 forecast by economists. The market, coming off of Thursday’s highs, was mixed with the S&P 500 slightly down at 4535.43, the Dow Jones Industrial Average off 0.2% at 35,369.09, and the Nasdaq Composite up 0.2% at a record high 15,363.52. For the week, the Dow was lower by 0.2%, while the S&P 500 was up 0.6% and the Nasdaq was up 1.5%.
Rather than be spooked by the prospect of slowing economic growth, Wall Street appeared to take the weaker-than-forecast figures as confirmation of concerns it had about how the Covid-19 Delta variant would affect economic activity. And with indications that the Delta variant has hit, or is at least near, peak levels in some parts of the country, the market is willing to look past August’s jobs figures—especially since it means the Federal Reserve is less likely to taper its bond-buying program in the near term.
This jobs report “shows the ebb and flow of volatile data,” Dave Donabedian, chief investment officer of CIBC Private Wealth Management, told Barron’s, remarking that we saw a similar miss in April only to see hiring rebound in later months.
As for where to put money, there’s little reason to quit what’s been working—even if the path may become rockier. “The S&P 500 will be marginally higher at year-end but overall market volatility will rise,” Donabedian said.
So far investors seem just fine with that, according to Baird market strategist Michael Antonelli, who told Barron’s that clients have been “unusually quiet on the ‘what should I be doing’ front.” Near term, he’ll be paying attention to employment figures for September and October, which should show more job gains as extra unemployment benefits run off and more parents return to the workforce as schools enter a new normal for the pandemic.
For investors who aren’t content to sit on their hands, there are sectors worth a closer look, he said. Consumer discretionary is one area that may have more juice in it as the economy returns to normal in 2022. There are also reasons to selectively stick with the tech trade as many names—particularly in software—have proved to be just as relevant in a postpandemic world as in a work-from-home world. Of course, no one should expect to see the sectors to surge as much as they have since the back half of 2020.
Antonelli also continues to like housing plays. Millennials have entered their peak homebuying years at a time when rates are low and that’s a trend that should continue. And while the pandemic nesting phase spending may be over, recent storms may have people thinking about how to best protect their homes, providing gains for other players in the housing space.
Of course, no one would blame an investor for enjoying the holiday weekend and parking in an index.
Write to Carleton English at email@example.com