U.S. Stocks Are off to Their Best Start to a Year Since 2019 — and the Rally Is Not Just About the "Magnificent Seven"

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Dow, S&P and Nasdaq scored best one-month performances since late last year

The 2024 stock-market rally so far is not just about seven stocks anymore.The 2024 stock-market rally so far is not just about seven stocks anymore.

U.S. stocks on Thursday — Leap Day — capped a strong opening two months of 2024. 

While the so-called Magnificent Seven tech stocks continued to lead much of the stock-market rally that propelled the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite to record highs this month, some of the beaten-down corners of the market also found the spotlight. Investors want to know if the positive momentum is finally spilling out beyond the megacap technology names. 

The U.S. stock market enjoyed a surprisingly robust start to the new year, with the S&P 500 and the Dow industrials advancing 6.8% and 3.5% in the first two months of 2024, respectively, to notch their best start to a year since 2019. The Nasdaq Composite surged 7.2% over the same period, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

For the month, all three major benchmark indexes booked their best month since the end of 2023, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq scored their best February since 2015, per Dow Jones Market Data. 

What’s more, all 11 of the large-cap index’s sectors finished in the green this month, as some long-suffering sectors of the stock market rebounded to help drive a surge that lifted the S&P 500 by 5.2% in February, according to FactSet data.

While information technology, consumer discretionary and communication services sectors — home to the “Magnificent Seven” — received most of the attention after blockbuster fourth-quarter earnings, some lagging sectors also managed to come out winners.

Those include industrials and materials, two cyclical sectors that each outpaced the information-technology sector this month by less than 1 percentage point, according to FactSet data.

Phillip Colmar, managing partner and global strategist at Macro Research Board Partners, said the sector rotation is “constructive” given the potential “no landing” outcome of the Fed’s monetary-policy tightening cycle, which could result in a solid trend or above-trend economic growth with inflation still edging lower to a 2% target.

Meanwhile, improvement in corporate earnings-growth expectations offset the rise in Treasury yields BX:TMUBMUSD10Y over the past month, further supporting the broad rally in the stock market and a rotation to the laggards, Colmar told MarketWatch in a phone interview on Wednesday. 

Of course, Wall Street hasn’t fully bought into the no-landing or the soft-landing narratives, despite a recent round of surprisingly strong labor-market data.

“For me to say that [the broadening participation] is sustainable, there needs to be a widespread [corporate] profitability improvement story to be told,” said Matt Stucky, chief portfolio manager for equities at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management. 

“Given our view that inflation pressures are getting stickier, and the Fed is unlikely to be able to pivot to an accommodative stance [soon], I don’t know how sustainable this rotation would be at the end of the day, because it’s not a very fertile environment for profit growth for corporate America right now,” Stucky said via phone. 

Investors came into 2024 pricing in at least six quarter-percentage-point rate cuts over the course of the year, beginning in March. However, they dialed back their expectations after a hotter-than-expected January consumer-price-index report, as well as remarks from Fed officials reiterating that cutting rates in the near term is unlikely. Fed-funds futures traders bet on the first cut to arrive in June, according to the CME FedWatch Tool. 

Indeed, inflation and rate-cut uncertainties have kept some investors on the sidelines as they await more “clarity” and “concrete proof” that economic growth remains firm, and “the recent blip in inflation is not a trend,” said Jack Janasiewicz, portfolio manager and lead portfolio strategist at Natixis Investment Managers Solutions. 

“Once they get that, then I think you start to see [the stock rally] broadening out a bit more, and that’s when you see outside of big-cap tech — the broader tech space — [starting] to catch up,” he told MarketWatch Wednesday. 

While market breadth is seen having scope to improve over the next couple of months, questions remain as to whether that will entail the Magnificent Seven stocks underperforming the rest of the market, or the laggards rushing into the rally. 

Janasiewicz said his base case is that the megacap technology stocks are moving to become “market performers” from “market leaders,” while the rest of the market could take advantage of the widening breadth.

“But you’re not gonna see [the Magnificent Seven] underperform by any means,” he added. 

It’s worth noting that the Magnificent Seven group of stocks is no longer the monolith that it was in 2023.

While most of the big names have reclaimed their leadership of the stock rally in the first two months of 2024, three stocks in this group haven’t made much contribution. Tesla shares tumbled more than 18% this year, while Apple Inc. was off 6.1% and Alphabet Inc. fell nearly 1% over the same period, according to FactSet data.

“The markets are discerning winners and losers here as the ones that are performing well are still somewhat related to the artificial-intelligence and the semiconductor trade,” said Janasiewicz, adding that it could be a good sign for the markets as investors are not “blindly piling into those seven names” and “differentiating in terms of the fundamental drivers” of the underlying stocks.

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  • Rkid
    Tesla ain't moving at all 
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