Riding the momentum following the presidential election, stocks surged for much of the first quarter of 2017. Buoyed by the anticipation of tax cuts and policies favorable to domestic businesses, major benchmark indexes reached historic highs throughout the quarter. At the end of January, the Dow reached the 20,000-point mark for the first time, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained almost 4.5% for the month. The trend continued in February, as stocks posted solid monthly gains. The Dow closed the month with a run of 12 consecutive daily closings that reached all-time highs. The S&P 500 also achieved a milestone — 50 consecutive trading sessions without a daily swing of more than 1.0%. At the close of trading in February, each of the benchmark indexes posted year-to-date gains, led by the Nasdaq, which was up over 8.0%.
March began with a bang but ended with a whimper. The Dow closed the first week of the month at over 21,000, while the Nasdaq gained over 9.0% year-to-date. However, energy stocks slipped as the price of oil began to fall. Entering mid-March, investors exercised caution pending the potential Fed interest rate hike and the push for a new health-care law. Following its mid-March meeting, the Fed raised interest rates 25 basis points, while the move to replace the ACA with a new health-care law failed for lack of congressional support.
For the quarter, major indexes posted impressive gains over their fourth-quarter closing values. The Nasdaq climbed the most, posting quarterly gains of close to 10%, followed by the S&P 500, which achieved its largest quarterly gain in almost two years. Long-term bond prices increased in the first quarter with the yield on 10-year Treasuries falling 6 basis points. Gold prices also climbed during the first three months of the year, closing the quarter at $1,251.60 — about 8.5% higher than its price at the end of the fourth quarter.
Eye on the Month Ahead
The first quarter of 2017 proved to be a banner three months for equities. The FOMC next meets during the first week of May, when it will consider another interest rate hike. If employment remains strong and consumer prices trend higher, the Fed may raise the target range rate to 1.25% following their next meeting, with at least one more rate increase likely before the end of the year.
Source: Forefield Financial Communications.
Notes: The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a price-weighted index composed of 30 widely traded blue-chip U.S. common stocks. The S&P 500 is a market-cap weighted index composed of the common stocks of 500 leading companies in leading industries of the U.S. economy. The NASDAQ Composite Index is a market-value weighted index of all common stocks listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. The Russell 2000 is a market-cap weighted index composed of 2000 U.S. small-cap common stocks. Market indexes listed are unmanaged and are not available for direct investment.