Markets & the Economy

Market Commentary – April 2024

Monthly Commentary as of 4.30.2024

  • Bond yields rose across most points along the yield curve in April, mainly in response to higher inflation reports which are likely to delay any Fed rate cuts.  Price declines overwhelmed income for the month which led to negative total return results: the Bloomberg U.S. Intermediate Aggregate Index return was -1.88%.
  • The first quarter GDP report revealed a real growth rate of 1.6% annualized, which was lower than expected.  Looking below the surface, the report displayed underlying strength in consumer spending, specifically in the services category, which highlights the Fed’s dilemma: the economy’s performance is defying the odds and growing rapidly enough that inflation has yet to be tamed.  This means rates will stay higher for longer.
  • Despite the back-up in Treasury yields, corporate bond spreads maintained their tightening bias and ended the month tighter by 3 basis points.  All else equal, a lower spread means outperformance for corporate bonds compared to similar-duration Treasuries.  This trend has been unusually one-directional this year, perhaps owing to the strong ratings upgrade activity in the index.  Ratings upgrades have outpaced downgrades for the last nine quarters.
  • Municipal bonds performed better than Treasuries and the broad market in April.  During times of rapid change in interest rates, municipals tend to lag the move in either direction.  Reasons for the better results are the relatively high absolute yields now available in the municipal market, steady demand from investors, and low supply of new bonds.

  • Domestic and international equity indices experienced higher volatility in April as higher bond yields and the change in the outlook for Fed rate cuts contributed to a sense of malaise.  April’s total return of -4.08% was disappointing but leaves YTD results at a very respectable 6.04%.
  • The overall trend in first quarter earnings reports can be summed up as modest earnings beats, maintenance of full year guidance, and stable margins.  Toward the end of the month, strong earnings reports were released from bellwethers Microsoft and Google.    
  • The closely-watched ISM reports are both displaying signs that growth is slowing.  The ISM Manufacturing report for April slipped back into contraction territory, but only barely so at 49.2, while the last ISM Services report was just above 50.
  • The latest JOLTS report and quit rate for March also showed signs of a cooling labor market.  To the extent that this leads to slower wage gains, this could be helpful for the Fed.
  • The Fed announced that the pace of its quantitative tightening program (allowing securities to roll off its balance sheet) will slow, starting in June.
  • Alphabet Inc., General Electric, and Tesla were the top three contributors to return for the S&P 500 Index in April whereas Microsoft Corp., Meta Platforms Inc., and Nvidia Corp. were the biggest detractors.  The Information Technology sector, which has the biggest weight in the index, was the biggest contributor to the index’s decline, down 3.58%.


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Index Definitions

The S&P 500 (S&P 500) Total Return is a market capitalization-weighted index composed of the 500 most widely held stocks whose assets and/or revenues are based in the US; it’s often used as a proxy for the U.S. stock market. TR (Total Return) indexes include daily reinvestment of dividends.

MSCI EAFE Total Return Net is the Morgan Stanley Capital International Europe, Australia, and Far East index that is a market-capitalization-weighted index of 21 non-U.S. industrialized country indexes. The index includes net dividends reinvested minus-tax-credit calculations, but subtracts withholding taxes retained at the source for foreigners who do not benefit from a double taxation treaty.

The MSCI Emerging Markets (MSCI EM) Index captures large and mid cap representation across 27 Emerging Markets (EM) countries.

Bloomberg Municipal Bond Index Total Return Index Value Unhedged USD (Municipal Bond Index) covers the US-denominated long-term tax exempt bond market. The index has four main sectors: state and local general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, insured bonds and prerefunded bonds.

The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index measures the performance of investment grade, U.S. dollar-denominated, fixed rate taxable bond market, including Treasuries, government-related and corporate securities, MBS (agency fixed-rate and hybrid ARM pass-throughs), ABS, and CMBS. It rolls up into other flagship indices, such as the multi-currency Global Aggregate Index and the U.S. Universal Index, which includes high yield and emerging markets debt.

The federal funds rate is the interest rate at which depository institutions trade federal funds (balances held at Federal Reserve Banks) with each other overnight. When a depository institution has surplus balances in its reserve account, it lends to other banks in need of larger balances. In simpler terms, a bank with excess cash, which is often referred to as liquidity, will lend to another bank that needs to quickly raise liquidity. (1) The rate that the borrowing institution pays to the lending institution is determined between the two banks; the weighted average rate for all of these types of negotiations is called the effective federal funds rate.(2) The effective federal funds rate is essentially determined by the market but is influenced by the Federal Reserve through open market operations to reach the federal funds rate target. All Key Rates and Returns by Index are quoted out of Bloomberg.

The CPI Index represents changes in prices of all goods and services purchases for consumption by urban households. Retail Gas Prices are provided by AAA using data from up to 120,000 retail stations. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil is a specific grade of crude oil and one of the main three benchmarks in oil pricing, along with Brent and Dubai Crude.

Equity Returns by Sector are based on the GICS methodology. Return data are calculated by Bloomberg using constituents and weights as provided by Standard & Poor’s. Returns are cumulative total return for stated period, including reinvestment of dividends.

Chart Definitions

The Services and Manufacturing PMI from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) is a composite index based on the diffusion indexes for four of the indicators with equal weights: Business Activity (seasonally adjusted), New Orders (seasonally adjusted), Employment (seasonally adjusted) and Supplier Deliveries. The Manufacturing PMI is a composite index based on the diffusion indexes of five of the indexes with equal weights: New Orders (seasonally adjusted), Production (seasonally adjusted), Employment (seasonally adjusted), Supplier Deliveries, and Inventories (seasonally adjusted). Diffusion indexes have the properties of leading indicators and are convenient summary measures showing the prevailing direction of change and the scope of change. An index reading above 50 percent indicates that the services economy is generally expanding; below 50 percent indicates that it is generally declining. Supplier Deliveries is an exception. A Supplier Deliveries Index above 50 percent indicates slower deliveries and below 50 percent indicates faster deliveries.

The PCE Price Index Excluding Food and Energy, also known as the core PCE price index, is released as part of the monthly Personal Income and Outlays report. The core index makes it easier to see the underlying inflation trend by excluding two categories – food and energy – where prices tend to swing up and down more dramatically and more often than other prices. The core PCE price index is closely watched by the Federal Reserve as it conducts monetary policy. The PCE price index, released each month in the Personal Income and Outlays report, reflects changes in the prices of goods and services purchased by consumers in the United States. Quarterly and annual data are included in the GDP release.

Total Nonfarm, commonly known as Total Nonfarm Payroll, is a measure of the number of U.S. workers in the economy that excludes proprietors, private household employees, unpaid volunteers, farm employees, and the unincorporated self-employed. This measure accounts for approximately 80 percent of the workers who contribute to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).


This document is a general communication being provided for informational purposes only. It is educational in nature and not designed to be taken as advice or a recommendation for any specific investment product, strategy, plan feature or other purpose in any jurisdiction. This material does not contain sufficient information to support an investment decision and it should not be relied upon by you in evaluating the merits of investing in any securities or products. In addition, users should make an independent assessment of the legal, regulatory, tax, credit, and accounting implications and determine, together with their own financial professional, if any investment mentioned herein is believed to be appropriate to their personal goals. Investors should ensure that they obtain all available relevant information before making any investment. It should be noted that investments involve risks, the value of investments and the income from them may fluctuate in accordance with market conditions and taxation agreements and investors may not get back the full amount invested. Both past performance and yields are not reliable indicators of current and future results. All information presented herein is considered to be accurate at the time of production, but no warranty of accuracy is given and no liability in respect of any error or omission is accepted.

Past performance does not guarantee future results. Diversification does not guarantee investment returns and does not eliminate the risk of loss.