Investment Committee Meeting Highlights
November, 2023


Markets continued to fall in October and the S&P 500 erased nearly half of its prior year-to-date gains across the last three months of volatility. Both stocks and bonds were substantially in the red, with the total return of the S&P 500 down 2.10% and the Bloomberg US Aggregate down 1.58%. Across global stock markets, large US stocks did the best on a relative basis with small US stocks losing 6.82% and developed and emerging international stocks losing 4.05% and 3.89%, respectively.

In the third quarter, US GDP grew at a 4.9% annualized rate, beyond the 4.5% growth rate that economists had expected based on Bloomberg’s survey of economists. The growth was the economy’s fastest pace in nearly two years, spurred by a 4% rise in personal spending, which was the highest since 2021. Despite continued rising prices and borrowing costs, the US economy has remained resilient, largely on the back of a strong consumer buoyed by a tight job market. However, sustaining the same pace of growth will be difficult in the fourth quarter and heading into 2024, where growth may be more muted. While the economy may not be likely to sustain the third quarter’s growth rate, a more moderate pace of growth could be a good thing for both the Federal Reserve and for markets.

After their November 1st meeting, the Federal Reserve will have one more time to judge whether further rate hikes are necessary this year. While further rate hikes are not what the market is currently anticipating, the mix of strong growth and slower improvements in core inflation continue to push the thought that rates will need to be higher for longer, which could create additional headwinds for the US, and global, economy.

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Despite a few higher profile earnings misses, so far, the third quarter earnings season has shown that nearly two-thirds of companies in the S&P 500 have been able to grow quarterly earnings, after three consecutive quarters of earnings declines. With over 300 of the 500 companies in the S&P 500 having reported, just over 80% of them have reported earnings above analyst expectations. That is above the longer-term average of the mid-to high 70% that happens in a normal quarter. The majority of the remaining companies are due to report over the next two weeks.

Third quarter US GDP grew at an annualized rate of 4.9%, the economy’s fastest growth rate in nearly two years. Personal consumption expenditures rose 4.0%, the highest since 2021. Consumption and inventories accounted for 4.0 percentage points of overall GDP growth. Recession talks intensified last summer as the economy experienced negative growth for two consecutive quarters. Looking ahead, growth in Q4 is expected to slow, especially in light of the 1.0% decline in real household income after tax during Q3 and weak business capex intentions.

September retail sales rose 0.7%, following an upwardly revised 0.8% increase in August. Real disposable income declined for the third consecutive month, revealing consumers are dipping into their savings. September saw consumers outspending their income growth, resulting in the lowest personal savings rate since December 2022. The savings rate dropped to 3.4%, causing concerns about the sustainability of Americans’ high spending rates.

Yields on 10-year Treasuries momentarily surpassed 5% in intraday trading for the first time in 16 years during the latter half of October. Meanwhile, the 30-year rate has been hovering above 5% since mid-October. On the longer end of the curve, yields keep increasing despite increased fund flows into longer term ETFs like TLT, which has seen two of this year’s largest inflow days and largest outflow day in the past week. The spread between the 10-year and 2-year rates has tightened dramatically in the last several months from its peak inversion of -1.08% in early July. On the other hand, the spread between the 10-year and 3-month still has ways to go before it comes close to coming out of inversion.

Crude oil prices wrapped up a turbulent month in which oil prices were rocked by the war in Israel and mixed demand indicators. Both crude oil and gas prices have fallen from their recent relative September peak, where gas prices may continue to decline since the drop in crude oil costs typically takes a few weeks to become fully reflected in the cost of gas. Consumer demand for gasoline has dropped over 35 cents per gallon, below average fall levels; in part due to higher-than-usual prices, persistent inflation putting elevated pressure on disposable household incomes.

We remain cautiously optimistic and continue to use a quantitative investing approach. In times of uncertainty, it is more important than ever to follow the data and not make decisions based on emotions. Hilltops partnership with Helios relies on facts and data, which we use during our recalculations on a bi-weekly basis. Our models adjust appropriately to market conditions.


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