Stocks arguably defied expectations in the first half of the year. Major stock market indices made significant gains due to improving inflation, slowing Fed rate hikes, the absence of a recession, a more stable banking sector and a strong rally in tech stocks.
The concern among stock investors is that rising prices, and subsequent actions by the Federal Reserve, will cause a significant slowing of economic growth and potentially a recession.
There is no better way to describe it – 2021 was a historic year for the markets. After more than a decade of inflation running below the Federal Reserve’s stated 2% target level, the trifecta of rising wages, supply-chain disruptions for many goods and trillions of dollars of government largesse combined to push inflation steadily higher as the year progressed.
As the pandemic appeared to be slowing down, the new highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant flared this summer causing a momentum slowdown in the third quarter dampening investor enthusiasm. The list of additional concerns included higher inflation, rising interest rates, lofty equity valuations, supply-chain bottlenecks, Federal Reserve policy changes and the chaos in Washington over President Biden’s two massive stimulus proposals and changes to the tax code to pay for them.
Hard to believe but we’ve made it to the midpoint of the year already! When reflecting on the markets during the first half of 2021, it is important to understand both where we are and where we were at this point last year.
We have all endured the COVID-19 pandemic for over a year now, and the one-year return data is beginning to reflect the significant come back we have witnessed in the stock market. It appears fiscal policy has effectively bridged the income gap between massive job loss in the services sectors and the broad vaccine distribution that has hastened the reopening of the economy.