- Equity markets slumped this week amid concern about China’s economy and another move higher in bond yields. The S&P 500 fell 2.1%, with all sectors in the red. Banks lagged, down 5%, while consumer stocks were only slightly better.
- Earnings results on the latter were mixed, with Walmart raising its outlook, although hinting at some pressure on discretionary spending, while Target chopped its guidance.
- Meantime, the TSX was down 2.9% on the week, with materials, banks and telecom all struggling.
Despite markets’ concerns about interest rate volatility, housing prices have held up remarkably well in both Canada and the United States. What’s causing this? In our view, it’s two primary factors. First, there’s still the problem of low inventory. As a homeowner, there’s little incentive to sell right now because the only alternatives are a higher mortgage rate or paying high rental costs. Second, there is a general belief that we’re at the end of the interest rate cycle. This is prompting some potential home buyers to think that prices may not drop any more and that it’s worth getting into the market before prices start to rise again. While both the U.S. and Canadian housing markets look to be stabilizing, we still think there could be another leg lower in the near term, albeit not a steep drop. That’s because there’s no guarantee that the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) and Bank of Canada (BoC) won’t take further action; just because we think we’re near the end of the cycle doesn’t mean we’re necessarily done with rate hikes. Right now, only a portion of homeowners have had to deal with the full effects of higher rates, but more will feel them over the next couple of years as renewals come up. Some people will simply not be able to afford a costlier mortgage, and that is likely to result in more inventory coming on the market at depressed prices as homeowners downsize to smaller properties.
Bottom Line: There is likely still room for housing prices to decrease marginally in the near term, but overall, the market appears to be stabilizing, and more homes could come on the market down the line.
Last week, Walmart beat earnings expectations and raised their full-year guidance. This begs the question—is this a positive indicator for the overall economy, or is it a sign that consumers are moving down the retail ladder? Walmart and similar retailers like Target have been dealing with an excess of inventory, which they built up due to high demand for Consumer Staples during COVID. When the pandemic ended, they were stuck with this supply, which they then had to offload at lower prices. That issue is now largely in the past and inventory is back to normal levels, which is a positive sign going forward. There is also the consumer side of the equation—spending is still good but is nonetheless gradually slowing down, and as we see more job losses, it’s likely that spending patterns will change, with more people trading down. Savings from COVID are drying up, meaning that all but the most high-end consumers are likely to shift from Discretionary toward Staples. Lower-end retailers like Walmart are likely to benefit from this shift, as they did during COVID. As a result, we think that the Consumer Staples sector has room for upside from here.
Bottom Line: What’s good for lower-end retailers is potentially troubling for the economy, as companies like Walmart are likely to benefit from a trade down in consumer spending.
Bottom Line: Gold is still likely to be an excellent counterweight in a portfolio, helping to justify more volatile Tech positions.
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