Resilient economy energizes investors, as financial markets end 2023 up 24%


Asian markets opened the year on a downward trend after Wall Street benchmarks ticked lower on the last trading day of 2023.

U.S. futures were mixed and oil prices gained more than $1 a barrel. Japan’s markets were closed for a holiday.

The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong sank 1.5% to 16,800.73 and the Shanghai Composite index dropped 0.2% to 2,968.81.

Investors were selling property developers like debt-laden China Evergrande, which fell 6%, and LongFor Group Holding, which lost 5.7%.

The December survey of the official purchasing managers index, or PMI, in China fell to 49 for the third consecutive month, signaling weak demand and underscoring the challenging economic conditions in the world’s second-largest economy.

That contrasted private-sector survey, by financial publication Caixin, which registered a slight improvement in the manufacturing PMI to 50.8, driven by increased output and new orders. However, it showed that business confidence for 2024 remained subdued.

South Korea’s Kospi shed 0.2% to 2,651.34 and the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia rose 0.5% to 7,625.60.

Bangkok’s SET rose 0.2% and the Sensex in Mumbai climbed less than 0.1%.

Stocks fell Friday on Wall Street from their near all-time high amid easing inflation, a resilient economy and the prospect of lower interest rates which buoyed investors.

The S&P 500 slipped 0.3%. The benchmark index still posted a rare ninth consecutive week of gains and is just 0.6% shy of an all-time high set in January of 2022.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.1% and the Nasdaq slipped 0.6%.

For most of last year, gains in the broader market were driven largely by seven stocks — Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Nvidia, Meta Platforms and Tesla. Dubbed the Magnificent 7, they accounted for about two-thirds of the gains in the S&P 500 in 2023, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. Nvidia led the group with a gain of about 239%, driven by the mania surrounding artificial intelligence.

Investors are now betting the Federal Reserve can achieve a “soft landing,” where the economy slows just enough to snuff out high inflation, but not so much that it falls into a recession. The Fed is expected to begin cutting rates as early as March and has signaled plans for three quarter-point cuts to its benchmark interest rate this year. That rate is currently sitting between 5.25% and 5.50%, its highest level in two decades.

Lower rates could add more fuel to the broader market’s momentum in 2024. Wall Street is forecasting stronger earnings growth for companies next year after a largely lackluster 2023, when companies wrestled with higher input and labor costs and a shift in consumer spending.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which hit 5% in October, was unchanged from Friday’s level of 3.88%.

The yield on the two-year Treasury, which more closely tracks expectations for the Fed, fell to 4.25% from 4.28% from late Thursday. It also surpassed 5% in October.

In other trading, U.S. benchmark crude oil gained $1.00 to $72.65 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, added $1.21 to $78.25 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar rose to 141.55 Japanese yen from 140.88 yen. The euro fell to $1.1020 from $1.1047.

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