The Markets

2023 was a big year for U.S. stocks.

The story of 2023 has its roots in 2022, when the S&P 500 Index lost almost 19.5 percent amid rising inflation and aggressive Federal Reserve rate hikes. As 2022 came to a close, many on Wall Street predicted further pain in the new year. Economists forecasted a 70 percent chance of recession in 2023, and consumer and investor confidence were both low.

Pessimism persisted well into 2023. Some of the negativity may have been due to loss aversion. Behavioral economics has found that the pain of losing is far more powerful than the pleasure of winning. Overall, investors were less bullish than usual for much of 2023, according to the AAII Investor Sentiment Survey. In addition, consumer sentiment fluctuated significantly over the year, often reflecting expectations for inflation and interest rates.

U.S. Stock Markets Finished the Year Higher

The S&P 500 trended higher from March through July. Early on, the rally was driven by just a few technology stocks; however, the gains became more widespread as inflation slowed, economic growth remained healthy, and the likelihood of recession receded. The rally cooled in August as investor confidence slipped when inflation data moved in the wrong direction, opening the door to additional Fed rate hikes. However, bullish sentiment improved again in October and remained above average throughout most of November and December.

In December, Jacob Sonenshine of Barron’s reported, “The main driver of the gains has been the decelerating pace of inflation, which has led the Federal Reserve to refrain from further interest-rate hikes over its past two meetings…That would enable the economy to continue growing and keep companies’ sales and profits on the rise. Lower rates also make future profits and dividends more valuable, lifting valuations for all sorts of companies from high-dividend payers to high-growth technology firms.”

In the United States, major stock indices finished 2023 with double-digit returns. The S&P 500 was up 24.2 percent for the year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 13.7 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite rose 43.4 percent, reported Samantha Subin and Jesse Pound of CNBC.

A Brief Review of 2023

The year was filled with geopolitical uncertainty, including wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, and political divisions at home that led to a debt ceiling standoff and a failure to pass funding for the 2024 budget. Here are a few key events from last year:

  • The great AI rally. In 2023, artificial intelligence (AI) captured the public’s imagination. More companies mentioned AI on their quarterly earnings calls than ever before and those that did sometimes saw above-average stock price performance.
  • Slowing inflation. Inflation was top of mind for consumers and investors last year. Fed rate hikes did what they were supposed to do, and inflation slowed from 6.3 percent in January to 3.1 percent in November.
  • Bank closures. In March, we saw heightened market volatility after Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank failed in the United States, and Credit Suisse bank collapsed in Switzerland. Quick action by authorities in both countries reassured investors and helped global stocks recover.
  • Economic resilience. The United States did not have a recession in 2023. Instead, the economy grew steadily and proved remarkably resilient. At year-end, unemployment remained near multi-decade lows, and consumer spending was solid with retail sales up 3.1 percent over the holidays. In addition, wage growth exceeded inflation during the latter half of the year.
  • Economic fizzle. Many anticipated China’s economy would boom after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Instead, it fizzled. Amid China’s property crisis, the MSCI China Index dropped by more than 14 percent in 2023, reported Tassia Sipahutar, Eliza Ronalds-Hannon, John Cheng and Ye Xie of Bloomberg.
  • Tour de force. “Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and ‘Barbenheimer’ fever are giving a serious boost to the U.S. economy,” reported Augusta Saraiva of Bloomberg in late August. “The megastars’ tours and blockbuster films are expected to add up to $8.5 billion to U.S. growth in the third quarter…The nearly 50 U.S. concerts…could add $5.4 billion [to economic growth], while the films Barbie and Oppenheimer are projected to add about $3.1 billion in consumer spending and exports from international ticket sales.”
  • A refreshing pause. Investors and consumers breathed a sigh of relief when the Fed paused its rate hiking cycle in July. The Fed left the effective federal funds rate in a 5.25 to 5.5 percent range for the remainder of the year.

With inflation nearing the Fed’s target, some think the U.S. central bank may have managed to tame inflation without leading the country into recession, an achievement known as a “soft landing”. If so, 2024 will indeed be a happy new year!

Data as of 12/29/23 1-Week Y-T-D 1-Year 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year
Standard & Poor's 500 Index 0.3% 24.2% 23.9% 8.6% 13.7% 10.0%
Dow Jones Global ex-U.S. Index 1.6 12.6 12.2 -1.0 4.6 1.6
10-year Treasury Note (yield only) 3.9 N/A 3.8 0.9 2.7 3.0
Gold (per ounce) 1.1 14.7 14.6 3.5 10.2 5.6
Bloomberg Commodity Index -0.7 -12.6 -12.2 8.6 5.2 -2.5

S&P 500, Dow Jones Global ex-US, Gold, Bloomberg Commodity Index returns exclude reinvested dividends (gold does not pay a dividend) and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; and the 10-year Treasury Note is simply the yield at the close of the day on each of the historical time periods.

Sources: Yahoo! Finance, MarketWatch,, London Bullion Market Association.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. N/A means not applicable.

We Could Celebrate a Holiday Almost Every Day of the Year

Many people are ready for some peace and quiet after the busy holiday season. If you’re not ready for the festivities to end, though, January is chockful of little-known holidays (and some well-known ones). See what you know about post-New Year’s holidays by taking this brief quiz.

  1. On January 2 (the day after National Hangover Day), some people celebrate creativity. “Use this day to develop and test new ideas, concepts, and theories,” advises Holiday Insights. What is the holiday called?
    1. National Celebrate Creativity Day
    2. Run It Up the Flagpole Day
    3. National Vibealacious Day
    4. The Road Less Taken Day

  2. January 7 is known as Old Rock Day. What does this holiday celebrate?
    1. Geologists
    2. Earth
    3. Rocks and fossils from long ago
    4. The Rolling Stones

  3. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Americans celebrate a Baptist minister who was an advocate for equal rights and the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. What day is the holiday celebrated this year?
    1. The third Monday of January
    2. January 15, 2024
    3. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday
    4. All of the above

We hope you had wonderful winter holidays.

Answers: 1) b 2) c; 3) d

Weekly Focus – Think About It

“Every day is a gift. But some days are packaged better.”

—Sanhita Baruah, author and poet

Wishing you and your families well,
Sean M. Dowling, CFP, EA
President, The Dowling Group Wealth Management

Please feel free to forward this commentary to family, friends, or colleagues. If you would like us to add them to the list, please reply to this e-mail with their e-mail address and we will ask for their permission to be added.

  • Government bonds and Treasury Bills are guaranteed by the U.S. government as to the timely payment of principal and interest and, if held to maturity, offer a fixed rate of return and fixed principal value. However, the value of fund shares is not guaranteed and will fluctuate.
  • Corporate bonds are considered higher risk than government bonds but normally offer a higher yield and are subject to market, interest rate and credit risk as well as additional risks based on the quality of issuer coupon rate, price, yield, maturity, and redemption features.
  • The Standard & Poor's 500 (S&P 500) is an unmanaged group of securities considered to be representative of the stock market in general. You cannot invest directly in this index.
  • All indexes referenced are unmanaged. Unmanaged index returns do not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment.
  • The Dow Jones Global ex-U.S. Index covers approximately 95% of the market capitalization of the 45 developed and emerging countries included in the Index.
  • The 10-year Treasury Note represents debt owed by the United States Treasury to the public. Since the U.S. Government is seen as a risk-free borrower, investors use the 10-year Treasury Note as a benchmark for the long-term bond market.
  • Gold represents the afternoon gold price as reported by the London Bullion Market Association. The gold price is set twice daily by the London Gold Fixing Company at 10:30 and 15:00 and is expressed in U.S. dollars per fine troy ounce.
  • The Bloomberg Commodity Index is designed to be a highly liquid and diversified benchmark for the commodity futures market. The Index is composed of futures contracts on 19 physical commodities and was launched on July 14, 1998.
  • The DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index measures the total return performance of the equity subcategory of the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) industry as calculated by Dow Jones.
  • International investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and political instability and may not be suitable for all investors. These risks are often heightened for investments in emerging markets.
  • Yahoo! Finance is the source for any reference to the performance of an index between two specific periods.
  • Opinions expressed are subject to change without notice and are not intended as investment advice or to predict future performance.
  • Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.
  • Past performance does not guarantee future results. Investing involves risk, including loss of principal.
  • You cannot invest directly in an index.
  • Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.
  • The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly. Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. Investing involves risk including loss of principal.
  • The Price-to-Earning (P/E) ratio is a measure of the price paid for a share relative to the annual net income or profit earned by the firm per share. It is a financial ratio used for valuation: a higher P/E ratio means investors are paying more for each unit of net income, thus, the stock is more expensive compared to one with a lower P/E ratio.
  • These views are those of Carson Group Coaching, and not the presenting Representative or the Representative’s Broker/Dealer, and should not be construed as investment advice.
  • This newsletter was prepared by Carson Group Coaching. Carson Group Coaching is not affiliated with the named broker/dealer.
  • The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee it is accurate or complete.
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