Wall Street ended the third quarter on a negative note, with the Dow, S&P 500, and Nasdaq all experiencing significant declines. September has historically been a challenging month for the stock market, and this quarter’s losses for the Dow and S&P 500 broke their streak of consecutive quarterly gains. The Nasdaq also retreated after two consecutive quarters of growth. Despite the overall year-to-date gains, investors are optimistic about the fourth quarter, which has a reputation for being the best-performing quarter. However, the Federal Reserve’s decision on interest rates remains a wildcard, as uncertainty surrounding potential rate hikes persists.
The Federal Reserve’s recent decision to pause rate hikes and signal only one more increase this year, along with fewer cuts in 2024, was received positively. The softer monthly reading of the core PCE price index, the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, also provided hope that the central bank has done enough with its previous rate hikes. Although the core PCE is still above the Fed’s 2% inflation target, its downward trend since September 2022 indicates progress. Investors are now eagerly awaiting the impact of prior rate moves, as there is typically a lag between monetary policy changes and their effects on the economy.
As the fourth quarter begins, high interest rates and the resurgence of energy prices pose significant challenges for equity prices. Additionally, investors are closely monitoring major economic reports, earnings from various companies, and potential consequences of the auto strike and a potential government shutdown. Key economic data, including the nonfarm payroll report, ISM reports, and factory orders, will provide crucial insights into the state of the labor market and manufacturing sector. In particular, investors are looking for signs of improvement, such as a slowdown in the rate of contraction in manufacturing. The outcome of the UAW strike against Detroit automakers also holds significant implications, as it could indicate a shift in the power dynamic between companies and their workforces.