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April 2024 / QUARTERLY MARKET REVIEW

Global Markets Quarterly Update

For First Quarter 2024

Highlighted Regions

Key Insights

  • Stocks in most developed markets recorded solid gains in the quarter, helped in part by growing enthusiasm over generative artificial intelligence.
  • Policymakers in both Europe and the U.S. signaled that rate cuts were still coming, if not in the near future, despite an uptick in inflationary pressures in the latter.
  • Japan led the gains as the weakening yen boosted the competitive prospects of the country’s exporters.

U.S.

Stocks recorded solid gains in the first quarter in a rally that broadened as it progressed. Early in the quarter, growth stocks outperformed handily, led by the so‑called Magnificent 71 group of technology-oriented mega-caps—as reflected in the outperformance of communication services (including media giants Meta Platforms’ Facebook and Alphabet’s Google) and technology stocks. Late in the quarter, however, investors began to “pivot” to small-cap and value shares—particularly financials and energy—which had lagged since the market began its upward march in late October.

Conditions were less favorable for fixed income investors, as longer‑term yields rose sharply in response to better‑than‑expected growth signals and diminishing expectations for Federal Reserve rate cuts. However, the same upside growth surprises helped credit‑sensitive issues, particularly high yield corporate bonds, perform better.

The quarter began with some mixed economic data and cautious words from Fed officials. While consumers appeared to be in good shape—retail sales jumped 0.6% in December, for example—the manufacturing sector remained the weak leg in the expansion. An index of manufacturing activity in the New York region reached its lowest level since early in the pandemic, and two separate gauges of nationwide factory activity indicated continuing contraction.

Signs of economic resilience amid higher rates boost sentiment

Stocks picked up momentum in February, seemingly helped by signs that the economy was continuing to defy skeptics and grow despite the highest interest rates in nearly two decades. Early in the month, the Department of Labor reported that employers added 353,000 nonfarm jobs in January, nearly double consensus estimates, while November’s and December’s gains were also revised higher, due in part to an annual benchmark revision. Soon after, S&P Global and Institute for Supply Management reported solid growth in their respective indexes of service sector activity, although their manufacturing readings remained more subdued.

The better growth brought some unwelcome inflation surprises later in the quarter, however. Core (less food and energy) inflation rose by 0.4% in both January and February, while producer prices jumped 0.6% and 0.4%, respectively. The core personal expenditures price index, the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, also rose more than expected, although the year‑over‑year increase continued creeping toward the Fed’s 2% target and ended February at 2.8%, its lowest level in roughly three years

Fed still sees rate cuts in 2024

While hopes for a March rate cut faded early in the quarter, investors appeared pleasantly surprised by the summary of individual policymakers’ rate, growth, and inflation expectations released after the Fed’s mid-March meeting. The median expectation remained for three cuts in 2024, with only slightly fewer cuts in following years. Fed Chair Jerome Powell also testified before Congress that policymakers were “not far” from having the confidence that inflation’s downtrend will be sustained, enabling them to begin cutting rates.

Enthusiasm over the potential of generative artificial intelligence (AI) also appeared to provide a general boost to sentiment. AI chipmaker NVIDIA handily again beat quarterly earnings estimates, helping bring its market capitalization up to nearly USD 2.4 trillion and placing it among the most valued public companies in the world. Other firms announced new AI initiatives, and reports surfaced late in the quarter that Apple was in talks with Google to embed the latter’s AI assistant in future versions of the iPhone.

Europe

The STOXX Europe 600 Index and major benchmarks in Germany, France, and Italy posted strong gains for a second consecutive quarter on growing optimism about possible interest rate cuts around the middle of the year. Positive economic data and upbeat corporate earnings for the fourth quarter of 2023 also bolstered sentiment. The UK’s FTSE 100 Index also advanced.

Government bond yields in France and Germany ended higher amid sharply slowing inflation and hopes that the European Central Bank (ECB) was preparing to ease policy. But Italian bond yields fell amid strong demand for high-yielding debt as traders anticipated rate cuts in the year ahead. In the UK, 10-year yields advanced as data suggested that the economy might be emerging from recession.Interest rates stay high, ECB lowers outlook for inflation and growth

ECB signals midyear rate cut; BoE turns more dovish

The ECB and the Bank of England (BoE) began the period aiming to disabuse the market of expectations for an early reduction in rates, citing strong wage growth and services inflation. Policymakers were more dovish by the March policy meetings, as headline inflation decelerated and wage growth began to slow.

The ECB left its key deposit rate unchanged at a record 4.0%, while hinting that a reduction in June may be in the cards. ECB President Christine Lagarde acknowledged that “good progress” had been made toward the 2.0% inflation target but said that the Governing Council still needed to be more confident that prices were falling sustainably. “We will know a lot more in June,” she said, adding that there was broad agreement on that point.

Meanwhile, the BoE in March kept its key interest rate unchanged at 5.25% for a fifth consecutive time, although the 8–1 vote that underpinned this decision appeared to send a more dovish signal. Governor Andrew Bailey said, “We are not yet at the point where we can cut interest rates, but things are moving in the right direction.” Later, Bailey told the Financial Times that rate cuts could be “in play” at future meetings. 

Inflation slows, economies perk up in eurozone and UK

Economic data turned more positive at the beginning of the year. In the eurozone, headline and core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, continued to slow in February, although by less than expected. Annual consumer price growth eased to 2.6%. The eurozone economy narrowly avoided a recession. Gross domestic product (GDP) was unchanged in the fourth quarter after shrinking 0.1% in the previous three months.

In the UK, inflation decelerated to 3.4% in February, the lowest rate in more than two years. Underlying price pressures also moderated but remained strong. Meanwhile, the economy showed signs that it may be recovering from a recession in the second half of 2023. The National Statistics Office said GDP increased 0.2% sequentially in January, bolstered by expansion of retailing and wholesaling.

SNB unexpectedly cuts rates

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) surprised markets by lowering its main rate by a quarter of a percentage point to 1.5%—the first cut in nine years

Japan

Japanese stocks had a very strong first quarter of 2024, with the MSCI Japan Index rising over 19% in local currency terms. These gains were largely due to yen weakness resulting from the Bank of Japan’s (BoJ’s) unexpectedly hawkish tilt (it raised short-term interest rates earlier than had been priced in by most market participants and for the first time since 2007). Exuberance around generative AI and solid corporate earnings also boosted sentiment.

Bank of Japan ends negative interest rate policy

The BoJ made a much-anticipated policy shift and exited its negative interest rate policy. The central bank announced that it will set a policy rate target of 0.0% to 0.1%, up from -0.1%, following reports of major companies agreeing to robust pay increases in annual wage talks. The BoJ also ended its yield curve control program. However, Governor Kazuo Ueda affirmed that financial conditions would remain accommodative as inflation expectations were still below the 2% target.

Market expectations appear to be converging around two more BoJ interest rate hikes within a one-year period. The yield on the 10-year Japanese government bond rose to 0.72% from 0.61% at the end of 2023.

Yen hovers around 34-year low, raising prospect of currency intervention

The yen depreciated to its weakest level in about 34 years over the quarter, to JPY 151.7 against the U.S. dollar, from 141 at the turn of the year. In March, the Japanese currency briefly hovered near JPY 152 against the greenback—which is perceived by many as a point that could trigger authorities to intervene in the foreign exchange markets to prop up the yen. The country’s three main monetary authorities suggested toward the end of March that they could be ready to stage such an intervention, in the strongest hint to date. Japanese stock markets have been significantly boosted by historic yen weakness over the past three years, as it has provided a boost to many of Japan’s large-cap exporters, which derive a significant share of their earnings from overseas.

Revised report shows Japan avoided recession

Ueda gave a relatively downcast view of the country’s prospects, stating that while the economy is recovering moderately, weakness has been seen in some data. However, revised economic growth figures showed that Japan had in fact averted a technical recession (marked by two successive quarters of negative growth) in the final quarter of last year. GDP in the fourth quarter of 2023 expanded 0.1% on the quarter compared with the earlier release suggesting the economy had contracted 0.1%. On an annualized basis, this equated to a 0.4% expansion versus a prior fall of 0.4%.

Consumer prices pick up, services segment continues to drive private sector growth

Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI), rose to a higher‑than‑anticipated 2.8%, annualized over the month of February. This was a sharp pickup from January’s 2.0% and well ahead of the BoJ’s inflation target. Meanwhile, the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index data showed that activity within Japan’s private sector expanded at the fastest rate in seven months in March. Much of this is attributable to the strength of the services segment.

China

Stocks in China declined as concerns about the country’s prolonged property downturn outweighed data pointing to a pickup in economic activity. The MSCI China Index gave up 2.19% while the China A Onshore Index lost 0.68%, both in U.S. dollar terms.

Data showed no sign of turnaround in China’s property crisis. New home prices fell 0.3% in February, the eighth straight month of declines, according to the statistics bureau. A separate report showed that property investment in China fell by 9% in the combined January to February period from a year earlier, slowing from December’s 24% drop.

Signs economy is gaining traction

Other readings signaled that some parts of China’s economy were gaining traction. Industrial production and retail sales rose more than forecast in January and February from a year earlier as consumption surged during the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday, while fixed asset investment also grew strongly in the first two months of the year amid infrastructure growth. On the other hand, deflationary pressures continued to weigh on China’s outlook. The CPI rose a higher-than-expected 0.7% in February year on year, reversing January’s 0.8% decline and marking the first positive reading since August. However, the producer price index fell a bigger‑than‑expected 2.7% from a year ago, accelerating from January’s 2.5% drop and marking the 17th monthly decline.

Beijing set an annual economic growth target of around 5% at the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, in March. The government set the budget deficit at around 3%, the same target as early last year, though it later raised it to 3.8% to accommodate more borrowing. It also said it would issue RMB 1 trillion in special ultralong central government bonds to support growth.

Central bank cuts rates to help troubled property sector

In February, the People’s Bank of China cut the five-year loan prime rate, a key gauge for mortgages, by 25 basis points to 3.95%, marking the largest cut since the reference rate was introduced in 2019. Analysts said that the unexpectedly large cut will allow more cities across China to reduce minimum mortgage rates for homebuyers and signaled officials’ growing focus on shoring up the troubled property sector.

China’s GDP expanded 5.2% in the fourth quarter of 2023 over a year ago and rose 1.0% from the previous quarter. For the full year, China’s economy grew 5.2%, in line with Beijing’s official growth target of around 5%.

Other Key Markets

Türkiye (Turkey): Rates rise, central bank leadership changes, and policymakers may use lira as inflation-fighting tool

Turkish stocks, as measured by MSCI, returned 14.62% in the first quarter versus 2.44% for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

In late January, the central bank raised its key policy rate, the one-week repo auction rate, from 42.5% to 45.0%. Shortly thereafter, however, there was an unexpected leadership change at the central bank. Governor Hafize Gaye Erkan resigned following accusations of family involvement in management of the central bank, and Deputy Governor Fatih Karahan was appointed to be the new governor.

Some of Karahan’s early public comments were, in the opinion of T. Rowe Price sovereign analyst Peter Botoucharov, somewhat more hawkish than expected. While confirming that policymakers were happy with the monetary policy tightening that took place from mid-2023 through the end of January, Karahan stressed that monetary policy will be kept tight for “longer than previously envisaged.” He also left open the possibility that policy may be tightened further in case of “marked deterioration” in the inflation outlook. Indeed, at the central bank’s policy meeting on March 21, policymakers lifted the one-week repo auction rate from 45.0% to 50.0%, noting that the underlying trend of monthly inflation in February was higher than expected, led by services inflation.

Another interesting shift at the central bank took place at its February policy meeting, when policymakers explicitly stated in their post-meeting communiqué that a “tight monetary stance will continue to contribute to Turkish lira’s real appreciation process.” This could be a sign that the central bank is shifting some attention from rebuilding its foreign exchange reserves to supporting the currency as an inflation fighting tool. All other things being equal, a stronger currency can result in lower import prices, while a weaker currency usually leads to higher import prices.

Poland: Policymakers hold rates steady amid “substantial uncertainty” about future inflation

Polish stocks, as measured by MSCI, returned 3.54% in the first quarter versus 2.44% for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

The Polish central bank kept its key interest rate, the reference rate, at 5.75% throughout the first quarter. The reference rate has remained at 5.75% since early October 2023.

According to the most recent post‑meeting statement issued on Wednesday, March 6, policymakers acknowledged that “the process of disinflation” in the Polish economy is continuing, with inflation being “driven down by the reduction of cost pressures reflected in falling producer prices, and by the weak growth in economic activity.” They also noted that fourth-quarter GDP growth measured at 1.0% was “relatively low” but that incoming data “indicate an increase in economic activity growth” in the first quarter of 2024. While policymakers projected that annual CPI growth “will run at the level consistent with” the central bank’s inflation target, they anticipate that “the decline in core inflation will be slower and core inflation will remain above CPI inflation.” As a result, policymakers decided to keep interest rates unchanged.

Central bank officials justified their decision by noting that inflation developments in future quarters are “associated with substantial uncertainty, related in particular to the impact of fiscal and regulatory policies on price developments, as well as the pace of economic recovery…and labor market conditions.” They also cited other factors, such as the potential for higher value‑added taxes on food products, higher energy costs, and “medium-term demand pressure in the economy…stimulated by wage growth.”

Major Index Returns

Total returns unless noted

As of 3/31/24
Figures shown in U.S. dollars
  1Q24
U.S. Equity Indexes
S&P 500 10.56%
Dow Jones Industrial Average 6.14
Nasdaq Composite (Principal Return) 9.11
Russell Midcap 8.60
Russell 2000 5.18
Global/International Equity Indexes
MSCI Europe 5.39
MSCI Japan 11.16
MSCI China -2.19
MSCI Emerging Markets 2.44
MSCI All Country World 8.32
Bond Indexes
Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond -0.78
Bloomberg Global Aggregate Ex‑USD -3.21
Credit Suisse High Yield 1.73
J.P. Morgan Emerging Markets Bond Global 1.40

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.
Note: Returns are for the periods ended March 31, 2024. The returns include dividends and interest income based on data supplied by third‑party provider RIMES and compiled by T. Rowe Price, except for the Nasdaq Composite Index, whose return is principal only.
Sources: Standard & Poor’s, LSE Group, Bloomberg Index Services Limited, MSCI, Credit Suisse, Dow Jones, and J.P. Morgan (see Additional Disclosures).

What we’re watching next

Sébastien Page, CIO, Head of Global Multi-Asset

The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent recovery continue to distort the economic data, forcing economists who rely on traditional recession signals to continually revise their assumptions. As a result, the most anticipated global recession in history has become the most delayed recession in history.

Forecasts that linked rate hikes with higher unemployment have spectacularly missed the mark. For example, back in December 2022, the Fed’s Summary of Economic Projections predicted that the unemployment rate would be 4.6% in the fourth quarter of 2023. As of December, we were at 3.7%.

To be sure, there are reasons for caution regarding the global economic outlook. Europe looks likely to endure stagnant growth in early 2024 before recovering in the second half. In Asia, China’s economic outlook remains gloomy, with few signs of improvement in the country’s property market. Commercial real estate sectors remain fragile in several other countries as well.

Meanwhile, the U.S., Asia, and Europe are at different stages in the balance between growth and inflation, meaning the Fed, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan are likely to pursue increasingly asynchronous monetary policies in 2024, adding to the potential for increased market volatility.

Geopolitical uncertainty also could bring further volatility, particularly if ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine cause a resurgence in energy prices. Recent election victories for far-right populist candidates in Argentina and the Netherlands raise the question of whether further victories for populist parties could occur elsewhere, especially in the U.S., where next November’s election will be the most consequential currently known political event of 2024.

As of December, most global economies were showing surprising resilience to higher rates, and the U.S. economy was performing better than expected. The unprecedented levels of cash generated by pandemic support and other fiscal stimulus measures have been a key support for U.S. household and corporate balance sheets. Excess consumer savings should continue to provide support for U.S. economic growth going forward.

Additional Disclosure

The S&P 500 Index is a product of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global, or its affiliates (“SPDJI”) and has been licensed for use by T. Rowe Price. Standard & Poor’s® and S&P® are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC, a division of S&P Global (“S&P”); Dow Jones® is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC (“Dow Jones”); T. Rowe Price is not sponsored, endorsed, sold or promoted by SPDJI, Dow Jones, S&P, their respective affiliates, and none of such parties make any representation regarding the advisability of investing in such product(s) nor do they have any liability for any errors, omissions, or interruptions of the S&P 500 Index.

London Stock Exchange Group plc and its group undertakings (collectively, the “LSE Group”). © LSE Group 2024. FTSE Russell is a trading name of certain of the LSE Group companies. “Russell®” is a trade mark(s) of the relevant LSE Group companies and is used by any other LSE Group company under license. All rights in the FTSE Russell indexes or data vest in the relevant LSE Group company which owns the index or the data. Neither LSE Group nor its licensors accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the indexes or data and no party may rely on any indexes or data contained in this communication. No further distribution of data from the LSE Group is permitted without the relevant LSE Group company’s express written consent. The LSE Group does not promote, sponsor or endorse the content of this communication. The LSE Group is not responsible for the formatting or configuration of this material or for any inaccuracy in T. Rowe Price Associates’ presentation thereof.

MSCI and its affiliates and third party sources and providers (collectively, “MSCI”) makes no express or implied warranties or representations and shall have no liability whatsoever with respect to any MSCI data contained herein. The MSCI data may not be further redistributed or used as a basis for other indices or any securities or financial products. This report is not approved, reviewed, or produced by MSCI. Historical MSCI data and analysis should not be taken as an indication or guarantee of any future performance analysis, forecast or prediction. None of the MSCI data is intended to constitute investment advice or a recommendation to make (or refrain from making) any kind of investment decision and may not be relied on as such.

“Bloomberg®” and Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond, Bloomberg Global Aggregate Ex‑USD are service marks of Bloomberg Finance L.P. and its affiliates, including Bloomberg Index Services Limited (“BISL”), the administrator of the index (collectively, “Bloomberg”) and have been licensed for use for certain purposes by T. Rowe Price. Bloomberg is not affiliated with T. Rowe Price, and Bloomberg does not approve, endorse, review, or recommend its products. Bloomberg does not guarantee the timeliness, accurateness, or completeness of any data or information relating to its products.

© 2024 CREDIT SUISSE GROUP AG and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

Information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable but J.P. Morgan does not warrant its completeness or accuracy. The index is used with permission. The Index may not be copied, used, or distributed without J.P. Morgan’s prior written approval. Copyright © 2024, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. All rights reserved.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

This material is being furnished for general informational purposes only. The material does not constitute or undertake to give advice of any nature, including fiduciary investment advice, and prospective investors are recommended to seek independent legal, financial and tax advice before making any investment decision. T. Rowe Price group of companies including T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and/or its affiliates receive revenue from T. Rowe Price investment products and services. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The value of an investment and any income from it can go down as well as up. Investors may get back less than the amount invested.

The material does not constitute a distribution, an offer, an invitation, a personal or general recommendation or solicitation to sell or buy any securities in any jurisdiction or to conduct any particular investment activity. The material has not been reviewed by any regulatory authority in any jurisdiction.

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