S&P 500 Surges to Start the Year

It’s been a blistering start to the year for the stock market.

The S&P 500, one of the most widely watched stock indexes in the world, has risen more than 10 percent over the first three months of 2024, buoyed by 22 record highs.

Roughly 40 percent of the stocks in the index are trading above where they were 12 months ago. And even when the index has lost ground, it hasn’t been by much, with only three days so far in 2024 in which the S&P 500 has fallen more than 1 percent by the close.

The move has been driven by renewed appetite for stocks. Investors in March poured roughly $50 billion into funds that buy stocks in the United States, according to data from EPFR Global.

A modest rally in January, based on expectations the Federal Reserve would start cutting interest rates this year has given way to more widespread optimism that the central bank could bring inflation down to its target of 2 percent without inflicting too much damage on the economy — the long-hoped-for “soft landing.”

A fresh reading on inflation and spending released on Friday was in line with economists’ expectations, reinforcing the prevailing forecasts for Fed rate moves. “We don’t need to be in a hurry to cut,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said at an event on Friday.

In the markets, exuberance has spread to the riskier corners of the financial system. Bitcoin continues to trade above $70,000, a threshold it reached for the first time this month after regulators made it easier for ordinary investors to buy funds that track the price of the cryptocurrency. At the same time, mergers and takeovers have surged and the public debuts of Reddit and Trump Media were greeted with big pops in share price on their first day of trading. And in credit markets, where investors finance companies via bonds and loans, the demand to borrow and the desire to lend have swelled — a sign of optimism over the outlook for corporate America.

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