HomeMoney SavingMaking sense of the markets this week: March 10, 2024

Making sense of the markets this week: March 10, 2024

Right now, the U.S. economy is strong. There is no reason to cut interest rates. In my view, this is a win-win situation. If the economy were to falter quickly, the Federal Reserve would cut rates to help businesses. If the economy continues to grow at 3% to 4%—which is the current prediction for the first quarter of 2024 in the U.S.—the central bank won’t have to act. In both cases, the stock market will go up. We’ll see on March 28, when the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis will announce the U.S. 2023 Q4 GDP.

Bitcoin is skyrocketing thanks to the SEC

Wow. Just wow. For a brief moment on March 5, 2024, bitcoin recently hit an all-time high slightly above USD$69,200, beating its previous peak of USD$69,010 in November 2021. The cryptocurrency has been rising since October 2023, but prices really started to surge in January after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs). American retail investors have been waiting a long time for a way to invest in cryptocurrency without having to own the digital tokens themselves. Now they can choose from 10 bitcoin ETFs, including funds from investment giants BlackRock and Fidelity. Collectively, the new bitcoin ETFs have already attracted billions of dollars. An ethereum ETF is likely around the corner. (Canadian investors already had access to bitcoin ETFs—Purpose Investment’s bitcoin ETF launched in February 2021, and at least three ethereum ETFs were launched by various Canadian firms a few months later.)

Graph of bitcoin's performance from 2022 to 2024
Source: Wall Street Journal

For me, this is an asset class that is still speculative. I’m not alone. Executives from Vanguard say they are not offering crypto products because they don’t see an “enduring” role for them in long-term portfolios. SEC chair Gary Gensler made a point of saying the approval of bitcoin ETFs was not an endorsement, and that he views crypto as a “speculative, volatile asset.”

Right now, there is no government body or country backing digital currencies—at least, not yet. Until this happens, I don’t know where they fit into the economy. My view: At this point, crypto represents too much risk for most investors. It’s certainly not a core holding for the investors I work with.

Gold also has been rising of late, and I met with David Garofalo of Gold Royalty Corp. about the rise of gold on March 6, 2024.

TSX significantly underperforming the S&P 500

The TSX Composite Index is up just 5% year over year compared to nearly 30% for the S&P 500. Why has the TSX fallen short? Primarily because of which economic sectors it focuses on. Specifically, there is a lack of high-growth technology stocks in Canada. The majority of the TSX is made up of banking, oil and gold stocks. For a while now, banking has been flat at best. Oil stocks have dropped in price. Even though gold is at an all-time high, gold stocks have not fared as well. Meanwhile, 40% of the companies on the S&P 500 are in the technology sector, which led to its strong performance. BMO senior economist Robert Kavcic points out that just “five [tech companies]—Nvidia, Microsoft, Amazon, Meta and Apple—have alone accounted for almost half of the net 1,200 point increase in the S&P 500 over the past year.” More than half the companies on the Nasdaq are also technology stocks. Even the Dow Jones Industrial Average has a growing number of technology stocks, including Apple, Salesforce and Amazon.

Two tables show S&P 500 and TSX stock index performance as of March 1, 2024
Source: BMO Global Equity Weekly

The TSX did very well during the China-driven metals super-cycle, when that country was buying up all the copper, aluminum and iron ore it could to build infrastructure. Those days are over. China’s economy is slowing, and that’s impacting Canadian companies and the TSX.

Canada’s economy is the secondary reason the TSX isn’t doing as well as U.S. indexes. Canadian GDP grew by 1% over the last year, while U.S. GDP grew by 3.2%. As a result, Canada is not as attractive to foreign investment as the U.S. We discussed the TSX’s underperformance on the Allan Small Financial Show.



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