The U.S. markets rallied for their fourth week. We are now well up from the lows experienced in early March. Last week the S&P 500 rose 3.3% to 843 and the Nasdaq Composite advanced 5.0% to 1,622. Value stocks finally showed strength because the Financial Accounting Standards Board revised the mark-to-market rule giving bank stocks a boast. Value stocks however still lag growth stocks year-to-date. In fact, large to mid-cap growth stocks are now positive for the year.
Though the current rally has provided much needed relief, it does not mean the markets are only headed up. We have seen rallies galore since we started this ascent into hell last year. This is the fifth 10%-plus move we have seen in the past year and the previous rallies did not hold. For this rally to be sustainable the banks and the credit markets have to be functioning and stable.
The economy is still deteriorating. Last week, the official national unemployment rate reached 8.5% (an additional 660,000 jobs were lost in March). The real rate of unemployment is over 10% when you add in those that have been looking for a full time job for more than a year or those under employed (working part time but seeking full time). One out of every ten adults is unemployed and it will most probably only go get worse before it turns around.
This and other data suggest that the economy contracted in the first quarter by approximately 5%. Luckily some of the recent economic data related to housing sales, retail sales and consumer confidence is pointing to a moderation in the rate of decline. The Federal Reserve is also doing its best to pump money into the system and bolster up the banks. The economy is beginning to bottom out but the data is not pointing to a robust or steep US recovery. The economy will begin to stabilize the second half of the year but the going will be rough.