The Markets (as of market close August 31, 2020)
The positive run for stocks continued in August as the major market indexes regularly reached all-time highs. While investors remained bullish toward equities, it wasn’t always clear why. Although the economy is gradually picking up steam, it has a ways to go to reach its pre-pandemic level. Gross domestic product for the second quarter showed that the economy receded at an annual rate of 31.7%. Job growth is ongoing, yet more than 14 million people are receiving unemployment benefits.
Personal income inched ahead by 0.4%, but consumer spending rose by 1.9%. Inflation remained well below the Federal Reserve’s target of 2.0%, keeping prices for consumer goods and services down. Interest rates for loans and mortgages remain low helping the housing sector to surge.
The Federal Reserve has maintained accommodative measures to help spur the economy, yet additional stimulus relief from the federal government has reached a stalemate. Globally, tensions between the United States and China have risen, potentially putting the phase-one trade deal between the economic giants in jeopardy.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate nearly every aspect of life. States are struggling to settle on appropriate protocols for reopening schools. Testing for the virus has increased, and the numbers of COVID-related infections and deaths continue to mount. Throughout August, news of improved virus treatments and possible vaccines offered encouragement.
By the end of the month, each of the benchmark indexes listed here scored sizable gains, leading to the best August in decades. The technology sector continued to flourish last month, leading the Nasdaq to record highs. The Dow closed the month up 7.6%, followed by the S&P 500, the Global Dow, and the Russell 2000.
Year to date, the Nasdaq is 31.2% ahead of last year’s pace, followed by the S&P 500, which is up 8.3%. The Dow is nearly at its 2019 closing value, while the Global Dow and the Russell 2000 continued to gain ground.
By the close of trading on August 31, the price of crude oil (CL=F) was $42.81 per barrel, ahead of its July 31 price of $40.41 per barrel. The national average retail regular gasoline price was $2.182 per gallon on August 24, $0.007 higher than the July 27 selling price of $2.175, but $0.392 less than a year ago. The price of gold remained steady through August, closing at $1,974.90 on August 31, down slightly from its July 31 closing price of $1,989.90.