Three 2023 Lessons We Carry Into 2024

  • We think 2023 stressed the value of adapting to a new volatile macro regime, and leveraging investment insight and structural forces to find opportunities.
  • U.S. stocks surged in 2023, a reversal from their 2022 underperformance. Flipflopping market views about the policy path stoked volatility in long-term bonds.
  • December U.S. jobs data out this week should signal how much more the labor market needs to normalize. Slower jobs growth is a long-term supply constraint.

We take three lessons from 2023 to shape our investment approach in the new year. First, markets flipflopping between macro narratives does not reveal new information about where we will end up. This is not a typical business cycle and context is everything. Second, greater dispersion is creating opportunities. That requires skill and granularity. Third, artificial intelligence buzz has underpinned U.S. stock performance – and shows mega forces matter now, not just in the future.

New regime = more dispersion

Looking back, 2023 largely saw a concentrated tech stock rally, with the Nasdaq up 55% from 2022. A market-wide rally since November also supported tech and led the equal-weighted S&P 500 to eke out a 12% return. Overall, we are seeing more dispersion in individual stock returns since 2020 (green bar in the chart). Macro uncertainty, geopolitics and structural shifts are driving volatility and dispersion. We think markets have stoked volatility, too, by viewing the new regime through the lens of a typical business cycle. Investors leaned into long-term bonds in early 2023 on hopes the Federal Reserve would cut policy rates by year end. It then became clear higher government spending and labor shortages are set to make inflation persistent and keep interest rates above pre-Covid norms. Ten-year Treasury yields surged to 16-year highs near 5% in October as markets priced in this outlook. They tumbled back below 4% by year end after the Fed blessed the pricing of rate cuts.