Benchmark Review & Monthly Recap, April 2023

Mixed Markets See Large-Caps and Bonds Advance; SMID Declined


  • Concerns around regional banks caused stocks to slump and volatility to rise in the middle of March, but from that point on, equities have advanced, and volatility has declined through April.
  • The VIX Index, a measure of stock market volatility, rose to just below 30 on an intraday basis in mid-March, but it moved steadily lower from that point. It closed April at 15.78 – a 52-week low.
  • Large-cap stocks made gains in April, while small and mid-cap companies declined. International stocks were mixed as well with developed markets posting gains, but emerging markets sliding lower.
  • The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury closed April at 3.44% compared to March’s close at 3.48%. With the exception of municipal bonds, fixed income markets advanced in April.
  • Outside of the job market, economic data continued to show slowing activity. However, inflation readings also continued to improve in April, which could move the Fed toward the end of this rate hike cycle soon.

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In a modest change to the recent trend, large-cap value stocks outperformed large-cap growth companies in April, but the trend of large-caps outperforming small and mid-caps persisted during the month. Developed international stocks gained, but emerging market equities fell in what was a disperse return environment in April. See Table 1 for equity results for April and year to date.

Table 1
Index April 2023 YTD 2023
S&P 500 1.56% 9.17%
S&P 500 Equal Weight 0.34% 3.28%
DJIA 2.57% 3.53%
Russell 3000 1.07% 8.32%
NASDAQ Comp. 0.07% 17.12%
Russell 2000 -1.80% 0.89%
MSCI ACWI ex U.S. 1.74% 8.72%
MSCI Emerging Mkts Net -1.13% 2.78%

Source: Bloomberg For illustrative purposes only. Indexes are unmanaged and have been provided for comparison purposes only. No fees or expenses are reflected. You cannot invest directly in an index.


The S&P 500 Index posted a solid gain of 1.56% in April but looking at the S&P 500 on an equal-weighted basis showed the average stock only gained 0.34%. Recall the S&P 500 Index is a market-cap weighted index and is becoming more and more dominated by mega-cap Technology companies. Those mega-cap Technology companies have done better than the average stock and by quite a significant margin when looking at year-to-date results.

The tech-heavy NASDAQ Composite was only modestly higher in April but still has the strongest results so far this year. Meanwhile, the Russell 2000 Index, a measure of small-cap companies, continued to struggle in April and the strong gains at the start of the year have been largely wiped out with recent weakness in this space.

On a year-to-date basis, significant divergences existed in the stock market. Large-cap growth stocks have been the clear winner so far in 2023. Despite gaining only 0.99% for the month, the Russell 1000 Growth Index was up 15.49% for the year to date. By contrast, the Russell 1000 Value Index gained a modestly better 1.51% in April, but it stands with a year-to-date gain of only 2.53%. Growth performed modestly better than value on a relative basis in small and mid-caps in April. However, small and mid-caps were both down during the month regardless of style as large-cap performance dominated the month and year to date.

Fixed Income

Yields have been on a roller coaster ride so far in 2023. In January, yields dropped rather sharply, but February saw yields rise dramatically as some inflation readings were “hot” and concerns grew that the Fed might need to raise rates even higher than previously expected. Equally as dramatic was the drop again in yields in March as there was a flight to quality with concerns about some regional banks. In contrast, April was somewhat calm as yields finished April only modestly lower compared to March. (Not to say there was not some volatility during the month itself.) The 10-year U.S. Treasury closed March at 3.48% and April at 3.44%. Interestingly, the 30-year U.S. Treasury yield closed March and April at an identical 3.67%. Outside of the 1-month T-Bill, shorter-term rates (1-year and under) generally rose in April, but longer-dated bond yields generally declined. The inversion of the yield curve continues. Please see Table 2 for fixed income returns for April and YTD.

Table 2
Index April 2023 YTD 2023
Bloomberg U.S. Agg 0.61% 3.59%
Bloomberg U.S. Credit 0.79% 4.26%
Bloomberg U.S. High Yield 1.00% 4.60%
Bloomberg Muni -0.23% 2.54%
Bloomberg 30-year U.S. TSY 0.16% 6.16%
Bloomberg U.S. TSY 0.54% 3.56%

Source: Bloomberg. For illustrative purposes only. Indexes are unmanaged and have been provided for comparison purposes only. No fees or expenses are reflected. You cannot invest directly in an index.


We believe the move higher in rates in 2022 has largely run its course at the longer end of the yield curve and we expect the 10-year yield to move lower as we go through 2023. While volatile, that has occurred so far in 2023 with longer-dated yields declining, which has set up a better return environment for bonds. In previous Fed rate hike cycles, longer rates have started to come down before the Fed has stopped raising the Federal Funds rate and that pattern has played out this year as well.

We maintain our opinion that we are in the late innings of this rate hike cycle. We also maintain our long-standing position favoring credit versus pure rate exposure in this interest rate environment. Municipal bonds have been somewhat expensive on a relative basis, so weakness in this part of the market was not unexpected in April. Finally, we believe the role bonds play in a portfolio, to provide stable cash flows and to help offset the volatility of stocks in the long run, has not changed.

Economic Data and Outlook

The U.S. economy continued to grow in the first quarter of 2023 albeit at a more modest pace than expected and experienced in the second half of 2022. The advance or preliminary reading of Q1 2023 GDP came in at a 1.1% annualized rate. Expectations were calling for a reading of 1.9% and this compares to Q4 2022 GDP of 2.6%. We expect growth to slow down later in the year and we believe the risk of a mild recession has increased and is about as likely as a soft landing. The first quarter ended on a strong note when it came to the job market as non-farm payrolls increased by 236,000 in March, surpassing expectations of 230,000.

Prior month payrolls were revised higher as well. The unemployment rate ticked lower to 3.5%, beating expectations and improving from February’s level of 3.6%. Furthermore, the labor force participation rate increased, when expectations were calling for no change from the prior month. Chart 1 shows that the labor force participation rate has been steadily declining for years (driven in large part by baby boomers retiring), but the large drop due to the pandemic has started to steadily improve and is getting closer to pre-pandemic levels. The unemployment rate is just above the 3.4% mark set in January — the lowest unemployment rate since 1969.

Chart 1.

For illustrative purposes only. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Projections or other forward looking statements regarding future financial performance of markets are only predictions and actual events or results may differ materially.

More people returning to the labor force would help the mismatch in job seekers versus job openings with millions more open jobs than people looking for work. The JOLTS reading on job openings was below expectations in February and dropped below 10 million, which could be signaling some initial slowdown in hiring. The Fed would likely view this as a positive development with rate hikes starting to slow broader economic activity and therefore inflationary pressures.

Wages climbed by 4.2% on an annual basis in March, which was below expectations of 4.3%, and lower than the 4.6% gain in February — another reading the Fed is likely applauding. The Fed aggressively raising rates over the last year is expected to raise unemployment, but Fed rate increases so far have not resulted in significant weakness in the job market outside of the Technology sector. We will watch developments in the job market closely with consumer spending accounting for about 70% of U.S. economic activity.

Housing continues to be impacted by higher interest rates due to the direct impact on mortgage rates. Interest rates have been volatile this year and after housing activity was largely better than expected in February, it was more mixed in March. Building permits, considered a leading indicator for housing, missed expectations and dropped sharply lower in March to a 1.413 million annual pace from the 1.550 million rate in February. Housing starts dropped to a 1.420 million annual rate from the prior month’s 1.432 million pace, but it did surpass expectations. Existing home sales missed expectations at a 4.44 million pace when a reading of 4.50 million was anticipated and this was below the 4.55 million pace from the prior month. New home sales, however, stood out with a 683,000 annual pace in March compared to estimates of 632,000 and the prior month’s 623,000.

Housing prices were expected to slightly decline on a year over year basis by -0.05% in February, but they instead held onto a modest annual gain of 0.36% based on the S&P CoreLogic CS 20-City Index for February. Home prices rose by 2.58% on an annual basis in January. Declining home prices has been the clear trend over the last several months as mortgage rates have increased dramatically and slowed housing activity. Chart 2 shows the National Home Price Index, which saw strong gains as mortgage rates were low, but reflected those home prices cooling as mortgage rates have more than doubled.

Chart 2.

For illustrative purposes only. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

The ISM Manufacturing Index showed contraction for the 4th consecutive month in February with a reading of 47.7 – a modest improvement from January’s reading of 47.4, but below expectations of 48.0. (The reading for March marked a 5th straight month of contraction at 46.3 – the lowest level since May 2020.) The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index, which covers the much larger service industries in the U.S. economy, continued to show solid expansion with a reading of 55.1 in February – better than expectations of 54.5 and just modestly lower than the 55.2 mark from January. Recall that ISM readings above 50 indicate expansion and below 50 signal contraction.

Retail sales (ex. auto and gas) dropped -0.3% in March, but this was half the expected decline of -0.6%. The prior month’s reading was revised lower from a flat reading to a -0.5% decline. The preliminary University of Michigan Sentiment reading for April improved to 63.5 from 62 and expectations of 62.1. The Conference Board’s Leading Index continued to decline and fell by -1.2% in March, much worse than the expected -0.7% drop and the prior month was revised downward to -0.5% from -0.3%.

After disappointing January inflation data hit the market in February, inflation readings covering February, released in March were largely positive. The headline Consumer Price Index for February dropped to 6.0% as expected from 6.4%. The headline Producer Price Index fell to a 4.6% annual increase, which was much better than expectations of 5.4% and the prior month’s mark of 5.7%. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the Personal Consumption Expenditures Index, dropped to 5.0% in February from a revised lower 5.3% in January and this beat expectations of 5.1%. Similarly, the core reading of the PCE Index (the primary way the Fed looks at inflation) showed a monthly increase of 0.3%, which was better than the 0.4% expected and an annual increase of 4.6%, a modest drop from the 4.7% increase from January. Chart 3 shows that the trend for inflation continues lower.

Chart 3.

For illustrative purposes only. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

The Fed’s aggressive rate hikes impacted capital markets and the economy last year. Markets reset valuations based on higher interest rates and lower corporate earnings expectations in this rate-tightening cycle. However, we believe we are in the late innings of this rate hike cycle and the S&P 500 has now posted gains in two consecutive quarters.

Although economic growth picked up in the second half of 2022 and we believe that momentum has continued early in the new year, we expect growth to slow later in 2023 and believe the odds of a mild recession are about 50/50. However, the job market has remained resilient and is a critical component of our overall economy, leading us to the conclusion that any economic slowdown would be modest. As always, we believe it is imperative for investors to stay focused on their long-term goals and not let short-term swings in the market derail them from their longer-term objectives.

Investment Implications

Clark Capital’s Top-Down, Quantitative Strategies

The markets remain very resilient with the S&P 500 closing just off its high for the year. Credit conditions are stable and trends in global indices continue to improve. Our credit models are fully risk-on, so our tactical bias is overweight equity and credit.

Clark Capital’s Bottom-Up, Fundamental Strategies

Margin expectations are moving up, and the antifragile growth monopolies are reasserting themselves as well-managed, profit focused enterprises. Our exposure to those names has been increasing and many of them still appear attractively priced. Year to date, four companies in the S&P 500 Index represent 60% of the gain including Meta Platforms, Inc., Nvidia Corp., Apple Inc., and Microsoft Corp. We believe the market continues to reward profitability over valuation and large to mega-cap at the expense of small-caps.

Within the fixed income portfolios, the focus was on taking advantage of the stable markets and continuing to move into what we believe are higher quality, more stable names.


Event Period Estimate Actual Prior Revised
ISM Manufacturing Mar 47.5 46.3 47.7
ISM Services Index Mar 54.4 51.2 55.1
Change in Nonfarm Payrolls Mar 230k 236k 311k 326k
Unemployment Rate Mar 3.60% 3.50% 3.60%
Average Hourly Earnings YoY Mar 4.30% 4.20% 4.60%
JOLTS Job Openings Feb 10500k 9931k 10824k 10563k
PPI Final Demand MoM Mar 0.00% -0.50% -0.10% 0.00%
PPI Final Demand YoY Mar 3.00% 2.70% 4.60% 4.90%
PPI Ex Food and Energy MoM Mar 0.20% -0.10% 0.00% 0.20%
PPI Ex Food and Energy YoY Mar 3.40% 3.40% 4.40% 4.80%
CPI MoM Mar 0.20% 0.10% 0.40%
CPI YoY Mar 5.10% 5.00% 6.00%
CPI Ex Food and Energy MoM Mar 0.40% 0.40% 0.50%
CPI Ex Food and Energy YoY Mar 5.60% 5.60% 5.50%
Retail Sales Ex Auto and Gas Mar -0.60% -0.30% 0.00% -0.50%
Industrial Production MoM Mar 0.20% 0.40% 0.00% 0.20%
Building Permits Mar 1450k 1413k 1524k 1550k
Housing Starts Mar 1400k 1420k 1450k 1432k
New Home Sales Mar 632k 683k 640k 623k
Existing Home Sales Mar 4.50m 4.44m 4.58m 4.55m
Leading Index Mar -0.70% -1.20% -0.30% -0.50%
Durable Goods Orders Mar P 0.70% 3.20% -1.00% -1.20%
GDP Annualized QoQ 1Q A 1.90% 1.10% 2.60%
U. of Mich. Sentiment Apr P 62.1 63.5 62
Personal Income Mar 0.20% 0.30% 0.30%
Personal Spending Mar -0.10% 0.00% 0.20% 0.10%
S&P CoreLogic CS 20-City YoY NSA Feb -0.05% 0.36% 2.55% 2.58%

P=Preliminary, A=Advanced
Source: Bloomberg

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Past performance is not indicative of future results. The opinions referenced are as of the date of publication and are subject to change due to changes in the market or economic conditions and may not necessarily come to pass. Material presented has been derived from sources considered to be reliable and has not been independently verified by us or our personnel. Nothing herein should be construed as a solicitation, recommendation or an offer to buy, sell or hold any securities, other investments or to adopt any investment strategy or strategies. Investors must make their own decisions based on their specific investment objectives and financial circumstances. Investing involves risk, including loss of principal.
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