Stock Market Today: Nasdaq Nabs First Record Close Since 2021

Feb 29, 2024

Stocks opened higher Thursday as Wall Street panned the latest inflation update, which came in not as bad as other recent readings on the same topic. The main indexes lost some steam midday, but managed a quick recovery with the Nasdaq Composite nabbing its first record close since November 2021.  

Ahead of the open, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said the Personal Consumption and Expenditures (PCE) price index, the Fed’s preferred inflation indicator that measures consumer spending, was up 0.3% from December to January – higher than the previous month’s 0.1% rise, but in line with economists’ expectations. 

The 2.4% annual rise in PCE came in below the 2.6% increase from December and was the lowest reading since February 2021.

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Core PCE, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, was higher than December on a monthly basis (0.4% vs 0.1%), but lower year-over-year (2.8% vs 2.9%). Both figures matched what economists were anticipating.

The data also showed that consumer spending cooled in January, rising 0.2% month-over-month vs a 0.7% increase in December. Personal income, meanwhile, jumped 1% in January, much higher than December’s 0.3% gain.

Ian Shepherdson, chairman and chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, sees no reason “to change our big picture view that core inflation is falling and will continue to slide, thanks to the pass-through from slowing wage gains, improving supply chains, and margin recompression.” 

However, Shepherdson notes that the Fed will likely delay the first rate cut until June or beyond given that it’s “hyper-cautious” after its incorrect calls in 2021 that elevated inflation would be “transitory,” as well as hotter-than-expected Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Producer Price Index (PPI) readings of late.

Indeed, according to CME Group’s FedWatch Tool, futures traders are now pricing in a 19% chance that the first quarter-point cut to interest rates will come in May and a 53% probability that it will occur in June.

Snowflake spirals 18% as CEO retires

In single-stock news, Snowflake (SNOW) was one of the worst performers Wednesday, tumbling 18.1% after earnings. There were plenty of good things in the cloud-based data platform’s fourth-quarter report, including a 32% year-over-year (YoY) surge in revenue to $774.7 million and a 39% increase in the number of customers with trailing 12-month product revenue of $1 million or more. And for the full year, product revenue hit $2.7 billion, up 38% YoY. 

But shares spiraled after Snowflake gave weaker-than-anticipated first-quarter revenue guidance and announced the departure of CEO Frank Slootman. The executive has been in the top spot since 2019 and helped take the company public in 2020. Slootman will be replaced by Sridhar Ramaswamy, a former Google ad exec and current senior vice president of AI at Snowflake.

The tech stock happens to be a member of the Berkshire Hathaway equity portfolio, with Warren Buffett & Co. even having a stake in its initial public offering (IPO) in 2020. SNOW has generated a negative return as a publicly traded company thus far.

Okta gets a double upgrade after earnings

On the other side of the coin was Okta (OKTA), which surged 22.9% after earnings. The cloud-based cybersecurity firm said total revenue rose 19% year-over-year in the fourth quarter thanks to a 20% jump in subscription revenue. Additionally, Okta expects revenue to grow 16% to 17% in the first quarter and 10% to 11% in the current fiscal year.

BofA Securities analyst Madeline Brooks says Okta’s full-year guidance is “overly conservative, which could drive upwards estimate revisions throughout the year and warrant positive rerating of the stock.” As such, she double-upgraded the tech stock to Buy from Underperform (the equivalent of Sell).

As for the main indexes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.1%% to 38,996, while the S&P 500 (+0.5% at 5,096) and the Nasdaq Composite (+0.9% at 16,091) finished at new record closes. All three indexes finished February higher. For the Dow and S&P 500, it was the best start to the year (January + February returns) since 2019.

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