There was no safe asset for investors in February

People walk by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on February 27, 2023 in New York City.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images News | Getty Images

This report is from today’s CNBC Daily Open, our new, international markets newsletter. CNBC Daily Open brings investors up to speed on everything they need to know, no matter where they are. Like what you see? You can subscribe here.

What you need to know today

  • Goldman Sachs will pivot from its consumer push to focus on asset and wealth management, CEO David Solomon said. He added that the bank was weighing “strategic alternatives” for its consumer platforms — suggesting a possible sale or restructuring. Goldman shares dropped 3.8%.
  • Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper, issued a warning to Elon Musk after he responded to tweets that asserted the Covid virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory. “Elon Musk, are you breaking the pot of China?” the newspaper asked — a saying similar to the idiom “biting the hand that feeds you.”
  • Target’s earnings and revenue beat Wall Street’s expectations for the first time in a year. However, the retailer’s margins were lower than it had promised, and it gave a conservative outlook for the year as U.S. consumers cut back on discretionary items.
  • PRO The 10-year Treasury yield is hovering close to 4%, a level that strategists say could give investors a fright. “When [yields] rally, the equity market doesn’t like that,” said Katie Stockton, founder of Fairlead Strategies.

The bottom line

In this turbulent market, investors seem unable to find safety in any asset.

Markets in the U.S. closed lower on the last day of February. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.7%, the S&P 500 fell 0.3% and the Nasdaq Composite dipped 0.1%. The Dow shed 4.19% for the month and has lost 1.48% for the year, which means it gave up all the gains it made in January. The S&P and Nasdaq fared slightly better. Though they lost 2.61% and 1.11% respectively in February, the two indexes are still holding onto some gains from their January rally.

More worryingly for investors, the inverse relationship between stocks and bonds — which proved fallible last year — has not yet reestablished itself. Bonds are typically seen as a hedge against stock movements; that is, when stocks drop, bonds tend to go up, which is why we hear so much about the merits of a diversified portfolio comprising 60% stocks and 40% bonds. Well — perhaps not so much these two years. Inflation has wreaked havoc on this relationship, causing the assets to move in tandem.

Yesterday, the 10-year Treasury yield briefly hit 3.983%, its highest level in three months. That’s dangerously close to 4%, which analysts say is a key psychological level for investors (if only for the fact that it’s a whole number that seems to present a new threshold). Bond prices are falling — as are stocks. Until inflation is under control, markets feel like a no-win scenario for investors. (Even gold, an asset that investors run to for shelter, fell 5.58% in February.)

There may be some hope: U.S. home prices in December were 5.8% higher year over year, an increase, admittedly, but down from the 7.6% gain in November. High mortgage rates, rising in tandem with interest rates, slowed the increase in prices. Big-box retailer Target warned in its earnings report that consumers are paring back on their discretionary spending. Inflation may be slowing — it’s just not as quickly as we had hoped.

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