In a year full of big numbers, with strong gains for stocks and even more fantastic flights for crypto, it was one shrinking number that superseded all.
Inflation, the scourge of the global economy, moderated this year. It’s still relatively high, particularly after the many years of low inflation that everyone enjoyed before inflation in the United States topped 9 per cent two summers ago. But it’s cooled enough to get investors looking ahead to a 2024 where interest rates may be on the way down instead of up. Globally, inflation is estimated to have come down to 6.9 per cent from 8.7 per cent last year.
Surprisingly, the US economy also held up through the year despite worries at the start of it that a recession may be inevitable. For a while, the worry was even that the economy may be too strong, which could have fed into upward pressure on inflation and forced the US Federal Reserve to keep interest rates higher for longer.
That led to counterintuitive moments where Wall Street actually cheered weaker reports on the economy, as long as they weren’t too weak, because they kept alive the possibility of a perfect landing for the economy engineered by the Federal Reserve. The goal was for the economy to slow just enough to snuff out high inflation, but not so much that it falls into a recession.
Now, with the economy still growing and expectations rising for cuts to rates coming in 2024, investors have rushed to get ahead of the moves, which can act like steroids for all kinds of markets. US stocks bounced back from their dismal 2022, which was Wall Street’s worst year since the dot-com bubble was deflating two decades earlier.
Much of Wall Street’s run was due to just a small group of stocks, but breadth was better around the world. Stock markets across the Americas, Europe and Asia all rose.
Higher interest rates left their mark, however, notably in the US housing market. Sales of previously occupied US homes slumped in October to their slowest pace in more than 13 years.
Here’s a look at some of the striking numbers that shaped global financial markets in 2023.
3.1 per cent – The headline inflation rate at the consumer level in November in the US Inflation peaked at 9.1 per cent in June 2022. The Federal Reserve’s target level is 2 per cent.
2.4 per cent – Overall inflation in the European Union in November, a far cry from a peak of 10.6 per cent in October 2022. Energy prices plunged 11.5 per cent from the same month a year earlier. But food inflation remains stubbornly high at 6.9 per cent.
55 per cent – The price increase for US used cars from February 2020 through the peak in January 2022. From January 2022 through this November, prices for used cars declined 11.5 per cent.
US$4 – National average price per gallon of milk in November, up 25 per cent from US$3.20 just before the pandemic in February 2020.
161 per cent – The rate of inflation in Argentina. The government has responded by slashing the country’s currency value in half, suspending public works and cutting subsidies for gas and electricity among a number of drastic measures.
22 – Consecutive months that the US unemployment rate has come in below 4 per cent, the longest streak since a 27-month run from November 1967 through January 1970. The job market held up even as the Federal Reserve tried to slow the economy to fight inflation.
67 – The percentage of Americans that disapproved of President Biden’s handling of the economy in an October poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That sentiment, if it persists, could hamper Biden in his expected election rematch with former president Trump.
9.4 per cent – The estimated decline in investment in China’s property sector from January through October, according to the World Bank. Weakness in the property sector and in global demand for China’s exports, as well as high debt levels and wavering consumer confidence have weighed on the country’s economy.
-0.1 per cent – The contraction in Germany’s economy in the third quarter. Europe’s biggest economy should shrink again slightly in the current quarter, the Bundesbank estimates.
1.1 per cent – Expected growth in world trade in 2023, down from 5.2 per cent in 2022 and sixth weakest in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development records going back to 1980. The slump reflects a slowing global economy, growing protectionism and geopolitical tensions between the US and China.
7 – This small number of stocks was alone responsible for roughly two-thirds of the S&P 500’s return in 2023 through mid-December. Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Nvidia, Tesla and Meta Platforms are also Wall Street’s biggest stocks.
27.3 per cent – The year-to-date gain for Japan’s Nikkei 225 index, as of December 19. It was the Nikkei’s best performance since 2013. In July, the index rose to 33,753.33, its highest level since 1990.
US$43,000 – Bitcoin surged past this level in December after starting the year below US$16,300. It and other cryptocurrencies had tumbled last year as rising rates hit investments seen as particularly risky.
5 per cent – The return for the largest US bond mutual fund, as of December 14. As recently as November, it had been on track for a third straight yearly loss. But excitement about potential cuts to rates sent bond prices soaring.
3 – The combined number of days the S&P 500 rose or fell by at least 2 per cent in 2023. The index rose 24.2 per cent through the year, as of December 19. In 2022, a down year for stocks, there were more than 40 such days.
5 per cent – The peak for the yield on the 10-year US Treasury, a level not seen since 2007. Bond yields marched higher for much of the year, then reversed sharply over the last two months. The 10-yield stood at 3.92 per cent on December 19.
7.88 per cent – The average rate on a 60-month auto loan in August 2023, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The rate was 5.27 per cent in August 2019.
21.2 per cent – The average credit card interest rate as of August, according to the Federal Reserve. That’s up from 16.3 per cent in 2022 and 14.6 per cent in 2021.
3 – The number of times Federal Reserve officials expect to cut interest rates in 2024, according to recently released projections. The Fed raised rates 11 times between March 2022 and July of this year before pausing.
4 per cent – The European Central Bank’s benchmark interest rate. Like the Fed, the ECB kept rates steady at its latest meeting. Unlike the Fed, the ECB did not signal the possibility of rates cuts next year.
7.79 per cent – The average rate on a 30-year mortgage on October 26, according to Freddie Mac. It was the highest average rate since November 11, 2000.
US$2,199 – The median monthly payment listed by prospective homebuyers on mortgage applications in October, a 9.3 per cent increase from a year earlier.
67 per cent – The share of US homeowners who had a home loan with a fixed rate of 5 per cent or less as of September.
1.15 million – The number of existing US homes on the market at the end of October. That was down 5.7 per cent from October 2022 and is roughly half the historical average going back to 1999. Sales of existing homes fell 20.2 per cent in the first 10 months of the year.
US$391,800 – The median sales price of a previously occupied US home in October. It was up 3.4 per cent from the same month in 2022.