2023 and 2024: A Look Back, a Look Forward

Now that it’s officially January 2024, I’m reminded that the month is named after the Roman god Janus. In ancient Roman myth, Janus is the god of beginnings and endings. (To quote Hans Gruber, the villain of Die Hard: “The benefits of a classical education.”)

Janus is depicted as having two faces, because he simultaneously looks to the future and the past. Janus is the god of time, gates, and passages.

Below, I look back at the biggest winners and losers of 2023. I also look ahead at the sectors that are poised to win in 2024.

The year 2023 proved to be a rollercoaster ride for investors, amid geopolitical conflict, rising interest rates, a regional banking crisis, uncertainty over inflation, and fears of e recession.

Yet when the last trading day of the year ended on Friday, December 29, the S&P 500 had racked up a robust annual gain of 24.2%.

The biggest sector gainers in 2024 were technology (+56%), communication services (+54%), and consumer cyclical/discretionary (+41%). Among the biggest losers were utilities (-10%) and energy (-10%). The following infographic fleshes out the numbers in greater detail:

Source: Visual Capitalist

Technology. The technology sector continued its upward trajectory in 2023, driven by breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, and fifth-generation (5G) wireless.

Dominating the tech landscape (and the S&P 500’s rise) were the “Magnificent Seven” mega-cap tech stocks: Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN); Alphabet (NSDQ: GOOGL); Apple (NSDQ: AAPL); Meta Platforms (NSDQ: META); Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT); Nvidia (NSDQ: NVDA); and Tesla (NSDQ: TSLA).

Gold, crypto, and crude oil. Gold prices rose 13% in 2023, the first annual gain for the Midas metal since 2020 as wars raged in Eastern Europe and the Middle East and investors grappled with inflation fears. Overseas strife should continue to lift gold prices in 2024.

It’s also worth noting that cryptocurrency bounced back in 2023. Bitcoin (BTC) rallied about 152% in 2023, despite widely publicized criminal cases against cryptocurrency exchanges FTX and Binance. The SEC appears likely to approve a spot Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) by the January 10 deadline, which means crypto could be on the cusp of a new bull market.

Surprisingly, crude oil prices fell roughly 10% in 2023, even though OPEC+ implemented production cuts. Lower oil prices helped consumers, as well as central bankers in their fight against inflation.

Communication Services. The acceleration of remote work and increased reliance on digital solutions fueled this sector’s growth. In the vanguard were companies such as Meta Platforms.

As workers get accustomed to working at home, the use of social media, remote conferencing capabilities, and cloud-based collaboration are increasingly familiar activities. Communication services companies, with their expansive portfolios of digital offerings, are well-positioned to capitalize on these trends.

Consumer Cyclical/Discretionary. Despite elevated interest rates, consumer spending remained resilient last year, bolstered by low unemployment and hefty household savings.

One of the most noteworthy success stories of 2023 was the comeback of the travel services subsector (see the above infographic). After facing unprecedented challenges during the pandemic, the industry thrived last year. Airlines, cruise lines, and online travel agencies experienced a surge in demand, as people regained confidence in traveling.

Asset management emerged as another star performer in 2023. A key driver behind the sector’s success was the synchronized global economic recovery. Asset managers benefited from rising asset prices, increased trading volumes, and a growing appetite for risk among investors.

Advancements in financial technology (fintech) are playing a transformative role in the asset management industry. The integration of machine learning algorithms, robo-advisors, and blockchain technology is enhancing operational efficiency, reducing costs, and providing more personalized investment solutions.

The Stock Market Takes a Breather

Stocks fell for a second consecutive day Wednesday to start the first week of 2024, as investors pocketed some profits from last year’s gains.

Stocks appear overbought, with valuations stretched and the S&P 500 near its all-time high. After the blockbuster gains of last year, a breather is to be expected. Profit-taking was particularly pronounced among the technology stars that sizzled in 2023.

The main U.S. stock market indices closed lower Wednesday as follows:

  • DJIA: -0.76%
  • S&P 500: -0.80%
  • NASDAQ: -1.18%
  • Russell 2000: -3.35%

In a sign that the equity rally still has fuel, the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield (TNX) was little changed and settled at 3.9%.

Released on Wednesday were minutes of the Federal Reserve’s most recent meeting in December, which confirmed the bullish narrative that monetary tightening is at an end.

The Likely Winners of 2024

The utilities sector was the biggest loser in 2023, but that’s about to change. Utilities, real estate, and cyclical sectors (e.g., industrials) should outperform in 2024, as interest rates drop and economic growth accelerates.

In the coming months, pay particular attention to utilities stocks. The utilities sector got clobbered in 2023 by rising interest rates, but it’s poised to rebound as bond yields continue their descent.

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John Persinos is the editorial director of Investing Daily.

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This article previously appeared on Investing Daily.