@theMarket: Markets Gain Back Half This Year's Losses
This week's decline in two key inflation indicators gave investors an excuse to buy stocks. At this point, we have retraced 50 percent of the losses from the beginning of the year. The thinking behind this recent move higher is that inflation is coming down, and the Fed no longer needs to maintain its super tight monetary policy stance. Is that a good bet?
That is not the case, according to several talking Fed heads that were trotted out by the U.S. central bank to address the markets on almost a daily basis this week. Even the most dovish of members continued to stress that nothing has changed in their thinking. To a person, each Federal Reserve member stressed that the market should expect another interest rate hike in their September 2022 FOMC meeting. In addition, the reduction in their balance sheet will continue unabated.
Clearly, investors do not believe these warnings. The bulls are confident that inflation will continue to decline to the point that the Fed will change its mind. As such, that belief is enough to support if not justify further purchases. It certainly is an enticing story considering the data.
Everyone should have been pleased with the inflation data. It points to a peak in inflation. Both the Consumer Price Index CPI), and the Producer Price Index (PPI) came in lower than expected. However, both the CPI rate of plus-8.5 percent, and the PPI gain of 9.8 percent are still a long, long way from the Fed's official target of 2 percent inflation. Even if we had zero additional inflation for the remainder of the year we would not reach the Fed's 2 percent target.
Some bullish investors may also be betting that since we won't know what the Fed is going to do until September, markets can continue to rock and roll at least for another week or two. As it is, the bond vigilantes have already reduced their expectations of how much the Fed will raise rates from 75 to 50 basis points at that meeting.
Most of the decline in both the CPI and PPI can be credited to the price decline in energy. Nationwide, we are seeing gasoline prices below $4 a gallon, while oil has dropped recently to below $90 a barrel. But here's the rub.
The Fed has little influence over the future price of oil. Geopolitical events, currencies, and global supply and demand are much weightier factors in determining where the price of oil goes next. What if oil climbs above $100 a barrel next week? What will that do to the future CPI report, and how would markets handle that?
As I have been advising readers for weeks my target for the S&P 500 Index on this bounce was 4,100 to 4,200, give or take a few points. This week we hit 4,257. Now what?
I warned readers back in June 2022 that after this relief rally, "somewhere in middle to late August," we would start a decline that could take us back down to 3,800 to retest or slightly break the year's lows. That remains my forecast.
However, this decline will be accomplished in fits and starts. Investors are caught in the throes of greed and FOMO. So, for example, next week we could see a series of shallow pullbacks, only to have those who have missed this rally buy the dip. These Johnny-come-latelies will expect even higher highs. They may even push us back toward 4,250 on the S&P 500. However, by the end of next week we should be declining.
This kind of market action could continue for the next few weeks. As it does, I would expect the markets to be making lower lows, and lower highs. By September 2022, we will likely see the lows I am forecasting. What is my thinking behind this rather gloomy prediction?
I expect oil prices have bottomed for now and will rise over the next few weeks. Geopolitical tensions could heat up as well adding tension to global markets. The Fed will continue to tighten, despite the atmosphere of hopefication that has infected investors right now. Corporate earnings will continue to fall and profit warnings will become more commonplace as the economy continues to slow.
None of my thoughts are original. I am simply echoing the bear case. The only difference is that I have been predicting this since December 2021.
@theMarket: Fed-fueled Gains Support Markets
The markets embraced another 75-basis point interest rate hike by the Fed, even as the U.S. economy contracted for the second quarter in a row. Bad news became good news in today's markets.
It was not so much the hike in the Fed funds rate announced as part of the Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) meeting on July 27, 2022, as it was the words of Chairperson Jerome Powell in the Q&A session afterward. Although he really did not say anything new, the markets and the media interpreted his stance as more dovish, if not pivotal.
The bulls' argument is that the economy is slowing, inflation is peaking, and therefore the Fed is likely to slow, if not stop, its interest rate hikes altogether in the months ahead. This argument carries more weight now that the nation's economy fell by 0.9 percent in the second quarter, while economists expected a gain of 0.4 percent.
But the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCE) announced for June 2022 came in hotter than expected (6.8 percent versus the 6.7 percent expected). It is a key variable the Fed watches closely, which would indicate inflation is still climbing.
Now depending on your politics, we are technically in a recession, defined by two negatives quarters in a row of declining growth. The Biden administration denies that is the official definition. Economists, according to their argument, evaluate the state of the business cycle based on a slew of variables such as the labor market, consumer and business spending, industrial production, and incomes. None of those items conclusively prove we are in a recession.
My take is if it looks like a duck, and feels like a duck, then mostly likely, it is a duck. If we are not in a recession, then the alternative would be stagflation.
Corporate earnings seem to indicate a slowing of the economy. Social media stocks, which depend on advertising for a great deal of their revenues, are seeing a strong decline in spending. Those companies that have been able to pass on higher cost through price rises are doing okay, but few companies are hitting results out of the park.
Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft earnings, while not great, were at least less bad than many expected. Their share prices gained (some substantially), which buoyed the market and has allowed the relief rally to continue to climb.
A surprise breakthrough between Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, and Senator Joe Manchin on a whittled-down $430 billion spending program cheered the markets. The agreement would increase corporate taxes, lower the cost of prescription drugs, reduce the national debt, and invest in energy technologies that will focus on reducing climate change.
The bill is touted to reduce the deficit by $300 billion over 10 years, and lower carbon emissions by about 40 percent by 2030. It has been dubbed the "Inflation Reduction Act of 2022," although nothing in the bill except its title would have any impact on inflation this year or even next. For individuals, it would provide a $7,500 tax credit to buy new electric vehicles. It would also provide a $410 billion tax credit to manufacturing facilities for things like electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels.
The cost of the compromise bill is much lower than the multi-trillion, "Build Back Better" plan originally proposed by the Biden administration. The thinking is that no Republicans in either the House or Senate will vote for the bill, so the reconciliation process is the direction Democrats will use to pass the bill. If Democrats are to be believed, the bill should pass as early as next week
It was no surprise that the sectors that would benefit most from this spending plan rose on the announcement. The alternative energy sectors gained on the news, as did oil and gas stocks. By Friday, the S&P 500 Index broke the 4,100 level and some think 4,200 will be the next level that the bulls are targeting. Could we get there, given the belief that the Fed may pause in its tightening program? Sure, but we are already over extended. We are running on empty as far as buying juice is concerned, so if we are going to get there, we need to pullback first. That may happen early next week but for now things look good at least into mid-August, and then down again.
@theMarket: Market Beat Down
Rising inflation, weaker earnings expectations, or the rocketing U.S. dollar, it is just a question of which of these negatives are hurting the markets most. Investors are frightened, but not yet panicked. It is time to pay attention.
Both the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Producer Price Index (PPI) for June 2022 came in hotter than economists expected. They are backward-looking indicators, but markets fell on the reports, nonetheless. Rising energy prices was the biggest culprits in both reports hamstringing consumers and producers as prices soared. Since then, the price of oil has dropped, although natural gas prices have risen, so we will have to wait and see how much energy impacts this July's data.
However, with the higher year-over year CPI gain of 9.1 percent, coupled with the PPI's gain of 11.3 percent, the bond market is now betting on a one-in-two chance of a super-sized move in July's FOMC meeting of as much as a 100-basis point. Another 75 basis points is now also in play for the Fed's September meeting.
Corporate earnings for the second quarter kicked off this week. The money center banks announced poor earnings and even gloomier guidance. Investors have been expecting disappointments across the board, although some argued that poorer earnings were already reflected in the price of the stocks. Tell that to JP Morgan, the premier U.S. banking company, that saw its stock fall by more than 4 percent.
But the most troubling event is the continued climb in the U.S. dollar. I have advised readers over the last month to watch the level of the greenback. It is now trading at parity with the Euro. The last time this happened was in 2002, but it is not just the Euro. The dollar has been hitting 20-year highs against the currencies of its major trading partners as well.
As I have written before, a currency's exchange rate is a reflection on a country's economic prospects. In the case of Europe, higher energy prices, the Ukraine war, and record inflation have damaged the prospects for economic growth. As the European Unions' energy supplies dwindle, inflation has climbed by more than 8 percent and talk of rationing national gas supplies to industries is now on the table.
The European Central Bank (ECB) is between a rock and a hard place. If they raise interest rates to combat inflation, it could have a disastrous impact on the EU economy, which is already teetering on the edge, thanks to the war and energy embargos. But going slow on tightening monetary policy will only fuel higher inflation.
The U.S. may be facing its own bout of recession for some of the same reasons. The difference is that our Federal Reserve Bank has been more aggressive in tightening monetary policy than the ECB. And while energy prices are high in the U.S., they are still lower than in Europe. Natural gas prices, for example, are ninefold higher than in the U.S.
As far as currency markets today, it comes down to who has the cleanest shirt in the dirty laundry basket. The U.S. dollar wins that contest hands down. However, the downside for many American companies is that revenues and earnings generated overseas, and then repatriate are worth less. If instead, managements decide to keep their Euro earnings in Europe to cover costs there, the exchange rate becomes less of an issue. Another downside is that a stronger dollar makes American exports more expensive, which reduces U.S. economic output and widens the trade deficit.
Over the last week or so, Wall Street analysts have been scurrying to reduce their earnings estimates for more than 500 companies for this second quarter. It would not surprise me if equity strategists began to reduce their year-end estimates downward for the market averages. Talk of a more aggressive need to raise interest rates sooner than later to combat inflation, coupled with recession fears, is the motivating factor behind these moves.
The next FOMC meeting is drawing closer (July 26-27), which won't be good news for the markets, and in the meantime, we have an earnings season to contend with. At best, I expect to see a volatile market as earnings surprises, both positive and negative, send markets careening up and down through the rest of the month.
@theMarket: More Market Gains Ahead, But for How Long?
Stocks bounced again this week. Recession fears raised hopes that the Federal Reserve Bank might a relent a bit on their tightening program. That could be a false hope but was enough to provide a relief rally.
There is a higher probability that we could continue to rally in fits and starts. Exactly what does and does not gain will likely have more to do with what has lost the most in the last month. Energy comes to mind since we have seen more than a 25 percent decline in energy stocks triggered by a sharp decline in oil and gas. Commodity stocks have also swooned with some stocks experiencing double digit declines in the last month or so.
The expectations that global demand would decline in a recession was the motivating factor behind these hefty falls. These plummeting prices sparked hope among investors that inflation could level off, or even come down faster than expected — in which case, the Fed might ease its foot off the tightening pedal.
Readers might scratch their heads at all this, since none of these "could be" scenarios have much data to back them up. Last week, however, I did mention that the Atlanta Fed was expecting 2022 second quarter GDP to come in at minus-2.1 percent, following the first quarter's decline of 1.6 percent. Technically, two down quarters in a row counts as a recession, but the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) will be the final arbiter of what is and what is not a recession.
Large cap technology shares as well as the most beaten-up sector stocks saw gains this week. Did that make sense?
Not really. In a recession, large cap, well capitalized companies (think FANG stocks, for example) should be able to withstand the negative impact of a slowing economy on earnings and sales far better than weaker companies. And yet, these companies, many with no earnings at all, rallied just as much. But who said bear market rallies have any basis in facts anyway?
Later in the week, China's Ministry of Finance was said to be "considering" a $220 billion program to fund additional infrastructure in order to boost their economy. The official target for GDP growth for this year is 5.5 percent. This goal is in jeopardy due to the economic hit caused by COVID-19 lockdowns and a housing slump this year. Infrastructure spending is the "go-to" policy the Chinese government has historically used to goose the economy.
That rumored announcement was enough to send oil, gas, and all sorts of commodities soaring higher, sparking a rebound in these depressed areas. The thought is that commodities and energy would be key inputs in building infrastructure. It doesn't appear that traders care about the obvious contradictions in chasing commodity, high growth tech and the weakest stocks in the universe all at the same time.
Remember too that in this atmosphere of recessionary fears, coupled with higher inflation, and tight monetary policy expectations, bad news can be good news for the stock market, and vice versa. As I see it, negative data that shows a weaker economy, slowing employment growth, and/or lower commodity prices is "good" for the markets because it means the Fed might not tighten further. A stronger labor market, increasing GDP, and higher commodity prices would constitute bad news for the markets, at least for now.
Friday's non-farm payrolls data is a case in point. The U.S. economy added 372,000 jobs in June, which was slightly above expectations, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.6 percent. Stocks dropped immediately, since stronger job growth equates to a Fed that has no reason to relent on its aggressive tightening mode in monetary policy.
Given this background, I see this bounce as just another bear market bounce. My target on this one could see the S&P 500 Index reach 4,000. If traders get enthusiastic, we could see the 4,100 level. The only question is how long it will take to achieve my target.
Next week, the second quarter earnings season begins. Given all the issues plaguing U.S. corporations — falling consumer demand, a rising dollar, inflation, and supply chain issues — analysts are expecting weaker earnings and even weaker guidance. This could mark an end to any rally, so traders should be making hay while the sun shines.
@theMarket: Recession: 'Certainly a Possibility'
"Certainly a Possibility."
Those were the words of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell during testimony to the U.S. Senate banking Committee on Wednesday, June 22. Investors took his warning in stride, instead of plummeting. That may indicate markets are ready for another relief rally.
Powell thought the U.S. economy was strong enough to roll with the Fed's punches of higher interest rates, and a shrinking balance sheet without too much trouble. It was the outside factors — the Ukrainian war, China's COVID-19 policy, and supply chain problems — that complicate the outlook. Avoiding the "R" word was largely out of the Fed's control, he said, "it's not our intended outcome at all, but it's certainly a possibility."
Granted, it wasn't as if fears of a recession were a new concept among investors. For the past few weeks, as the Fed made clear they were pursuing an even more aggressive series of interest rate hikes to combat inflation, investors began to worry that the Fed's action might tip the economy into recession.
This fear has weighed heavily on stocks in various hot sectors like energy and materials, which have fallen considerably in price. Oil has dropped from $123 a barrel to almost $100 in the last two weeks with energy stocks falling faster and further. Natural gas prices have also dropped substantially, despite the actions of Russia to cut off natural gas to the European Community.
Defensive stocks in areas like utilities, health care, consumer durables, and telecom were bought instead. As were U.S. bonds, which are sending yields lower. That makes sense. If the U.S. does slip into recession, there will be far less demand for energy and other commodity inputs to fuel economies. In recessions, investors usually hide out in higher yielding areas where hefty dividends support stock prices in areas which people need, (not want) to purchase.
I pay attention when investors receive bad news (such as a potential recession forecast from the Fed), and the markets hold in there as they did this week. After all, Chair Powell had two days of testimony in front of Congress and plenty of opportunities during the Q&A sessions to tank the markets, but that didn't happen, even though he was no less hawkish in his forecast. That leads me to believe that the markets may have discounted the worst — for now.
Rest assured, I still believe we have a lower low in front of us sometime before the end of September. But that does not mean we can't see a face-ripping rally of 10 percent in the short-term. As a contrarian indicator, the AAII Sentiment survey, which measures bullish/bearish sentiment among institutional investors, just registered the 25th lowest bullish and its sixth highest bearish sentiment reading in its history.
Many traders are expecting just that kind of event to occur over the next week or two. There are several technical reasons that make bounce higher a high probability. There is the rebalancing of funds by large institutions (bonds into equities) that occurs at the end of a quarter after severe selloffs. Many hedge funds are ending the quarter net short and will also need to rebalance.
There will also be the usual flow of new funds into pension plans that will need to be invested. Finally, a huge number of put options will expire at the end of the month. They will need to be either liquidated or rolled over to a future month. This could set the markets up for another oversold bounce.
We have had several of these rallies thus far in 2022. The S&P 500 Index gained 6 percent in four trading days, 11 percent in 11 days, and 8.7 percent in 9 days, while losing 19 percent overall. Bear market rallies typically get back 70 percent of the losses of the prior move lower with over a quarter of the rallies gaining back over 100 percent.