@theMarket: Look Out for a Bounce in the Stock Market
The bears are prowling the corroders of Wall Street. No one questions that, but rallies in downtrends can be breath-taking. Look for one of those short covering relief rallies in the coming week.
Do I know that will happen? Of course not, but when we get as oversold as we are now, the chances are high. If we do bounce in a relief rally it would trace out the first up to the center of my "W" pattern. The bounce won't last long, maybe for a few days or, at best, next week. And then down again. For those readers who may be hoping that at some point we will resume the bull markets of the last decade, give up that notion.
I fully expect another low that may match or break the year's low of S&P 500 Index of 3,877 made this week. Readers were forewarned last week that the index could (and did) break my 4,000 targets. There were several reasons for this bearish behavior.
The inflation numbers were the key trigger. On Wednesday May 11, 2022, the Consumer Price Index came in hotter than expected at 8.3 percent. For the month, the index gained 0.6 percent. The data disappointed traders who were gambling on a cooler set of numbers that might confirm that inflation was peaking. But instead of carrying the market up 5 percent, or more, the opposite occurred.
The Producer Price Index, which was reported the following day, did come in a bit weaker at a11 percent increase year-over-year, and 0.5 percent for the month. The lack of "inflation peaking" evidence squashed hopes that the Fed might be tempted to go easier in their hawkish policy plans, so markets tumbled.
For many investors a bearish assault on the market's "Generals" was of far more concern. The bears have torn apart the Meme stocks, the Cathy Wood stocks, and every other high-priced, no earnings, kind of security they could sell or short. However, this week traders came after the Generals — Apple, Microsoft, Meta, Amazon, Google and even Tesla.
As company after company during the last quarter's earnings season provided poor future guidance in sales and earnings, investors are wondering how long it will take for the Generals to add their voices to this growing chorus. Many investors are not waiting around to find out. Price declines in these individual stocks has had a knock-on effect in the market, since they comprise such a large weighting in the overall investments of so many mutual funds and exchange traded funds. As such, the further they decline, so goes the stock market.
I have been waiting for this kind of behavior, because without it there is no hope that we can find a bottom in the stock market. The problem is that this selling has only just begun for many of these stocks. remember that in many cases, the more speculative stocks are down 60-80 percent from their highs.
The Generals are nowhere near this kind of decline. Do I think we will see the price of Apple, for example, cut in half or more? Doubtful, but another 10-15 percent might be a real possibility. That is important since Apple is about 7 percent of the S&P 500 Index, and 13 percent of the NASDAQ Index.
As I said, I am expecting a relief bounce this week. It is just another bear market bounce, one of many we can expect as markets search for a bottom. Readers may ask where do I see that bottom? This week we briefly touched my target of 20 percent on the S&P 500 Index at 3,858. The NASDAQ hit my targets weeks ago and has suffered further declines.
I expect we will need to retest that 3,858 level on the S&P 500 Index level. If it holds, I might feel confident that we have made an interim low that could last out to September. That said, May, I believe, is the month to pick up some good bargains as we continue to dip and bounce in this "W" formation. I am hoping that by June, we can see a better market with some hope of putting together a string of higher highs for two months or so.
@theMarket: Investors Grapple with Tightening Monetary Policy
Market participants heard from members of the Federal Reserve Bank this week. Their intention is clear: bringing down inflation will take precedence over everything else in the economy. The message went over like a lead balloon.
You would think that most investors would have received that message by now. I know that I have been warning readers of this outcome since last year. But for most market participants this seems to be a shock given the positioning in the stock market this week. It was nothing short of tumultuous.
We started the week by retesting the lows we put in for the year. The S&P 500 Index hit 4,062 on Monday, May 2, just 10 points higher than the previous low.
Stock indexes subsequently careened higher into Wednesday's FOMC meeting, expecting that whatever announcements on Fed tightening had already been discounted. That triggered a "buy on the news" event. It was the same strategy traders used after the last Fed meeting in March that saw stocks gain for weeks afterward.
The maneuver worked again — at least for the day. The indexes soared well over 2 percent-3 percent between the time that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell started his press conference at 2:30 and the markets close at 4 p.m.
Did he say anything that could have triggered such a move? The only comment that could be construed as new information was Powell's intention to limit monthly interest rate hikes to 50 basis points or less, rather than the 75 basis points or higher many investors expected. On Thursday, May 5, the markets tore down the entire gain and then some. Friday, we continued the downward spiral. What happened?
One can only guess that investors were spooked by how much monetary tightening is going to negatively impact the economy and earnings. Investors are now asking at what price level markets should be trading given the unknown future. Obviously, investors determined that level should be lower. How much lower?
My own target has already been met for a third time (as of Monday's and again Friday's retest of the lows). Can it go even lower? Yes, some strategists have targets as low as 3,650-3,750 on the S&P 500 Index. In a market where the VIX index is still trading above 30, the swings in markets are such that we can easily overshoot on the downside to those levels.
We are now in a period of bottoming that will look like a sloppy "W" pattern that will play out into sometime in June. I suspect it will take a few days for investors to come to an agreement on at what index level stocks represent better value. That level could be around my target low, or somewhat lower.
Take that time to pick and choose where you want to "Play in May" as I said last week. I expect that over the next two weeks we could see the 4,370 level on the S&P 500 Index and then down again into early June and then up again. If you can't stand that kind of heat, stay out of the kitchen.
@theMarket: Earnings Matter, But Fed Trumps Everything
The first quarter 2022 earnings season kicked off this week with mixed results. Thus far, the standouts were Netflix and Tesla. The two companies' results could not have been more different, but in the end it didn't matter.
Netflix disappointed, reporting its first loss in subscribers in recent memory, while investors were expecting a gain in subscriber growth. There were many reasons for this including the loss of 700,000 Russian customers as a result of the Ukraine War. At last count, the stock lost 37 percent of its worth in three days and took the NASDAQ index down along with it.
Tesla, the eclectic vehicle darling, hit a homerun after the close on Wednesday, April 20, when it beat earnings, sales, and forward guidance results. Thursday it soared 9 percent on the opening and took the NASDAQ back up by more than 1 percent, but not for long. By the end of the day, the markets reversed dramatically (thanks to statements from Fed Chair Jerome Powell).
All of that reveals the nature of the markets today. In this example, two mega-stocks had the power to move entire markets dramatically based on one quarter's earnings results. But it also illustrates what could happen to the global equity markets if the top five or six U.S. stocks happen to fall out of favor. That could happen if the Federal Reserve Bank decides to deliver a hawkish surprise to investors at their May 3-4 Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting.
I keep harping on the importance of this coming meeting, because, depending upon the results, stocks could easily retest, or break the lows we hit in March 2022. If, on the other hand, the FOMC members, led by Chair Jerome Powell, decided to be less hawkish (meaning less quantitative tightening and fewer interest rate hikes), we could see markets soar in a relief rally. Of course, such a rally wouldn't last too long because investors would quickly realize a dovish stance would likely mean higher inflation.
Suffice it to say, the risk ahead could be substantial. The stock market turned down on a dime on elevated volume when Fed Chair Powell said on Thursday, "I would say 50 basis points will be on the table for the May meeting."
Markets are expecting such a move but still lost over 1 percent-2 percent on his simple statement which illustrates how the Fed trumps everything else. Anxious investors are waiting to see what else may be coming in the monetary arena in the weeks ahead.
On April 6, William Dudley, the former president of the New York Fed, in a Bloomberg guest column on inflation and Fed policy said, "It's hard to know how much the U.S. Federal Reserve will need to do to get inflation under control. But one thing is certain: To be effective, it'll have to inflict more losses on stock and bond investors than it has so far."
That statement has reverberated throughout the financial markets ever since. Of course, it is only one man's opinion, and Dudley is no longer a member of the central bank. Yet, I find it interesting that there were no comments from Fed members dismissing his conclusions after they were published.
As Berkshire Money Management's Allen Harris said a week ago, writing in the Berkshire Edge, "Dudley may no longer be a member of the Fed, but I believe he is communicating a message from them." Harris believes "the Federal Reserve is OK slowing down the economy to fight inflation, even if it crushes the stock market."
As readers are aware, I have been cautious throughout most of this year. I remain cautious. As I wrote several weeks ago, we could see a substantial decline in the stock markets in late April, early May based on Fed tightening.
One caveat to my May call could be that the markets sell down before the May FOMC meeting. If so, we could see a "sell the rumor, buy the news" event, just like we witnessed after the last FOMC meeting in March, when the Fed first raised the Fed funds rate by 25 basis points.
Now that I have you all spooked, however, let me give you the good news. I would be using any decline to buy stocks. I believe we could see a healthy rebound after that selloff that lasts through the better part of the summer. So, rather than "sell in May and go away" this year, I plan to "stay in May and play."
@theMarket: Peak Inflation?
Inflation is climbing at the highest rate in 40 years. Gas prices at the pump are giving consumers a bad case of sticker shock and food, well we all know about that. So why are economists talking about peak inflation?
U.S. consumer inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), reached 8.5 percent in March 2022. The producer Price Index, which measures the cost of inputs for companies, jumped to 11.2 percent in March. On the surface, both numbers are dreadful, but economists look behind the headline numbers for hints of what areas when up and what went down.
The month-to-month rate of core price increases slowed in March and declined for core goods. Core goods are an aggregate of prices paid by urban consumers for a typical basket of goods, excluding food and energy. Used car and truck prices, for example, which are a large part of core goods fell by 3.8 percent. Used car prices, as most readers know, have skyrocketed in the past year and have been a major contributor to higher inflation.
Traders decided the data leaned toward a cup half full and bid stock prices up. At the very least, they decided, inflation expectations were at least contained. That is important since inflation expectations play an important role in how we set prices and wages. Investors are hoping that the pace of core price increases slowed down last month could be an indication that a peak could be in the offing.
However, one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one data point make a trend. My own opinion is that we should see a peak in inflation sometime before the second half of the year. That has been my expectation since the beginning of the year. It is based on a loosening of some of the supply chain shortages that we have been battling since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. We may be seeing an early signal of this expected pivot.
U.S. jobless claims held close to multi-decade lows this week. Initial jobless claims last week were 185,00 which are still near a 54-year low set earlier this month. Think back to April 2020 at the height of the pandemic when in a single week in April jobless claims hit 6.1 million. U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is still growing but slowing. The Conference Board is expecting a 3 percent growth rate for 2022, which is still above trend.
From a macro point of view, the economy despite the inflation rate, still looks in pretty good shape. The fly in the ointment, for both Wall Street and Main Street, is the high inflation rate. The worry from investor’s standpoint is can the Fed manage a soft landing and at the same time stop inflation in its tracks. Any indication that inflation is slowing could mean the Fed may not need to be as hawkish in the months ahead.
Last week, I was expecting a bounce in the market once stocks re-tested the 4,400-4,500 level on the S&P 500 Index. This week both sides of that level have been broken with no clear winner. We are still testing that range and closed on Friday at 4,392, slightly below my range.
True to form, I am expecting the volatility in the equity and bond markets to continue into next week. Earnings season is again upon us, and while I am expecting some decent results, the forward guidance is crucial. My best guess is that we are up in the beginning of the week and then down once again to end it. As we get closer to May, I am still expecting another dramatic decline, but I would be a buyer of that sell off.
@theMarket: The Fed Tightens Further
"Quantitative Easing" or QE, may be a more familiar concept to readers, since we have been experiencing some form of QE (monetary stimulus) since the Financial Crisis of 2008. QT is the opposite. The Fed first tried to reduce its balance sheet back in 2018-2019. The stock market had such a hissy fit that the double-digit melt down that ensued convinced the central bankers to back down in their attempt to normalize their balance sheet. By the end of 2018, the Fed was allowing $50 billion/month to run off its balance sheet. Market turbulence erupted almost immediately and by March 8, 2019, the Fed under Jerome Powell, turned the money spigots back on and reversed the easing that "no longer seemed necessary." The crisis was over, and so was QT.
The problem, however, is that investors have become accustomed to the low interest rate environment that the Fed engineered through asset purchases and low interest rates. It has become an essential prop holding up equity values, which have climbed higher and higher.
Every time the Fed has sought to drain liquidity from the banking system, the stock market has reacted by staging a Taper Tantrum. There was one in 2013, another in 2019 and we are in one now.
Fast forward to the coronavirus pandemic when the Federal Reserve Bank bought a massive $3.3 trillion in U.S. Treasuries, and $1.3 trillion in mortgage-backed securities to support the markets. Those Fed purchases have not only contributed to the massive gains in the stock market in 2021, but also contributed to the present explosion in the inflation rate.
On April 6, the FOMC minutes of the Fed's March 15-16, 2022, meeting became available. The notes showed deepening concern among members that inflation had broadened throughout the economy. Most policymaker were prepared to raise interest rates in May by 50 basis points and continue these half-percentage-points hikes in coining policy meetings.
They also supported a second try at reducing the Fed's holdings of Treasury bonds. Up to $60 billion per month of U.S. Treasury bonds will be sold as well as reducing $35 billion per month in mortgage-backed bond holdings. That is nearly double the Fed's QT program from 2017 to 2019. By reducing the balance sheet, while moving the short-term, Fed funds rate higher in 50-basis-point increments. The Fed is again taking away the punch bowl for equity investors.
The news may have shocked most investors, but unfortunately it was part and parcel of why I have remained relatively bearish throughout the year thus far. Will investors double down on dumping equities or will they calmly go to the slaughter ahead?
I fear that an even worse sell-off may be ahead of us sometime in May 2022 when the Fed begins implementing QT. The stock market has been practically straight down most of the week on news of this plan. I advised readers last week that the stock market had become too "frothy" after the bear market rally of last month. I wrote that we could see a pullback to "between 4,400-4,500 level on the S&P500 Index." We have accomplished that, and I am now looking for a relief rally that should continue for a week or two. After that, we face earnings season and the next Fed meeting. Strap in.