@theMarket: Markets Snap Out of Their Downtrend
It appears that we have established a range in the stock market over the last few weeks. The bears have not seen their worst predictions come true. My hope is that we leave this month where we entered it.
September 2021 was treacherous. Bears were calling for a 10 percent correction at a minimum. Bulls, already on the back foot after witnessing a 5 percent pullback in the indexes, insisted we had seen the lows. Since then, we had been bouncing back and forth in a range. This week, however, appears to be a game changer.
We have not re-tested the lows on the S&P 500 Index, which we hit on Oct. 1, 2021, at 4,288 (intraday), nor have we come close to the highs made on September 24, 2021, at 4,555. But we did regain the 50-day moving average (DMA), which is a good sign for the bulls.
Stocks daily have been opening higher in the mornings but giving back their gains and closing lower by the end of the day. Bulls argue that the markets are simply consolidating after more than a year of fantastic gains with few corrections. The bulls could be right.
On the other hand, the bears point to the imminent removal of the Fed's punch bowl in November 2021 (the beginning of asset purchases tapering) as a reason to remain cautious into that event. If we then throw in all the other worries that are creating angst among investors — supply chain issues, inflation, political chaos in Washington — the October volatility we have been experiencing thus far should come as no surprise.
If I could, I would call off this present stalemate and declare both sides a winner. Afterall, we did suffer a 5-plus percent selloff, which should satisfy the bears' need to see some "blood in the streets." The bulls should be thankful that the downside has been contained.
Readers who follow my columns regularly know that I highlighted the seriousness of the supply chain shortages months ago. Today, that's all you read about in most media outlets. I am not crowing about my forecasts, rather, I am reminding investors that this is old news and has already been discounted in the price of stocks, in my opinion, so ignore the headlines.
The only question to ask is how long this global condition will persist, and what that may do to the inflation rate. My own belief is that it won't be resolved until well into next year. Even then, some shortages will persist, but it is impossible to predict which ones will remain. Clearly, this problem will continue to act as a weight to further global growth, but it won't kill it, as some are predicting. As for its inflationary impact, it adds another variable to the factors that are already contributing to a rate of inflation that has surprised everyone, including the Federal Reserve Bank.
One reason the markets rallied this week above that all-important 50-DMA was a less than anticipated rise in both the Consumer Price Index (5.4 percent year-over-year), as well as the Producer Price Index (8.6 percent year-over-year) for September 2021. Prices paid to U.S. producers increased in September at the slowest pace of the year, thanks to cooling costs of services. Final PPI demand increased just 0.5 percent from the prior month.
Since PPI is one of the main variables that the Fed studies when making monetary decisions (like when to raise interest rates), markets rose over 1.5 percent on Thursday and added to those gains on Friday. But one set of monthly numbers does not tell the whole story. I expect further increases in the inflation rate before the pressure subsides.
However, I am hopeful that we enter a more positive period for stocks in the last two months of the 2021 led by cyclical sectors of the market. I began the year by recommending commodities, industrials, financials and some technology. That advice remains viable. We are halfway through October and the markets are already shaking off their worries. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
@theMarket: Markets Are on the Cusp
It was another tumultuous week in the markets. Volatility spiked as events in Washington and around the world injected an atmosphere of caution and indecision among investors. I expect more of the same.
Welcome to October. A month in which I see a continuation of the last few weeks of uncertainty. The political circus in Washington, D.C., is not helping, and is set to continue making headlines in the days ahead. The debt limit controversary is probably the largest challenge investors face this month. Simultaneously, the battle between progressive and moderate Democrats over the passage of two government spending programs, will continue to monopolize investor's attention.
The bipartisan infrastructure package and the larger, "Democrat only" Biden social safety net program is the scene of an unusual battle between splinter groups of the same party. Republicans have already said that the larger Biden program would be dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate, so passage will depend on getting Biden's program passed via the reconciliation process. In order to achieve that, the progressive wing of the party demands that the programs be twin tracked, otherwise no deal. At stake is a lot of spending that would power the economy in the years ahead, but also increase the federal debt substantially.
I expect both will pass at some point. The Biden $3.5 trillion spending plan will need to be whittled down by a $1 trillion or so for the moderates to agree. The $1 trillion bipartisan, infrastructure plan will probably pass as is, because polls show that most American voters are in favor of the infrastructure spending on roads, bridges, and transportation. Parts of the larger package — boosting education, care of the sick and elderly, health care, and climate change — also have strong voter support. But the areas that have lower support among voters will probably determine what will get cut (or modified) and what stays in the plan.
As I advised last week, the shutdown in government was averted. A stop gap measure passed on Thursday, Sept. 30, effectively kicked that can down the road until December 2021. It is still on the plate, but on the back burner for now.
Expectations of the U.S. economy's third-quarter performance, as well as the yearly results for 2021, continue to be ratchetted down. As I warned readers, economic growth has been slowed somewhat by both the Delta variant of the coronavirus and supply chain bottlenecks. That said, the GDP is still expected to grow by 5.6 percent, compared to the 6.7 percent forecasted in a May 2021 survey conducted by the National Association for Business Economics.
Although the economy may be slowing, inflation remains stubbornly high, contrary to the Fed's belief that any inflation we experienced would be "transitory." In fact, the word has disappeared from Fed statements and speeches altogether. Instead, Fed Chair Jerome Powell called inflation "frustrating" and sees it running into next year. Some market forecasters wonder if we might be heading toward stagflation, which might be in the cards for next year.
It is too early to tell, but whatever the outcome, the Fed has already decided to taper, beginning sometime this quarter. About the only thing that might delay that decision would be the non-farm payroll report set to be released next Friday, October 8, 2021. If job gains slow dramatically, it might cause the Fed to postpone tapering, or so the market believes.
As for the markets, last week, I warned that we were not out of the woods just yet. This week we suffered another pullback, re-testing and broke last Monday's lows on the S&P 500 Index. This is a change from the recent behavior of the stock market since last March. Up until now, every dip has been bought, and stocks never looked back. We have now broken the uptrend channel in place since last April This change in behavior and the technical charts argue for further downside ahead, maybe even to the 200-day moving average, which would be another 5 percent down from here.
Large cap technology suffered the brunt of the selling, while cyclical sectors managed to outperform on a relative basis. I expect the selling will continue if the U.S. dollar continues to rise and bond yields rise along with the advancing greenback. If we are headed downward, there will be oversold bounces that could last for a week or two along the way. I believe that after this volatile period, markets will rebound into the end of the year.
@theMarket: The Dip Buyers Return
Last week, investors suffered through the gloom and doom of a declining market. Many Wall Street equity strategists added to the angst by predicting terrible times ahead. I begged to differ, counting on dip buyers to save the day once again. And that is exactly what happened.
In case you missed it, last Friday, the S&P 500 Index was at an important level, hovering just below its 50 Day Moving Average (DMA). This had happened several times before since March 2020, and each time buyers appeared to "buy the dip."
"I suspect they will again," I wrote, "so, no, I won't get bearish quite yet. I will go the other way and predict that markets will bounce next week. But what if I am wrong? Technically, the downside risk could be another 80 points (1.8 percent) to around the 4,365 level on the S&P 500 Index."
As it turns out, I was right on both counts. Buyers swooped in at the lows an hour before the close on Tuesday, September 21, 2021. The S&P 500 Index ended the day at 4,357, just eight points lower than my worst-case scenario. We proceeded to rally through the remainder of the week, regaining the 50 Day Moving Average and then some.
That doesn't mean we are quite out of the woods just yet. This week the children in Washington, D.C. that we call our "legislators" are once again squabbling over increasing the nation's debt ceiling. The federal debt ceiling has been raised more times than I can count, but it has never been reduced.
In 2019, the debt ceiling was suspended for two years under a bi-partisan agreement. At the time, former President Donald Trump was busily increasing the nation's debt by $7.8 trillion (after promising he would reduce it). Instead, Trump engineered the third largest increase in our debt (relative to the size of the economy) of any U.S. president in history. The federal debt rose from $19.95 trillion in 2018 to $27.75 trillion by the end of his term — up 39 percent, or 130 percent of GDP. Why am I bringing this up?
Because the Republican Party opposes raising the debt ceiling. I won't bore you with the details, other than to remind readers that the debt ceiling today is where it is because of yesterday's bills. Specifically, it is the spending that was authorized and spent by those very same Republicans who now refuse to pay their bills. Wall Street, one would assume, is totally inured to this theatre, but I suspect it still may cause some temporary volatility throughout the next few weeks.
In addition, there may be some drama next week around funding the government. A spending bill — called a "continuing resolution" — that would keep the government running after its current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30 needs to be passed, or the government could shut down.
Government shutdowns have happened before, most recently when the former president held the country hostage demanding billions for his now rusting and dilapidated "Wall." The markets took this in stride. All he really managed to do was make the holidays miserable by denying paychecks to thousands of government workers. In any case, a shutdown could add uncertainty to the markets.
Of course, the market-moving news this week was the upcoming tapering of bond purchases by the Federal Reserve Bank. On Wednesday, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, after the FOMC meeting, announced that the Fed had met both its inflation and employment targets and the time to taper was coming. It could be as soon as November or December—barring any unforeseen pitfalls. He left the door open to delay if something like an upsurge in the coronavirus threatens the economy.
The meeting notes also revealed that the committee membership was about evenly split on when they might begin to raise interest rates. An interest rate hike could happen as early as next year or be delayed into 2023. The markets took the announcement on board, and while the news was decidedly hawkish, investors were expecting it. Stocks rallied further on Thursday (Sept. 23)and into Friday (Sept. 24) before some profit-taking set in.
This should go down as a September to remember, and it is not over yet. In the days and weeks ahead, we may suffer through another such pullback and test some of those lower levels of last week. If we do, I suspect the dip buyer will again save the day. In the meantime, stay the course and stay invested. Next up, October.
@theMarket: Markets Enter the Danger Zone
It has been a bumpy week for stocks, and it could get worse if you believe the headlines of the financial press. The issue I see is that just about everyone is expecting a nasty period ahead for equities. That makes me somewhat bullish.
Calling short-term market moves in this environment is akin to fortune-telling. It is short on analysis, and long on my gut feelings. Granted, I too, have been warning folks that the September-October 2021 time period has been a seasonally difficult time for equities. My column last week addressed the possibility of a 5-10 percent correction, and what investors should do about it.
The media has now proclaimed that we are entering a "danger zone" for stocks, which stretches from today through the end of the month. Today, Friday, September 17, 2021, is also widely expected to be extremely volatile. It is a "quadruple witching" day when derivatives of stock index futures, stock index options, and single futures expire simultaneously. This event happens once every quarter on the third Friday of March, June, September, and December.
It is usually a big volume day in the markets. Individual stocks and indexes sometimes see large price swings during the day and into the last hour of trading. The media has everyone worked up that somehow the "danger zone," combined with "quadruple witching," spells doom for the markets. I beg to differ. While volatile, these events have proven to have little impact on the markets after the one-day expiration. Losses are usually recouped throughout the following days.
The contrarian in me also wonders how useful it is to worry about the next two weeks in the market. When everyone else is on one side of the boat, I tend to lean the other way. Headlines like "investors brace for more September volatility" just adds to the noise, and leaves little left to discount on the downside, at least for now.
What could move the markets higher? Well, we have another FOMC meeting coming up on Wednesday, September 22,2021. I expect the Fed will wait until November before pulling the trigger on tapering. That will cheer up most investors. There was also some good news on the economic front.
As most readers are aware, U.S. consumer spending is a massive part of the Gross Domestic Product of this country (about 70 percent). Thanks to the pandemic, incomes were boosted by fiscal stimulus, while at the same time, spending was depressed amid the lockdowns. Economists believe that as a result, consumers' savings have accumulated to the tune of $2.4 trillion or more. That is a lot of firepower and leaves the typical consumer with a combination of extra cash and lower debt.
That thesis came home to roost this week. Consumers defied expectations and went shopping. Retail sales in August 2021 jumped 0.7 percent, which surprised the markets, since consumer confidence readings had been falling sharply in recent weeks. That led most economists to expect a decline of 0.7 percent. It seems that those rising incomes, employment, and accumulated savings kept the consumer shopping, despite fears about the Delta variant.
The S&P 500 Index is at an important level, hovering just below its 50 Day Moving Average (DMA). This has happened several times before since March 2020, and each time buyers appeared to "buy the dip." I suspect they will again, so, no, I won't get bearish quite yet. I will go the other way and predict that markets will bounce next week. But what if I am wrong? Technically, the downside risk could be another 80 points (1.8 percent) to around the 4,365 level on the S&P 500 Index.
@theMarket: Some Brokers Are Getting Bearish
For four days in a row, the markets closed down. That is in itself unusual. It has only happened four other times since the March 2020 low. Does this portend further downside in September?
On Friday, the markets tried to bounce back. The damage to the averages has been minimal thus far. But given how far we have come, more and more brokerage houses (Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and Morgan Stanley, among others) are warning that the September-through-October time frame could see a 10 percent correction. How much weight should you give these gloomy predictions?
If you are a short-term day, or swing trader heed their call, since we are probably overdue for such a downdraft. This has been one of the 15th longest stretches in market history where the S&P 500 Index has gone without even a 5 percent correction. Consider that the average time between 5 percent corrections since 1950 has been only 97 days. As of Friday, Sept. 10, we are pushing 316 days without such a decline.
As I have pointed out in the past, there are plenty of issues that investors are facing over the next two months. Any one of which could justify some profit-taking. We have the looming battle over the debt ceiling, and the beginning of the Fed's announced tapering of bond purchases, to name just two.
On Thursday, the European Central Bank (ECB) gave us a taste of what that might look like. Christine Legarde, President of the ECB, announced their own tapering of bond purchases under its pandemic emergency purchase program. The Governing Council kept interest rates the same, but noted that inflation was running at a 3 percent rate in August 2021, the highest in a decade. Markets in Europe took it well, but closed mixed, while U.S. markets fell on the news.
Other investor concerns center on the potential slowing of the U.S. economy during this third quarter, as well as the probability that corporations have already hit peak earnings for this cycle.
Of course, the pandemic is still with us and continues to cause dislocations. Supply chain issues, which were thought to be temporary, seem to be lengthening in durations in areas such as semi-conductors and consumer durable goods and parts. And economists are still arguing over what is transitory inflation and the other stickier kind. The U.S. Producer Price Index rose 0.7 percent in August bringing the year over year increase to 8.3 percent, the largest on record.
Now, none of the above information is new. It has been with us for quite some time, but it's that time of the year when investors for some reason start to focus on what could go wrong (rather than go right). Call it behavioral science, investor psychology, or simply "cup half empty." If this September/October turns out to be down months, then I am pretty sure that November through the end of the year will be up months for stocks. That is the rhythm of the markets.
The moral of this tale is that if you are a long-term investor the next two months are simply a tiny blip, or bump in the road that should be ignored. If you attempt to sell everything and then buy at the lows, you haven't learned anything from reading my columns. The best advice I can give is to ride it out, and if markets drop, just don't look at your portfolio (if you are the nervous type).
Another possibility is that we have a shallower pullback than the pundits are predicting, or none at all. Who says they have it right? As I wrote last week, history has been a poor guide in predicting the future of markets undergoing extraordinary circumstances.
As regular readers know, my target for the S&P 500 Index in the intermediate term was 4,550. On September 2, 2021, we hit an intraday high of 4,545.85, which is close enough for government work.
Right now, I see some downside, possibly to 4,448 on the S&P 500 Index, and then I will reassess. Make no mistake, I expect the markets to be volatile in both directions over the next few weeks. If we do see that 5-10 percent correction, I believe it will happen over the next two months, rather than a few days.