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@theMarket: Inflation Data Boosts Markets

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
The Consumer Price Index was cooler than expected in June, while the Producer Price Index was warmer. Equity traders responded by selling winners and buying losers.
 
CPI inflation fell further than most expected as easing prices for gasoline and other staples like food and new lease rents cooled dramatically. That information might help the level of anxiety people are feeling about inflation. It appears that the price points of most staples have finally flattened out year-over-year instead of constantly going up as they have for the last few years. 
 
Countering that good news, wholesale prices climbed 0.2 percent last month led by prices for services, which offset a decline in goods prices. The May PPI numbers were also revised upwards as well. However, the CPI news trumped the disappointing PPI data on the nation's trading desks.
 
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's testimony before Congress this week paved the way for the inflation data. On Wednesday, in his testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, he said, "More good data would strengthen our confidence that inflation is moving sustainably toward 2 percent."
 
His semiannual congressional appearance at the House Financial Services Committee a day later was also encouraging. Powell hinted that the environment for rate cuts is approaching citing a jobs market that is slowing down. He also said that the Fed had been heavily focused on inflation but is now getting to a place where the labor market is drawing more of their attention.
 
Recently, the labor market data indicated that the number of jobs is declining. Powell clarified that he and his committee are increasingly aware of the risks posed by a cooling labor market. His comments kept the equity market well-bid for most of the week and the inflation data announcements were simply the cherry on the bull's cake.
 
Based on Powell's testimony and the cooler CPI data, the betting for a rate cut by September skyrocketed to more than 90 percent. Both the U.S. dollar and bond yields plummeted as a result. However, at the same time, a massive shift occurred as momentum and program traders sold down the ten or so large-cap stocks that have driven the averages higher, while buying hand-over-fist areas like precious metals, China, emerging markets, small-cap stocks, industrials, and real estate.
 
All the above areas benefit the most from a declining dollar, lower interest rates, or both. This could be good news for the health of the market if this trend were to continue. I have written about the concentration risk (too few stocks going up) that has gripped the market over the last few months. For the markets to continue to gain, we need to see a broadening out of stocks that are participating in the upturn.
 
If the market were to rotate out of some of its FANG/AI holdings into other equity and commodity areas, there likely would be a period of consolidation and volatility in the markets. I have been expecting higher highs into mid to late July followed by a period of consolidation. As of right now, I am on target and await further developments.
 

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.

 

     

@theMarket: Stocks Grind Higher Making All-Time Highs

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
It was another good week for stocks following another good month of gains. Granted, in this holiday-shortened week, the volume behind the positive moves was paltry at best. However, many traders will tell you that only the price pays.
 
The macroeconomic data seems to be coming in as the Fed had hoped, with some data showing a slight cooling of the economy and at least two months of better inflation numbers. Although the U.S. economy added 206,000 jobs last month, that was slightly down from 218,000 jobs in May. Average hourly earnings also increased, but below forecast as well. However, the overall unemployment rate did tick up to 4.1 percent, the highest reading in three years.
 
Chairman Jerome Powell appeared satisfied with the state of the economy and inflation when he spoke in Portugal this week at the Forum on Central Banking. He suggested that we are returning to a disinflationary path but "we want to be more confident that inflation is moving sustainably down before we start the process of loosening policy." 
 
His comments barely differed from that same old monetary song the Fed has been singing throughout the year. Nonetheless, the bulls ran with his comments pushing the S&P 500 Index above 5,500 for the first time.
 
Another sign the Fed is on target was the new data released by ADP this week that showed annual wage increases for workers who remained in their same job increased at the slowest rate in nearly three years in June. Wage growth is one of the main contributors to the inflation rate. As such, that may have been good news for Wall Street but bad news for Main Street where consumers are still fighting the high cost of everything.
 
Politics and the election, at long last, appear to have entered the psyche of traders and investors alike. Last week, I warned readers that I expected as much. Two events — the Biden debate debacle and the Supreme Court's ruling on presidential immunity — captured the market's interest. Bond yields rose and the dollar strengthened.
 
The thinking behind these moves was that both events strengthened the probability that Donald Trump would prevail in November. And if he did win, inflation would be much higher thanks to his promise of tax cuts and tariffs. That remains to be seen, but traders immediately attributed the pop in yields to the "Trump Trade."
 
Precious metals and other commodities also jumped on the re-inflation theme although cryptocurrencies declined. At the same time, cannabis stocks were clobbered as investors worried that a Republican sweep of the House and Senate would put an end to any further liberalization of marijuana. Drug companies also took it on the chin, since the pharmaceutical sector has traditionally been the whipping boy for both parties as election rhetoric heats up.
 
The narrowing of the market's gains continues to occur with less than ten stocks accounting for most of the S&P 500 and NASDAQ gains. Concentration risk is higher than it has been in decades. How long can this last is anyone's guess? The index averages are stretched, but we will only know in hindsight when we have reached a breaking point. 
 
As readers recall, I expect fireworks this month with new highs early on followed by a possible downdraft in the latter half of July. However, nothing in the data or the Fed's actions indicates such a sell-off will occur. Sure, the technical charts are screaming a flood of warning signs, but the momentum behind the AI and FANG stocks is still quite strong. For a pullback to occur, the bears need a trigger.  
 

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.

 

     

@theMarket: Financial Markets Could See July Fireworks

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
The good news is that early in this coming month we should see new highs in the stock market. The bad news is that we could also see some downside as well.
 
The equity markets' grind higher throughout June has been achieved by fewer and fewer stocks. Most of the gains have been concentrated in ten stocks or less. There have been a few days where the other 490 stocks of the S&P 500 index managed to mark up some gains, but if you weren't in AI or Fang stocks, you underperformed by a mile.
 
I have mentioned this before in several of my past columns. As we push higher, a feeling of caution seeps into my bones. On the surface, there is nothing that I can put my finger on, and yet my Spidey sense tells me to tread lightly. However, the macroeconomic data does not justify my worries.
 
Inflation, while sticky in some areas, continues to come down. The Personal Consumption Expenditure Price (PCE) for May was unchanged, as expected, while the core index which excludes food and energy, rose 0.1 percent compared to 0.3 percent in April.
 
I recognize that the official inflation data (CPI, PPI, PCE) is not the inflation that normal people are feeling. Grocery prices may be coming down but are still 200 percent higher than they were.  Prices at the pump are still high as is the cost of eating out. Most restaurant prices are so high that one could feed a family for several days on a single tab for two. Rents, insurance, and a bunch of other items are still in the stratosphere.
 
This has led to a slight decline in the rate of consumer spending, especially among lower-income consumers. However, the consumer spending averages have been held up by overspending by those in the upper income brackets. Fortunately, the continued health in the jobs market allows many to still make ends meet (for now).
 
Given the above scenario, the fact that the Fed is still waiting for more definitive data to cut interest rates should not impact the direction of the markets. Many argue that the Fed does not need to cut at all this year given the strength of the economy. They have a point.
 
The deficit is climbing exponentially and interest payments on our debt now equal what we spend on defense. And yet, billions of dollars of monthly Treasury auctions that make up the government's quarterly refunding needs have hardly moved the needle on the benchmark, U.S. ten-year Treasury bond. The U.S. dollar also remains well-bid.
 
What's not to like given the above scenario? The bull case I have laid out should give me comfort that new highs in the market are justified. And maybe they are, but why isn't the market broadening out? Why are investors flocking to only the best, cash-rich, mega companies in the world if everything is so good?
 
Maybe I am looking in the wrong place for clues to the future. I have just finished several columns on populism and its future impact on the country and the economy. From all the responses I received, I have identified one clear message--people are scared. They are afraid of the coming elections, worried about our climbing debt burden, of geo-political tensions, and much more.
 
We are entering the season where election politics begin to matter to the stock market. It may be that political uncertainty may begin to trump economics.  Last night’s disappointing debate performance by President Biden, for example, has many calling for him to bow out. In any case, I suspect that for market participants July will be less about dull markets and long vacations, and more about who said what and when.
 

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.

 

     

@theMarket: Handful of Stocks Key to the Markets' Direction

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
It was a slow week for news but that didn't stop the bulls from pushing the equity markets to new highs. But the number of stocks that are pushing stocks higher are fewer and fewer.
 
Day after day, and week after week. the S&P 600 and NASDAQ have made a series of new highs. Under the hood, however, just about all the gains have been led by ten stocks in the technology sector. Many investors saw no end to the gains and continued to pile into the Magnificent Seven and the AI Five. The stampede has been led by everyone's favorite stock, Nvidia.
 
This leading semiconductor stock now boasts more than a $3.35 trillion valuation. It is now the most valuable company in the S&P 500 Index. Some analysts are predicting the company's valuation will rise to $5 trillion over the next 12 months.
 
Traders were sure that the stock would take a breather after its 10-for-one stock split on May 22, but that was not to be. The shares continued to rise almost every day since then. The Bulls even have a new nickname, "Evergreen," for the semiconductor giant since it rarely has a red day.
 
Nivida and a couple of other stocks like Microsoft, Apple, Netflix, Broadcom, Google, and Meta now account for so much of the NASDAQ 100 and the S&P 500 Indexes, that where they go, so goes the market. The performance of just about everything else is dismal in comparison. Why just AI stocks and their counterparts?
 
Part of the attraction is that Wall Street can justify any price to buy into these stocks because the sky is the limit when it comes to the future of artificial intelligence. Every tech company can either claim to be in AI or will soon claim a higher valuation. It reminds me of the days when a company could lift its share price by adding dot com to its name. 
 
Around the globe, equity analysts keep upping their estimates on how much companies will spend on AI in the years ahead. To them, the internet boom was small potatoes to what unfolds in the AI universe. There is no way to prove (or disprove) these predictions.
 
On Friday, Nvidia's weighting in the $71 billion Technology Select Sector SPDR Exchange Traded Fund (symbol XLK) was expected to substantially increase via a rebalancing of that fund. This additional buying power from XLK had goosed the stock price this week in anticipation.
 
Compared to AI, therefore, the rest of the stock market is a humdrum place. Why buy anything else when all the action is in stocks like Nvidia? To me, however, that is an increasingly risky bet that relies on the greater fool theory that there will always be someone else to buy my stock at a higher price. 
 
In the meantime, the overall market remains supported by traders who are convinced that the Fed will have to cut interest rates multiple times before the end of the year. The Fed, of course, continues to say no way. Over the last two weeks, members of the Federal Open Market Committee have warned the financial markets that there are no immediate plans to cut interest rates.
 
Traders are not buying it. The bulls remain convinced that the central bank will soon see that inflation is trending lower, unemployment is rising, and growth is moderating. While the data still doesn't confirm any of these assumptions, animal spirits tend to ignore the facts sometimes in favor of price momentum. I suspect that if the Fed does not say categorically "There will be no cuts this year," the markets will hear what they want to hear. In the meantime, the idea that a rate cut is just around the corner will continue to drive bullish sentiment. Until it doesn't.
 
Markets are stretched but everyone knows and ignores it. Seasonally, it is a bullish period for the markets. I am riding the market higher but peeling off positions as stocks climb. I expect a pullback in the market anytime now, so be prepared. It won't be anything more than a 3-5 percent decline but it will feel far worse. I think we then bounce before a possible steeper decline in July.
 

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.
 
     

@theMarket: Inflation Down, Stocks Up & the Fed on Hold

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
Stocks hit an all-time high as macroeconomic data supported the view that the rate of inflation was falling, even while the economy continued to grow. However, the Fed said it wants to hold off on interest rate cuts until they get some more data.
 
Both the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Producer Price Index (PPI) for May showed cooler inflation data. CPI came in at plus-3.3 percent down from 3.4 percent in April. Prices for some household items such as gasoline and bacon declined.
 
The PPI went down 0.2 percent in May compared with market expectations of a 0.1 percent increase and after a rise of 0.5 percent in April. Prices for goods fell 0.8 percent, the most since October 2023. Most of the decline was due to a 7.1 percent decline in gasoline. However, diesel fuel, eggs, electric power, jet fuel, and basic organic chemicals also saw declines.
 
And as inflation appeared to be falling, weekly U.S. jobless claims unexpectedly surged to a 10-month high. Investors took heart from these numbers and pushed equities to new all-time highs. The technology sector and large-cap mega stocks took the lead.
 
The bullish sentiment among investors was so strong that not even a hawkish Federal Open Market Committee meeting in mid-week could daunt the bulls. Fed officials raised their forecast for inflation this year and kept rates at a 23-year high. They also reduced their expected interest rate cuts for the remainder of the year from three to one with a few members expecting to hike interest rates. Remember that at the beginning of the year, markets were expecting 6-7 cuts.
 
In the Q&A session, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell argued that after the increase in inflation data during the first three months of the year, the policy committee thought it wise to have a wait-and-see attitude. He said that while the CPI inflation number for May was in the right direction, the members wanted to see a string of good inflation reports before cutting interest rates. That could take until the end of the year.
 
Normally, the tone of that meeting would have disappointed traders and triggered a steep decline in the averages. Instead, the S&P 500 Index made a record high, passing 5.400 for the first time. Many market participants don't seem to care if interest rate cuts are delayed as long as the economy continues to grow and inflation declines.
 
It was the technology sector, led by the Magnificent Seven stocks, which garnered the lion's share of the gains with Apple leading the way. Investors chased the stock this week pushing it up to record highs after the company announced new artificial intelligence features, including the integration of ChatGPT in their devices.
 
Most other sectors of the market did not fare nearly as well. Some areas, such as precious and base metals, crypto, and financials, have been consolidating after recent outperformance in the first half of the year. Oil and energy stocks have also trailed most other areas of the market. The International Energy Agency released a report predicting that the world will be swimming in a "staggering" glut of oil by the end of the decade, which did not help energy prices either.
 
Some profit-taking can be expected after the run we have had so far this month. It wouldn't surprise me if we consolidated a bit in the week ahead. If so, I would expect traders to buy the dip. The stock market in July, however, could see a larger pullback than most expect. It would probably be a good time to go to the beach and shut down your computer.   
 

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.
 
     
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