@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.