@theMarket: Markets on Hold
Thanksgiving is right around the corner and then the Christmas holidays are upon us. Will Santa deliver coal, or will the stock market find gains in their stocking?
The bulls are expecting a pretty good market between now and year-end. Historically, the evidence is on their side, although there have been several years when the Grinch stole Christmas, stocks usually gain during the coming holiday season.
On the other hand, history has not been as reliable in predicting the market's direction of late. That is understandable, given the continuing presence of COVID mutations, a European War, soaring inflation, and rising interest rates. If the equity market wanted a wall of worry to climb, it surely has one.
On the plus side, we have had two inflation indicators, the Consumer Price Index, and the Producer Price Index for October, signaling that if inflation isn't declining, it is at least not rising as fast. As a result, interest rates and the U.S. dollar have also declined a little. All the above has given equities a reason to reach my target area (4,000-4,100). This week, the S&P 500 Index hit 4,028.
I expect that we are running out of bull fuel. We could hit the higher end of my range, but if we do, the markets would be rising on fumes and would not likely stay there very long. Does that mean we have to immediately re-test the year's lows? Not necessarily.
Over the next week or two, I see increased volatility with a risk of a 100-point pullback on the S&P 500 Index down to 3,850. However, a bounce could happen after that. Slowing consumer demand, worries over Christmas sales by U.S. retailers, and further layoff announcements should dampen enthusiasm for stocks. And then what?
We have three inflation points in December. The Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index (PCE) will be released on Dec. 1. It is this inflation index that carries the most weight with the Fed. It sets up a binary event for the markets.
If this number is cooler than expected, investors will believe it confirms that inflation is dropping. Markets would rally if that happened. If it comes in hotter, then we swoon. Either way, we still have the next CPI and PPI numbers to contend with, so prepare for further volatility.
On Dec. 9, the CPI is released, followed by the PPI on December 13, 2022. Those could be wild card events -- either to the upside, or the downside. And on Dec. 14, the next FOMC meeting decisions will be announced, along with Chairman Jerome Powell's Q&A session afterward.
As you can imagine, the fate of the markets will rest on how all these data points line up.
Economists argue that market participants are asking for trouble by resting their hopes on just two inflation numbers. I agree. We are bound to see a lot of fluctuation in the coming months in the inflation data. Rarely, do we see inflation drop precipitously without some exogenous event to trigger a free fall. Economists would expect several conflicting inflation reports, some up, some down, before seeing a new trend form.
The Fed has already stated that while they welcome the good news on the inflation front in the short-term, nothing is going to change in their stance. This message was underscored repeatedly last week by a long line of Fed Heads who messaged the markets that interest rates are going to stay higher for longer.
So where does that leave us regarding the cherished Christmas rally? I imagine we will see several rapid moves up and down in the markets before the FOMC meeting in mid-December. At that point, I am hoping (but not expecting) that the Fed will be less hawkish. There is a high probability that Powell will walk on that stage and dun his Grinch mask. If he does, it would likely be a "look out below" moment for the markets. In which case, think coal in your stockings. However, given the soaring price of coal worldwide, a little coal in my stocking would not be all that bad.