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@theMarket: Jobs Jump But the Fed Disappoints

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
It was one of those weeks. A gauntlet of data had investors working overtime to figure out where stocks and the economy were going. At the same time, the Fed told investors that a March rate cut was off the table. And then the job data was announced.
The non-farm payroll report for January came in at almost double market expectations. Economists were expecting 185,000 gains, but the U.S. economy created 353,999 jobs. That was a blowout number that had traders torn between selling the market (because of the inflation implications) or buying it due to what it might say about future growth.
Strength in the job market and wages would mean the Fed will delay cutting interest rates while further growth in the economy could be good for future earnings. The Wednesday FOMC meeting illustrated that dilemma and what the Fed planned to do about it. In one word — nothing — no rate hikes, and no rate cuts either. The outcome was a disappointment.
I thought Fed Chairman Jerome Powell did a good job explaining the present state of the economy and the reasons the Federal Reserve wants to wait a little longer to ease monetary policy. He expects the economy to continue to grow and at the same time the progress toward reducing inflation will continue. The Fed has been watching the labor market for signs of weakness but slowing wage growth is more important than the number of unemployed workers. Given the huge gain last month in the payroll data, his decision to wait for the data to confirm the Fed's next move seems correct to me.
I had warned readers that those bulls who were expecting a March interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve Bank were roaring up the wrong tree. And yet, going into the meeting, almost half of the market was betting on a cut. The news triggered a wave of selling that sent all three main averages down by more than a percent. Since I was not on the side of any Fed cut until May or even June, the sell-off felt overdone in my opinion. We regained much of those losses by Friday.
Beyond the Fed, the most important event was the fourth quarter earnings reports of five of the Mag 7. By Friday's close, the scorecard stood at three wins and two whiffs. Microsoft had decent earnings, but the stock sold off anyway at first, while Google disappointed investors. Meta and Amazon scored, and Apple whiffed.
Last week, I warned readers that all these stocks were priced for perfection and only stellar earnings and guidance would be able to justify further gains. Three out of five did just that and the markets reacted by hitting new highs.
There was good news on the U.S. Treasury financing front as well. The government announced it will need to raise less money via Treasury auctions this quarter. The mix between short-term notes and bills and longer-term bonds is tilting a little more toward the long end. That should keep the yield on U.S. Ten-year bonds supported. 
I expect stocks will continue higher, but the journey will be marred with sharp pullbacks. My target is still 5,000 -plus on the S&P 500 Index. Stepping back, however, I see these gains as part of an interim topping process that will end at some point this month or next in a stiff pullback.

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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