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This week started slowly as the market looked to take some money off the table following a strong January and waiting for the FOMC meeting. On Monday, the Nasdaq and S&P 500 were up 11% and 6% for January.
The slow Monday was kicked off by an article in WSJ by Nick Timiraos (chief economics correspondent for WSJ and Fed’s assumed preferred source for divulging information to) indicating that Fed officials were concerned that inflation could return to higher levels due to tight labor markets. He added that the Fed’s interest rate strategy could depend on how much members believe the economy will slow.
Anticipation of the Q4 Employment Cost Index, the January ISM releases, and the January Employment Situation Report and over 100 S&P 500 companies reporting earnings this week also added to the slow start.
The momentum changed on Tuesday as the market looked to end January with some gumption. A well-received Q4 Employment Cost Index and weaker-than-expected January Chicago PMI and Consumer Confidence data also may have led to the idea that the Fed may look to pause rate hikes.
The latter point was corroborated by another Nick Timiraos article that suggested the Employment Cost Index report could increase the possibility of Fed officials agreeing to pause the rate hikes sooner rather than later.
Wednesday came in strong to kick off the month of February . This followed the FOMC’s unanimous decision to raise the target range for the fed funds rate by 25 basis points to 4.50-4.75%, as expected. In the press conference afterwards, Powell did not go out of his way to rein in the market’s enthusiasm.
Mr. Powell acknowledged that the “Full effects of rapid tightening so far have yet to be felt and we have more work to do.” Core services inflation is still running too high, which creates a basis for ongoing rate hikes. Overall, though, Mr. Powell was generally encouraging about the signs of disinflation.
Also, he did not strictly express disagreement with loosening financial conditions and maintained that he thinks there is a path to getting inflation back down to 2% without a significant economic decline or increase in unemployment.
A huge earnings-driven gain in Meta Platforms ($META) kept rally effort strong at the start of Thursday’s session. The earnings results and reception of the FOMC materials encouraged a sense that earnings growth and monetary policy may be better than feared this year.
Some data releases on Thursday also helped with the market’s move higher. The Q4 Productivity report showed a drop in unit labor costs, an affirmation of falling inflation costs. Separately, weekly initial jobless claims hit their lowest level (183,000) since April 2022, providing additional confirmation of a strong labor market that could absorb the impact of a soft landing.
The rally did hit a speed bump at the 4,200 level for the S&P 500. The market may have reached an overextended area, though it did not last long as the main indices were able to climb back towards session highs ahead of Thursday’s close.
However, Thursday wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows as a sizable loss in Merck ($MRK) after its quarterly results kept the price-weighted Dow Jones Industrial Average in negative territory for most of Thursday.
Friday turned out to be a losing session with disappointing earnings and/or guidance from Alphabet ($GOOG), Amazon.com ($AMZN), Starbucks ($SBUX), and Ford ($F) despite a strong gain in January nonfarm payrolls (+517,000) and a stronger than expected January ISM Services PMI (55.2%) that returns the index to growth levels.
The strong data created some doubts as to whether the Fed will pause its rate hikes soon and cut rates at all before the end of the year, contrary to the case for rates in the early weekdays.
The fed funds futures market is now accounting for the prospect of a third 25 basis point rate hike in May. According to the CME FedWatch Tool, the probability of a rate hike in May, in addition to the one that is fully priced in for March, increased to 48% from 33% last week.
Many stocks pulled back on profit-taking efforts following the earnings and economic news. Apple ($AAPL), was the exception. Apple declined 2% off the open but quickly bounced and finished the day up 2.4%.
Only three S&P 500 sectors registered losses this week — energy (-5.8%), health care (-0.13%), and utilities (-1.42%) — while the communication services (+5.26%), information technology (+3.71%), and consumer discretionary (+2.34%) sectors logged the biggest gains.
Dividend Dollars’ Outlook & Opinion
That’s it for the recap. Now for my opinion!
This week crushed my moderately bullish outlook from the prior week. The market is at nearly a 9% in a little more than a month and have given back very little, even with earnings season being a bit mixed!
Q4 earnings season has reached the halfway point so far. 103 S&P 500 companies reported earnings and 74 of them beat consensus expectations this week. That puts us exactly at 250 of the 500 reporting results. The average EPS and Rev beats both increased this week, to 70% and 52% respectively. From a growth standpoint, these results are still lower compared to YoY results from last Q4. This information is tracked using MarketBeat.
Since the market broke out of the long term resistance, it has been off to the races. As we mentioned last week, the next point of resistance was around the 4,100 area that had rejected three times prior. The market broke through that level on Wednesday with strength. Then, on Thursday, we got a golden cross when the 50-day SMA moved above the 200-day SMA (yellow circle) which is a bullish technical indication.
Now that the market is above the 4,100 area, that resistance has turned into support and will be an area we want to watch if we see a small retracement in the coming days.
Overall, after a tough 2022 with lots a tax-loss harvesting ending the year, traders’ cash piles appear to be getting put to work. Communication, Consumer Discretionary, and Tech sectors priced significantly lower than where they were a year look like the areas that the cash is getting sent to. However, with a gain of almost 9% YTD, almost 3% of that coming from this week, it’s been a little too much too fast.
Vix OI change this week looks to be moderately bearish, SPX OI change is moderately bullish, ETF (SPY, QQQ, DIA, and other key ETFs) OI change is moderately bearish. The OI put call ratios for those items are neutral, moderately bearish, and moderately bearish respectively.
Vix levels in general are in the normal zone as of Friday’s close, with futures trading just slightly higher. Both are neutral indicators.
Economic data for next week is sparse, with the main items being jobless claims and consumer sentiment reports. I’ll be curious to read the wholesale inventories report and the consumer credit report, though these rarely have effects on the market.
With earnings season now past the halfway point, the next fed meeting 6 weeks away, and a number of mixed Vix and option indicators, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of consolidation or small moves for the next few weeks.
That’s it for my recap! If you would like to see how I am building my dividend portfolio using my predictions/strategy written here, you can read about my buys in my weekly portfolio update on this link.