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The rally lost some steam this week due a sense that we were due for a drawdown or some consolidation on the back of rate-hike and valuation concerns. After last Friday’s January employment report surprise, there wasn’t a great deal of conviction on the sell side or the buy side this week. Ultimately, the indices all registered losses, which had the S&P 500 settle Friday’s session below the 4,100 level.
Monday, the market was slow to open as we were hesitant of Fed Chair Powell’s “Conversation with David Rubenstein” at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Heightened geopolitical tension after the U.S. shot down China’s suspected spy balloon off the South Carolina coast last Saturday may have also contributed to the slow start.
The indices rebounded from their opening lows but could never seem to hold onto any momentum. We spent much of Monday moving sideways in a tight trading range. The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly scooted above its range in late afternoon before fading again into negative territory.
Tuesday, unsurprisingly started on a mixed note. The main indices oscillated around their flat lines in the first half of the day as investors awaited the aforementioned Powell talk.
Mr. Powell didn’t say anything too surprising, but the market responded with some volatile price action nonetheless. The main indices initially shot higher off of Powell’s calm response to the surprise employment report last friday.
That initial jump gave way to selling pressure after Mr. Powell said that the Fed will react to the incoming data and will do more rate hikes if the data suggest that is necessary. A response that we have been hearing for some time. He also said that the Fed has a significant road ahead to get inflation down to 2% and that he thinks it won’t be a quick move to that goal
The following reversal in the indices saw the S&P 500 breach support at the 4,100 level, where buyers stepped in for a technical rebound, supported by short-covering activity. The indices closed near their best levels on Tuesday.
Also helping late Tuesday was a rally in Microsoft ($MSFT) and other AI-related stocks after Microsoft announced its new AI-powered Microsoft Bing search engine and Edge browser.
On Tuesday, we also got the December Trade Balance report. It came in at -$67.4 bln compared to a consensus of -%68.5 bln. The prior reading was revised to -$61.0 bln from -$61.5 bln.
The key takeaway from the report is that it reflected a slowdown in global trade, evidenced by a $2.1 billion decline in the 3-month moving average for the goods and services deficit to $68.6 billion that resulted from a $2.6 billion decrease in average exports and a $4.7 billion decrease in average imports.
We also got the Fed’s Consumer Credit report which showed that total outstanding credit increased by $11.6 bln in November following an upwardly revised $33.1 bln in November.
The key takeaway from the report is that total consumer credit expansion slowed in December, with higher interest rates crimping loan demand. Nonrevolving credit saw its smallest expansion ($4.3 billion) since August 2020.
Then, stocks spent Wednesday drawing down largely due to concerns that the market got overextended and was due for some consolidation. Selling efforts were broad based but generally modest overall.
A notable exception was Alphabet ($GOOG), which tanked 7.4%. Shares were falling on concerns the company is behind in the AI space — a concern that was magnified by news that its Bard AI bot gave a wrong answer at the company’s launch event.
Weakness may have also been exacerbated by Biden’s State of the Union address where he called for a billionaire minimum tax, a quadrupling of the tax on corporate stock buybacks, and raising the debt limit without conditions. He also made a case for more antitrust regulation of technology companies.
With a divided Congress, the market wasn’t overly concerned about new tax policies being passed, but it was interested in what happens with the debt limit discussions and the possibility more regulations.
We also received data on the Weekly MBA Mortgage Applications Index (7.4%; Prior -9.0%) and the December Wholesale Inventories 0.1%. Prior was revised to 0.9% from 1.0%.
The stock market started Thursday higher, yet the bulls were soon corralled and the major indices spent most of the day retracing their opening steps in what became a trend-down day. The selling that took place was broad based and left the S&P 500 below 4,100 at the closing bell.
A favorable response to Walt Disney’s ($DIS) better-than-expected fiscal Q1 earnings report and restructuring announcement, falling Treasury yields, and another weekly initial jobless claims report that was supportive of the soft landing scenario provided the fuel for the opening bid.
Thursday’s open continued ideas of potential overvaluation. Treasury yields then started to move up and the market slipped consistently on the fostered selling.
Friday ended the week on a stable note ahead of key data releases next week, including the Consumer Price Index, Retail Sales, Industrial Production, Housing Starts, and Producer Price Index reports all from January.
There was not much conviction from buyers or sellers, which left the S&P 500 and Dow with small gains while the Nasdaq logged a modest loss. Mega cap stocks seemed to lag, keeping pressure on index level performance. Tesla ($TSLA) was a losing standout among the mega cap stocks amid investors’ concerns that a potential Department of Transportation order could force Tesla to make its charging stations available to other electric vehicles.
Oil prices climbed up some lost ground on Friday, which also pressured the equity market, in response to Russia saying it is going to cut production by 500,000 barrels per day in March in response to international sanctions.
Friday saw the February Consumer Sentiment report come in with a reading of 66.4 (Prior 64.9).
The key takeaway from the report is the understanding that the year-ahead inflation expectation increased from January, raising concerns about consumers’ future discretionary spending capacity.
Only 1 of the 11 S&P 500 sectors made gains this week – energy (+4.9%) — while the communication services sector (-5.6%) registered the largest decline by a wide margin.
The 2-yr Treasury note yield rose 22 basis points this week to 4.51% and the 10-yr note yield rose 21 basis points to 3.74%.
Those moves in the Treasury market reflect concerns that the recent strength in employment reports will give the Fed more room to raise rates and to keep rates higher for longer. This sentiment was also evident in the fed funds futures market, which is now pricing in a 74% probability of a third, 25-basis point rate increase at the May FOMC meeting, according to the CME FedWatch Tool, versus only a 30% probability last Thursday (i.e., the day before the employment report).
Dividend Dollars’ Outlook & Opinion
That’s it for the recap. Now for my opinion!
This week was a consolidation week, with the main indices recording only modest losses week over week. As we mentioned last week, the market got a bit too extended a little too fast, so we anticipated a consolidating week or minor moves. That is exactly what we got!
Earnings continued this week and results continue to follow the “better than feared” theme. We are about 2/3 of the way through earnings season after this week. Earnings beats stayed the same this week at 70% and revenue beats moved up to 55% from 52%. Earnings results still don’t appear to be overly bullish, and with near-term negative growth expectations it is hard to justify the level that the S&P 500 is trading at. These figures are tracked using MarketBeat.
In recent weeks, we broke above the long term resistance (red shaded channel) and also the next level of resistance at the 4,100 level (top green line). As we called out last week, that 4,100 level did turn into support on Monday and Wednesday, but was shortly broken thereafter.
With the S&P now back under the 4,100 level (an area that was resistance back in September and December) and with earnings season closer to ending, it is hard for me to think of a reason for S&P to go higher. This is especially true if we consider the S&P’s forward P/E paired with the fact that the “E” side of things doesn’t look to be growing in the near term.
Because of this, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some range movement between the 4,100 level and the 3,800 level (bottom green line) that created a nice base from mid-December to early January. The next FOMC meeting and coming inflationary data are the only items I can foresee being important enough to move the market out of that range, up or down.
VIX saw small gains this week and appears to be in tighter range so far this year compared to last year. The VIX structure has significantly flattened over the past few months. This could be related to a relatively more comfortable outlook regarding where the Fed stands on inflation. Other than this observation in VIX, the other items I write about sometimes (such as OI change and put to call ratios among VIX and the ETFs) did not grab my attention much. Some are leaning more bearish than last week, but not significantly so.
Overall, 2023 kicked off with a bang for bulls, however it appears that traders need a break. Macro items need some tie to play out. I anticipate more consolidations in the near term.
Fed speak this week felt moderately hawkish and bond yields are rising, giving investors lots to chew over. Next week, volatility could be present with the CPI reading on Tuesday. If it comes in significantly lower than the consensus, bulls could be off to the races again, otherwise the technical suggest flat or slightly bearish week ahead.
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.