It has been a week of consolidation. A string of downside negative surprises has kept the markets in check but has failed to break anything. Given the macroeconomic data, that has been impressive.
Both the monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Producer Price Index (PPI) came in hotter than expected. The monthly CPI rose 0.5 percent, and the PPI came in at 0.7 percent. That spooked investors since higher inflation means the Fed will likely keep interest rates higher for longer. Yet, dip buyers took advantage of the declines and bid markets back up.
In addition, retail sales for January were almost double the average estimate, coming in at a 3 percent gain month over month versus the 1.7 percent expected. This was great news for consumers, who are benefiting from a hike in their disposable income. That is understandable, given that the job market remains strong. The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims, for example, fell to 194,000 this week, which was again less than expected.
The consumer's resiliency was impressive enough to convince economists at JPMorgan to raise their first quarter 2023 outlook for Gross Domestic Product to 2 percent from 1 percent. That economic strength must have also troubled at least some Fed members. St. Louis Fed President, James Bullard, one of the most hawkish, non-voting members of the central bank, along with Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, are not advocating for a 50-basis point interest rate hike at the bank’s next meeting in March.
Readers need to remember that good news on the economy is normally bad news for the stock market. Why? Because continued strong growth on the macro level will keep inflation from coming down and give the Fed a reason to continue to tighten.
Yields on most interest rates have climbed higher as well this week. The yield on the benchmark 10-year, U.S. Treasury note rose to 3.843 percent. Six-month and one-year U.S. Treasury yields hit 5 percent. At the same time, the U.S. dollar Index also moved higher. Normally, this would provide added pressure on the stock market.
Up until now, every dip has been met with buying. Leading the charge, as I have written before, are the junkiest, most bombed-out areas of the stock market. What the markets are telling me is that fundamentals don't matter and neither does any of the macro data. However, that may be changing.
Right now, investors are convinced that the Fed is just about finished tightening. And then most expect the Fed to either pause or to even begin loosening policy. If we do have a recession (and many are beginning to doubt it), then it will be a rolling one. Some sectors will still grow, while others decline a little, leaving the overall economy flat to slightly down. This is the ultimate Goldilocks scenario where even the ricketiest of beds will do just fine.
If fundamentals and macroeconomic data continue to be ignored, we are left with few guideposts to determine the direction of the markets. That is where technical and behavioral analysis comes in. The charts are telling me markets are in a consolidation phase. Stocks have had more than enough excuses to have declined a lot this week, but they haven't done so, which is impressive. The 4,100 level on the S&P 500 was broken on Friday but the 4,050 is fairly strong support and resistance is up at 4,200.
Equity markets have been consolidating for 11 days. Why is that significant? Normally, 13 days is about the maximum markets trade sideways before a break to the upside or downside occurs. Given that the markets are closed on Monday for Presidents Day, Tuesday should be interesting. While it is anyone’s guess which way it will go, I am betting the next move will be higher. I am using 4,340 as my guesstimate for an upside target. Wish me luck.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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