Have the Real Headwinds on Stocks Even Started Yet?

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Have the Real Headwinds on Stocks Even Started Yet?
  • Weekly Market Preview:  Is Economic Growth Stable?
  • Weekly Economic Cheat Sheet:  Jobs Report Friday

Futures are little changed following a quiet weekend of news as investors await key economic data later this week.

Geo-politically, in-person peace talks between Russia and Ukraine will resume on Tuesday in Turkey and there remains some cautious optimism for progress towards a cease-fire.

Economically there were no notable reports overnight, although Shanghai is entering a two-phased COVID lockdown that weighed on oil and Chinese shares overnight (as that’s negative for economic growth and oil demand).

Today there are no notable economic reports and no scheduled Fed speakers, so focus will remain on oil (do the early declines continue?) and geo-politics, as any more hints of a cease fire will put a tailwind on stocks.

Tom Essaye Quoted in ETF Trends on April 21, 2020

“The oil market is sending a bold warning that economic growth may not recover nearly as quickly as some equity investors would hope,” wrote Tom Essaye, president of the Sevens Report, in a Tuesday note to clients. “The S&P 500 is pricing a relatively quick return to a normal economy…” Click here to read the full article.

Weekly Market Preview, September 25, 2017

Last Week in Review

The most important occurrence last week was that the Fed clearly signaled it still intends to hike rates in December, as long as inflation and economic growth don’t decline further, and that declaration weighed on stocks modestly but boosted reflation-sensitive sectors.

Looking at the Fed meeting, it wasn’t that it was surprisingly hawkish, it wasn’t. In virtually every way, the Fed met consensus expectations. It announced commencement of balance sheet reduction in October, it barely made any changes to the statement (other than referencing the hurricanes), and the “dots” were unchanged for both 2017 (median showing one more hike) and 2018 (median showing three hikes).

Yet as we have cautioned, the market had a somewhat illogically dovish expectation of the Fed, and as such we saw the Fed decision push bond yields and the dollar higher, and weigh modestly on stocks.

Now, that dovish expectation has been corrected, as Fed fund futures are pricing in a 70% chance of a rate hike (which is probably about right at this point).

With the Fed confirming that rates are still moving higher, absent a roll over in inflation or growth data, that puts the onus on economic activity to accelerate and avoid a potentially “stagflationary” outcome, and unfortunately the lone piece of notable data last week wasn’t very good.

The September flash manufacturing PMI met expectations at 53.0 (up from 52.5 in August), but the composite number (manufacturing and services) missed estimates at 54.6 vs. 54.9.

Now, to be fair, these are all still strong readings on an absolute level, but the absolute level isn’t as important as the rate of change. Unfortunately, the rate of change in economic growth is not significantly positive (at least not hard economic data).

That is a potential problem, because if the market is going to accept the Fed is hiking rates in December, then we need economic growth to accelerate and create the economic reflation that will push stocks higher. If that doesn’t happen, we’ve got the Fed hiking into a stagnant growth environment, and that’s not a great scenario for stocks.

This Week’s Preview

In many ways, this week is the relative “calm before the storm” of next week, which will contain the final global September PMIs and the September jobs report.

That said, there are a few important numbers we need to watch, primary of which is Friday’s Personal Income and Outlays Report.

The reason this report is important is because it contains the Core PCE Price Index, the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation. If it shows firming similar to what we saw in the recent CPI report, from a stock standpoint it will put more pressure on Treasury yields and the reflation trade, and from a macro standpoint it will put more pressure on economic growth to accelerate.

Away from the Core PCE Price Index, the next notable number is Durable Goods (Wednesday). Remember, while regional PMIs have been very strong, actual hard economic data has not, and we’ve still got a big discrepancy between surveys and real activity. If durable goods bounces, that will be a good sign that actual economic growth is rising to meet the strong survey data.

Outside of those two reports, the next most important event is the Chinese September PMIs, out Thursday and Friday night. Chinese data has been a touch underwhelming lately, but growth expectations haven’t changed. If they do start to be changed lower that could be a surprise headwind on stocks.

Bottom line, this week we get more color on the state of inflation and growth, but really, it’s next week’s data that will be the next major economic influence on markets.

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Weekly Market Cheat Sheet, August 14, 2017

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Last Week in Review

There was more underwhelming economic data last week, especially on the inflation front, as the prospects for an economic reflation in 2017 continued to dim.

From a Fed standpoint, the disappointing CPI and PPI reports further reduce the chances of a rate hike in December, although importantly the Fed is still expected to begin to reduce its balance sheet in September.

Starting with the headline numbers, CPI and PPI, they were both disappointing. The Producer Price Index declined to -0.1% vs. (E) 0.1% while the core figure was flat vs. (E) 0.2%. Meanwhile, the CPI report was slightly less underwhelming at 0.1% vs. 0.2% on the headline, and the same for the core.

While these aren’t horrible numbers, they aren’t good either, and the bottom line is that statistical inflation
remains stubbornly low, and it is appearing to continue to lose momentum. Again, for context, that’s a problem because in this environment, with (supposedly) strong economic growth and low unemployment, inflation should not be going down. Period. And the longer it goes on, the more it sparks worries that eventual deflation or disinflation will rise, and that’s not good for an economy with still-slow growth and extended asset markets.

Bottom line, even before the uptick in North Korea jitters this was a market in need of a positive catalyst to spur further gains. Unfortunately, the economic data (ex-jobs and sentiment surveys) has been consistently underwhelming, so the chances of a rising tide driven by an economic reflation continue to dim. And while a “dovish” number may be good for a mild pop in the S&P 500, soft data and a lower dollar/bond yields aren’t going to drive the market to material new highs.

This Week’s Preview

This week is busy, with mostly anecdotal data that will give us a better overall picture of the economy and inflation—and the main risk to stocks now is that the data comes in light, and along with low inflation that spurs fears of an economic loss of momentum. If that happens, stocks will take out last week’s lows.

The most important report this week will be tomorrow’s Retail Sales report. Consumer spending has been lackluster for most of 2017, but around now we see a typical seasonal uptick. That will be welcomed by markets if that appears again this year. If the number is soft, it’s going to spur worries about the pace of economic growth (remember, hard economic data hasn’t been great all year, it’s been the PMI surveys that have been strong).

Beyond retail sales, we also get a first look at August economic data via the Empire and Philly manufacturing indices. Both numbers haven’t been highly correlated to the national PMIs lately, but it’s still our most-recent economic data and it could move markets, especially if we see any weakening in the data. Empire comes tomorrow and Philly comes Thursday.

Turning to central banks, we get the Fed minutes from the July meeting on Wednesday, and the ECB minutes from the July meeting on Thursday. The Fed minutes are important because we will be looking for clues as to how eager or committed the Fed is to September balance sheet reduction. With the ECB, the key will be seeing how committed or eager the ECB is to announce tapering of QE in September. As is usually the case, there shouldn’t be any big surprises in these minutes, but they could slightly shift expectations for those two events (balance sheet reduction/announcement of tapering), and as such also move Treasury yields and Bund yields.

Finally, July Industrial Production and Housing Starts also come this week (Thursday and Wednesday,
respectively). Again, these are an opportunity for the hard data to rise and meet strong soft data surveys, and in doing so reassure investors that the economy’s accelerating.

Bottom line, none of the numbers this week are “major,” but in aggregate they will give us a lot more insight into the pace of economic growth and the outlook for the Fed and ECB. And, this market needs some economic reassurance to help bolster sentiment after last week. Better data and steady Fed/ECB are a needed boost markets this week.

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Weekly Market Cheat Sheet, August 7, 2017

Weekly market cheat sheet

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Last Week in Review

Friday’s jobs report caused a mild reversal of the week’s long downtrend in yields and the dollar, but that was more a function of “covering shorts” on the news rather than it was a function of the jobs report being materially hawkish (it met our “Just Right” scenario).

In total, while unemployment dipped further and wages were steady, in aggregate the economic data from last week largely reinforces the “stagnation” outlook for markets (slow-but-steady growth, low inflation).

Starting with the jobs report, as mentioned, it hit the upper end of our “Just Right” scenario. The headline job adds was stronger than expected (209k vs. 178k) while the June revisions were positive (up 9k to 231k).

Meanwhile, unemployment and wages met expectations: 4.3% unemployment and 0.3% wage gains, with a 2.5% yoy increase. In all, it’s a pretty Goldilocks jobs report, as job adds remain strong and the downtrend in wage inflation appears, at least in July, to have stopped.

That’s why we saw the rally in the 10-year Treasury yield and dollar. It wasn’t that the report was hawkish, but it did stop the trend in lower inflation stats. And, with a market as stretched to the downside as the Dollar Index and 10-year yield both are, it caused a snap-back rally.

Importantly, other than potentially making a December rate hike slightly more expected, Friday’s jobs report did nothing to alter the outlook for the Fed (still balance sheet reduction in September).

Looking at the economic data the rest of last week, it was more of the same: Not particularly impressive, but not implying a slowdown, either.

The ISM Manufacturing PMI slightly beat estimates at 56.3 vs. (E) 56.2, and that remained well above the important 50 mark. So, while there was a decline from June, it remains indicative of a manufacturing sector that is seeing growth accelerate.

The one disappointing economic data point last week was the ISM Non-Manufacturing (or service sector) PMI. It declined to 53.9 vs. (E) 56.9, and was the weakest reading since August 2016. However, the private sector Markit Services PMI rose to 54.7 from 54.2, so there is a conflicting message there (ISM is one firm that produces PMIs, and Markit is a competitor. Usually, their PMIs are generally in agreement, but not this month… and it has to do with the survey questions each use and the makeup of the final indices. It’s an oddity that there was a discrepancy, but it’s not an economic red flag (at least not at this point).

Bigger picture, economic growth through June and July appears consistent with the slow-but-steady growth we’ve become accustomed to over the past several years. It’s certainly not a negative for stocks, but it’s not going to create a rising tide that propels us to new highs.

This Week’s Preview

As is usually the case for the week following the jobs report and the PMIs, this week will be quieter from an economic data standpoint, although there is a very important report coming this Friday… CPI.

As we’ve said consistently, inflation is much more important right now (because it’s declining) than economic growth (which remains steady), so inflation numbers will have the potential to move markets more than growth numbers, as we saw on Friday with the jobs report.

To that end, Friday’s CPI has the potential to send bond yields and the dollar higher, if it confirms Friday’s wage number that implies inflation steadied in July. Conversely, if the CPI report is soft we’ll see Friday’s rally in bond yields and the dollar undone, quickly.

Outside of CPI Friday (and PPI on Thursday) the next most-important data point this week will be the Productivity and Costs report Wednesday. In Friday’s Report, I listed a number of events that could push stocks higher if earnings growth has peaked near term. Increased productivity was one of those events, so a strong productivity number will be positive for markets.

Beyond those two numbers, the domestic calendar is quiet this week, and none of the reports coming (NFIB Small Business Optimism Index, jobless claims) should move markets too much.

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Last Week and This Week in Economics, April 24, 2017

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Last Week in Economics – 4.17.17

April economic data started with a bit of a thud as all three April reports missed estimates last week. And while on an absolute level the numbers imply economic activity remains “fine,” the lack of additional progress is contributing to growing doubts about the strength of expected economic reflation (and that’s why bond yields are lower than most expect).

Last week’s headline economic report, flash April Manufacturing PMI, missed expectations at 52.8 vs. (E) 53.9, and declined from the March reading. Likewise, April Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed also missed expectations and declined from very high readings in March.

Now, to be clear, on an absolute level all three readings show continued economic growth, but again it’s the pace that matters. Stocks have priced in reflation, but the loss of momentum in economic data undermines that thesis, and that’s why stocks have grinded sideways now for six weeks.

Meanwhile, the gap between soft sentiment surveys and hard economic data remained wide. March Industrial Production beat estimates but that was only because of strong utility production given the March blizzard. The manufacturing sub-component declined and badly missed estimates, again providing non-confirmation for the still high (in absolutely terms) manufacturing PMIs.

Bottom line, economic data wasn’t outright “bad” last week, but it didn’t help reinforce the expected reflation trade, and that did at least partially stoke concerns about the pace of growth. Meanwhile, economic data didn’t help close the gap between hard and soft.

This Week in Economics – 4.24.17

The slow drip of economic data continues this week (next week is the big one), although given the precarious nature of the bond market (10-year yields signaling a potential slowdown) all economic data is at least partially important.

With that in mind, the most important number will be Friday’s Employment Cost Index. Inflation is a key component of the reflation trade, and any broader uptick in inflation has to come from increased wages. In Q1, wage data in the government jobs report wasn’t particularly strong. So, if the Employment Cost Index shows no real uptick in wage pressures, that will further undermine the reflation trade.

Other important data next week includes the first look at Q1 GDP (which will be lucky to hit 1%) and Durable Goods. Starting with GDP, it’s not going to be a strong report, but if consumer spending (PCE) is stronger than expected that will be a silver lining. Meanwhile, Durable Goods offers yet another opportunity for hard economic data to meet surging sentiment surveys, and in doing so close the gap between strong soft data and lackluster actual data. Other notable data points this week include Pending Home Sales and Existing Home Sales, both of which will be under more scrutiny following the disappointing Housing Market Index and Housing Starts numbers from last week.

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