Drug Stocks and Homebuilders bring stock indices down
Off the cuff comments made by the President-elect yesterday regarding US drug companies and a realization that higher trending interest rates (despite the recent recovery) is hurting the housing market, soured the equity market rally. As is usually the case, the market wasn't reacting to changes in fundamentals but rather expectations of changes in fundamentals. Accordingly, as we go on traders will either retract their initial reactions to these events or add to them. At the moment we are merely seeing back and fill trade as expectations are tempered. Today's trade wasn't a victory for the bears or a defeat of the bulls, it was simple consolidation.
The economic docket for tomorrow is busy, but we doubt the market will be paying attention to the second-tier reports (PPI, Retail Sales, and Michigan Sentiment). The fireworks will likely be next week with the Presidential inauguration (who knows what types of market-moving comments could be made on both sides of the isle).
Overnight volatility blamed on a surprise Australian interest rate cut, and weak data in China but...
Most business news stations were attributing the overnight selling in U.S. stock index futures to weak economic data in China, and an unexpected rate hike by central bankers in Australia. However, the Asian markets traded mostly higher on the news because they've fallen into the "bad news is good news" trap (weak data increases the odds of more stimulus). Further, lower rates in Australia should be a positive for the global markets overall.
We think a better explanation for the selling was the sharp move in the currency markets. The dollar index plunged well below 93.00, while the euro soared above $1.16. These are both major milestones, which were passed in volatile trade. Thus, we believe despite the fact that a weaker dollar will boost corporate earnings, the uncertainty of volatile currency trading prompted selling in U.S. and European equities.
Ironically, the seasonal low for the dollar and peak for the euro is due this week...so perhaps the currency markets are in the process of reversing course in the short-run. In short, last night's "break-out" might turn into a trap.
Holiday futures markets are around the corner
Perhaps the most valuable lesson I've learned in my decade (plus) time as a commodity broker is that holiday markets are not to be reckoned with. Volume is light and trading desks are filled with the second, and third, string staff. As a result, the markets can make dramatic and uncharacteristic moves. An example of this that still stings, is last year's Thanksgiving day crude oil futures collapse. The market was technically closed for the holiday, but the CME decided to let futures trade for an abbreviated session on the morning of Thanksgiving day. As a result of the light volume, and an ill-timed OPEC meeting, crude oil fell roughly $7.00 in single clip. In a nutshell, this is the time of year to keep trading light.
In regards to the S&P and Treasuries, the holidays have an interesting influence on trade. Nearly every year (I'm not exaggerating), we see an end of the year melt-up. It is often a very slow moving grind, but it eventually adds up to a significant move.
More pertinent to the current market; the week of Thanksgiving is statistically highly bullish. In fact, the Stock Trader's Almanac suggests that it might be a good idea to look for weakness prior to Thanksgiving to enter bullish trades, and strength after the holiday to exit. In fact, in the Dow, netting the day before and after Thanksgiving day has combined for only 13 losses in 62 years.
Trade tariff talk is just that, we've yet to get anything concrete. Yet, the market is emotional.
This is nothing new, if there is anything we've learned from the first year (+) of the Trump presidency it is the conversation always starts with drama, but then settles down to something more reasonable. Unfortunately, the markets haven't quite figured that out yet. Those that believe markets are efficient, will have a hard time explaining what we've seen in the previous three or four trading sessions.
Tariff discussions, without any concrete decisions, can't explain such big swings in asset prices. The only rational explanation for this type of volatility is (ironically) irrationality. Markets are emotional, and we are being reminded of that. The low volatility slumber of 2016 and 2017 were anomalies and are probably behind us.
The "buy and holders" might not be happy with the market environment before us, but the reality is the expanded volatility will eventually provide opportunities for traders (particularly option sellers). Further, it might not feel like it but this is a healthier market than what we saw in late 2017 and January 2018.
In today's DeCarley Perspective (see here:https://madmimi.com/s/f78468) we noted the fact that the VIX is trading at historically depressed levels. Specifically, VIX futures near 15.00 and the cash market VIX near 11.00 is a relatively rare event. Even more interesting, is the fact that the VIX rarely stays at such depressed levels for long. This is because at such levels the market is discounting nearly all event risk. Traders are simply complacent, or as a former colleague might have said, "they are fat, dumb, and happy."
On the flip side, if we are right about the VIX being near a low, the ES should be near a high.
There is a lot of event risk floating around.
If it isn't Chinese tariffs, it is a Trump administration investigation or Russian/Syrian turmoil. We've gone from a world seemingly without risks throughout most of 2017 and early 2018, to a world in which there are peripheral threats in every direction. That said, despite what it feels like volatility isn't as high as it could be. Although we are seeing large point swings in the stock indices, the percentage of the swings is relatively reasonable given the height of the market and associated risks. Further, the VIX is relatively tame when compared to past volatility.
Where the ES goes in the short-run is obviously akin to a crap shoot. Nevertheless, looking back at historical patterns it is generally a poor idea to bet against the S&P 500 as it is trading in a trough ahead of earnings season; earnings seasons have a tendency to reverse trends.
The market is pricing in a good payroll number as it reverses pessimism over North Korea
Late Monday afternoon I was watching a business news station. The panel was discussing the implications of a North Korea missile being fired (they were still trying to confirm the rumor that it had occurred). There was talk of a limit down opening to the E-mini S&P (the news broke during the daily afternoon pause of trading). They were right about sharp selling on the open but the bearish tone was quickly forgotten by tax reform talk. Even a 500-year flood couldn't deter the fiscal policy bulls. By Thursday's close all of this week's bearish headlines had been forgotten.
It's been a confusing day for the financial futures markets
Last week we heard several Federal Reserve Presidents tout their hawkish stance; they went as far as to say an April rate hike is on the table. However, the Fed Chair Janet Yellen, took the other side of that argument in her speech to the Economic Club of New York. She emphasized measured and gradual rate hikes were the "only" way to go. She reiterated, the pace will be so slow the process could take years. However, she also stipulated the decisions made in each FOMC meeting will be data dependent.
It seem to us, market participants would be better served simply ignoring the chatter of Fed Presidents, and focusing solely on the Chairman. Doing so would certainly reduce some of the noise caused by overzealous speculators.
Contrary to the Fed Chair's suggestion that the economy still needs to be nursed back to life, Pending home sales were up 3.5% in February and the Case-Shiller 20-city Index saw a 5.7% increase in January. Further, the March Consumer Confidence Index jumped to 96.2.