Fed quiets down ahead of rate hike, stocks may take breather


Fed quiets down ahead of rate hike; stocks may take breather

After several days of wild volatility, the stock market may use the coming week to catch its breath, as it waits for the Fed to end the historic era of zero interest rates later this month. Markets are in full tilt, with big shifts in currencies, yields and commodities prices in the past week. But they are also primed for a Fed rate hike Dec. 16, after Friday's 211,000 November nonfarm payrolls showed a continuing solid trend of job creation. "It (the jobs number) sends the signal the economy is in decent shape, but it's the final piece of the puzzle the Fed needs to raise interest rates," said Scott Clemons, chief market strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. The Fed is expected to raise its target fed funds rate for the first time in nine years, ending seven years of ultralow rates. The focus in the week ahead will be on the consumer, with a few key reports and holiday shopping. November retail sales are reported Friday, as is consumer sentiment. Producer price inflation data is released Friday, and wholesale trade is Wednesday. "Retail sales is important because the real driver of this economy this year has been personal consumption. It certainly is not the manufacturing and industrial side. Manufacturing is in a recession," said Clemons, pointing to the strong dollar as a factor in weak manufacturing and falling exports. Clemons said he's also looking for any commentary that can help clarify the corporate earnings outlook. "We're listening to some of the bellwether companies like UPS. We're watching Christmas sales to get an indication of what the fourth quarter might be like. What worries me in 2016 is the health of corporate earnings." A good deal of the move in markets in the past several sessions had to do with maneuvers of central banks. In a week when Fed Chair Janet Yellen spoke twice, reaffirming the Fed's intention to raise interest rates, the European Central Bank moved to ease policy further. But the fact that the ECB did not add billions more to its bond buying program, as the markets expected, was viewed as disappointing, and it snapped an overextended trade to buy dollars and sell euros. Market moves were swift and dramatic, with the dollar sinking and the euro gaining more than 3 percent Thursday, its biggest one-day move since Mach 2009. The 10-year Treasury yield traveled between 2.14 and 2.35 percent during the week to finish near 2.27 percent. The S&P 500, up 2 percent Friday, was flat on the week at 2,091 because of big down moves Wednesday and Thursday. "A 3.5 percent move in a currency cross, in Dow terms, that would be like saying the Dow was up 1,200 points. That's the magnitude of the move," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities. There was also drama in the oil markets, where crude prices rallied on speculation ahead of OPEC's meeting Friday, and plunged after it said it would not change its market-based price strategy. Even though stocks rallied while oil fell Friday, that divergence could be short lived. "I think you've got to watch oil. We're closing at $40. There's support at about $38," said Art Cashin, UBS director of NYSE floor operations. That level could give way to another move down toward $35 per barrel, and that could once more turn up the pressure on stocks, he said. Stocks surged Friday, with the Dow up 369 points, after the solid jobs report and as ECB President Mario Draghi spoke in New York, reassuring markets that the ECB was ready to act as much as needed. Draghi said the ECB would continue to use the tools it had available and said quantitative easing was unlimited. "It was the color he put on it," said Clemons. "It was an echo of his 'whatever it takes' comment. I think the market said: "I get it." It's a gradual incremental approach. This isn't meant to be the final shot across the bow." The reaction Monday in European markets to Draghi will also be important to trading in the coming week. Super low sovereign yields moved higher after the ECB cut its already negative deposit rate and extended quantitative easing purchases to March 2017. But markets had expected another 20 billion to 30 billion euros on top of its 60 billion euro monthly bond purchases. There is also key data from China, with trade on Monday evening New York time and inflation data Tuesday night. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard is the only Fed official on the calendar with a speech Monday. The Fed goes quiet in the week before its rates meeting.