Stimulus prospects could boost the stock market and interest rates in the week ahead

16-02-2021

Stimulus prospects could boost the stock market and interest rates in the week ahead

The prospects of a big government spending program could continue to boost the stock market and put upward pressure on interest rates in the week ahead. Earnings season is beginning to wind down, but some big names have yet to report. Walmart’s earnings on Thursday should provide a good window into the consumer, as should the government’s retail sales report for January, also expected Wednesday. The Federal Reserve on Wednesday afternoon releases minutes from its last meeting, and investors will dig into those for any insight into the central bank’s view on inflation.

Two dominant themes amid stimulus prospects

Inflation and rising interest rates have been two dominant themes for investors recently and have become increasingly so as the market has upgraded its view of how much fiscal coronavirus stimulus could be signed into law. “The market is waiting to see how big the package is going to be. It’s going to be important. They can get it through reconciliation,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. Krosby said that Democrats could pass the stimulus under budget reconciliation, which means they could approve it with a simple majority instead of relying on negotiations with Republicans. Some in the markets had anticipated a package of $1 trillion or less if there was a negotiated deal, but that now looks unlikely. Strategists have changed their view on the proposed $1.9 trillion package. “There is less pushback to President Biden’s proposed stimulus from moderate Democrats than we expected, so a price tag of around $1.5 trillion seems likely, which is higher than we initially thought,” noted Cornerstone Macro policy analysts. They say they expect a bill to come up for a vote during the week of Feb. 22, and that it could become law by the first week of March. Investors will stay focused on its progress through Congress. Market pros expect the bigger the spending package, the larger the pop will be in economic growth in the near term. That has helped send Treasury yields, which move opposite price, to higher levels. It has also increased concerns about inflation.

Inflation and rising yields

In the past week, the 10-year yield — a key benchmark — touched 1.2% for the first time since March. It reached that level briefly early in the week but returned to it in the final hour of trading Friday. Yields are rising on optimism for an improving economy, but also as inflation expectations also move higher. “If you think about the big drivers, they’re related - vaccines, stimulus and inflation,” said Michael Schumacher, head of rate strategy at Wells Fargo Securities. “If there’s more talk out of D.C. about moving the stimulus package forward, that sets the stage for yields to go up.” The market is concerned about the economy running hotter, since it could be a trigger to change Fed policy. At the same time, the Fed has said it would tolerate inflation above its 2% target. Krosby of Prudential Financial said the market will also pay attention to the producer price index Wednesday even though it is not typically a big factor. “Because there’s such a debate on inflationary trends, I know the CPI [consumer price index] came in comfortable, but the producer price index is coming in and we’ll see if that has eased,” she said. “Obviously supply chains are being reestablished and inventories are building,” said Krosby. Consumer inflation was running at an annual pace of 1.4% in January.

Housing statistics

Housing data is also dominant on the calendar in the holiday-shortened week. The National Association of Home Builders releases its housing market index data on Wednesday, a measurement of sentiment around market conditions for new home sales. On Thursday, the government will issue data on pending home sales and building permits. Finally, the National Association of Realtors will release existing home sales data on Friday.

Upcoming hearing on GameStop and short squeezes

Stocks were higher in the past week, with energy, tech and financials as the best performers. The S&P 500 rose 1.2%, ending the week at 3,934. There were some market hot spots, like cannabis shares, which became the latest target of the Reddit trading community. The stocks shot higher Wednesday, adding to already lofty gains in recent weeks before giving up some of those advances. Investors will also be focused on the Thursday hearing before the House Financial Services Committee on the wild trading recently in GameStop and other heavily shorted names. Robinhood’s CEO is expected to testify, as are executives from Melvin Capital Management and Citadel. The frenzied activity in some small and shorted stocks has raised concerns about the market becoming overheated. But Ari Wald, head of technical analysis at Oppenheimer, said the broader market’s advance is intact. “Overall, it’s a bull market. I think the steadiness of the advance is underappreciated,” Wald said. He said the market technicals are healthy. Breadth is broad based and there’s cyclical leadership. “The low-volatility, high-dividend paying sectors are at risk,” said Wald. Utilities and consumer staples stocks, which both fit that category, were lower on the week. The market was also awaiting the outcome of the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, and it is not expected to react.