It’s nearly 7,000 miles from Washington to Beijing, but investors might need to keep their eyes peeled on both cities this week.
Plenty of earnings action lies ahead (see more below), but for now it appears that two sets of talks—one in China and the other in Washington—could dominate the news. Any fresh developments on either border security or China trade negotiations could potentially spark buying or selling activity on Wall Street as the week goes by. Friday is the deadline for a Washington deal to prevent another shutdown.
Overseas markets climbed early Monday and U.S. indices also moved higher in pre-market trading amid optimism about possible progress in U.S. talks with China, which start later this week in Beijing. The deadline for new U.S. tariffs is the beginning of March. On the negative side, there were news reports that U.S. warships had sailed near a disputed island chain in the South China Sea. So there’s a bit of a dichotomy between positive and negative on the U.S./China front.
There just aren’t many numbers this week, so a lot of trade could be driven by rumor. That means it’s possible we’ll see more intraday volatility than normal, much of it on thin volume. Anyone trading the markets might want to consider the chance for possible whipsaw action.
The “Two Faces” of Wall Street
After a political opponent called him “two faced,” Abraham Lincoln joked that if he had two faces, “Why would I wear this one?”
Well, the stock market arguably had two faces last week. Until Wednesday, it looked like its recent winning ways might continue. Major indices marched steadily upward amid better than expected earnings, hopes for a resolution to the trade war with China, and the glow from another high-flying jobs report. Volatility sank to three-month lows as worries generally eased, and the S&P 500 Index (SPX) hit two-month highs.
All that changed starting mid-week. New worries surfaced about China, a potential government shutdown, troubles in Europe, and some less than outstanding U.S. economic data. Combined, these concerns appeared to team up against the free spirits that helped lift sentiment Monday and Tuesday. Volatility, as measured by the VIX, shot back up. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ($DJI) just barely managed to eke out its seventh-straight week of gains. So did the Nasdaq (COMP). However, the SPX closed Friday down 1% from its closing high for the week posted Tuesday.
So the question heading into the new week appears to be which market shows up. It’s possible that even if things improve, volatility could remain elevated as Friday’s deadline for another government shutdown approaches and talks take place between the U.S. and China. There might be some good reasons for investors to consider staying on their toes considering how geopolitics continue to loom over Wall Street.
Is Inflation Still MIA?
Whatever happens in China or Washington, there’s a smattering of data to mull this week. High on the list are consumer and producer prices for January—due Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. The Fed may have hit the brakes on rate hikes, but the economy has still seen strong jobs growth. That means the Fed could be carefully watching these inflation metrics, though it’s said to most closely watch personal consumption expenditure prices (PCE) due March 1.
Last time out, neither consumer nor producer prices appeared to hint at any creeping signs of inflation, with the core consumer price index rising 0.2% and core producer prices actually falling 0.1%. We’ll preview the January numbers later this week.
Then there’s the delayed retail sales report for December, due Thursday. As you might recall, this is one of the data points we didn’t get last month due to the government shutdown. Retail sales growth was pretty strong most of last year, but December’s data might reveal if the stock market dive that month had any impact on consumer shopping.
Also, overseas data might make a splash as investors await gross domestic product (GDP) updates from Germany and Japan. More on that tomorrow.
Yield Flags Waving
One potential concern heading into the new week is U.S. Treasury yields. The 10-year yield fell to 2.63% by late Friday, its lowest level since the start of the month. It appears that some investors are once again embracing what some say are “less risky” parts of the market, though no investment is truly safe.
The dollar index—another measure often watched for signs of investors fleeing risk—also stayed well above 96 early Monday after falling below 95.5 earlier this month. That might be one to consider watching, because in recent months a climbing dollar has often corresponded with falling stocks. If weakness in Europe’s economy persists, one analyst told TD Ameritrade Network late last week, that might lend the greenback even more traction. The 10-year German Bund yield dropped below 0.1% Friday but bounced back a bit early Monday.
Another thing that might get some attention this week is the re-opening of China’s markets after a one-week holiday. Until today, the major indices there haven’t had a chance to react to any of the recent developments on the U.S./China trade front. Early Monday, Chinese markets moved higher amid hopes for progress in trade talks, media outlets reported.
Turning back home, it’s been a pretty impressive rally since those Christmas Eve lows, with both large and small-caps charging back even when you take last week’s late selling into account. The rally has brought valuations back toward their long-term average, but now we’re coming up against some key developments outside of the market’s control.
One school of thought suggests that until the tariff situation and the fight in Washington get resolved, markets might struggle to find new upside. That doesn’t necessarily mean the rally is over, only that stocks might be hunting around for catalysts with earnings season starting to wind down.
From a sector standpoint, leaders last week included utilities, info tech, and industrials—kind of an eclectic mix of both cyclical and defensive areas. Energy came in at the bottom of the standings, with other laggards including materials and financials.
Figure 1: Turn Up the Heat: The utilities sector (candlestick) took the checkered flag to lead all sectors last week, maybe a sign of some investors seeking “defensive” places to put their money. Meanwhile, energy (purple line), took a dive as economic worries bit into crude prices. Data Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. The thinkorswim® platform from TD Ameritrade. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
A Sprinkle of Earnings: Some of the reports investors might want to catch this week include Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI), Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO), The Coca-Cola Co (NYSE: KO), Deere & Company (NYSE: DE), and Chinese technology company Baidu.com Inc (NASDAQ: BIDU). ATVI could give more insight into the video game market after last week’s disappointing forecasts from industry competitors. CSCO—which beat analysts’ earnings and revenue estimates last time out—could be interesting to watch for any new guidance on how potential tariffs might affect it if a deal between China and the U.S. can’t be reached. The same might be said for DE.
KO shares got a lift late last year in part because some investors began turning toward so-called “defensive names,” amid the market turmoil, and the company also upped prices and saw better diet drink sales in the summer quarter. Investors might want to check whether the company’s diet pop sales continued to bubble higher in Q4.
Q4 Earnings Performance Right About Average: Earnings season is far from over, though many of the biggest names are now behind us. See below for a look at some of the key companies expected to report this week and what investors might want to consider as they watch results pour in. To date, 71% of S&P 500 companies have beaten analysts’ Q4 earnings estimates, equal to the five-year average, FactSet said.
Also, 62% of S&P 500 companies have beaten Wall Street’s estimates for Q4, up slightly from the five-year average of 60%, according to FactSet. Average S&P 500 earnings growth is 13.3%, and revenue growth is 7%, with all 11 S&P 500 sectors reporting revenue growth. If earnings keep up the current performance, it would be the fifth-straight quarter of double-digit earnings growth, FactSet said. However, many analysts are looking for flat or even negative earnings growth in Q1.
Long Wait For GDP Data: After a lengthy delay due to the shutdown, it looks like the government will ultimately release Q4 gross domestic product (GDP) data at the end of February (barring another shutdown). Until then, we can only look to analyst estimates, and they vary. According to the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow indicator, GDP rose 2.7% in Q4, which would be down from 3.4% in Q3 and 4.2% in Q2. The GDPNow projection is pretty close to the average estimate among Wall Street analysts, and might reflect solid consumer and government spending, according to research firm CFRA. Weakness could come from residential investment, inventories, and net exports. Some market watchers expect slightly better than 3% GDP growth, and a solid number like that might help back up the robust consumer health seen in Q4 earnings reports. If things look weaker than expected, it wouldn’t be too surprising if that partially reflects softness in the housing and automobile markets, as well as falling energy prices.
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