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Why markets are getting comfortable with higher rates

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For a good part of this earnings season, we've heard comments from companies that lackluster earnings in the first half should improve in the second half, along with the economy.

Today, the bulls got some ammunition as July manufacturing report for the U.S. came in stronger than expected, with strong showings for new orders, as well as employment.

It wasn't just in the U.S.: manufacturing reports in Europe and China were also a bit better than expected.

The major indices reacting by moving to historic highs...that's a bit of a surprise considering interest rates (yields on 10-year Treasury bonds) have moved up as well. In the past, higher rates have rattled stocks.

But maybe that's changing.

Have you noticed the pattern this week:

  • ADP stronger than expected: rates higher, markets up
  • ISM stronger than expected: rates higher, markets up
  • Jobs report: ?


That's the big question. how will the markets react if the jobs report comes in a little stronger than expected, say, over 200,000 jobs created.

If that happens, and rates go up while the stock market goes up or even stays even, that will be a sure sign the trading community is getting comfortable with higher rates.

Exxon Mobil: here's the problem in a nutshell...Exxon's big miss this morning took everyone by surprise. A lot of people shrugged it off, arguing that misses because of refinery shutdowns (they are typical in the summer) are nothing new.

But it's worse than that. The entire report was "a clunker" as one prominent oil analyst called it, missing on all sorts of metrics, including gas production.

But it's worse than even that. Here's the problem: big oil can't grow. They can't get enough oil to replace what is being used. Exxon, for example, produces about four million barrels a day (nearly five percent of the world's output), but that's declining about six percent a year, or a loss of 240,000 barrels.

Think about that. Just to stand still, they have to grow at least six percent. You know how hard that is? A decent well will throw off maybe 500 barrels a day (1,000 is a gusher), and then typically declines 30 percent in the following year. You have to find a lot of wells to replace 240,000 barrels a day!

Then there's geography. It's true the U.S. has found new sources, particularly for natural gas, but don't kid yourself. Much of the world's oil is in politically difficult areas. The top five producers remain Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, and Venezuela, as well as Russia.

Throw in higher taxes from everyone, you have a real problem: 1) no growth, 2) no growth in returns.

What to do? The obvious answer is to increase buybacks, but buybacks for Exxon have been shrinking. The other choice is to increase dividends. Exxon now pays a 2.7 percent dividend, well above the 1.7 percent the S&P 500 pays, after raising it 11 percent in April. But there have been calls for an even higher dividend. I wouldn't be surprised if they accommodated.


—By CNBC's Bob Pisani

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  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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