The stock market's two-month-old bull run is getting tired, but it still may not be ready to pause.
In the coming week, investors will have plenty of data to mull over, but none as pivotal as Friday's better-than-expected April jobs report. Retail sales data Wednesday should provide a good look at how the economy is faring, as will weekly jobless claims and inventory data. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks at a conference Monday night, and there are just a few earnings, including Wal-Mart and several other major retailers.
From 'Fast Money':
"Nobody believes in the rally, which makes me think it could last longer," said Jason Trennert, managing partner and chief investment strategist at Strategas.
"I'm skeptical too, but I wouldn't be short," said Trennert, who spent the past week speaking with hedge fund managers. "The one thing I can say is if this goes on much longer, you're going to force more people into the market, especially the hedge fund community."
Traders are closely watching the behavior of the financial sector, which has been a market leader, doubling since stocks started moving higher in early March. In the past week, the group made double digit gains as the government released results of its stress tests for 19 major institutions. Traders say the reports, which contained few surprises, drew buyers into the group but also forced shorts to cover, driving prices higher. The government's announcement, and subsequent comments from banks on their capital raising plans, also lifted a cloud from the group and made their stocks more "investable."
"We're now talking about valuations, not just whether they'll survive," said one trader of the banks.
But still, there is a powerful debate in the market between those who believe its recent gains are topping out and those who think stocks can still go higher. "I wouldn't make a decision about this market until next Friday just because of options expirations. I think we're going to be very choppy and then it will stabilize after that," said Patrick Kernen, who trades S&P 500 options for Cardinal Capital. The expiration next Friday is for options on indexes, equities and ETFs.
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Traders also have been watching the technicals closely as the naysayers have been proven wrong about the rally week after week. The S&P 500, which finished at 929.23 Friday, is expected to face resistance at the 945 to 955 level. For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 4.41 percent, the S&P climbed 5.89 percent, and the Nasdaq added 1.15 percent.
Milton Ezrati, senior economist and market strategist at Lord Abbett, said he thinks the market definitely is getting ready to retrench, but he would not guess the timing.
"We've had quite a bit of an up move here, so just on the basis of the way the market behaves, we're going to have some kind of pull back. It never goes up in a straight line, and we've had as much of a straight line as you can get for the last seven weeks," said Ezrati.
The pull back though should not break the March lows and should be temporary, with stocks finishing the year higher. Ezrati said the market's progress is dependent on the current signs of economic stabilization developing into a real turnaround, not just a lessening decline. He also said he is watching the health of the European banking sector as a potential problem area for markets should losses from Eastern Europe worsen.
The Long View
The mutual fund industry typically takes a longer term view of the market. David Antonelli, chief investment officer for global and non U.S. investments for the MFS family of funds, said stocks right now are enticing for long-term investors with a three- to five-year horizon.
"We're always trying to stay focused on valuation and facts rather than emotions, and I think that the consensus estimate for '09 probably puts S&P earnings somewhere around $60..The [S&P] is trading around 15 times which generally is about right," he said. "If you look at 2010, which I think is a lot more interesting in terms of earnings, the consensus is about $70. If those estimates are right, we should not see any significant downdraft in the market retesting the lows...March 6 probably was the low point and we could bounce around."
Antonelli said the key is to find stocks that are weathering the recession better than their peers. "The discussion we're trying to make sure we're having is we're trying to look company by company at what we think is more mid-cycle earnings...Let's try to get out of the confusion, as the economy looks for an inflection point and think about what a company would earn and should earn in a more normalized environment and what you should pay for it," he said.
MORE TO LOOK AT THAN JUST RETAIL SALES
In the coming week, retail sales are perhaps the most anticipated among the economic reports, but there are plenty of other data points to consider.
"We're going to be focusing on the retail sales data. It will certainly be that April on-the-ground data, away from autos, has improved. April's been a great month, and we're going to continue to see upward surprises in a number of April data points," said Steven Wieting, U.S. economist for Citigroup.
Wieting said he expects negative 1 percent GDP for the second quarter. He said one factor hurting the second quarter is the shutdown of auto production by Chrysler and General Motors , which would have contributed positive 2 percent to GDP but now contributes zero. GM is shutting production for nine weeks and Chrysler is shutting down during its bankruptcy.
"May and June data points are going to be weaker than March and April. You're going to see (unemployment) claims filings (starting this week) in connection with those auto shutdowns. I don't think we're going to relapse and have an outright deceleration again, but it's going to hold back the pace of improvement," he said.
The April jobs report Friday showed non farm employment fell 539,000, less than the expected 600,000. The unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent. Wieting said the next two months could see job losses near 500,000. "We're going to be headed for something in the neighborhood of a 300,000 decline ideally before too long," he said.
Wieting said he expects GDP to be slightly positive by fourth quarter. "We've moved away from the financial precursors or preconditions of a depression and we've moved the economy and the financial markets back on the path of a more cyclical event, and some of the data is more consistent with normal recession data," he said.
Other data in the coming week includes the NFIB small business survey and international trade for March, both released Tuesday. Wednesday's reports include retail sales, business inventories and import prices. Weekly jobless claims are reported Thursday. Inflation data comes in the form of producer prices Thursday and consumer prices Friday. Also on Friday, the Empire State survey, industrial production and consumer sentiment are reported. The closely watched Treasury international capital flows are also reported Friday.
The Atlanta Fed holds its annual financial markets conference in Jekyll Island, Ga. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is the speaker Monday evening and will take questions from the audience
In the Treasury market, the yield curve steepening ramped up sharply this past week. By late Friday, the 10-year was yielding 3.29 percent, and the 30-year was yielding 4.27 percent, both off their high yields. In the past week, more than $70 billion was auctioned by the Treasury including a 30-year issuance that was particularly sloppy.
"The supply picture improves next week. All of the auctions are out of the way and we have three buybacks," said Rick Klingman, managing director of Treasury trading at BNP Paribas. He said the Fed will be in the market Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. The first buyback is for bonds, dated 2026 to 2039.
Klingman said Treasurys recovered some ground Friday and he expects buying could continue into next week.
"If you start to see financial stocks run their course and go back down, our market will start to trade better," he said.
Retail earnings include Macy's and Whole Foods Wednesday; Wal-Mart; Kohl's and Nordstrom's Thursday, and JCPenney and Abercrombie and Fitch Friday. Other earnings of note include Dish Network and Fluor on Monday; Applied Materials and Nissan on Tuesday; Dr. Pepper Snapple Wednesday, and Agilent Thursday.
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