Investors may be paying full price for retail stocks on the promise of a jollier holiday season.
As shoppers hit the stores this Thanksgiving weekend, investors are likely to keep bidding up retail stocks even as some of those stocks hit multi-year or even all-time highs.
Markets are closed Thanksgiving Thursday, but some stores are open ahead of "Black Friday," the traditional kickoff to holiday shopping season. Analysts expect sales growth in the low single digits for November through January.
The stock market is open for a shortened session Friday, until 1 p.m. With no data and little else on tap, shopping could be the topic du jour as investors continue to keep a watchful eye on Europe's sovereign debt struggles and developments in Korea.
"I think the no-brainer is [that] high-end retail does well, because high-end retail is influenced by the equity market," said Doug Cliggott, chief U.S. equities strategist at Credit Suisse.
Stocks rebounded Wednesday as U.S. weekly jobless claims came in at the lowest level in more than two years. Treasury prices slipped on the news and the dollar gained ground against a basket of currencies , including the euro. The Dow was up 150 at 11,187, and the S&P 500 was up 17, at 1198.
According to Reuters, stocks have risen 12 of the last 16 years on the day after Thanksgiving. Last year's worries about a financial crisis in Dubai drove stocks down 1.5 percent.
Retail stocks were a standout performer Wednesday, with investors bidding up the S&P retail index 2.6 percent. Retailers were among the top performers of the week, with the consumer discretionary sector the best among major S&P sectors.
High-end jeweler Tiffany jumped to its highest level since it went public in 1987, after reporting a 27 percent increase in earnings. Coach reached a high Wednesday not seen since it went public in 2000, and Family Dollar was also at a new high. Online retailer Amazon.com shares also reached an all-time high. Online holiday sales are expected to rise by 11 percent, according to Comscore.
"I think the pretty good season for retail is already in the numbers," Cliggott said, adding the stocks appear to be becoming overpriced. "Our guess is the reality is a little below the hope."
The euro came under pressure after an early rebound. The Irish government released an austerity plan that would cut spending sharply and raise taxes.
European Central Bank Governing Council member Axel Weber said he was convinced the euro would survive and that the euro zone has enough of a safety net in place to help its weakest members. Meanwhile spreads on Spanish and Portuguese debt continued to rise as speculators bet they would be the next countries to face fiscal stress. Workers in Portugal staged a general strike, and students protested austerity in Italy and the U.K.
Spain took aim at a controversial German plan to involve private sector investors in future euro zone rescue plans. Spanish economy Minister Elena Salgado said she didn't think the idea is appropriate. The plan is one reason for the rising spreads on the debt of the European peripheral countries.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will discuss eurozone problems on Thursday.
"It's more about selling the euro than buying the dollar," said Willie Williams, executive director of institutional sales at Societe Generale.
Traders were watching for any news on tensions in Korea, after North Korea fired on a South Korean island Tuesday. The U.S. is sending an aircraft carrier to the area to conduct a naval drill with the South Koreans. A U.S. State Department spokesman said Wednesday that China is pivotal in moving North Korea in another direction.
"On the North Korea front, people were up in the air about it...these sorts of things have happened before. That's where a lot of people are in the market," said Williams.
He said China's intended tightening is more of a factor for the currency market. "Going into year end, with China explicitly stating they're looking to tighten, and with these geopolitical excursions and plenty of people up at the moment on the emerging market side, one could argue that prudent investors would start to remove risk. With the holidays, those moves could be exaggerated," he said.
"I think the Asian currencies will remain under pressure, but I think due to inflation concerns going forward, they will strengthen," Williams said.
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