Stocks could get drilled again by oil

Even if minutes from the Fed's last meeting or ADP's private payroll data help stanch some of the selling in stocks Wednesday, analysts say the market should remain volatile, particularly if oil continues to melt down.

The ADP private sector payroll data is released at 8:15 a.m. ET and is expected to show 250,000 private sector jobs were created in December. Friday's government employment report for December is expected to show a total of 240,00 nonfarm payrolls and an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent.

At 2 p.m., the Fed releases minutes from the last FOMC meeting, and traders are watching to see if there's any clarification of what Fed Chair Janet Yellen meant when she said the Fed would not begin the normalization process of raising rates for at least a couple of meetings.

"Janet Yellen pretty much told us as much as we need to know. 'A couple of meetings' comment was pretty strong and clear," said Tony Crescenzi, executive vice president and market strategist at Pimco. "It was hawkish."

Some traders took the comment to mean that the Fed could start raising rates midyear or earlier, and anything in the minutes sounding in any way aggressive could trigger a negative reaction. "Equity investors have been calmed by the idea that even though a rate hike is likely, the pace of them will be slower, with potentially a hike every other meeting, not programmed to hike every meeting," Crescenzi said.

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Julian Emanuel, UBS U.S. equity and derivatives strategist, said the Fed will be mindful of what's been going on in the markets and the concerns about Europe, though the situation has changed since its meeting. Oil has also moved sharply lower since the Fed last met in December. "Oil was $57. It's $48 now. That's like another 17 percent. They're definitely sensitive to that," he said.

"My guess is they will clarify things only to the extent where they feel it appropriate and err to the side of less clarity only because the situation internationally is as sensitive as it is," said Emanuel.

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Markets have been turbulent in the past several sessions as traders focus on Europe, where yields have fallen and the euro is losing ground on the expectation that the European Central Bank will announce a quantitative easing program when it meets Jan. 22. Markets have also been concerned about the ability of the ECB to successfully execute the program, for which there are little details.

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Another worry is the Jan. 25 Greek election, which could result in a party that has stated opposition to the country's bailout gaining more influence.

Analysts have said a soothing comment or two from the Fed in its minutes might help sentiment. But they are also looking at Friday's nonfarm payrolls, as an important catalyst. Besides ADP, a kind of warm-up act for the jobs report, there is also international trade data at 8:30 a.m.

"The best thing for the markets could be an employment number (Friday) that's far above consensus," said Emanuel. He said UBS is expecting 270,000 jobs in the government report Friday, down from the surprise 321,000 added in November.

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Besides the ADP data, markets will be watching oil inventory data Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. ET. Oil has reacted strongly to reports of higher-than-expected supply. On Tuesday, oil plunged again, with West Texas Intermediate crude futures for February, down $2.11 per barrel at $47.93, its lowest settle since April 2009.

Treasury yields also fell again Tuesday, with the 10-year yielding 1.94 percent in late trading.

"Oil is destructive for now," said Crescenzi. "In the end, it's a giant positive for the global economy and the U.S. economy. The disruptive element is what's driving trading activity."

Crescenzi said the 10-year yield has moved away from fair value. "We think it has moved beyond its fundamental value at these levels, but we recognize the global forces in play," he said. The 10-year yield has been moving lower in part on buying by investors who find U.S. yields more attractive than those in places like Europe or Japan.

"It would be surprising if it stayed below 2 percent this year," he said.

Emanuel said he expects the markets to stay volatile as some key hurdles are overcome, like the Greek election and ECB meeting, as well as the Fed's meeting Jan. 28.

"The volatility is going to be with us for at least another two weeks, with the potential of going into February," said Emanuel. "From the positioning point of view, it's shocking to us how much January of '15, looks like January of '14. People came in bullish stocks and very bearish bonds. The interest rate thesis is getting thrown out the window this week with the combination of concerns, which of course are helping along the selloff in oil."