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Beware this hurt and confused market: Strategist

After a brutal start to the year, professional investors find themselves in a miasma of confusion and loss — which could lead to even more dramatic moves in the sessions ahead. So contends Neil Azous, an investment strategist at Rareview Macro.

"The professional community is either very confused or impaired at the moment, and possibly both," Azous wrote in a Wednesday morning missive.

Investors are currently suffering "duress" on their profit-and-loss statements, Azous explained, with mutual funds seeing declines of 7 percent, and retail investors "down somewhere between 5 and 15 percent."

What's more, the pain is coming through multiple channels, many of which are difficult to fully understand. The Federal Reserve is in tightening mode even as some think it should be cutting rates; crude oil's decline is being alternately blamed on oversupply and mere market positioning; China is devaluing its yuan amid slowing growth; and more central banks are pursuing negative interest rate policies.

In this market fog, any sudden movement could provide highly unsettling. That's why Azous warns that the market reaction to a soft jobs report could be dramatic.

"The combination of P&L duress and confusion makes any outlier [employment] number ... a lot higher in terms of sensitivity, in terms of where the market might take things," Azous said in a Wednesday "Trading Nation" interview.

Current consensus expectations are for about 200,000 net new jobs to be recorded in January by the nonfarm payrolls metric. But Azous says the "whisper number," which reflects more recent expectations, is closer to 170,000.


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Brian Sullivan is co-anchor of CNBC's "Power Lunch" (M-F,1PM-3PM ET), one of the network's longest running programs, as well as the host of the daily investing program "Trading Nation." He is also a frequent guest on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and other NBC properties.

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