“Clearly there will be more headlines regarding trade. Some of them will be what we hear from corporations in the earnings season. The guidance in the earnings season is very important. Are we seeing companies put on hold any plans for hiring and expenditures?” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial.
The S&P 500 Tuesday briefly reached 2,795, its highest level since mid-March. Krosby said the key for markets will be at what point officials begin to negotiate about trade issues. “What you’re going to see is the market navigating through these headlines that are not specific. Clearly, there is a trade overhang in the market, that hovers above everything else,” she said. “Is this just the strident headlines forcing negotiations? Clearly, there will be negotiations, but what the market doesn’t know is at what point.”
JP Morgan strategists say they believe the stock market has already priced in a negative trade impact, but they expect stocks to remain supported by strong fundamentals. “In our view, even draconian measures should not greatly offset already strong US corporate fundamentals,” they wrote in a note. They said trade concerns could cause more volatility but they point to strong earnings growth, expected at 22 percent this year, and the tailwinds from tax cuts and fiscal spending.
Strategists say the market has also shifted its focus to second quarter earnings, which should be a positive and are expected to be up 21 percent, according to Thomson Reuters. But the earnings reports are also key in that they may include the next clues about whether trade is going to be a negative for the market or not.
The latest leg higher for stocks also coincided with Friday’s jobs report, which showed strong job growth of 213,000. James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Group said there was a similar move in June around the strong May jobs report.
“For the jobs report, what that’s telling me is the bigger issue is still overheat and the Fed. That’s really the big issue and trade is small in relation to that,” said Paulsen. “The thing is you don’t get a read on the Fed all that often, as opposed to an everyday tweet by Trump. You kind of come back to where we are on those bigger issues. We just got this heartwarming [employment] report across a number of different spectrums that feel like Goldilocks.”
Intertwined with the worries about trade and its potential impact on the global economy are doubts about whether the Fed can proceed with the two interest rate hikes it still forecasts for this year.
“That is going to be something analysts want to know. Is the Fed going to perhaps pause maybe, with the fourth rate hike everybody expects?” Krosby said. She said the market is looking for more specifics on trade with the European Union, the ongoing discussion on the North American Free Trade Agreement and further developments on China.
Traders have been hiding out in small caps, which they see has having less exposure to international trade disputes. The Russell 2000 hit an all-time high of 1,708 Tuesday before backing down.
JP Morgan strategists said an escalating trade war could bite into margins and Chinese tariffs could affect about 4 percent of S&P 1500 sales, generated in China.