- Stocks sold off on geopolitical concerns after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian military commander.
- Analyst say that risk-off trades could continue in the week ahead, and developments in the Middle East could determine whether there is a bigger pullback ahead.
- The December jobs report is the big number to watch, and analysts expect 160,000 jobs were added, according to Refinitiv.
Geopolitical concerns could continue to weigh on stocks in the week ahead, leaving investors wondering whether Middle East tensions will be the catalyst for a much anticipated market pullback.
Stocks sold off Friday, the second trading day of the year, after a rally to new highs on Thursday. The market was slammed after the U.S. killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, sparking a rally in oil prices and raising concerns Iran will take some retaliatory action.
The big event in the coming week is the December employment report, expected to show 160,000 payrolls were added and average earnings rose 3.1% year-over-year, according to Refinitiv. The jobs report is especially important after December's ISM manufacturing data Friday was surprisingly negative and the weakest in more than a decade.
The S&P 500 ended the four-day week at 3,235, with a loss of 0.2%, after Friday's 0.7% decline. Treasury yields retreated on Friday, as buyers moved into the safety of bonds and the 10-year yield was at 1.78%.
"This was a textbook rationale for a bout of profit taking, but that said, I don't think it's dramatic," said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. "Nonetheless, the question will be when do buyers come in ... Much will depend on this weekend and next week in terms of headlines from both the White House and Iran."
Some analysts have been looking for a minor selloff in stocks after the fourth quarter's 8.5% gain in the S&P 500. But whether Friday's decline is the start of something bigger is unclear.
"It could be, but only in retrospect will you know for sure," said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group.
Boockvar said if Iran takes some minor action, the market could shrug it off, oil could lose its gains, and stocks could move higher again.
"We may see Treasurys continue to get a big bid, gold get a bid and the safe-haven currencies get a bid. If we go into things next week and all things are quiet, the market will pay attention to the data," Krosby said.
Gregory Faranello, head of U.S. rates at AmeriVet Securities, expects to see Treasury yields lower initially. "I think short-term, the geopolitical risk is probably going to override any fundamental views that people have of the marketplace," he said.
But there could be a catalyst for some Treasury selling with the issuance of high level of corporate bonds in the coming week. Faranello expects the year to start off strong, with corporate treasurers looking to raise about $30 billion to $35 billion in the debt market.
Strategists said they will be looking closely at the jobs data after Friday's surprisingly weak manufacturing survey from the Institute for Supply Management, which was expected to have been better because of the trade agreement.
Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont, said the survey actually took place before the trade deal was announced, and he's waiting for the results of the next couple of reports.
He expects to see 165,000 jobs added in December, off of 266,000 in November, which was in part skewed by the end of GM's strike. "I think there's a little upside risk. It seems like we saw a pretty strong Christmas season," he said, adding there could have been more hiring than was factored into seasonal adjustments.
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