NOTE: Every week I write a Client Note for my clients. For a limited time, I am allowing non-clients to sign up and receive the Client Note. You can sign up at the top right hand corner of the website. Here is this week’s.
The market has stumbled in recent days even as the economic news has been highly positive. On Thursday, 3Q GDP came in at +3.5%. On Monday, the October ISM Manufacturing index came in at 56. This morning we had the news that Berkshire will be acquiring railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNI) for $100 a share in cash and stock – a 31% premium to Monday’s closing price. Warren Buffett said this represents a long term bet on the US economy.
Yet stocks are selling off when you’d expect them to move higher. Not only that but volume has returned to the market of late with NYSE Composite volume in excess of 6 billion shares 3 of the last 4 trading days. We haven’t seen that in a few months. The Volatility Index (VIX), commonly called The Fear Index, has spiked 50% towards 30 in just the last couple of weeks. This suggests many pros are buying put options to protect their profits or even speculate on a decline in stocks.
Barron’s technician Michael Kahn went so far yesterday to call the end of the rally:
The stock market’s astounding run from its March lows has finally run into a real ceiling. After outpacing most, if not all, post bear-market rallies over the past century the inevitable is finally here.
I’m not completely convinced as we’ve seen corrections of this kind during this rally before, but the market action is certainly suggestive.
Tomorrow is a very important day as the Fed will announce its decision on interest rates at 2:15pm EST. There is consensus that there will be no change in policy but everyone is focused on the statement. There has been a lot of talk in the last week or two about a Fed exit strategy. The question is whether such a concern will find its way into the statement or not.
The key sentence is:
The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and continues to anticipate that economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period (FOMC Statement September 23
An important column by Fed insider John Hilsenrath in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had this to say:
Long before the Fed moves, it will need to communicate its intent to investors. The first step will be tiptoeing away from saying rates will stay low for an extended period. The communication strategy is likely to come up at this week’s meeting, though it remains unclear when a change in the wording will happen.
This is a very delicate situation for Bernanke and Co. and will provide an important window into Bernanke’s mind. On the one hand, the economy and financial markets have stabilized and are showing some strength. Preliminary 3Q GDP came in at +3.5% and yesterdays October ISM Manufacturing index was the strongest its been in 3 years at 56. Financial markets, as we all know, are soaring. This provides some cover for Bernanke and the FOMC to start at least talking about an exit strategy from their extraordinary policy accommodations one would think.
However, they are also very concerned with spooking the markets. Any selloff in financial markets could damage the real economy and confidence. With the recovery still very fragile, they will want to avoid this at all costs.
I don’t know what Bernanke will do. But whatever he does will be crucial for financial markets and will provide a window into his mind.
I believe that any change in the statement even suggesting an exit strategy would be taken badly by the markets. Everybody knows how dependent this market is on government stimulus and any suggestion that the punch bowl might be diluted at some point in the near future could cause many to leave the party.
Weekly Returns (10/26-10/30)
DJ Total: -4.48%
Top Gun: -0.98%
YTD Returns (through 10/30)
DJ Total: +16.86%
Top Gun: +5.98%
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