More turbulence could be ahead for stocks as investors weigh omicron and the Fed’s next steps
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., November 29, 2021.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Volatility could continue to plague markets after a week of violent swings that sent many stocks plummeting.
In the week ahead, investors await more news on the omicron Covid variant and another inflation report Friday that is expected to show consumer prices remain the hottest in three decades.
In the past week, stocks sold off on worries about the omicron variant and concerns the Federal Reserve will move away from its easy policies and raise interest rates sooner than anticipated. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told a Congressional panel Tuesday that the central bank will consider speeding up the taper of its $120 billion monthly bond-buying program when it meets Dec. 14 and 15. The Federal Reserve put its bond-purchasing program in place in early 2020 to prop up the economy during the pandemic.
“It’s going to be a somewhat turbulent December because we probably need to wait for earnings season to get regrounded, back to fundamentals,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset. “For as high as a lot of the ratios would suggest, price-to-sales, price-to-earnings, when you throw it into the hopper with interest rates and everything else, things aren’t that bad. I don’t think we’re teetering on the edge of a cliff.”
But Ablin did say the comments from Powell were unnerving investors, who fear the Fed will also speed up interest rate hikes. Powell acknowledged he was wrong about inflation being “transitory,” or temporary, spooking investors. The bond purchases are now scheduled to end in June.
“I’m not sure what investors’ read on inflation is. Do they think the Fed is going to raise rates, get ahead of it too early and everything is going to roll over? Ever since Powell took ‘transitory’ out of his talk, investors have been somewhat off balance,” said Ablin.
The consumer price index or CPI for November is expected Friday morning. Economists polled by Dow Jones predict it rose 0.6% on a monthly basis, or 6.7% year over year. That compares to a 0.9% gain in October, and a 6.2% jump year over year, the biggest move in three decades.
Risky names slammed
High fliers and growth were among the hardest hit Friday, as investors bailed out of some of the riskiest stocks. As stocks plunged Friday, Treasury yields fell. Yields move opposite price, and the move was seen as a flight to safety. The 10-year note yield fell to 1.35%.
The ARK Innovation ETF was down 12.7% for the week. Most of the growth names in the fund plunged into bear market territory. “I think investors have to keep in mind that’s not a 15-week strategy. It’s a 15-year strategy, as far as we’re concerned,” Ablin said.
For the week, the small cap Russell 2000 was down nearly 4%, while the S&P 500 was off just 1.2%. The worst performing major sector for the week was communications services, which includes internet companies. It was down 2.8%, followed by consumer discretionary, off 2.4%. Financials lost nearly 2%, and the S&P technology sector was down 0.4% for the week. But on Friday, tech lost 1.7%.
The Federal Reserve should be quiet in the week ahead. Fed officials traditionally do not make major speeches in the blackout period, which is the coming week, ahead of their Dec. 14 and 15 meeting. One exception is Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari who speaks Thursday at the Center for Indian Country Development Research Summit.
Much of the focus will be on how the market itself is performing.
“Ever since the Nov. 22 outside bearish day, all strength has been sold with lots of damage underneath the hood,” said Scott Redler of T3Live.com. “Now finally some of the leadership names are showing faulty action.” He noted that both Microsoft and Apple were weaker.
The S&P closed below its 50-day moving average Friday, after closing below it Wednesday. The 50-day is at 4,544. That’s a signal to some market technicians that the index is on the verge of breaking down. The 50-day moving average is the average closing price over the past 50 days, and is viewed as a momentum indicator.
“Basically, it’s effectively a retest of support because we had the relief rally [Thursday],” said Katie Stockton, founder of Fairlead Strategies. She said the S&P 500 needs to close below the 50-day for two consecutive days before the move is considered a breakdown.
“The action in the high growth, high multiple names is not a good sign,” said Stockton. “We do have some signs of downside exhaustion but not as widespread as I would hope. We’re seeing some of the heavyweights, like Adobe for example, taking out levels like the 50-day moving averages.” She said some of those big names have now joined the selling.
“We’re just watching how bad it gets. Monday is going to be the tell,” said Stockton. “That also gives it the weekend to settle… Extremes have gotten a little bit more extreme. Sentiment is the most oversold from a contrarian perspective since the October low.”
Week ahead calendar
Earnings: Coupa Software, Sumo Logic
8:30 a.m. Trade balance
8:30 a.m. Productivity and costs
1:00 p.m. Treasury auctions $54 billion 3-year notes
3:00 p.m. Consumer credit
7:00 a.m. Mortgage applications
10:00 a.m. JOLTS
1:00 p.m. Treasury auctions $36 billion 10-year notes
8:30 a.m. Unemployment claims
1:00 p.m. Treasury auctions $22 billion 30-year bonds
8:30 a.m. CPI
10:00 a.m. Consumer sentiment