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Market Update

Big Week Ahead For Retail As Data, Earnings Put Consumer Health In Focus

May 14, 2018

(Monday Market Open) Wall Street goes shopping this week, starting with retail sales data tomorrow and then moving along to earnings reports from some of the major department- and big-box stores. By the time Friday rolls around, investors might have a better sense of how consumers are faring as summer looms.

Stocks ticked higher in pre-market futures trading early Monday despite weakness in European equities markets. Oil climbed a bit, and so did 10-year Treasury yields.

Rough Ride Smoothing Out

The focus on retail this week comes after another impressive session last Friday that saw many investors apparently willing to hold long positions into the weekend and volatility continue to retreat. By the end of Friday’s session, the Cboe Volatility Index (VIX) was trading below 13, down from a spike to 50 back in February and a long train of closes above 20 between February and April.

Earlier this year, the market saw a trend of VIX rising into the weekend, apparently because some investors feared turbulence either in bonds or geopolitics. That wasn’t the case last week, despite a 10-year Treasury yield that continues to scrape up against 3% and a number of geopolitical events that still hang over the market, including unrest in the Middle East and coming talks between the U.S. and North Korea.

Another trend the market seemed to buck on Friday relates to the so-called “FAANG” stocks. For most of the year, much of the market often took the lead from FAANGs. Weakness in stocks like Facebook (FB) and Apple (AAPL) earlier this spring sometimes helped drag the overall market down. On Friday, however, most of the FAANGs other than FB spent time in the red, but the broader market didn’t fall in sympathy. The S&P 500 Index (SPX) actually finished slightly higher, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ($DJI) posted its seventh-straight stronger close. Only the tech-heavy Nasdaq slumped slightly, but info tech stocks rose more than 3% for the full week.

Energy and health care were two of the sectors that performed particularly well last week, with the SPX energy sector gaining 3.75% and health care up nearly 2.5%. Another name on the weekly leaderboard was financials, up 3.6% and maybe starting to emerge a little from recent weakness. Energy got a big boost from crude oil prices moving above $70 a barrel, while health care stocks rallied Friday after the roll-out of President Trump’s strategy to ease drug prices appeared to offer a less scary diagnosis than some company executives had worried might be the case back when Trump campaigned on the issue.

A Different Hero Every Day

The way the market has behaved recently brings to mind the big rally of 2017 and earlier this year when if tech or financials didn’t lead for a day or two, another sector stepped up to the plate and picked up the slack. Every day we’re starting to see a different sector shine, and that’s so important if the market is going to break out of the negative psychology that haunted it for most of the last three months.

Last week’s relatively benign inflation numbers following what many analysts saw as a “Goldilocks” jobs report certainly could be helping. Though the 10-year yield remains near 3%, that doesn’t seem to be scaring many people the way it did earlier this year. Instead, everyone seems to be getting comfortable with that level. Still, utilities — traditionally seen as a “rate-sensitive” sector — crumbled more than 2% for the week to come in last among all sectors.

Looking ahead, retail sales could be the big report to watch tomorrow morning (see more below), while housing starts and building permits on Wednesday could move focus back toward real estate and how consumers are coping with higher mortgages and rising home prices. Home Depot (HD) earnings on Tuesday also are often viewed as a barometer for the housing market.

Earnings Far From Over

Earnings pick up by mid-week as a number of major retailers report, including Macy’s (M) and Wal-Mart (WMT). The focus at WMT might continue to be on its online sales performance, while investors could be watching M to see if the company can continue to gain traction as it carries out its turnaround plan after a strong holiday quarter.

On Friday, the spotlight turns to Deere (DE). That could be another chance to get a sense of whether industrial companies have seen any impact yet from worsening trade relations between the U.S. and China. DE boosted its outlook last time it reported quarterly earnings, citing stronger conditions in agricultural and construction machinery markets.

Earnings season is drawing toward a close and remains one of the strongest in recent memory. Research firm CFRA said last week it expects Q1 earnings growth of 22.9% with every sector posting year-over-year gains. It pegs Q2 earnings growth only slightly lighter at 18.6%.

Sector Strength: Energy and Healthcare


The S&P 500 energy sector (candlestick) and health care sector (purple line) are two sectors that have performed well recently, particularly over the last week. Data source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Chart source: The thinkorswim® platform from TD Ameritrade. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Consumer Check-in: April retail sales due first thing tomorrow morning might give investors a better sense of consumer health. The previous month, retail sales jumped a solid 0.6%, ending a streak of three down months in a row. However, that 0.6% number should be taken in context, because it included very strong automobile sales. The 2% rise in auto sales in March might have been an isolated occurrence, because the auto companies earlier this month reported mostly disappointing April sales. With auto sales stripped out of the March report, retail sales rose just 0.2%, a relatively tepid pace. If April brings a stronger number, it might indicate that consumers felt a little more like spending in an economy where unemployment remains low. However, April was a chilly month across much of the country, so that might have kept people from going out and spending their money.

Dollar Draws Back: After clawing its way to four-month highs above 93 last week, the dollar index wasn’t able to hold those gains and slipped slightly ahead of the weekend. Still, the dollar index remains at relatively robust levels as the dollar has rallied vs. the euro, yen, and pound recently. The latest boost for the dollar might have been the Bank of England’s decision last week to keep interest rates unchanged, analysts said. However, relatively light U.S. inflation data might have put pressure on the dollar by making some investors a little less certain about just how much the Fed might raise U.S. rates this year.

Mapping the Odds: As far as U.S. rates, there’s not much mystery about what’s coming next. The Fed funds futures market projects a 100% chance of a hike by the time the Fed meets next month. If you’re looking for more drama, it’s probably centered on how many moves the Fed might ultimately make this year. At this point, the futures market prices in just under a 50% chance of four rate hikes. In a speech last week, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank would communicate its interest-rate policy strategy “as clearly and transparently as possible” to avoid market turmoil, The Wall Street Journal reported. He also repeated what some economists have been saying about how other central banks’ efforts to stimulate their economies may be spilling over into the U.S., partly explaining why U.S. bond yields, for instance, have remained relatively low despite the Fed’s tightening policy since 2015.

Good Trading,

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