The front page of most newspapers on Friday featured at least three hot spots around the world that has investors worried. None of them may be anything to worry about over the long term, but over the next few weeks they have the potential to drive the stock market lower.
You may ask, why now? After all, the situation in Ukraine has been going on all year. Turmoil in the Gaza Strip has been a reason for concern for far longer. The Iraqi Shiite/Sunni fighting has plagued us for months. About the only new threat that has arisen over the past two weeks has been the occurrence of a number of cases of Ebola Virus. So why have investors suddenly decided to embrace these concerns as a reason to sell stocks?
Investors need a reason to sell and so does the media. Simply selling because the market’s price levels have gone too far or because we haven’t had a sell-off in a while are simply insufficient reason for most of us, we need an excuse to sell and now we have them.
Don’t get me wrong; the world is a mess right now. As I wrote yesterday in my column “Beware the Russian Bear,” the situation in the Ukraine is fraught with danger. The escalating embargos that are flying around between the EU, the U.S. and Russia certainly have the potential to hurt global growth. President Obama’s decision to authorize air strikes in Iraq is clearly a new development, while financial problems among the Portuguese banks have soured investors on Europe lately.
While geopolitical risks move to the front burner, the economy, unemployment, wage growth and what the Fed is going to do about it have receded to the back burner. Interest rates continue to drop, despite the end to quantitative easing in October. The employment gains are accelerating, forecasts are now around a 3% growth rate for U.S. GDP in the third quarter while corporate earnings, for the most part, appear to be growing even faster than expected.
But, remember, the stock market and the economy are not the same thing and therein lies an advantage to profit. Right now (and possibly over the next month or two), the stock market will remain volatile with a downside bias. I would expect the S&P 500 Index to re-test its 200 day moving average (DMA) which is at 1,861 or so. That’s another 2%-plus down move from where we are now. It may take several days or even weeks to get there.
Usually, the market will bounce at that point. Nothing says that bounce will be sustainable and in most cases will result in disappointment and another re-test of the 200 DMA. What happens next will depend on how investors handle the decline. Usually, declines end in a bout of panic selling; something we have not seen yet. We could easily go lower than the 200 DMA.
Some perma-bears are calling for a 20% correction depending on who you read. Right now, I would say those forecasts are a bit extreme. Maybe half that amount is where I stand.
But remember folks, we are talking about paper losses. The growing economy will provide a cushion of support for stocks. This could actually turn out to be a great buying opportunity for investors in the weeks ahead. At the beginning of the year, I forecasted a 5-6% gain in the S&P 500 Index for the year. I don’t see any reason to change it. I believe next year will offer much better gains, so keep your powder dry and wait for lower prices. You won’t be disappointed.