Italy and Spain decided to play hardball at the European Summit on Thursday. They threatened to block every initiative the EU officials tabled unless Germany and other Eurozone countries agreed to their demands for immediate help–without additional austerity measures. In response, the EU agreed to another $100 billion euro bailout for Spanish banks and a pledge to begin purchases of Italian sovereign bonds using more EU bailout money.
Investors bid markets higher in both Europe and the U.S. on the news. The question is whether the markets will continue higher from here or fall back to re-test the June lows. I believe markets will continue to trade up and down quite sharply in the short-term but in the medium-term the trend is up.
Let’s take the bear case first. The risk to the downside from here, in my opinion, is quite high if your time horizon is over the next few days or weeks.. A re-test of the S&P 500 Index’s 200 day moving average (DMA) is still a strong possibility. The 200 DMA sits at about 1,295 while the market today is 60 points higher, equating to roughly 4.5% of downside risk.
On the plus side, over the medium-term, say between now and November, the markets could rally another 5-10 % or so. I think the risk/reward ratio is definitely on the bull’s side over the next six months.
Technically, the S&P 500 Index is now at a critical level. The average is bumping up against the next serious level of resistance right here at 1,353-1,357. Although the spike up in the markets felt good, much of the gains came from traders who were short the market that covered (bought back) stocks before the end of the quarter.
“Why are you so bullish between now and the fall?” demanded one reader.
The answer lies in events that have transpired over the last few weeks. It began with the Greek elections. The pro-Euro party received the majority of votes, which lessened the risk of continental contagion. Over the past few weeks, European governments, led by the new leadership in France, have begun to realize that their strict adherence to fiscal austerity was a mistake. I have argued that fiscal austerity would simply exasperate the length and depth of recession among EU members. That view seems to have gained ascendency among EU members.
I was also looking for a commitment from either the EU or the European Central Bank to support bank recapitalization efforts in Southern Europe. That condition was also fulfilled this week, although Thursday’s actions do not solve the EU crisis. It has simply relieved some of the immediate risk to the continent.
Finally, the risk of an economic hard landing in China has been reduced. Earlier this month the Chinese authorities cut domestic interest rates and signaled that they are now willing to reduce rates further if necessary in order to spur their economy. Over the next few months, these developments should bolster the markets but in the short-term there are still many unanswered questions that could keep investors on edge and result in volatile market moves in both directions.
The best way to navigate these markets is to buy on dips, if you have the cash. If you are already fully invested, turn off the television, ignore the news and enjoy your summer. By the time September rolls around you should be seeing some additional gains in your portfolio.