U.S. economic growth in the third quarter surged higher by 3.6%, while jobless claims plunged by 23,000 to 298,000 as layoffs slowed. That’s great news, right, so why is the stock market falling?
If you are scratching your head about now, who can blame you? Americans have been waiting for years to see the economy finally transition from a slow, bumpy recovery with stubbornly high unemployment to something akin to more traditional economic recoveries. It appears we are finally hitting our stride but growth like this could mean the end of the Fed’s open-ended quantitative easing, thus the decline.
Investors are afraid that the Fed may begin to taper as early as this month, given the good news. The implications are that interest rates would rise and the stock market would decline as the Fed withdrew support from financial markets. That’s what you will hear and see in the financial press, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Let me tell you what is really going on. Don’t listen to these pundits who worry about a stock market bubble, pointing to the Fed’s easy money policy as the culprit. I disagree. The market rally, in my opinion, is wholly justified. It is based on expectations that the economy will pick up steam and unemployment fall. As I have said before, the markets anticipate events 6-12 months ahead of time. The market media has missed that fact. They are still harping about Fed easing/tapering when the data is telling us the gains are about the economy.
It is why I have been bullish all year and am getting increasingly bullish when looking at the future. The Fed’s efforts to stimulate the economy have worked.
The private sector is now picking up the slack and the years ahead should see better and better growth not only here but worldwide. That’s a long-term forecast consistent with my belief that we are in a secular bull market in stocks. However, that does not mean the markets will go straight up from here.
Two weeks ago, I warned investors that stocks needed a rest. We could easily see a pullback based on sentiment numbers, momentum and technical factors. Today, I remain cautious in the near term. I accept that there are factors that argue against a decline right now. Christmas is only three weeks away and the historical data suggest a Santa Claus rally happens more often than not. Investors have also become conditioned to buy the dip, no matter how small.
If the bulls can get the S&P 500 Index back over 1,800 then the rally continues and I’m wrong. But if the markets want to use good news as an excuse to drive the markets lower, so be it. I don’t care what triggers a decline; I only care that we need to consolidate gains before moving higher.
How low could we go? If I rely on technical data, we could easily fall to the 50 day moving average (DMA) on the S&P 500 Index. From peak to trough that would be a decline of a mere 3.5%. If the Fed does announce the beginning of a Taper this month then we might actually see a test of the 200 DMA. In that case, we’re talking a decline of over 8%. I find it hard to believe that the Fed would take that action on the eve of transition with new Fed chief, Janet Yellen, taking the reins in January. In either case, a 3-8% decline in the markets happens several times a year. It would not be the end of the world and would simply set us up for continued gains into 2014.