The first week of earnings season is behind us. The results were not nearly as bad as investors feared. Some averages, such as the Russell small and mid-cap indexes, actually made new highs. However, all the indexes fell back into a trading range by the close on Friday.
As I suggested in my last column, on average 75% of companies actually beat earnings estimates. This quarter seems to be following the same pattern, at least so far. The money center banks reported pretty good numbers and even the worst of them got the benefit of the doubt from investors.
The really big moves came from the overseas markets. China, which has been a red-hot market all year, finally stumbled. After the Shanghai market closed on Thursday night (Friday, China time), the mainland regulatory authorities tightened margin rules. They also warned millions of individual investors (who have been the main players behind the stock boom) that they should not continue to borrow money or sell property to buy stocks. Some of these neophyte investors have no idea of what they are doing and yet they are buying and selling sometimes five or six times a day.
After the warning, the futures markets in Chinese stocks immediately plummeted over 6%, setting off a chain reaction throughout overseas markets. Aiding and abetting these China troubles, the economic woes of Greece continues to bedevil Europe.
As deadlines approach for various Greek debt payments to the IMF and the ECB, investors are worried that Greece will fail to make the deadlines. And if that happens, will European markets be facing a sudden and violent sell-off? Skittish investors decided not to wait for the outcome and instead sold European stocks on Friday by at least one percent or more. Germany was down almost 4% for the week.
In the meantime, this weekend the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meet in Washington, D.C. for their annual spring meeting. I expect a stream of new forecasts essentially reducing global growth to around 3% for the year. There may also be some commentary concerning the impact of a stronger dollar upon various economies.
At the same time, expect commentary from politicians this weekend on trade. On Thursday, the Senate agreed on the wording of a deal aimed at giving President Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate a wide-ranging trade deal with 12 countries in the Asia Pacific (excluding China). The new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would go beyond the traditional trade deals that focus on cutting tariffs and quotas. In addition, it would hammer out new rules on intellectual property, services and competition between state-owned enterprises and private competitors.
Given that Japan is the largest economy in the proposed TPP after the U.S. (which also includes NAFTA members Mexico and Canada), a lot is riding on the passage of the deal for the Japanese. Prime Minster Shinzo Abe is hoping Congress and the White House can present him with a done deal by the time he visits America on April 26. If so, expect that market to rally in response.
As for the down draft in world markets on Friday, I’m not worried. Foreign markets needed a pull back, especially in Shanghai and Hong Kong, after a quarter of remarkable out performance. Problems in Greece have been triggering sell offs in European markets since 2011. Every one of them has been a buying opportunity. I don’t see this one as any different.
For those who missed putting some money to work overseas at the beginning of the year, this may be an opportunity to jump aboard. I strongly urge you to do so.