The release of the Federal Reserve’s FOMC meeting notes on Tuesday was responsible for the initial sell-off in the markets this week. Then a Spanish bond auction on Wednesday was received poorly by bond investors. That spooked the U.S. stock market for a second day in a row. Things have snowballed from there.
I guess when it rains, it pours, at least when it comes to bad news in the stock markets. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi added to investor worries by expressing his concerns of future inflation and was therefore less than anxious to provide any more financial stimulus to the European crisis.
The justification for the recent European stock market rally has been investors’ belief that central bankers stand ready to flood the markets with more and more money at the slightest whiff of additional problems. Draghi’s remarks, coupled with the Spanish bond auction, did not play well among investors.
On this side of the pond, the Fed’s meeting notes released on Tuesday afternoon indicated that unless unemployment and the economy take a sudden turn for the worse, investors should not count on further easing by our central bankers.
Oh me, oh my, lions and tigers and bears!
As I have reminded readers several times in the last month or two, this rally has been fueled by the conviction that the Fed will “soon” announce QE III. Tons of newsprint has been devoted to exactly when this will occur. The latest date pontificated by the most influential brokers is “no later than June.” It is therefore mystifying that only two of the 12 FOMC board members support further easing at this time.
Those who have been following my advice have already raised cash, sold their most aggressive stock holdings and are therefore perfectly positioned to take advantage of this pull back.
“So how low can we go?”
It was the first question I received this week from readers.
The short answer is 5-8%. That would push the S&P 500 Index down to the 1,310-1,350 level. In the scheme of things that is not much of a drop given the 11% rise since the beginning of the year and 20% rise since October, although any loss is painful for investors. At that point, I think the market would more accurately reflect the present state of the economy and its prospects.
There is some discussion among economists, however, that the spate of good economic data we have been experiencing lately has been “front-end loaded.” As a result of an abnormally warm winter and spring in two-thirds of the country, economic activity has been bunched into the early part of the year and we may see a slowdown as we enter the summer months.
I have maintained that the markets have been priced to perfection and that any bad news would have an inordinate impact. We will have to watch the economic data closely over the coming months for any clues to address those front end concerns. In the meantime, be prepared for some choppy action and potentially more downside this month in the markets.