(Tuesday, Market Open) Another day, another record? Stocks were mostly trekking modestly to the upside in the early going today after all three major benchmarks notched another day in fresh-peak territory yesterday.
The Dow Jones Industrials ($DJI) posted its fifth straight and 40th closing high of the year yesterday, 30 of them since April. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 (SPX) is nipping at that record milestone on the year too. The Nasdaq Composite (COMP) has been following an upward trajectory at a slower pace this year, hitting an intraday high yesterday but falling short of a closing record.
Volume was low as stocks traded in a fairly narrow range, a pattern they might be repeating again today. All three were edging into positive terrain ahead of the open.
As we’ve seen so many times, the markets have tended to stay relatively still the week the Federal Reserve meets. Some investors appear to be wary of making big moves ahead of this week’s two-day meeting, which starts this morning, not to mention the kickoff to third-quarter earnings next month.
Many analysts expect to find out tomorrow if the Fed is raising rates—a highly unlikely event if you follow the CME’s FedWatch Tool, which registers barely a blip of probability that it will. That doesn’t, however, knock out another step up in interest rates this year. December odds are piling up, according to CME, sitting above 56% early today.
Wall Street appears to be again waiting for information about when and how the Fed plans to unwind that $4.5 trillion balance sheet accumulated over the last nine years. Listening to market analysts and pundits this week, tomorrow could be The Day that the word on “normalization” might be let out. (See below.)
Among market movers early today, shares of Bob Evans Farms (BOBE) were plowing higher after Post Holdings (POST), the St. Louis-based consumer-packaged goods company, said it would buy the refrigerated-foods producer in a $1.5 billion deal. The deal does not include the Bob Evans Restaurants, which were sold earlier this year to the private equity group that owns Red Lobster and California Pizza Kitchen.
Equifax (EFX) shares were on the downside again today in the early going after Bloomberg reported that a second security “incident” happened in March, almost four months before the credit-reporting agency reported the last one. In an email to Bloomberg, EFX said the two were not related.
Housing data is out today and starts looked grim, but permits rose. Starts fell 0.8% to an annual rate of 1.18 million, according to the Commerce Department. New construction dropped 8.7%. Permits were higher by 5.7% to a 1.3 million rate.
Housing starts pulled back pretty sharply in July as did existing home sales, which were at their lowest seasonally adjusted level of the year then. Supplies remain low and prices remain high, apparently putting some pressure on home sales. A possible incentive might come with lower mortgage rates, down from the beginning of the year.
Crude oil prices appear to be solidly moving above the $50 level, probably because of the weather-related disruption in the supply chain in recent weeks. This might get oil bulls thinking they can challenge a $55 resistance level now, but we’ll have to wait and see how sustainable this move ahead might be.
Fed Balance Sheet ‘Normalization’: As noted, there has been much ado on Wall Street about tomorrow’s widely anticipated word from the Fed about unwinding the balance sheet.
Goldman Sachs economists seem to be counting on it, noting that the “uncharted process should be manageable even for sensitive assets like mortgage-backed securities, given the Fed's plans to shrink its balance sheet gradually by letting maturing assets ‘run off’ from its portfolio rather than actively selling them,” according to a recent report.
They cautioned, however, that, “factors” could “raise the risk of a more disruptive normalization process.” (Remember, the Fed has never done this before.) Those factors to watch include the direction of the Fed leadership amid resignations and the possibility that Chair Janet Yellen’s position might not be renewed before it expires in February, as well as inflation and interest rate expectations.
Trouble in Homebuilding Paradise? Considering the housing data out today on starts and building permits for August, it might not be terribly surprising that homebuilder confidence is on the wane. Yesterday, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) backtracked by three points to 64 in September. That reversed August’s gain, according to Wells Fargo, with expectations for both present and future sales off by four points.
The biggest hits came from the Midwest and, yes, the South where the widespread damage in Florida and Texas likely dragged down those results. Those states combined account for some 25% of the nation’s single-family permits, the Wells Fargo report says.
“Damages from the hurricanes introduce an element of uncertainty into the housing outlook and will likely bolster labor and material costs,” according to the report. “The drop in the HMI may signal some moderation in new home sales and homebuilding during the latter part of 2017.”
Earnings to Watch: Earnings coming out after the bell today include Adobe Systems, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Federal Express. Keep an eye on FedEx, which tends to be a bellwether of retail health.
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