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Market Update

Tick, Tick, Tick: Markets Hover over Flat Line Ahead of Fed Rate Decision

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March 21, 2018

(NOTE TO READERS: JJ Kinahan is traveling today, so the following is a guest Market Update column written by Shawn Cruz, Manager, Trader Strategy at TD Ameritrade).

(Wednesday, Market Open) All eyes appear to be focused on the Federal Reserve today as the markets’ major benchmarks were mostly hugging the flat line in early trading.

The Fed is expected to announce a quarter percentage point hike in the cost of overnight loans that banks charge each other after it concludes its two-day meeting this afternoon. Early this morning, the CME FedWatch tool that tracks Fed fund futures continued to bank in a 94.4% probability for a hike to bring the rate to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%. It is showing a  77.7% probability of rates getting raised to 1.75% to 2% by June.

Analysts are on both sides of the argument that the economy is healthy enough for the Fed to raise rates four times this year. Some have insisted that rates will reach 2.5% to 2.75% by the end of the year, while others stay adamant in their beliefs that the Fed will stay put at three, as it noted last year, with rates standing at 2.25% to 2.5% by December.

Most analysts said yesterday that they will be listening closely for any hints the Fed might offer in its statement or at Chair Jerome Powell’s first conference call, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET.  Remember that the Fed said in December it anticipated that the Fed funds rates would sit at 3.1% at their highest level by the end of 2020. Investors might also want to listen to what the Fed might say about the impact of tax cuts on the economy as well as rising deficits.

Yesterday’s market activity ended mostly muted. While the Dow Jones Industrials ($DJI) stayed in positive territory throughout the day, it ended higher by only 0.47%. In early trading today, the Dow was vacillating between negative and positive territory. The S&P 500 (SPX) and the Nasdaq Composite (COMP) both floated in and out of negative territory before settling in the green yesterday, but just barely: SPX by 0.15% and COMP by 0.27%. There were doing much the same again today in the early going.

Yesterday, the energy sector led the way--something we haven’t seen in some time--with thanks mostly to rising oil prices, according to some analysts. Crude prices on the U.S. benchmark WTI climbed to $63.42, up nearly 2.2% and rose again early this morning above $64 a barrel. (See chart.) The American Petroleum Institute reported Tuesday that crude oil supplies in the U.S. tumbled by 2.7 million barrels, according to MarketWatch. (See below.)  

The tech sector ended higher but shares of Facebook (FB), which led Monday’s decline, lost another 2.6% and were headed lower again in early trading today. Other social-media stocks were battered too: Twitter (TWTR), for example, gave up 10%. Oracle (ORCL) shares shed 9.4%. Late Monday, the tech giant reported earnings that beat Wall Street’s expectations but failed to impress it with revenues and its forecast.

Oil chart

FIGURE 1: OIL PRICES RUNNING HIGH.

Light sweet crude oil futures (/CL), the U.S. benchmark, have been mostly moving higher for the last week, rising to levels not seen since late February. In the early going, prices had topped $64 per barrel. Data source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Chart source: The thinkorswim® platform from TD Ameritrade. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

2017 Was a Good Year: The stocks market’s rise upped the retirement funds for many workers and looked like it was a big boon for those workers’ bosses too. Median pay for chief executives of 133 of the largest U.S. companies tapped an all-time high of $11.6 million last year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. That’s up from $11.2 million in 2016, the analysis of proxy statement data found.

A combination of salary, cash incentives, equity, perquisites and more jumped at least 9.9% for half of the executives, the fastest annual growth since 2014, the WSJ said. Some 25% were given raises of 25% or more. Cash compensation and stock options were mostly held in line while stock awards were the biggest drivers of better pay, according to the report.

The Market Cap Race. Amazon (AMZN) is closing in--again--on taking title to the world’s most valuable company, according to market capitalization rates, the value of the stock price times the number of shares outstanding. At the close of trading Tuesday, AMZN nudged Alphabet (GOOG) out of the No. 2 spot, now trailing only Apple (AAPL).

At 4 p.m. ET, AMZN’s market cap settled at $768.04 billion, surpassing GOOG’s market cap during intraday trading that finished at $761.42 billion. AAPL’s market cap, which is down more than 3.5% since peaking March 12, is still far and away the market cap leader at $889.17 billion at yesterday’s close. AMZN's rise over the last year knocked Microsoft (MSFT) out of the top three in the market cap race. 

Is It Summer Already? It sure doesn't feel like it in much of the country, but gasoline demand looks like it’s heating up, according to groups that track it. In March, demand at the pump hit a record level that’s more typical of the summer driving season, AAA said. Using last week’s data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), AAA said product supplies climbed to 9.64 million barrels a day to “levels typical of summer months, not the first quarter of a year,” with exports continuing to “trend high.”

And as is typical in a supply-and-demand environment, prices rose when demand pushed inventories lower, according to AAA. The national gas price average was $0.02 higher on the week and the month, and $0.26 higher than the year-ago period, AAA said. Remember, the American Petroleum Institute said supply fell by 2.7 million barrels last week. More EIA data is expected to come out later today. 

All the best,
Shawn

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Economic calendar

FIGURE 2: THIS WEEK'S ECONOMIC CALENDAR.

Source: Briefing.com

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