Take the best day of the year for the Dow Industrials followed by an early triple-digit gain Thursday, and suddenly the blue-chip index tacked on more than 400 points. It’s the sort of burst that can have defensive-minded investors questioning not only their strategy, but their sanity.
But at times like this it’s best to remember that one or two sessions does not make a trend. Traders — not investors — move the market on a day-to-day basis. So while some headlines and some technicals came to the market’s rescue mid-week, there are still plenty of ways stocks could get whacked in the weeks and months ahead.
On a technical basis, the market was due for a snapback, anyway. Deeply oversold conditions, negative sentiment (a contrarian indicator) and the case that the break below the 200-day moving average didn’t stick helped entice traders to bid.
Headlines were mostly accommodating, too. Yes, the European Central Bank failed to cut rates, but rumors are percolating that the Continent’s powers-that-be are working on a scheme to bail out Spanish banks. Meanwhile, hope springs eternal that the Federal Reserve Board will extend Operation Twist or unleash a third round of quantitative easing when it meets in less than two weeks. Chairman Ben Bernanke’s comments before a congressional panel today provided new clues, however, as whether or when such actions might occur.
A decent bond auction on the part of Spain and China’s surprise rate cut — its first in four years — added to the market’s rosy glow on Thursday.
But as JP Morgan Chase strategists point out in new research, formidable risks to the global economy and markets remain. Among the biggest threats they outline:
- Global macroeconomic momentum continues to weaken, as seen in purchasing managers indexes around the world. These have fallen for three straight months, JP Morgan notes, which means cyclical stocks — those that lead the market higher — have further to fall.
- Additionally, and not surprisingly, the eurozone remains a huge concern. Even though market participants are already bearish, JP Morgan “would not underestimate the ability of Euro policymakers and of Euro activity to underwhelm even the low expectations.”
- U.S. market participants are still too complacent. The S&P 500 fell 16% in the summer of 2010 and 19% in summer of 2011. It’s down “only” 10% so far this year. Most folks still believe the summer of 2012 won’t be a repeat of the past two years, but data suggest otherwise, the strategists say.
- There’s no rebound in China, the engine of global growth these days. At the same time, GDP in the emerging-market powerhouses of Brazil and India continues to wane. Brazil’s 2% growth pace is “a far cry from an economy that grew 7.5% in 2010,” JP Morgan notes. India’s economy is growing at its slowest rate in almost a decade.
In another alarming reading of the economic tea leaves, China’s first rate cut since 2008, while welcomed by the markets, could actually signal that something very bad is coming. As strategists at Citigroup told clients Thursday: “There has been much discussion this morning about what the surprise China cut portends for the slew of economic data (industrial production, fixed asset investment, retail sales, and trade balance) scheduled to be released this weekend.”
The fear is that China cut rates because the weekend figures will be weak and, more worrisome, that Chinese monetary policy is well behind the curve.
In other words, when it comes to easing, be careful what you wish for.
Low summer trading volume makes the market especially sensitive to the latest data points and headlines. What it gives on the upside it can just as quickly take away (recall last Friday’s stomach-churning dive). So remember: There’s nothing wrong with staying defensive through the recent upswing — and longer. The sell-off could easily resume as early as Monday if China’s weekend data dump disappoints — or if Europe produces more financial drama.
Oh, and the Greek election is still 10 days away.
Getting out of June will be stressful enough. Summer has a long way to go.