Critical Crossroads: Stock-Market Rally Faces Decisive Week with Fed and Tech in Focus
The upcoming week is poised to be a critical juncture for stock-market dynamics, with investors closely monitoring key events such as the Federal Reserve’s monetary-policy meeting, a pivotal December employment report, and a wave of earnings reports from major technology players. These events are expected to provide vital insights into the economic landscape and shape expectations regarding interest rates.
A surge in U.S. stocks during the past week was fueled by encouraging data indicating a moderation in inflationary pressures for December. The S&P 500 marked its longest streak of record highs since November 2021, closing at an all-time high for five consecutive days.
While the index experienced a slight dip on Friday, it still secured a weekly gain of 1.1%, accompanied by positive gains in the Nasdaq Composite and Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Market participants appear to be catching up with the trends of 2023, strategically deploying funds into the market to seize short-term opportunities.
Robert Schein, Chief Investment Officer at Blanke Schein Wealth Management, observes the market’s focus on swift gains until significant market-moving events unfold. One such potential event is a Federal Reserve speech, capable of influencing market sentiment.
Anticipations of the Fed initiating rate cuts as early as March, following a rapid tightening cycle, have propelled a rally in U.S. stock and bond markets. Investors are now expecting several quarter-point rate cuts by December, aiming to bring the fed-funds rate down to the 4-4.25% range.
However, the upcoming news conference with Fed Chair Jerome Powell could challenge these expectations and resist forecasts of a March cut.
Thierry Wizman, a strategist at Macquarie, suggests that a more dovish stance from the Fed, a robust stock-market rally, a resilient labor market, and geopolitical tensions could prompt Powell to maintain a monetary tightening bias. Concerns about renewed inflation due to conflicts in the Middle East may further dissuade the Fed from implementing immediate rate cuts.
The spotlight also falls on labor-market data, particularly the January employment report, identified as a significant factor influencing U.S. financial markets. Investors are keenly awaiting signs of a labor market slowdown that could prompt rate cuts. Economists project a gain of 180,000 jobs in January, with slight upticks in the unemployment rate and a moderation of wage gains.
The week also promises earnings reports from major technology companies, the so-called “Magnificent 7,” including Alphabet, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon.com, and Meta Platforms. These reports are expected to wield influence over the S&P 500’s value, given the substantial role these tech giants have played in the recent stock-market rally.
Collectively, these companies are projected to drive significant year-over-year earnings growth for the fourth quarter of 2023, offsetting declines in other S&P 500 companies. The overall blended earnings decline for the entire S&P 500 for Q4 2023 is estimated at 1.4%.