Playing Defense: Markets Ease as Early-Week Rally Fades and Investors Await Jobs Data

Yesterday’s defensive tone spilled over into early Thursday ahead of more Fed commentary today and tomorrow’s looming September jobs report. Still, it’s interesting that the major indexes rebounded late Wednesday from sharp early losses, perhaps a sign that there’s resiliency in this market.

That resiliency was in evidence an hour before the opening bell. Stocks ticked higher after weekly initial jobless claims rose to 219,000 from a revised five-month low of 190,000 the previous week and consensus views of 203,000. The market had been on guard for another hot (meaning low) claims number, so the weaker data appeared supportive, though some of the softness could be a one-time deal related to last week’s hurricane closures in Florida.

It’s also important to look at continuing claims, which rose slightly. Still, this is just one report, and shouldn’t drive anyone’s expectations for a “Fed pause” or a “Fed pivot” anytime soon. Volatility remains elevated, so plenty of caution is still warranted.

Trading could be choppy today ahead of tomorrow’s payrolls data. Analysts expect September jobs growth of 250,000, down from 315,000 in August. The market would likely welcome a lower number out of hope that slowing job growth means the Fed’s tighter policies have begun to work and that fewer rate hikes might be needed. But it would take more than just one monthly jobs report to make that kind of conclusion. The Fed likely wants to see several months of slowing data and appears well on the way toward another 75-basis-point rate hike in November.

Chances of a 75-basis-point hike rose to 71% this morning on the CME FedWatch Tool, up from 53% a week ago. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield (TNX) recently was unchanged at around 3.75%, but that’s up from below 3.6% earlier this week. The U.S. Dollar Index ($DXY) also inched higher but stayed below 112.

WTI crude prices fell slightly this morning, but the OPEC+ production cut announced yesterday could continue to underpin prices. It also creates some geopolitical tension after the U.S. strongly urged OPEC+ not to slice output.

Potential Market Movers

Costco COST released strong sales numbers for September, though the company’s shares barely rose in trading ahead of the opening bell.

Conagra CAG earnings came in strong, and shares rose more than 1% this morning. The company reported nice growth in both frozen and snack retail sales.

And liquor, beer and wine giant Constellation Brands STZ also got a share bounce after the company beat analysts’ consensus for earnings and revenue and issued stronger guidance.

Earnings season doesn’t begin in earnest until late next week and many companies have lowered expectations over the last three months. Despite that, it’s good to see at least some positive earnings news here in the early going from the food and drink industry.

Large-cap stocks with a lot of business in Europe could take a hit today from some pretty terrible economic numbers overnight out of Europe. There was a lot of data, including factory orders, retail sales, and manufacturing PMI, and none of it was good. Large-cap growth companies are being hit by global economic concerns, and the Fed won’t respond to things happening overseas.

Investors should be on the lookout later today for economic outlook speeches from Fed Gov. Lisa Cook and Fed Gov. Christopher Waller. The Cook speech takes place at 1 p.m. ET, so within market hours. The Waller speech is after the closing bell. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans also speaks today. Fed speakers this week have done nothing to depart from the hawkish tone seen at Jackson Hole and the last Fed meeting, despite talk in the market about a hoped for “Fed pivot.”

Reviewing the Market Minutes

Investors came back to earth Wednesday as hiring data, tough energy projections, and hawkish comments from Fed President Mary Daly weighed on the markets.  

Also, a Bloomberg report, quoting a Wells Fargo & Co. executive, said a “giant” options transaction had trimmed the worst of intraday losses for the S&P 500®, but all three major indexes still finished in the red after two aggressive rallies to start the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average® ($DJI), which spent just a moment in green territory, finished the day off 0.14% to close at 30,273.87, while the S&P 500 (SPX) gave up 0.20% to close at 3,783.28. The Nasdaq® (COMP) lost 0.25% to close at 11,148.64, and the Russell 2000® (RUT) dropped 1.79%.

Monday and Tuesday, investors began buying with a belief that a more dovish Fed was just around the corner, recording the biggest two-day gains in two years.

That ended with a thud yesterday morning. It began with a premarket report from ADP showing private sector employers added 208,000 jobs in September, which is more than the expected 200,000. Later, the ISM Services Index showed that service growth was also better than expected during the month.

Also, August U.S. trade deficit numbers slipped to $67.4 billion from a revised $70.5 billion in July. This could indicate that what’s happening at global ports now may be more about demand destruction than supply chain recovery.

Add the less-than-optimistic Fed talk, and the rest of the day’s activity showed investors moving back to the sidelines. Only the energy, information technology, and health care sectors of the S&P 500 gained yesterday.

The 10-year Treasury yield moved up to 3.755% by late Wednesday, while the U.S. Dollar Index (DXY) settled back to 111.21.

The Cboe Volatility Index®(VIX)finished the day down nearly 2% to 28.55.

Among individual stocks, Morgan Stanley (MS) lost 1.02%, and Goldman Sachs (GS) moved down 1.80% after a downgrade from Atlantic equities a week ahead of major banks kicking off Q3 earnings season.

Airbnb ABNB gained 0.86% Wednesday after Bernstein initiated coverage on the vacation-rental company with an outperform rating.

And a day after Tesla founder Elon Musk moved to renew his offer for Twitter (NYSE: TWTR), shares in Tesla TSLA lost another 3.46% in Wednesday’s trading.

CHART OF THE DAY: STILL BOBBINGApple (AAPL—candlesticks) remains the leader among mega-cap stocks despite losing more than 20% of its value year to date. Not only is it the largest publicly traded company in terms of market cap, AAPL has outperformed the CRSP Mega-Cap Index (CRSPME1—yellow) as well as the other four largest U.S.-based mega caps—Microsoft (MSFT—pink), Amazon (AMZN—red), Alphabet (GOOGL—blue), and Tesla (TSLA—gray). Data Sources: ICE, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Chart source: The thinkorswim® platformFor illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Three Things to Watch

The Value of X. Who knowshow Elon Musk’s renewed offer to buy Twitter will play out, but his Tuesday night tweet identifying Twitter as “an accelerant to creating X, the everything app” got a lot of chatter on Wednesday. Some saw it as Musk-speak for plans to transform Twitter from a social media giant to a Swiss army knife of digital tools for banking, shopping, and more—all behind a single login that would presumably replace the dozens we have now. While U.S. fintech PayPal (PYPL) introduced its own app aimed at that goal, most of the real global super app growth has only happened so far in parts of Asia and Latin America with very different financial infrastructures. A July survey from PYMTS—cosponsored by PayPal—indicated that 72% of respondents in Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States were at least “slightly” interested in a super app, while 25% were “very” or “extremely” interested despite widely reported concerns about security and privacy. On Wednesday, CNBC was buzzing about Musk’s concept being a new version of WeChat, a super app from Chinese technology company Tencent that reportedly has more than a billion users.

Markdown Showdown? It’s only about 50 days until Black Friday, and retailing executives seem to be doubling down on planned markdowns for the all-important fourth quarter in the midst of 40-year inflation. According to a survey sponsored by CommX and CommerceNext published Wednesday in Women’s Wear Daily, 32% of retail executives polled said they’d increase the number of promotions compared to 13% last year. The survey also said that recent changes in consumer privacy laws and the continuing rollout of Web 3.0 limiting cookies and other digital trackers on shoppers has store chiefs worried for the season ahead.

Moving in Reverse: Speaking of shopping, as of Wednesday, the national average price for gasoline was up for the 15th day in a row after gas prices had finally bottomed out after a nearly 100-day decline. With the holiday shopping season, midterm elections, and presumably months of stubborn inflation still ahead, Wednesday’s OPEC+ announcement to cut oil production by 2 million barrels per day drew a speedy rebuke from the Biden administration, calling the move a “shortsighted decision.”

Notable Calendar Items

Oct. 7: Nonfarm Payrolls, Wholesale Inventories, and earnings from Tilray (TLRY)

Oct. 11: Earnings from PepsiCo (PEP)

Oct. 12: September Producer Price Index (PPI) and September FOMC meeting minutes release

Oct. 13: September Consumer Price Index (CPI) and earnings from Delta (DAL), Domino’s (DPZ), Progressive (PGR), and Walgreen’s Boots Alliance (WBA)

Oct. 14: September Retail Sales, October Michigan Consumer Sentiment (early), August Business Inventories, and earnings from Citigroup (C), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo &Co. (WFC), Morgan Stanley (MS), PNC Financial (PNC), U.S. Bancorp (USB), and UnitedHealth (UNH)

Oct. 17: October Empire State Manufacturing and earnings from Bank of America (BAC)

TD Ameritrade® commentary for educational purposes only. Member SIPC.

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