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Stocks End Higher After Deal Struck To Reopen Government; Trade, Fed News Also Help

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg© 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

Stocks finished the week on a high note as cautious optimism from earlier in the week ended with solid gains. Buying momentum continued amid news of a deal to temporarily reopen the U.S. government, positive commentary from the administration on the U.S.-China trade front, and a report that the Fed may keep more bonds in its portfolio than previously thought.

The administration and Congress struck a deal to end the partial government shutdown for three weeks. While the funding is only temporary and the jury is still out on a final deal, lawmakers have taken a concrete step on the path to resolving the issue.

The announcement confirmed hopes that had helped the market rise in morning trading and comes as companies have increasingly been voicing worries about the shutdown costing them money, or having the potential to.

The market also gained support after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Reuters that the United States and China were “making a lot of progress” on talks to end the ongoing trade war that has sparked worries about global economic growth and weighed heavily on companies’ outlooks. His comments served as a counterpoint to less optimistic talk from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

This was the fifth-straight week of gains for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, marking a solid start to the new year.

Fed’s Bond Portfolio in Focus

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that Fed officials are closer to ending the central bank’s bond portfolio wind-down. It said officials are near a decision to maintain a bigger portfolio than they had thought when they started shrinking those holdings two years ago.

While the Fed’s interest rate hike trajectory has been closely scrutinized, the unwinding of its balance sheet has also been a form of hawkish monetary policy. So the market appears to be interpreting the news of the Fed potentially keeping a larger balance sheet as bullish.

When the Fed lets more bonds onto the market, that tends to weigh on bond prices, which then causes yields to rise and increases borrowing costs. The central bank bought the bonds as part of its quantitative easing program, designed to stimulate the economy by pushing up bond prices and lowering yields, which kept borrowing costs lower.

Tech Rally Continues

Tech stocks performed well again on Friday, with the tech heavy Nasdaq outperforming the two other main U.S. indices. This capped a week of generally solid performance among tech companies after mostly strong economic reports set up the sector nicely ahead of expected earnings reports next week from Apple and Microsoft. Facebook, now in the communication services sector but still a tech heavyweight, also reports next week.

Facebook shares rose after Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the social media giant in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, saying the company doesn’t sell users’ data.

On Friday, Western Digital’s shares gained ground even though it reported adjusted earnings that missed expectations, as the company told investors its revenue would improve later this year.

Earlier in the week, Xilinx, Lam Research, and Texas Instruments reported better-than-expected earnings, helping to boost the PHLX Semiconductor Sector Index.

A notable exception to the solid performance from the tech sector this week was Intel which reported quarterly revenue and a Q1 earnings outlook that were short of analyst expectations.

Fed Meeting on Deck

The Fed is scheduled to conclude its two-day January meeting on Wednesday. Based on futures market activity, it looks like investors and traders are expecting the central bank to stand pat on interest rates. That would jibe with recent commentary from Fed officials that policy makers can be patient with any potential rate hikes because inflation is tame.

Still, it could be interesting to try to read the tea leaves in the language accompanying the Fed’s interest rate decision. Investors may be looking for clues as to the Fed’s thinking on the impact of the ongoing trade war with China as well as what monetary policy officials make of any lingering effects of the partial government shutdown and the potential for economic damage if it resumes.

One effect that the shutdown has had is to delay economic data. That means the Fed – like company executives, investors, analysts, and economists – has been flying partially blind when it comes to making data-dependent decisions.

Economic Data and Earnings

One big report that investors likely won’t be seeing on time is the government’s first estimate of Q4 gross domestic product. The GDP reports are among the biggest economic data news events for investors and traders. But even with the temporary government reopening they will likely have to wait given the length of the shutdown, how long employees have been furloughed, and how long it takes to cobble together the GDP report from other data sets that are also incomplete because of the shutdown.

While the GDP report leaves a big hole in the economic data calendar, investors are scheduled to still have plenty to chew on. Notable economic reports next week include indexes on consumer confidence and manufacturing as well as the monthly nonfarm payrolls report. That last one is likely to be especially closely watched as the labor market is a key barometer for economic health, and average hourly earnings form an important part of inflation expectations.

As if investors didn’t already have enough on their plate, there is a slate of major companies reporting quarterly results in coming days. Those include Caterpillar, which has been closely watched as a barometer for global growth potential amid the continued trade dispute between China and the United States.

Boeing results are also on tap. The world’s largest aircraft manufacturer has warned that the government shutdown could end up hurting its business as well as that of the overall airline industry. So it could be interesting to see whether company executives discuss this further, especially in light of Friday’s news of a temporary reopening. Other major companies on tap next week include AT&T, Verizon, Tesla, Amazon, McDonald’s, and Lockheed Martin.

Volatility eased as the week ended, with the Cboe Volatility Index falling back below 18. It had been above 20 earlier in the week amid concerns about global economic data and a possible U.S.-China impasse on trade. Still, with all these earnings and a Fed meeting coming up, it seems unlikely that the Cboe Volatility Index would come down much further anytime soon.

The dollar also lost a bit of ground Friday, falling nearly 1% by the close to below 96. The dollar might have seen some pressure from that Wall Street Journal article about the Fed’s potential balance sheet plans. A weaker dollar, if it continues, could be another boost for U.S. stocks, as it can help make prices for U.S. goods more attractive abroad. The lower dollar also might be giving crude a slight boost, though concerns about Venezuela also could have been at play (see Fig. 1).

Figure 1: U.S. crude futures jumped again amid ongoing political turmoil in Venezuela. The White House is reportedly considering sanctions against the South American OPEC nation after it recognized an opposition leader as the legitimate president and the incumbent broke ties with Washington. Data Source: CME Group Chart source: The thinkorswim® platform from TD Ameritrade. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.Data Source: CME Group Chart source: The thinkorswim® platform from TD Ameritrade.

Reading Between the Lines: With a bevy of large companies reporting quarterly results in coming days, including global economic bellwether Caterpillar, now may be a good time for the market to glean some insight into two of the highest profile issues of the day: the economic effects of the U.S.-China trade war and the partial U.S. government shutdown. The trade dispute has been going on long enough that companies may talk about it in their earnings releases. But investors may also want to pay attention to executive commentary during conference calls as they might provide what analysts call “color” on how the issue is affecting their business or how they think it might affect it in the future. And those conference calls with analysts and investors may also provide more clarity on executives’ thinking on whether the government shutdown has impacted their businesses.

Grounded: Flying is a great way to catch the flu. Being stuck inside an aluminum tube with dozens of other people for hours on end just increases the likelihood of germ transfer. On Friday, an increase in staff calling in sick led the Federal Aviation Administration to reroute air traffic and increase the time between flights, the FAA said in a statement. FAA employees have been working without pay during the partial government shutdown. Delta Air Lines tweeted that the company during the morning was experiencing about 200 flight delays at LaGuardia Airport. For those waiting for a flight in New York and looking for a silver lining, perhaps public pressure after feeling the widening effects of the government shutdown could help spark a quicker final resolution to the funding impasse.

GDP Forecast Lowered: With the partial U.S. government shutdown keeping the Bureau of Economic Analysis shuttered, it seems unlikely that investors will see one of the agency’s biggest reports in coming days. Originally scheduled for release on Wednesday, the bureau’s first estimate of Q4 GDP appears likely to be delayed as the agency hasn’t been funded during the shutdown. Investors and company leaders looking to fill the data vacuum may want to consider the latest 4Q GDP forecast from the Atlanta Fed. Its freshest GDPNow model estimate, released Friday, forecasts a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.7%, down from 2.8% on Jan. 18. The Atlanta Fed lowered the estimate after data from the National Association of Realtors showed a larger-than-expected decline in existing home sales.

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

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