PITTSFIELD >> After a couple of days of hand wringing, traders are now going with the notion that if the Fed raises rates in June or July it may actually be good for the economy.
Don't put too much stock in that, however, because herd sentiment can turn quickly with one simple statement from the Fed.
You have to be impressed with the market's performance. In the face of a potential interest rate hike in less than three weeks and a June decision on whether Great Britain will exit the Eurozone, the market continues to grind higher.
As we enter the three-day weekend — three for us, but most of the Street stretches it to four — Friday wasn't expected to be a "tell" on what will happen next week. Traders are clearly expecting interest rates and the dollar to rise. Just look at the price of gold, which has fallen over $80/ounce in one week. Rising rates and a stronger dollar hurts the price of gold. It also provides some headwinds to a further rise in oil.
The energy market is consolidating after the price hit $50/bbl. this week. It has almost doubled since its low this year. Many traders are calling for a pullback after such a breathtaking advance. That seems a reasonable bet, but I don't see oil going lower than $40-45/bbl. If you hold energy shares, I would keep them. If you own gold or gold miners, I would keep them too, at least for now.
Changing the game
The one truth about financial markets today is that they no longer function the way they used to. In the past, if "A" happens, you could expect that "B" will happen simultaneously or with a little time lag. In the past, if both "A" and "B" occur, then "C" should happen next. Unfortunately, that is not how the game is played anymore.
It seems that there is no connection between "A" and "B" in today's markets. If interest rates move up, you sell or short bonds, but that doesn't mean that you sell equities as well. Ever since the central banks of the world entered the financial markets in an effort to preserve them, long-held relationships have first frayed and are now in tatters.
Consider the last week or so as an example. No less than eight Federal Reserve Bank members have been stumping the country giving speeches indicating that it is time to hike interest rates. Yet, every one of them has hedged their bets. Using words such as "if the data warrants," or "depending on global conditions," investors remain perplexed as to the next move by the central bank.
The point is that even Fed members are still divided over when to implement their next move. While employment numbers would dictate a rate hike, the overall economic data is still contradictory, while inflation is only now approaching the Fed's target.
Janet Yellen spoke on Friday afternoon at Harvard University. Instead of taking off early for the Memorial Day holiday, traders hung around hoping that she would give additional clues on her thinking in the Q & A session after her speech. She reiterated that it "would be appropriate to raise rates sometime this year — if the data warranted."
Hard to predict
Although the markets jump to an immediate conclusion that rates will therefore rise in June, I am not convinced. The Fed may wait and simply see how the economic data pans out before moving. I expect that over the next two weeks market participants will remain uneasy waiting for the results of the next FOMC meeting. In the meantime, expect bulls to mount an attempt at breaking the old highs. It remains to be seen whether they will be successful.
Bill Schmick is registered as an investment advisor representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill's forecasts and opinions are purely his own. Direct inquires to Bill can be made by calling 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or via e-mail at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.