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Bill Schmick: As predicted, dour corporate guidance sends stocks lower

Masked trader at stock exchange

Trader Patrick Casey works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Friday. Inflation fears and concerns about the impact of higher interest rates have prompted a cautious shift in the broader market after a solid year of gains in 2021.

Across several industries, corporate executives are guiding investor’s expectations lower during this fourth quarter 2021 earnings season. To me, it is just added another nail in the coffin of bullish sentiment.

Pick your poison. The money center banks earnings beat on the bottom line, but it was the commentary and nuanced forward guidance that dismayed investors. Airlines did Ok but also warned of tough times ahead due to higher fuel costs, and the omicron variant. Companies in other sectors (such as Netflix) warned of thinner profit margins ahead due to higher costs, less demand and/or supply chain issues.

None of this should come as a surprise to my readers. I expected a mounting chorus of woeful predictions (real and imagined) by executives, who are eager to cover their butts in the event things don’t go their way over the next quarter or two. Lower guidance is one, but not the only reason, I am expecting further downside in the markets ahead.

The U.S. 10-year Treasury bond yield is another reason. This week, the bond yield hit 1.86 percent, which was a 40 percent increase since the beginning of December 2021. I expect the yield to hit 2 percent, which is another 7 percent gain from here. Is it any wonder, given that fixed income analysts are outdoing themselves (like lemmings) in predicting more rate hikes this year and sooner? “Four or more,” says one analyst from a big brokerage house. “I’ll see you four and raise you eight,” says another.

Bottom line: A 7 percent inflation rate is a real problem. Even President Biden, in his televised two-hour press conference this week, had to remind all of us that “it is the Fed’s job to fight inflation.” Anyone (and there are many) who may have been hoping that a stock market decline would cause President Biden to pressure the Fed into backing off from raising interest rates has been put on notice — there is no longer a Fed put under the stock market. It would take a 20 percent decline or more, I believe, before the Fed might have a change of heart, if then.

Another of my forecasts slower growth is starting to unfold. The economy is beginning to feel the back up in interest rates. Take the housing sector, for example. A 30-year conventional fixed rate mortgage traded at 3 percent a few short weeks ago. Today, that rate is 3.7 percent on average.

Since mortgage rates are super sensitive to even a small rise in interest, I would expect existing home sales to begin to falter. And as mortgage rates climb higher, less people may be willing to stand in line and pay up for that house. The housing sector is a huge segment of U.S. GDP. But it won’t collapse. I’m not expecting the housing market to do more than slow a tad, but that is enough to scare investors. The good news, I suppose, is that over time prices will come down. That should help reduce the overall inflation pressure. But the key word here is time.

Unfortunately, markets aren’t about to wait for this kind of scenario to unfold. About the longest investors can wait in today’s markets is until the next Fed meeting, which just happens to be next week. On Wednesday, traders are expecting an announcement from the Fed that there could be as many as 4 interest rate hikes (of 25 basis points each) in 2022.

That won’t exactly be good news, but at least it is expected, or at least I hope so. Anything more, and I would say “look out below.” A hawkish comment or two from Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, Jerome Powell, could easily swing the market up or down 75 to 100 points on the S&P 500 Index.

We have already passed the start date (Jan. 15) of the correction I predicted several weeks ago. I have been warning readers of a 10 to 20 percent decline between that date and the end of February. So far, the NASDAQ has fallen more than 10 percent, the consumer discretionary sector is down 8 percent, health care down 6.5 percent, real estate down 8.6 percent, and materials down 5 percent. The S&P 500 Index is only down 7 percent while the Dow has done the best only falling 5 percent.

I was hoping that readers took advantage of the few rally attempts we had this past week to reduce positions further and get more conservative. I advise you to do the same in the coming week, if we get another bounce or two.

It is not the time to “buy the dips,” but rather my advice is to sell the rips. Once the S&P 500 Index has hit my 10 percent target, we will reassess for further downside.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative of Onota Partners Inc. in the Berkshires. He can be reached at 413-347-2401, or e-mail him at billiams1948@gmail.com.

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