After a wild week at the White House, weakened stock market hopes for no Fed bombshells


After a wild week at the White House, weakened stock market hopes for no Fed bombshells

Stocks are technically weakened, and traders are hoping to get past the Fed's Jackson Hole symposium at the end of the week without any new bombshells. There is little data in the coming week, with just home sales data Wednesday and Thursday and durable goods Friday. Earnings season is over, so the focus will remain on President Donald Trump and whatever comes from the Fed's annual conference. Fed Chair Janet Yellen and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi both speak there Friday. "I think what people are concerned about is Trump being distracted from what they want, and that's his economic agenda. It's been eight months. He hasn't grown into the office, and he keeps going off the reservation," said Marc Chandler, chief currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. Chandler said while market expectations had been previously high that Draghi would make important comments Friday, reports this past week suggest he will not deliver any policy remarks. "I think Jackson Hole is going to be disappointing. Draghi is not going to say anything. Neither is Yellen," said Chandler. Draghi also speaks at an earlier event on Wednesday. For weeks, there had been speculation the ECB head would begin laying the ground work for a reduction in its quantitative easing program, but now the market is no longer expecting to hear much.

But surprises could continue to come from Washington. The White House shocked, if not shook, the market in the past week, as Trump's comments on the violence involving white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, were seen as incendiary. Markets worried that key Cabinet members and aides would abandon him after he lost the confidence of CEOs, who quickly distanced themselves and exited his White House advisory councils. The week ended with the departure of controversial Trump aide Steve Bannon, seen as the most nationalistic and populist of his advisors.

Stocks ended the week lower, in their first two-week loss since May. The S&P 500 lost 0.6 percent to 2,425, and while that was not a steep loss, the index closed below its 50-day moving average, of 2,449. After sharp losses Thursday, the market tried to rally Friday on the Bannon exit, but then closed lower. The S&P 500 was off 4 points Friday, and the Dow closed down 76 points, at 21,674, giving a 0.8 percent loss for the week. "It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great … If it would've kept rallying on the day that would have been a lot better," said James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Group, of Friday's action. He said the fact the market gave up the gains "keeps it out there yet to see if we found a bottom." Scott Redler, who follows the market's short-term technicals, said the market is still not out of the woods, and it's particularly challenged by the fact that August and September are usually weak periods for the market. "The technicals are on the shakiest ground they've been on in 2017. You have the seasonality. You have the headlines. You have the geopolitical. You have Washington. There's a lot of reasons an air pocket could happen in this market," Redler said. "The Transportation index has broken down. Small caps have been leading the downside. The bios have lost momentum and tech is below its 21-day, which means some momentum has been lost."

As for the Fed, market expectations for another Fed rate hike this year continued to fade this past week, and the Fed is expected to sound relatively dovish at Jackson Hole. The Fed's minutes, released Wednesday, mentioned that members were concerned about inflation, a similar view Yellen presented in July during congressional testimony. However, before the July testimony, Fed officials had described the weakness as transitory, keeping expectations for a rate hike alive. The Fed continues to forecast another hike this year, as do many economists. Steve Wieting, global chief investment strategist at Citi Private Bank, said he expects the discussion around Jackson Hole to be academic, without much news for markets on the Fed's balance sheet reduction. The Fed is not expected to raise interest rates in September but it is expected to announce that it will begin to pare back its balance sheet by buying fewer Treasury bonds and mortgage securities to replace those that mature on its balance sheet. "We've seen twice now in Janet Yellen's commentary that the Fed is acknowledging it may not be hitting its inflation target and it's not on autopilot," he said. He said while that makes it more difficult to say whether the Fed will raise rates, it's clear they will move on the balance sheet because of their detailed pre-announcements. Nonetheless, he said the markets are taking balance-sheet reduction in stride and not really reacting, though some strategists have said they expect the program to put upward pressure on interest rates. "I'm less worried about rates going up. I'm more thinking the requirement to fund U.S. Treasury siphons away money that would go to other things," he said. He noted credit was one area that would see less funding, as private savers have to finance $300 billion the first year. Wieting said he continues to expect fairly low rates, low growth and low volatility which would be a good environment for growth and emerging markets. He said stocks could see periods of higher volatility. "Just because volatility fell, doesn't mean it stays down and it's not a single event that will disturb the market," he said.