Data in focus as market struggles for direction

A Wall Street sign is pictured outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York, October 28, 2013.  REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

Wall Street, seeking direction as the S&P 500 has been stuck in a narrow trading range for 12 days, will next week shift its attention from second-quarter corporate earnings reports to economic data.

Investors will be looking for signs of economic strength to reinforce the positive direction hit Friday, when the S&P 500 hit an intraday record high. Data estimates for next week show the manufacturing and services sectors are expected to have expanded in July while the economy is seen having added a healthy 180,000 jobs this month.

“I think the economy in the U.S. is getting better and still can improve. The overall tone will be of an economy that is getting better at a reasonable pace,” said John Manley, chief equity strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in New York.

The U.S. stock market has been trading flat as second-quarter earnings have come in better than initially expected, but the outlook for third-quarter earnings has worsened. In fact, the S&P 500 traded in a less-than-1 percent range throughout the 12 sessions to Friday, a lull not seen in data going back to 1970, according to Ryan Detrick, the senior market strategist at LPL Financial.

It is no wonder that investors are suffering from a lack of resolve; they have been pushed and pulled by a slew of other factors, including worries about the global economy and the fact that shares have already been on a tear not well supported by several quarters of weak earnings. Stocks are pricey now, but so are other asset classes.

The S&P 500 is trading near its record high, at roughly 17.2 times the earnings of its component companies over the next 12 months, a valuation that is expensive when compared to its 15.5 median, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Selling is not an obvious choice either, since those who must remain invested face few other choices. Bonds sport high prices and near-record-low yields, and commodities, led by oil, hit a wall after a strong first half of the year. U.S. crude CLc1 is down 14 percent this month alone.

The lack of direction in the S&P index as it sits near its record close of 2,175.03 hit July 22 could be an indication of strength, as these new highs are digested by the market.

If the jobs report data land far from expectations, that will likely give indexes a jolt on Friday, said Michael Yoshikami, CEO and Founder at Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California.

But neither that jolt nor the earnings reports still to come would be enough to set stocks on a new course, he said, because of the uncertainty brought on by the final stretch of the U.S. presidential election campaign leading up to the Nov. 8 vote.

“Between now and the election there’s going to be so many headlines that it’s going to be difficult for the market to really rally significantly,” Yoshikami said.


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