December could be a risky month for the stock market. A spate of inflation data, a European Union Russian energy embargo, and another Fed meeting toward the middle of the month, could determine the state of the stock market.
Traders are split between bulls and bears. The bearish view says that we hit the 4,100 level on the S&P 500 Index, and then we begin a decline that continues into next year. The bulls argue that the seasonal factors dictate a continued rally into at least January.
Many readers know where I stand. I have been predicting a market rise that could see the S&P 500 hit somewhere in the range of 4,000-4,100. That is the area where we find the 200-Day Moving Average (DMA) for that index. At this point, I am taking my money and running. Why?
There are numerous significant data points in December that can send markets up or down. The Personal Consumer Expenditures Price index on Dec. 1, The Group of Seven/EU decision on an embargo of Russian oil on Dec. 5, the Consumer Price Index on Dec. 9, the Producer Price Index on Dec. 13, and the FOMC meeting on Dec. 14.
There is no consensus on any of these areas. If the inflation data comes in hotter than expected, stocks go down. If Fed Chairman Jerome Powell remains hawkish at the FOMC meeting, and or, becomes more so, the markets fall.
In this week’s column, “Is it time to rebuild the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?” I examined the upcoming events of Dec. 5, in which the G-7 plans to further hamstring Russia by placing an embargo on Russian oil in the European Community. It also seeks to place a price cap on Russia’s oil, although there is some disagreement on what that price should be. Russia has already warned that it will not sell oil to any nation entertaining such a price cap scheme. If the response to the embargo and price cap on Russian oil results in higher oil prices, the markets would likely decline.
Given that the stock market has already run up more than 15 percent since October, it seems sensible to me that a cautious approach is called for. For sure, some of the data may be negative, others positive, but there is no way of knowing that ahead of time. If all the data points end up positive for the market, then it will be a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. The point is that the odds at best are only 50 percent that the bulls get the lucky number seven on each roll of the data dice.
From a macroeconomic point of view, it seems to me that we are a long way from achieving the Fed’s target rate of 2 percent inflation. The economy, while slowing, is still growing and employment remains healthy. A recession seems certain, but so far elusive. This is not good news for a central bank that needs economic demand to slacken in its fight against inflation.
About the best investors can hope for may be a slowdown in the pace of rate hikes. The Fed minutes from the last FOMC meeting buttressed that hope when a number of participants preferred to slow interest rate hikes in December. However, that doesn’t mean Jerome Powell will heed their advice.
In any case, this week we hit a high of 4,033, less than 70 points from my highest target on the S&P 500 Index. Depending on the data, and especially the PCE data point on Thursday, stocks could hit or even exceed 4,100. It is a coin toss at this point. Invest accordingly.
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 email him at [email protected]