Last week was beautiful from an economic reporting standpoint---in the U.S. that is. Weekly unemployment claims came in below 300k, with the four-week average now at 293,500, the lowest it's been since February '06. Retail sales came in strong and PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) readings for the services sector came in noticeably better than expected, following very strong results for the manufacturing PMI the prior week. All confirming what I've been reporting of late, that the U.S. economy is on the move.
And that's... well, beautiful, right? Right! That is if you're a long-term investor, or someone looking for a job. If you're a short-term trader who's long this market (holding stocks), particularly one who's obsessed with the Fed, you're not so jazzed about these numbers. For---should the economy further pick up the pace---it would bring the expected timing of the first rate hike into question. Fed funds futures have been pointing to the second half of 2015 and, for the time being, traders seem fine with that.
In terms of recent volatility, we can legitimately attribute it to geopolitical risks. Last week was quite the roller coaster ride, with Friday's rally bringing the major averages into positive territory (for the week). The question is, without the geopolitical, would the market have performed better or worse? Instinct might say better, but I'm not so sure.
Last week's economic numbers---ex the global concerns---might have spooked traders who fear Fed tightening into hitting the exits. Ironically, all this uncertainty may actually have muted what otherwise might have been a more meaningful correction---in that it might very well keep the Fed on hold for longer. At a minimum, it offers cover for those on the Fed who have no interest whatsoever in raising interest rates in the foreseeable future.
I know, it's WAY too soon to call an end to the current sell-off. Things could heat up in any of number of places in the world that would send the market into a tizzy come Monday morning. I'm simply suggesting that the present international turmoil not only takes the focus off the Fed, it could eventually cool the economy to the point where the Fed gets to remain easy longer than even they currently anticipate. Of course then the market would have to contend with a cooling economy...