(By Kevin Donovan) Lumberjacks yelled TIMBERRR! Golfers bellowed FORE! Markets wailed LEMMEE OUTA HERE! Yep, last week's reports from the Institute for Supply Management and the Bureau of Labor Statistics provided scary bookends for the mounting body of evidence the U.S. economy is rolling over. But are equity prices anticipating rescue?
We think so, but for the immediate future the focus will be squarely on quarterly earnings reports that start coming in earnest this week. Our colleague Rich Bieglmeier has it covered here with a rundown of potential beats and misses.
Meanwhile, though the major stock indices went south Friday, they remain higher than the close on June 1, when the May payrolls report ushered in the specter of recession. The S&P 500 closed Friday at 1,354.68, down 124 points on the day and off 0.8% for the week, but up 6.0% since June 1. Similarly, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, also down 0.8% on the week, is up 5.4% since June 1. And the NASDAQ Composite, which managed a gain of 0.1% for the week, is up 6.9% since June 1. The market's performance leads us to believe sentiment still clings to the expectation that policy levers will be used to keep the motor running.
Pessimists sing along with Diana Ross and the Supremes that "… there ain't nothin' I can do about it." Fiscal policy is all but sidelined by Washington gridlock in this election year, and some central bankers are dogged by the uneasy sense that more action is futile in an economy caught in a liquidity trap.
But Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has rejected the notion the Fed has no arrows left in its quiver and has pledged the Fed is ready to act if necessary. The upshot, we believe, is that QE 3 is inevitable. We think another round of quantitative easing, that is, printing money by purchasing financial assets from commercial banks, will be launched at the Federal Open Market Committee's next meeting in August. The minutes from the June FOMC meeting will be parsed when they are released on Wednesday. The policy makers extended "Operation Twist" at that meeting.
The argument for further Fed action got support last week from news that the ISM's diffusion index of manufacturing activity in the U.S. slumped into contraction territory for the first time in three years, falling to 49.7% in June from 53.5% in May. The production and employment sub-indexes were up, but a steep drop in new orders was the canary in the coal mine.
And the notion of an incipient downturn grew stronger with Friday's news that nonfarm payrolls grew a paltry 80,000 in June, below expectations that were raised when ADP said Thursday that its survey of private sector employment showed a gain of 176,000. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2%.
Abroad, the misery continued as Eurostat reported the unemployment rate in the 17-nation euro zone rose to a record 11.1% in May from 11% the previous month. Spain's unemployment rate was the highest in the euro zone at 24.6%, while Austria had the lowest jobless rate at 4.1%.
Next week, the producer price index and the University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey will be released Friday. For now, though, it's up to earnings season to set the tone.