By David Moenning
Chief Investment Strategist
After the near 10% correction (the S&P 500 fell -9.936% on a closing basis to be exact) that occurred from April 1 through Friday, it is safe to say that there wasn't a whole lot of hope in the market. No, as of the first Monday morning in June, reality had set in. Almost all of the economic reports in the U.S. came in WTE (weaker than expected). China's economy was no longer growing at a 10% rate and there were not any easy answers to Europe's ongoing debt crisis.
As of Monday's close, reality was clearly winning the hope versus reality battle. But like springtime weather in the mountains, things can turn on a dime. And by the time Wednesday's closing bell rang, hope had made an impressive comeback as the stock market finished with its best day of the year.
Usually, when stocks spurt higher and the shorts fall all over themselves to cover, there is some sort of news or event to trigger the move. But make no mistake about it; Wednesday's joyride to the upside was all about hope.
The ECB did hold a meeting. But "Super Mario" left rates unchanged and failed to hint at anything more than the idea that the central bank stands ready to help after European leaders do something (anything) or if things really start to escalate. And there was some economic data, but I'm not sure anybody besides market geeks (myself included) care about Nonfarm Productivity and/or Unit Labor Costs.
No, while Greece has been the word recently, hope was clearly the word on Wednesday. First there was hope that the WSJ's Jon Hilsenrath, who is widely viewed as being somewhat of a Fed mouthpiece, had gotten a scoop when he changed his tune on what the Bernanke Bunch may or may not do next. (In a weekend article Hilsenrath had stated that the Fed was on hold and then on Tuesday he opined that the Fed may be ready to consider additional action.) In short, it was this article that got the bulls' juices flowing initially.
You see, by now traders of all shapes and sizes know what to do with more Fed stimulus - it's called the "risk on" trade. Given that this might be the third go-round here, traders know that you short the dollar (UUP) and then buy the Aussie and Canadian dollars (FXA and FXC) for your currency trade. Then you buy up the commodities (DBC) including oil (USO), copper (JJC), and the grains (JJC). Now mix in the equities of the U.S. (SPY) and the emerging markets (EEM). And then maybe sprinkle a little junk bond exposure (JNK) in for good measure. Voila, you've got yourself a risk trade that will work wonders for your portfolio when the Fed starts buying debt again.
So needless to say, traders are hoping that "the Bernank" reprises something along the lines of QE or Operation Twist. Never mind the fact that the Fed's Beige Book report presented what appeared to be a slightly more upbeat view of the economy. (The Beige Book said the US economy grew at "moderate pace" over the reporting period compared the "modest-to-moderate" language used in last report.) Never mind that Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher had laid out an impressive case of why the Fed is done on Tuesday night. Never mind the fact that interest rates are at all-time lows. Nope, if you believe, as so many apparently do, that the Fed is targeting asset prices (i.e. the stock and housing markets) in order to keep the consumer spending, then you can buy into the idea that Bernanke's cavalry is about to mount up and ride to the rescue of the economy once again. (Oh, and those who favor this view may want to simply ignore the fact that the trillions spent so far haven't really done all that much.)
There was also hope on the Euro front yesterday as there was a report that leaders had concocted a way for the Eurozone to inject money directly into Spanish banks. And to make matters more interesting, this scheme would hold the country whose banks were receiving aid ultimately responsible for the capital infusion. But, and this is the best part, the "ultimate responsibility" (which sounds an awful lot like a liability to us) would not be counted as "debt" in terms of the country's debt-to-GDP ratio. Brilliant!
The key takeaway from Wednesday's session was that hope clearly prevailed. But the question for today is if hope can continue to prevail if Mr. Bernanke fails to offer any hints about additional stimulus this morning on Capitol Hill. So don't touch that dial, this is one show worth watching.
Follow on Twitter: @StateDave (Twitter is the new ticker tape)