S&P 500: Testing, Testing At 2742

So far this is a normal pause. Stocks frequently pause, pull back, move up again, pull back again when they confront a major resistance level. So it’s not surprising that the Standard & Poor’s 500 took a breather today after the index closed at 2731 yesterday within 10 points of the 200-day moving average at 2742. The high today came at 10:30 a.m. New York time at 2719. The index closed at 2702, down 1.07% on the day.

What goes on at resistance points like these is that investors and traders poke their heads up to look around to see if they want to bid stocks higher after a considerable move to the upside. The S&P 500 is up 16% from its December lows and trading at nearly 16 times projected 12-month earnings per share.

Typically the market, temporary at least, focuses on available bad news to see if that presents a reason for selling after those gains.

This market is undoubtedly looking at earnings downgrades–that 16 multiple is on projected 12-month earnings and actual earnings might well be higher if more companies guide lower for the rest of 2019. That would make the current market actually more expensive than 16 times projected earnings.

The market is also looking at interest rate cuts and falling bond yields as possible indicators of slowing economic growth. The Reserve Bank of India announced a surprise 25 basis point cut in its key lending rate to 6.25%. The Bank of England left its key benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0.75%, but lowered its forecast for 2019 GDP growth to 1.2% from 1.7% (although how anyone can forecast an economic growth rate in the middle of the BREXIT chaos is beyond me.) The European Union Commission has cut its forecast of 2019 growth to 1.3% from 1.9%. The yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury is down 7 basis points to 2.67% from the December 24 starting point of the stock rally. That’s not a vote of confidence on the sustainability of the rally or on growth in the U.S. economy.

So far, though, I’d say this is a normal pause and I’d even go so far as to say that a pull back of 5% or so from here–giving back some of that 16% gain in the post December 24 rally-wouldn’t be a negative surprise.

But there are enough macro events out there that could make any pull back larger–China trade talks, another government shutdown, an extended farce over raising the U.S. debt limit, evidence of an further slowing of U.S. economy growth, and revival of recession speculation–that there is a significant chance that a “normal” test and a “normal” pull back could turn into a surprisingly large negative move.

Yep, it’s one of those times when it’s just very hard to find a trend in the short term.