Up and upper. It was another pretty good week for the stock market. In fact, it’s been a good week, month, and year. The S&P 500 is up 22 percent this year. Since the government shutdown, or—more accurately—slowdown, since only about 20 percent of government workers were actually furloughed, the Dow is up more than 700 points.
Shutdown rebound? Of course, the logical question is this: Was the rise in the past week the result of resolving the fiscal stalemate? Some of it certainly is. There’s a bit less worry in the market. I sometimes look at an indicator called the Volatility Index, or VIX, which is essentially a complicated calculation using futures prices from the Chicago Board of Exchange. Futures prices are predictions about what the future price of assets will be. Those assets could be stocks or bonds or commodities such as oil or wheat. In the days before the budget deal, the VIX was up close to 20. Since the budget deal, it’s fallen to around 13, which is close to the historical norm.
Earnings irrelevance. Less worry and more confidence has helped the markets, but earnings seem increasingly irrelevant. Investors are looking to earnings to justify the market’s recent rise to an all-time high. But what they’re finding is mixed. Earnings are not disastrous, but revenue and forward-looking outlooks have been weak. For example, McDonald’s issued a weak fourth-quarter outlook. Caterpillar fell 6 percent early in the week when it cut its full-year outlook for a third time and its profit missed expectations. Close to half of S&P 500 companies have reported thus far, with 66 percent topping profit expectations. That’s a rate that is in line with the historical average. But only 54 percent have beaten on revenue, significantly below the 61 percent long-term average.
Weak jobs picture. And the jobs picture remains weak, too. The government finally released September numbers, and U.S. employers added 148,000 workers last month, well below the 180,000 economists had expected. We also got the weekly new claims for unemployment benefits on Thursday. They declined 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000. But that number, while an improvement, is disappointing, and the weekly number remains a bit unreliable as ongoing computer issues in California lingered. California’s conversion to a new system has been distorting the weekly reports since September. So government dysfunction continues.
The week ahead. It will be a big week for financial news. Much more earnings data. And a whole rash of reports from the government. On Tuesday, we’ll get September retail sales and consumer confidence. Those reports often move the markets. On Wednesday we get the first look at third quarter Gross Domestic Product. We’ll get a rate decision from the Federal Reserve, and auto and truck sales. These are just a few of the more than three dozen reports—by my count—that we’ll see next. So fasten your seat belts, and get ready for a busy and potentially market-moving week.