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Monday April 23, 2012
There may not be much on the domestic economic docket today, but the market has plenty to keep it occupied. The torrid pace of first quarter earnings releases today and the rest of this week is not going to be the only market driver as we have a full plate of major economic releases on deck this week, with the Fed and GDP in focus. From across the pond, we don’t have fresh negative headlines about Spain today, but the presidential election in France and budget disagreements in the Netherlands are adding an element of political uncertainty to the European story.
This morning’s positive earnings surprises from Eaton Corp (ETN - Analyst Report), Brinker International (EAT - Analyst Report), and D.R. Horton (DHI - Analyst Report) seem to be a recurring story this earnings season. Not only have results been better than expected, but a much bigger proportion of the roughly one quarter or so of the companies that have already released results been coming out with positive surprises compared to the last few quarters. We will have a good measure of this earnings season by the end of this week when results from more than half of the S&P 500 companies will be out. But I don’t envision the releases this week to materially change the trend line established thus far.
Earnings aside, the spotlight this week will be on the Fed’s two-day meeting getting underway on Tuesday and the first quarter GDP report coming out Friday morning. No major surprises are expected from the official post-meeting statement on Wednesday, but the market will be closely watching Ben Bernanke’s press event that afternoon for signs of fresh Fed support. The recent run of ‘softish’ economic readings, particularly on the labor market front, has raised hopes that he Fed will come out with a new QE-type initiative after the end of the current Operation Twist in June. It may be just a coincidence that the starting point for the stock market rally coincided with the start-up of the Fed’s Operation Twist in October last year. But handicapping what Bernanke has up his sleeve is hardly a trivial matter for this market.
We don’t know if Bernanke and Co will have access to the first quarter GDP numbers when they meet mid-week, but there is no doubt that the rest us have to wait till Friday morning to see those numbers. The expectation is that the economy expanded at a 2.5% growth pace in the quarter, down from the preceding quarter’s 3% growth rate. The modest deceleration from the fourth quarter’s level notwithstanding, the composition of growth is expected to improve. Gains on the labor market and retail sales fronts have helped raise expectations that the Friday GDP report will show an acceleration in Personal Consumption Expenditures or consumer spending from the fourth quarter’s 2.1% pace to around 2.3% in the first quarter.
Director of Research