September 18-22, 2023

Tactical Signal 9

Sowell’s tactical signals are watchfully holding ground for now and remain in full position (100%).

Major equity averages displayed limited movement last week, predominantly leaning toward the negative side, with inflation data aligning closely with expectations rather than surpassing them. The annual CPI of 3.7% exceeded consensus estimates, primarily due to increased costs in the oil and transportation services sectors, which cast a shadow over the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite. Specifically, the S&P 500 Index dipped by a marginal -0.12%, while the Nasdaq experienced a more pronounced decline of -0.37%. This development has prompted market speculation that the Federal Reserve may feel compelled to raise interest rates further, particularly as Long-term Treasuries witnessed a decline of -1.23% over the course of the week. Notably, the S&P 500, heavily influenced by technology stocks, faced challenges, with notable decreases in Apple (-1.78%), Microsoft (-1.21%), and NVIDIA (-3.67%), ultimately resulting in a -2.17% downturn for the Technology sector as a whole. However, there was a glimmer of hope in the industrial production sector, often regarded as a key indicator for manufacturing and the overall economy. Industrial production saw a modest uptick of 0.40%, surpassing expectations for August, although this data preceded the recent UAW strike.

Looking ahead to the current week, all eyes are on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and its impending interest rate decision scheduled for this Wednesday. Given that the latest inflation report failed to outperform expectations, investors should increasingly factor in the likelihood of an imminent rate hike. This anticipation is further fueled by the perception of a more assertive stance from the Federal Reserve. Adding to the complexity of the market landscape is the political divide, as Congress faces the imminent deadline to approve fiscal spending bills by October 1. This political uncertainty adds an additional layer of unpredictability to the markets, and investors should brace themselves for potential turbulence in the weeks ahead.

"What is so evil — beyond the death and pain and trauma and destruction he has inflicted on so many Ukrainians — is that at a time when climate change, famine, health crises and so much more are stressing Planet Earth, the last thing humanity needed was to divert so much attention, collaborative energy, money and lives to respond to Putin's war to make Ukraine a Russian colony again. Putin lately has stopped even bothering to justify the war — maybe because even he is too embarrassed to utter aloud the nihilism that his actions scream: If I can't have Ukraine, I'll make sure Ukrainians can't have it, either."

– New York Times Opinion Columnist Thomas Friedman, A Trip to Ukraine Clarified the Stakes. And They're Huge, September 15, 2023.

Houston, we see the runway…


Years ago, I had the occasion to fly into Denver airport, and as the plane started to bank into the descent, the cabin was buffeted by high winds. For those unfamiliar, and I count myself as one at the time, the slopes of the Rocky Mountains create columns of rising air that make it very bumpy for air traffic during take-offs and landings. Ultimately and without issues, despite my rising blood pressure, the pilot confidently wrestled the plane and us onto the tarmac, which was a relatively uneventful and soft landing. 

Most recently, the FED has raised rates for what may be the last of a string of rate hikes that number 11 within roughly a year. 

This response was in reaction to the "Great Pandemic Inflation" caused by COVID-19 and the real threat of global chaos.  

Looking at the factors that drove this spike in inflation, one can't argue the supply-side factors caused by direct changes in COVID-19 disrupted supply chains worldwide and supply shocks caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. One can even argue when, why, and who caused the demand side of fiscal and monetary policy responses that directly drove consumer spending. But what we can't argue now is that "all in all," the worst-case scenario for America was averted. Furthermore, the data shows that the above issues have been addressed if not returned to normal.

In fact, despite the brightest minds calling for unruly, if not uncontrollable, inflation being here to stay. The FED has created an interest rate environment where real rates are positive, which we thought might be impossible since the onset of the Great Financial Crisis. Can you imagine that we've had zero and even negative real rates for almost two decades? Amazingly, the deceleration of inflation has been as fast as the rise. So fast that we can't and shouldn't waste too much time worrying about how we got here because we aren't "here" anymore.

Of course, the FED isn't fully bought in that inflation is dead and shouldn't be. Still, even before the pandemic, there have been disinflationary trends that aren't easily displaced, like technology and oil consumption. However, so much "success" against inflation and the lack of typical recessionary pressures have gotten people to talk about a soft landing.

But before we go there, there is one last source of inflation, and that would be wage inflation. One big difference in this cycle of FED tightening is the immunity that employment is having during this massive rate hike. Unemployment remains stubbornly low, which is a major reason for the robust consumer spending, but the wage growth decline has greatly relieved the FED. In fact, Gross Labor Income has decelerated, which is the cause of an equal slowdown in consumer spending growth. Can we get a hooyah?

Finally, as we get to the point, it is likely that the FED has engineered a soft landing in the short run. And why not? Haven't we flown into Denver many times before? As we end with the chart below (and full disclosure, the FED has a very poor track record of forecasting, so ignore the dotted lines), it may be a pretty good landing. Now, let's get back to the gate!

091823 Indices

Advisory services offered through Sowell Management, a Registered Investment Advisor. The views expressed represent the opinion of Sowell Management. The views are subject to change and are not intended as a forecast or guarantee of future results. This material is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice and is not intended as an endorsement of any specific investment. Stated information is derived from proprietary and non-proprietary sources that have not been independently verified for accuracy or completeness. While Sowell Management believes the information to be accurate and reliable, we do not claim or have responsibility for its completeness, accuracy, or reliability. Statements of future expectations, estimates, projections, and other forward-looking statements are based on available information and Sowell Management’s view as of the time of these statements. Accordingly, such statements are inherently speculative as they are based on assumptions that may involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties. Actual results, performance or events may differ materially from those expressed or implied in such statements. Investing in securities involves risks, including the potential loss of principal. While equities may offer the potential for greater long-term growth than most debt securities, they generally have higher volatility. International investments may involve risk of capital loss from unfavorable fluctuation in currency values, from differences in generally accepted accounting principles, or from economic or political instability in other nations. Past performance is not indicative of future results.


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