After lacklustre earnings season, investors turn to data
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. - AP
New York - The S&P 500 index has rallied roughly five per cent in the past fortnight, its best two-week run in a year, and is up about four per cent from its February 11 low.
Investors hoping that US stocks will build on a strong two-week run will look to a host of data this week, highlighted by the monthly jobs report, for signs the economy is improving. With a lacklustre earnings season winding down, it will take some solid macroeconomic data to keep the momentum going on Wall Street.
The S&P 500 index has rallied roughly five per cent in the past fortnight, its best two-week run in a year, and is up about four per cent from its February 11 low.
Those gains have come as recent data has diminished investor concerns over a recession and with oil prices showing signs of stabilising around $30 a barrel.
"If you go back a couple weeks, it was really the positive retail sales report that kind of got us out of the funk," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago. "Now that earnings reports are behind us, the economic data will take centrestage."
Non-farm payrolls for February cap off the week on Friday and are expected to increase by 193,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate is forecast to hold at 4.9 per cent. January's report showed job gains slowed more than expected, although rising wages and the low unemployment rate indicated the labour market remains firm.
Also due this week are reports on activity in the manufacturing and services sectors from Markit, a data firm, and the Institute for Supply Management. While manufacturing is expected to remain soft, the data will be eyed for signs the sector is close to bottoming. Services activity data will be also be in focus after a reading from Markit showed the sector contracted in February for the first time since October 2013.
"The services [report] is what you want to watch," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.
Hogan said investors were already prepared for a weak report on the manufacturing sector, but a reading on the services sector that offsets the soft preliminary reading would be welcomed.
However, should the data point to an economy that is gaining traction, it could also reduce enthusiasm for stocks, with a mid-March meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee on the horizon.
"[Payrolls] could actually hamper any further gains in the market," said Peter Kenny, equity market strategist at Kenny & Co, in Denver. "People will look at that as an indicator that the Fed is more than less likely to move on rates, sooner rather than later."
Volatility could also be heightened by politics, with the crucial Super Tuesday nominating contests looming this week.
Oil prices will continue to be a major factor for equities, and a rise of more than 25 per cent in US crude since February 11 has been a key ingredient in the advance of US stocks off their 10-month low.
Equities have been closely tied to movements in crude of late and another downturn in the commodity is likely to pressure stocks.