Santa hasn’t forgotten Wall Street but beware 2022’s ‘landmines’: Morning Brief

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Thursday, December 23, 2021

The rally’s intact, but for how much longer is anyone’s guess

The Santa Claus Rally hasn’t been derailed after all.

The North Pole’s jolliest resident — battling his way through the Omicron surge, a hawkish Federal Reserve, weaker consumer spending and the apparent demise of President Biden’s signature domestic legislation that was all but certain to boost growth and inflation — has made his annual pilgrimage to Wall Street, in spite of the odds.

Only days ago, the traditional year-end surge in stocks appeared to be in doubt, with markets disquieted by new developments in the COVID-19 pandemic. But Wednesday’s price action, along with confidence data that reflected a nervous yet still resilient consumer, was enough to suggest Old Saint Nick was ready to end the year on a high note.

There’s still just over a week left in 2021, and anything can happen between now and December 31. We can’t completely rule out another down day like the one we saw earlier this week, when rising Omicron infections (and West Virginia’s decidedly maverick senator) were enough to ignite new fears about the economy.

At least for the moment, however, the bull case remains intact, even with the latest COVID-19 mutation adding a new dimension to a raging public health crisis, and threatening vulnerable sectors like travel, leisure and dining.

“We’ve been saying that this is definitely a buy the dip sort of market because we expect more earnings upgrades to come,” Anik Sen, PineBridge Investments’ global head of equities told Yahoo Finance Live on Wednesday. “We think that the real debate should be about the length and strength of the economic cycle ahead.”

Of course, Omicron is throwing cold water on some of Wall Street’s conventional wisdom, and 2022 is more than likely to see a deceleration in growth. Yet talk of a full-fledged downturn is “premature” at best, according to Michael Sheldon of RDM Financial.

“We’re in year two of the current economic expansion… over the last several decades, economic expansions typically tend to last a number of years,” Sheldon told Yahoo Finance Live.

So in other words, investors should never doubt the U.S. economy’s ability to continue defying gravity in the face of bad news — a lesson most of us should have learned since the brutal yet mercifully brief bear market of 2020.

Yet over at Wisdom Tree, investing gurus Kevin Flanagan and Jeff Weniger have warned that beneath the placid surface of Wall Street’s benchmarks, “real carnage” is taking place that may hold clues about what the future holds once investors are clear of the holidays.

“Since November 8, small caps are down across the board, with the Russell 2000 growth cohort off about 13%, owing to nearly four-tenths of its stocks operating in the red,” Flanagan and Weniger wrote in a research note, despite strength among tech giants like Apple, Microsoft and Tesla — though the latter has been hammered by CEO Elon Musk’s capricious stock sale.

Tesla’s precipitous slide from $1,200 per share “is disconcerting, and almost entirely related (we think) to the prospect of higher interest rates messing up the discounted cash flow math on Elon Musk’s concept company.”

Enter a Fed that has found religion on relentless inflationary pressures, with Fed Chairman Jerome Powell all but certain to embark on the central bank’s first rate-hike campaign in over two years.

The market is bracing for anywhere between one and three rate hikes, and an end to massive bond purchases that have created “the biggest bubble out there,” Pantera Capital CEO Dan Morehead told Yahoo Finance this week.

But how a witches brew of tighter monetary policy, potentially slowing growth, and a still raging pandemic will go down with investors is anyone’s guess.

“Should Powell become more aggressive in his nascent inflation fight, the market’s action over the last six weeks may indicate the location of 2022’s landmines,” WisdomTree’s Flanagan and Weniger added.

And on that note, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

By Javier E. David, editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him at @Teflongeek

Editor’s Note: In observance of Christmas the Morning Brief will be taking a break for the long weekend. We’ll be back on Monday, Dec. 27. Happy Holidays!

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