End of Day Update:
It was another strong day for the S&P500 as we closed at the highest levels since the August correction began. As worried as people have been, we’re up four out of the last five days and that lone down day was only a modest eight point decline. Without a doubt buyers are growing increasingly confident. Is this sustainable, or the highs before we tumble back into the trading range?
It is hard to get away from the Fed’s rate hike since that is the only thing people are talking about. Will they hike or won’t they hike, that is the question on everyone’s mind. As a contrarian, I like to trade against the crowd, but opinion is divided on this issue. Without a consensus to trade against, it is hard to figure out what comes next.
Even if I knew ahead of time what the Fed was going to do, it wouldn’t do me any good because I cannot begin to guess how the market will respond. That’s because with such a divided opinion, it is hard to figure out who has been buying these last couple of weeks. Is this a short-squeeze? Or have we finally run out of fearful sellers and are rebounding on the resulting tight supply? Maybe those that are hopeful the Fed will keep rates artificially low are buying ahead of that expected announcement? Or are people are buying for no other reason than other people are buying? Without a popular opinion driving this move, it is hard to figure out what is behind it.
But all is not lost. While we might not know what the market is thinking right now, it will show us its hand following the Fed’s decision. There are four possible outcomes and four ways to trade it.
Rate hike followed by a rally:
This is a bullish signal because it tells us the market no longer cares about China or rate hikes. Everyone who fears these things sold weeks ago and when there is no one left to sell a headline, it stops mattering.
Rate hike followed by a selloff:
Over the medium-term this is a bullish outcome because the rate-hike debate and uncertainty is finally over. While the knee-jerk reaction was to sell the news, a 0.25% bump in short-term interest rates will not have a material impact on our economy. There will be plenty of value oriented buyers ready to jump in and snap up discount shares from fearful sellers. While we could slip to the lower end of the trading range, even undercutting the 1,860 lows, the Fed hiking rates tells us they believe in this economy and so should we.
No hike followed by a rally:
This is most likely a temporary relief rally that will fizzle. Delaying the rate hike by six or twelve weeks isn’t going to make much of a difference and isn’t something to get excited about. In fact, I would be concerned about the Fed not hiking rates because it tells us they think our economy and stock market are too fragile to handle such a nominal rate hike. If they’re worried, then we should be too.
No hike followed by a selloff:
A bloodbath following good news will be our signal to stay clear of this market. If the Fed doesn’t believe in this market, we could smash through the lows. The situation is further compounded because the cloud of rate hike uncertainty continues indefinitely. The market can handle bad news because it is quantifiable. This not knowing is what drives it crazy.
While it is hard to read the market ahead of time, the way it responds to the Fed’s decision will tell us a lot about what traders are thinking and how they are positioned. This will be interesting!
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Jani Ziedins (pronounced Ya-nee) is a full-time investor and writer who has successfully traded stocks and options for more than a decade. He earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and an MBA and M.S. Marketing from the University of Colorado Denver. His prior professional experience includes manufacturing engineering at Fortune 500 companies, structural engineering, small business consultant, collegiate instructor, and managing investment real estate. He is now fortunate enough to trade full-time from home, affording him the luxury of spending extra time with his wife and two young children.