We awoke this morning to see futures deep in the red. Over the past two weeks, markets seem indecisive, unable to make much progress. Lots of days began with positive trades, only to roll over and fall into losses. Several days that began in the red closed negative, though usually off their worst levels. Last week’s big ugly Monday is still fresh in many traders’ minds.
Might this be the start of the long-awaited, overdue correction?
There certainly have been plenty of catalysts that could hasten a 10 percent drop or worse. Earnings season has begun rather inauspiciously. There have been several high profile disappointments — IBM, Best Buy, Intel and Citigroup come to mind.
On the other side of the world, China is slowing, with January manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index falling to a 6-month low and breaking 50 (49.6). New orders, exports, employment and backlogs all showed declines. On top of that, HSBC reports that China continues to face a cash shortage within its financial system (why does that sound so familiar?).
All this takes place against the backdrop of the U.S. Federal Reserve taper. The first step toward removing the bond-buying program was put into place last month, with the next step possibly coming as soon as the two-day Open Market Committee meeting next week. An unusually accommodative monetary policy is beginning to come to the natural end of its unnatural life. Indeed, the degree of stimulus has been so enormous that it might take three full years or even longer to fully unwind it. Congress has exhibited no interest in post-recession fiscal stimulus — unlike in prior recessions -– so perhaps the FOMC ‘s slow withdrawal is a mixed blessing.