To say it's been a discomforting time for U.S. stock investors lately would be an understatement -- sovereign debt concerns in Europe, a tepid U.S. economic recovery, and now the commerce-complicating factors of Hurricane Irene have jolted institutional investors, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling about 12 percent this summer.
And then on Friday there was another does of sobering news: the U.S. economy created no jobs in August, the U.S. Labor Department announced, with the U.S. unemployment rate remaining at a totally unacceptable 9.1 percent.
So glad that Wall Street is getting that much-needed extra spring in its step as the autumn's cool weather approaches. Right.
What's Up Ahead for the Dow?
What's ahead? Here are the arguments:
The stock market's bears argue that absent adequate, sustained, monthly job growth of at least 150,000 to 200,000 new jobs per month, the U.S. economy will continue to grow, at best, at a tepid rate, weighing on both corporate revenue growth and earnings growth in the immediate quarters ahead. Hence, the bears see a Dow falling to the psychologically-significant 10,000 level, and then possibly to as low as 8,700 to 8,800.
That would be a 22 percent drop from the current Dow 11,240 level -- a bear market.
The stock market's bulls argue that the Fed's commitment to low interest rates through mid-2013 will telegraph to companies that borrowing rates remain conducive to expanding operations, and when added to an ongoing expansion in the manufacturing sector (especially in commercial aviation and cars) will be enough to rev-up U.S. GDP growth in the second half of 2011.
What's more, if the U.S. Federal Reserve, led by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, implements part 3 of quantitative easing, QE3, that would further stimulate demand by keeping credit markets liquid and provide additional incentives for banks to lend.
From a technical analysis standpoint, the bears hold the edge: the Dow is below the key 50-day moving average at 11,886 and below the 200-day moving average at 11,996 -- an even tougher average to break. There's also a lack of buying pressure -- another bearish factor.
That said, if the bulls can hold technical support at/near Dow 10,700 to 10,800 it could serve as a base for a new rally.
Market/Economic Analysis: The stock market is likely to register choppy, volatile trading in the immediate weeks ahead, at least until institutional investors can reach a consensus concerning whether the Fed's new, two-year low-interest-rate stance will provide enough stimulus to rev-up U.S. GDP growth and whether QE3 is on the way.
Further, many stocks are selling at low valuations, but this isn't a market for squeamish investors.
Therefore, if you plan to retire in one year -- or by May/June 2012 -- now may be a good time to take some money off the table, i.e. rotate out of stocks and stock-based mutual funds.
The reason? The risk/return is tilted toward the bears -- the Dow is more likely to fall 2,000 points than gain 2,000 over the next 9 months, and reducing your exposure to stocks will protect you from those possible losses.
If you plan to invest at least 2 to 3 years -- the tack forwarded here is to remain fully invested, but deploy new money only in those clear-winner stocks -- those with a demonstrated business model like IBM (IBM), General Electric (GE) or Boeing (BA), or in a blue-chip mutual fund.