Stocks rebounded strongly on Wednesday in the wake of what looked, on the surface, to be a strong Consumer Price Inflation report.
In the aftermath of that February jobs report, which showed faster-than-expected wage growth, this looked like it would be a negative. But it wasn’t, as the expiration of February contracts on the CBOE Volatility Index unleashed a torrent of VIX selling, which pushed stock prices higher in an epic short-covering rally.
In the end, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1%, the S&P 500 gained 1.3%, the Nasdaq Composite gained 1.9% and the Russell 2000 gained 1.8%. Treasury bonds weakened, pushing the 10-year yield up to 2.91% — approaching the 3% threshold that is widely seen as a critical level as GDP growth, fiscal largesse and inflation pressures push up borrowing costs.
The dollar was hit hard as well, with Societe Generale’s Albert Edwards worried the drop is being driven by the seemingly limitless spending being condoned in Washington by President Trump and Congressional Republicans. Both gold and crude oil moved higher.
Breadth was positive, with advancers outpacing decliners by a 2.2-to-1 ratio. Troubled burrito maker Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG) gained 15% on the announcement of a new CEO and hopes he can emulate the success he enjoyed at Taco Bell. At the sector level, gold miners led the way with a gain of 4.1%, while REITs were the laggards on the drag from the backup in rates.
On the economic front, both core CPI and CPI beat estimates on a monthly basis, but the annualized rates remain tepid. Core year-over-year CPI is running at just 1.8%. Retail sales disappointed as well, playing into hopes that the Federal Reserve continues to go slow with its rate hikes, with sales down 0.3% month-over-month for the first decline since September’s report on August sales.
Volatility was intense today, with the Nasdaq up 3% off of its post-CPI futures low. The dollar and bond prices are collapsing. Gold and short volatility ETFs are soaring. The Dow Jones has now climbed above its 50% retracement of its peak-to-trough losses. And the 10-year yield has hit its highest level since January 2014.
This is short-covering, pure and simple. And a relief for risk parity funds that depend on stocks and bonds moving in opposite directions. As long as stocks can keep rising to offset T-bond weakness, the show can go on.
But once higher yields start to bite economic growth and earnings growth expectations — driven by the inevitability of higher inflation — we will see a repeat of the recent market unpleasantness.
My guess is we have a couple of months, at least, before that happens. Until then, the volatility meltdown is creating a number of new trading opportunities. Including the nice gain Edge Pro subscribers are enjoying on their iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures TM ETN(NYSEARCA:VXX) puts.
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