Market Preview: Volatility Remains, But Stocks Finish Higher on Trade Hopes

Stocks remained in positive territory Monday, though it was another volatile session, as investors remain hopeful that a trade deal can be worked out between the U.S. and China. The Chinese Trade Ministry released positive statements indicating the Chinese may be moving closer to negotiating a deal. Energy stocks helped market gains, as oil looks to have put in a near-term bottom and has finished higher the past 5 trading days. But, there was still no word on resolution of a partial U.S. government shutdown, as President Trump and House Democrats have not reached an agreement on funding a border wall with Mexico. Several government agencies, such as the TSA, have been able to find funding to pay workers through mid-January, but the extended shutdown will begin to be felt more severely if it continues through this week.

Helen of Troy (HELE) and AZZ Inc. (AZZ) report earnings on Tuesday. The consumer housewares company rewarded investors with an excellent year in 2018, and analysts are keen to delve into sales in the health and beauty line when Helen of Troy reports before the open. AZZ, a provider of specialized welding, galvanizing services and electrical equipment, may provide insight into recent weakness in Federal Reserve manufacturing numbers. The company is expected to earn $.61 per share on revenue of $241 million.  

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index, Redbook retail numbers, and job openings, or JOLTS data, will all be released Tuesday. The business optimism number is expected to drop to 104 from November’s 104.8. While the number is still high, November saw a decline from October and analysts believe the index may have topped and be heading into a downtrend. It is very likely the Redbook retail numbers will see a decline from the 9.3% year-over-year levels of last week, but that should be expected after the holiday buying season. Also on tap Wednesday is the kickoff of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The annual event has a slew of technology company CEOs delivering speeches. 5G smartphones, and highly anticipated 5G network content, are expected to be a major focus of the show this year.

Wednesday, investors will parse through the MBA mortgage application numbers as well as the EIA petroleum status report. Mortgage applications were off a horrendous 9.8% last week but may show signs of life after a drop in rates, which began after the first of November. Petroleum numbers are of particular interest to traders right now as they try to decipher whether oil truly found a bottom in late December, and where the market is headed from here. FOMC minutes will also be released Wednesday afternoon. It is unlikely the minutes will have much impact on the market, unless there are statements which contradict the softer stance Chairman Powell seemed to take in his panel discussion last week with former Fed Chairs Bernanke and Yellen.

In addition to mortgage application numbers on Wednesday, KB Homes (KBH) and Lennar Corporation (LEN) both report earnings. With homebuilder stocks beginning to show signs of a bottom, the earnings reports from the two companies are being closely watched. With a potential near term top in mortgage rates, both stocks have started off 2019 in positive territory. Analysts are hoping for an improvement in outlook from the two companies as possibly setting the stage for a turn, or at least stabilization, in the housing market.

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