Market Perspective for February 2, 2015

Earnings season, Greece and currency wars are the focus of attention this week as stocks look to recover January losses.

Stocks got a boost from the first big earnings announcement of the week: Exxon (XOM). Quarterly profit fell 21 percent, forcing the firm to trim its stock buyback plan by 66 percent. However, the results were better than expected and the stock rallied on the news. As long as the conference call doesn’t offer any negative surprises, this is very good news for the market. Because XOM is the second largest holding in the S&P 500 after Apple (AAPL), energy has weighed heavily on the index. Forecasts for first quarter 2015 S&P 500 earnings are negative year-on-year because of expected declines in the energy sector.

Another big energy report due today is Anadarko Petroleum (APC), an independent producer that has interests in shale and deep-water drilling. National Oilwell Varco (NOV) and Marathon (MRO) will report on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

Some other big names set to report are General Motors (GM), Gilead Sciences (GILD), a top holding in many biotechnology funds, Walt Disney (DIS), Merck (MRK), Yum Brands (YUM) and Philip Morris (PM). Other widely followed names include LinkedIn (LNKD), Twitter (TWTR) and Sprint (S). United Parcel Service (UPS) also reports; its shares tumbled in January after the firm guided lower.

There will be no shortage of economic data this week. The manufacturing PMIs for various nations will be released. China’s PMI came out over the weekend and showed the manufacturing sector in contraction. Motor vehicle sales, the ADP employment report and unemployment report for January will also be out. Last week, the first estimate of fourth quarter GDP was released. This week we’ll see some data that will affect the next estimate: construction spending, inflation, factory orders and the trade deficit for December.

Overseas, the currency markets and Greece will remain in focus. Last week, the U.S. dollar continued to rally, even though the U.S. Dollar Index reversed due to the euro rebounding. Denmark cut interest rates to negative 0.5 percent in a bid to defend its peg versus the euro. The country also announced it will stop issuing government bonds in order to force interest rates even lower. The fallout is already hitting the economy: a bank in Denmark started issuing negative rate mortgages. Although Denmark’s krone is nowhere near as important as the Swiss franc in financial markets, it is important for central bank credibility. The Swiss started their peg in 2011 as a response to turmoil in the euro and it wasn’t seen as a permanent policy; the end of the peg was a surprise because it came unannounced. Denmark has made the peg its main policy since 1999; abandoning it would strike a bigger blow to central bank credibility as investors realize central banks cannot control the markets.

Finally, there is the situation in Greece that continues to weigh on the euro and European markets. Greece’s new government says it does not want any new loans because it cannot handle the existing debt burden. Expect some headline volatility as the two sides wage a battle of brinkmanship.

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