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Stocks head for another potentially treacherous week, after S&P 500 falls into bear market territory

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Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., March 7, 2022.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters

If there’s more bad news from retailers in the coming week, that could be a negative catalyst for an already cranky stock market.

Market pros are watching for more signs that stocks could be bottoming, though strategists say that is a tricky prospect and there could be false signals. The S&P 500, on an intraday basis, fell into a bear market for the first time Friday — trading more than 20% below its record high reached in January.

“It is a process. … This week was scary in breaking through last week’s bottom. These things take time,” said Julian Emanuel, head of equity, derivatives and quantitative strategy at Evercore ISI. Emanuel said that taking out the lows could be a buying opportunity, but the market could also head lower. “Looking medium to longer term, toward the end of the year, we continue to see higher stock prices ahead.”

The S&P 500 also dipped below its closing record high of 3,837.24. If the benchmark were to close below that level, Wall Street pros would consider it in a bear market.

While there is no official determination on what a bear market is, traders look to that 20% marker as a way to give context to stock market declines. But they do say the extent of the bear market, or how far stocks could fall, depends strictly on the performance of the economy.

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“The whole thing comes down to whether or not there’s going to be a recession. In the last three bear markets, where there was no recession, the decline was 21.3% and we’re basically there,” Emanuel said.

In the last three bear markets when there as a recession, the average decline was 47.9%, he said. Those bear markets were in 2000, 2008 and 2020. Evercore does not expect a recession, but its clients now see a 55% chance of one in the next 18 months, Emanuel said.

Stocks were sharply lower in the past week, despite the fact strategists had been expecting the oversold market to bounce. The market initially rallied, until earnings misses from Walmart and Target blew up the gains.

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The surprising weakness in those two big stalwart retailers crushed their stocks, hammered the retail sector and took the entire market lower on fears the consumer is wobbling and other companies will also have earnings issues.

Earnings from Costco, Best Buy and others, as well as personal consumption expenditures data, could be important in the coming week as investors weigh how much the consumer is stumbling. The PCE includes data on spending, income and inflation.

“Any retailer reporting in this environment is a reason for an investor to be fearful, given what we’ve seen this week,” Emanuel said.

Other retailers reporting earnings in the coming week include Ulta Beauty, Macy’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and discounters Dollar Tree and Dollar General. Their reports and comments could help clarify whether the consumer is more broadly weakening, and how much inflation and supply chain snarls continue to hurt the stores and the economy.

The reports from Walmart and Target came as the market was also assessing a very strong April retail sales report, showing spending jumped 8.2% year over year.

In the coming week, the economic calendar includes the Federal Reserve’s minutes from its last meeting on Wednesday, the second look at first quarter gross domestic product Thursday, as well as PCE data on Friday. The PCE data also includes the PCE inflation index, watched closely by the Fed.

“We’re likely to shift gears to focus on economic data. We get the April read on new home sales, which looks to be down but not as much as it was in April,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities. “We get durable goods, and that’s likely to show improvement as well. One thing that’s been consistent is the data and the economic calendar has been better than the market’s reaction to it.”

Stocks took a battering in the past week, with the S&P 500 down 4.5% as of Friday at afternoon. The Nasdaq was bloodied even more, declining 5.6% as some big cap tech favorites cratered. Apple was down more than 8% on the week, and Tesla fell more than 15.6%.

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Strategists were watching to see if the S&P 500 would hold onto the low it set in the prior week at 3,859. It initially held that level Friday, but then went through it and fell hard.

“This is a spot where you can get short and lose money, and you can get caught playing a bottom and it’s not working,” said Scott Redler, partner with T3Live.com.

“I already put extra long term money to work, and I’m not putting any more to work unless we go to a lower spot,” Redler said. “As a trader, there are potholes everywhere. It’s hard to get excited here when there are two more Fed rate hikes, and the only reason the Fed would veer off course is if the stock market gets really pummeled.”

The Fed raised interest rates by a half-percent this month and is widely expected to make two more 50 basis point hikes before returning to quarter-point moves. A basis point equals 0.01.

Emanuel said investors should continue to stay defensive. “This is an environment where you have to look for all the edges you can, which is projected better earnings growth, depressed multiples and high short interest,” he said. When a stock has a high short position, meaning investors expect the price to fall, any move higher in price could force those investors to cover shorts, propelling the stock price to even better gains.

Emanuel said he also likes value names. “Long term, it’s a very very viable area of the market,” he said. Emanuel added that value stocks are under-owned by individuals, and he said the are a hedge in a rising rate environment and also against inflation.

Week ahead calendar

Monday

Earnings: Zoom Video, Advance Auto Parts

12:00 p.m. Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic

Tuesday

Earnings: Autozone, Nordstrom, Best Buy, Abercrombie and Fitch, Ralph Lauren, Petco, Agilent, Toll Brothers, NetEase

9:45 a.m. Manufacturing PMI

9:45 a.m. Services PMI

10:00 a.m. New home sales

Wednesday

Earnings: Nvidia, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Express, Bank of Montreal, Box, Nutanix

8:30 a.m. Durable goods

2:00 p.m. FOMC minutes

Thursday

Earnings: Costco, Macy’s, Autodesk, Gap, Dell Technologies, Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Ulta Beauty, Lions Gate, VMware, Baidu, Alibaba, Medtronic, Burlington Stores, American Eagle Outfitters, Toronto Dominion, Jack in the Box, Buckle, Workday, Sumo Logic

8:30 a.m. Jobless claims

8:30 a.m. Real GDP (Q1 second estimate)

10:00 a.m. Pending home sales

Friday

Earnings: Canopy Growth, Big Lots

8:30 a.m. Advance economic indicators

8:30 a.m. Wholesale Inventories

8:30 a.m. Personal income/spending

8:30 a.m. PCE deflator

10:00 a.m. University of Michigan consumer sentiment

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