Day Traders Diary


Equity indices marched through a stockpile of economic data to new record highs on Wednesday as the S&P 500 (+0.5%) posted its seventh consecutive advance. The Dow (+0.5%) finished in line with the benchmark index while the Nasdaq (+0.6%) closed a step ahead.


The day's record close appeared somewhat doubtful following this morning's release of January CPI. The report came in hotter than expected with total CPI increasing 0.6% ( consensus +0.3%) and core CPI, which excludes food and energy, rising 0.3% ( consensus +0.2%). While the Fed's preferred inflation gauge is the PCE Price Index, Wednesday's CPI reading confirms that consumer inflation pressures are rising, which in turn should increase the potential for a rate hike at the March meeting.


Sure enough, the fed funds futures market showed an increase in the implied probability of a March rate hike (to 31.0% today from 17.7% yesterday). Additionally, the fed funds futures market now points to the next FOMC rate hike taking place in May with the corresponding probability rising to 53.1% from yesterday's 40.6%.


U.S. Treasuries slipped immediately following the January CPI release and held the bulk of those losses into the close, finishing lower for the fifth consecutive session. The benchmark 10-yr yield finished three basis points higher at 2.50%.


After the morning's wave of economic data, which included much more than just CPI (see data review below), the stock market found its footing and began a slow but steady climb into the green. Financials (+0.7%) led the advance throughout the morning, but health care (+1.2%) took the reigns in the afternoon.


While the health care space showed broad strength, biotechnology and pharmaceutical names demonstrated notable vigor as a handful of components were recently disclosed in new, increased, and/or maintained portfolio positions. The iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB 294.95, +5.15) advanced 1.8% while pharmaceutical heavyweights like Pfizer (PFE 33.51, +0.76), AbbVie (ABBV 61.65, +0.83), and Eli Lilly (LLY 80.25, +1.44) finished higher between 1.4% and 2.3%.


The top-weighted technology sector (+0.4%) finished a step behind the broader market as Apple (AAPL 135.51, +0.49) resisted the sector's bullish disposition. However, chipmakers somewhat balanced the tech giant's underperformance, evidenced by the 0.8% uptick in the PHLX Semiconductor Index. Analog Devices (ADI 81.60, +3.76) led the chipmaker advance after beating top and bottom line estimates and increasing its quarterly dividend.


Consumer staples (+0.8%) finished just behind the health care space despite the negative response to PepsiCo's (PEP 106.73, -0.19) latest earnings report. The company slipped 0.2% after below-consensus guidance outweighed above-consensus earnings. Also of note, PEP decided to raise its dividend.


Utilities (-0.4%) finished the day at the bottom of the leaderboard, while energy (-0.4%) did only slightly better as crude oil closed 0.2% lower at $53.08/bbl. The energy component counter-intuitively ticked up into positive territory following the latest Energy Information Administration (EIA) inventory report, which dwarfed consensus estimates (+3.5 million) by showing a build of 9.5 million barrels. However, the uptick was short-lived as crude oil soon returned to negative territory.


Wednesday saw a slew of economic reports including January CPI, January Retail Sales, January Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization, February Empire Manufacturing, December Business Inventories, February NAHB Housing Market Index, and the MBA Mortgage Index:


Total CPI rose 0.6% ( consensus +0.3%) in January while core CPI, which excludes food and energy, increased 0.3% ( consensus +0.2%). On a year-over-year basis, total CPI is up 2.5% and core CPI has increased 2.3%.

While the Fed's preferred inflation gauge is the PCE Price Index, the key takeaway from the report is that consumer inflation pressures are rising, which in turn should increase the potential for a rate hike at the March meeting.

January retail sales increased 0.4%, which compares to the consensus of 0.1%. The prior month's reading was revised higher to 1.0% from 0.6%. Excluding autos, retail sales rose 0.8% while the consensus expected an uptick of 0.4%. The prior month's reading was revised higher to 0.4% from 0.2%.

The key takeaway from the report is that discretionary spending on goods picked up in January, which will compute into a positive input for first quarter GDP forecasts.

January Industrial Production decreased 0.3% ( consensus 0.0%) while Capacity Utilization declined to 75.3% ( consensus 75.5%) from a revised reading of 75.6% (from 75.5%) in December.

The key takeaway from the report is that the decline in industrial production stemmed entirely from a drop in utilities output, which is to say the headline number is not as bad as it appears.

Business Inventories rose 0.4% in December which is in line with the consensus. The prior month's reading was revised to 0.8% from 0.7%.

The key takeaway from the report is that the inventory-to-sales ratio is at its lowest point since December 2014. That's elevated from pre-financial crisis levels, when it was below 1.30, yet a further downtrend could restore some much needed pricing power.

Empire Manufacturing Survey for February rose to 18.7 from the prior month's reading of 6.5. The consensus estimate was pegged at 7.0.

The NAHB Housing Market Index for February fell to 65 ( consensus 68) from an unrevised 67 in January.

The weekly MBA Mortgage Index decreased 3.7% to follow last week's 2.3% uptick.

Thursday will also see a batch of economic data with January Housing Starts ( consensus 1.22 million), Initial Claims ( consensus 245K), and the Philadelphia Fed Index for February ( consensus 17.5) all crossing the wires at 8:30 am ET.


Nasdaq Composite +8.1% YTD

S&P 500 +4.9% YTD

Dow Jones Industrial Average +4.3% YTD

Russell 2000 +3.4% YTD

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