Tax reform talk and a Black Friday bump


Tax reform talk and a Black Friday bump

The stock market has hobbled through November so far and is now about to gobble its way into Thanksgiving week. Major averages are little changed as investors digest the vagaries of what's happening in Washington, and as earnings season comes to an end. So with plenty on our plate but likely not a lot of action in the week ahead, let's take a look at some things investors should be considering as 2017 heads into the holiday season.

The fate of tax reform

Last week saw a pretty strong selloff as investors feared that the GOP tax-reform bill wasn't going to get done, then rallied when the House passed its version, then fell as the week came to a close and Wall Street wondered how it all will end up. Though the bill's current form won't last very long in the Senate, the idea that the planned corporate tax cuts will get done either before the end of 2017 or early next year is important. There are no official events surrounding the bill this week, but watch for the rhetoric. How the market closes the year will depend on it.

'When Black Friday comes ...'

The above is the opening line from the Steely Dan classic "Black Friday," which paints a dismal picture of a day that is the busiest of the year for the nation's retailers. What will happen this year? At least from the stock market perspective, history tells us this is a very good time for retail stocks. Since 2007, from a week before Black Friday to a week after, the sector usually gains 5 percent, according to Kensho. That would be a welcome boost to a sector that has underperformed this year. SPDR S&P Retail ETF, a fund that tracks the sector, rose 2.5 percent Friday but is still down a stunning 5.2 percent this year as the S&P 500 has surged 15.2 percent.

The economy and earnings

There aren't a lot of data in the week ahead for investors to chew on, but there are still a few things in that regard to keep an eye on. On the economy, Monday brings the leading indicators, Tuesday will feature existing home sales, Wednesday is durable goods orders as well as the University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey, which could be the week's highlight. There's also some news from the Federal Reserve. On Wednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee, the central bank's policy-making arm, will release the minutes from its Oct. 31-Nov. 1 meeting. That session didn't make a lot of news, with the Fed holding interest rates steady while tipping its hand a bit more to a December hike that pretty much the entire market knows is coming. Outgoing Chair Janet Yellen has an event Tuesday evening in New York. On the earnings front, Lowe's and HP report Tuesday and Deere is up Wednesday.

The last word

When the inevitable year-in-review pieces start pouring in, no issue will be more central to market behavior than the ongoing drama surrounding tax reform. But Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, thinks that's too narrow of a focus. Once the tax bill finally gets through — assuming it does — the next story could be a resurgent consumer. Porcelli gives an early look at his year-end and year-ahead evaluations: "The 2018 narrative is constructive even without taxes. So we can all spend our waking hours fretting about (and more accurately overthinking) its fate or we can wake up to the reality that the fundamental economic backdrop is pretty darn good even without it. And that reality rests squarely on the shoulders of the consumer ... We will say again that the consumer balance sheet is as close to pristine as you can get. And whether the market cares to acknowledge that fact or not, it remains as true today as it did last year at this time when we were drawing out that point."