Earnings start, the Fed speaks and one big question for the bull market


Earnings start, the Fed speaks and one big question for the bull market

The harvest moon has passed.

No, it's not that big orange-like thing that usually passes through the sky in late-fall, but rather the first full moon after the first day of fall. This year, it happened in October (last Thursday to be exact) which is the first time that's happened in eight years. Usually, it comes in September. So what does the harvest moon have to do with the stock market? Well, it's investors who continue to harvest profits, with the market off to another blazing start as summer turned to fall. Scary-looking things keep appearing in the sky, but nothing seems to shake the folks out there putting their money to work. Speaking of seasons, third-quarter earnings crank up this week (yes, again!), we'll get a look at why the Federal Reserve does what it does, and there are various other potential market movers and shakers on the calendar.

The profit picture

This year started off with a major bang as far as corporate earnings go, with the S&P 500 showing 13.9 percent year-over-year gains in the first quarter and 10.3 percent in the second quarter. As for the third quarter, well, buckle up. Profits are forecast to grow just 4.2 percent, all the way down from a 7.5 percent estimate on June 30, according to FactSet. Get rid of the 109.4 percent increase projected for energy and you're down to 2.5 percent. That's barely anything. Of course, this market has seen weak earnings quarters before and thrived — it endured five straight negative ones in a profits recession that finally ended in the third quarter of 2016 — but this could be different. A market with a valuation as high as this one, trading at 17.7 times earnings compared to the long-term average of 14.1, needs profits to justify the price gain. As usual, the curtain will open with financials leading the way. JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup will tee it up Thursday, followed by Bank of America, PNC and Wells Fargo on Friday.

Inside the head of the Fed

September's Federal Reserve meeting was pretty momentous. Though policymakers at the U.S. central bank decided to forego another interest rate hike, they did approve a major policy change. Starting later this month, the Fed will begin selling off a small part of the bond portfolio it accrued during its efforts to stimulate the economy out of its financial crisis funk. While the plan's mechanics matter more to professional bond traders than the typical mom-and-pop investor, the move does mark a pretty significant step in the Fed allowing the economy to take baby steps on its own. It will be noteworthy whether there are any market disruptions during the process. This week, the Fed releases the minutes of the September meeting. They'll give investors a better picture of how the central bank will execute its plan, and whether individual members are fearful over how it will proceed. The market right now is perceiving Fed officials as comparatively "hawkish" from where they've been in the past, meaning they're more inclined to raise rates and generally tighten policy. The meeting summary will provide more information on where they stand.

Eye on the economy

First, keep in mind that kind of nothing is happening Monday thanks to the Columbus Day holiday. The government shuts down for the day, but the stock exchanges, for whatever reason, will be open. For the rest of the week, though, there are some data points that could make or break your day. Tuesday brings the National Federation of Independent Business survey, as well as the more closely watched Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The latter is referred to as JOLTS and is thought to be something that Fed Chair Janet Yellen usually watches with interest. Probably the biggest report of the week comes Friday, when the government will release the Consumer Price Index. Expectations are that it will show a pretty robust monthly gain of 0.6 percent, which will add fuel to the inflation fire. There also will be a handful of Fed speakers through the week, with Yellen talking in Washington on Sunday, Oct. 15.

The last word

This week's words of wisdom come from Paul Hickey at Bespoke Investment Group: "What could go wrong at this point?" "While we will never 'fight the tape' and bet against an uptrending market, we can't help but question if this is 'as good as it gets.' When everything seems to be working perfectly is when prudent investors should at least be on guard. If you fashion yourself as a 'buy low, sell high' kind of investor, there's only one option of those two that you can choose right now." "We want to stress that this isn't a call that we're turning bearish. The uptrend in the business cycle could drive stocks higher for another few years. We simply don't know. That's why we'll just continue to be invested as long as the trend is higher, and when the day comes that the uptrend starts to break down, we'll start lowering our equity exposure appropriately." In other words: Ride the tide, but when it gets too high, head for the shore.