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Market Extra: Stocks are having a stellar October. Why the bear-market rally may have more room to run.


Despite a raft of risky events that investors must face down over the coming weeks, some on Wall Street believe that the latest bear-market rally in stocks has more room to run.

Although the S&P 500
Dow Jones Industrial Average

and Nasdaq Composite

remain mired in bear markets, stocks have been bouncing back from the “oversold” levels when the major indexes fell to their lowest levels in two years. Bear markets are known for sharp bounces, such as the rebound that took the S&P 500 up more than 17% from its mid-June low before sliding back down to set a new 2022 low on Oct. 12.

With that said, here are a few things for investors to keep in mind.

There’s plenty of event risk facing markets

On top of a deluge of corporate earnings this week, including some of the biggest megacap tech stocks like Microsoft Corp.

and Inc.
investors will also receive some key economic data reports over the next couple of weeks — including a reading from the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge on Friday, and the October jobs numbers, set to be released on Nov. 4.

Beyond that, there’s also the Fed’s next policy meeting that concludes on Nov. 2. The Fed is widely expected to hike interest rates by another 75 basis points, the fourth “jumbo” hike this year.

Midterm U.S. elections, which will determine which party controls the House and Senate in the U.S. are slated to take place Nov. 9.

Investors are still trying to parse the Fed’s latest messaging shift

Investors cheered what some market watchers described as a coordinated shift in messaging from the Fed last week, conveyed via an Oct. 21 report from The Wall Street Journal that indicated the size of a December Fed rate increase would be up for debate, along with comments from San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly.

Still, the Fed isn’t expected to materially pivot any time soon.

Because the fact remains: there’s plenty of froth that needs to be squeezed out of markets after nearly two years of extraordinary monetary and fiscal stimulus unleashed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Steve Sosnick, chief strategist at Interactive Brokers.

“It’s easier to inflate a bubble than to pop it, and I’m not using the term ‘bubble’ facetiously,” he said during a phone interview with MarketWatch.

Richard Farr, chief market strategist at Merion Capital Group, played down the impact of the Fed’s latest “coordinated” shift in guidance during an interview with MarketWatch, saying the impact on the terminal fed-funds rate is relatively immaterial.

Fed-funds futures traders anticipate the upper end of the central bank’s key target rate will rise to 5% before the end of the first quarter of next year, and remain there potentially into the fourth quarter, although an earlier cut wouldn’t be a complete surprise, according to the CME’s FedWatch tool.

Market technicians believe stocks might move a little higher

So far, October isn’t shaping up to be anything like September, when stocks fell 9.3% to polish off the worst first nine months of a calendar year in two decades.

Instead, the S&P 500 has already risen more than 5.5% since the start of October despite briefly crashing to its lowest intraday level in more than two years following the release of the September consumer-price index report earlier this month.

Read: ‘Bear killers’ and crashes: What investors need to know about October’s complicated stock-market history

Technical indicators suggest the S&P 500 can continue to build on last week’s gain, said Katie Stockton, a market strategist at Fairlead Strategies, in a note she shared with clients and MarketWatch.

According to her, the next key level to watch out for on the S&P 500 is north of 3,900, more than 100 points above where the index closed on Monday.

“Short-term momentum remains to the upside within the context of the year-to-date downtrend. Support near 3,505 was a natural staging ground for a relief rally, and initial resistance is near 3,914,” she said.

A key bear sees a tradeable opportunity

Mike Wilson, Morgan Stanley’s chief U.S. equity strategist and chief investment officer, has been one of Wall Street’s most outspoken bears for more than a year now.

But in a note to clients early this week, he reiterated that stocks were looking ripe for a bounce.

“Last week’s tactical bullish call was met with doubt from clients, which means there is still upside as we transition from Fire to Ice — falling inflation expectations can lead to lower rates and higher stock prices in the absence of capitulation from companies on 2023 EPS guidance,” Wilson said.

This earnings season is off to an good start

At this point, it’s safe to say that the third-quarter earnings season has vanquished fears that the Fed’s interest-rate hikes and gnawing inflation had already dramatically eroded profit margins, market strategists said.

The quality of earnings reported already has surpassed some of the early “whisper numbers” bandied about by traders and strategists, according to Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

In aggregate, companies are reporting earnings 5.4% above expectations, according to data from Refinitiv shared with the media on Monday. This compares to a long-term average — since 1994 — of 4.1%.

However, when the energy sector is removed from the equation, expectations seem much more grim. The blended year-to-year earnings estimate for the third quarter is -3.6%, according to the Refinitiv data.

While investors are still waiting on earnings from roughly three-quarters of S&P 500 firms, according to FactSet data, some — like Morgan Stanley’s Wilson — are already looking toward next year as they expect the outlook for profits will darken substantially, possibly leading to an earnings recession — when corporate earnings shrink for two quarters in a row.

The outlook for the global economy remains dim

Speaking of the energy, crude oil prices are flashing an ominous warning about expectations for the global economy.

“A lot of the weak oil reflects expectations that the global economy will be in recession and near recession,” said Steve Englander, global head of G-10 currency strategy at Standard Chartered.

West Texas Intermediate crude-oil futures

 settled lower on Monday, as lackluster import data from China and the end of the Communist Party’s leadership conference hinted at softening demand in the world’s second-largest oil consumer. Prices continued to decline early Tuesday.

Be wary of ‘fighting the Fed’

Investors remain worried that “something else might break” in markets, as MarketWatch reported over the weekend.

It’s possible that such fears inspired the Fed’s apparent guidance shift, Sosnick said. But the fact remains: anybody buying stocks while the Fed is aggressively tightening monetary policy should be prepared to tolerate losses, at least in the near term, he said.

“Simplest thing of all is: ‘don’t fight the Fed.’ If you’re trying to buy stocks now, what are you doing? It doesn’t mean you can’t buy stocks overall. But it means you’re fighting an uphill battle,” he said.

The VIX is signaling that investors expect a wild ride

Even as stocks extended their October rebound for another session on Monday, the Cboe Volatility Index

remained conspicuously elevated, reflecting the notion that investors don’t anticipate the market’s wild ride will end any time soon.

The Wall Street “fear gauge” finished Monday’s session up 0.5% at 29.85 and it was trading just shy of the 30 level early Tuesday.

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