But while investors may be relaxing poolside for the Labor Day holiday, strategists argue there are a few key things that should be top of mind for the week ahead.
Election mode begins
Historically, analysts say the day after Labor Day isn’t just for recovering from your long weekend: it’s officially the start of election season, and markets are likely going to be keyed in even more to what’s happening in Washington.
“While this is a year unlike any other, often we regard Labor Day as the start of the homestretch of the presidential campaign season,” notes Bankrate.com’s senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick. “I think there’s a legitimate ongoing debate about whether the market is potentially anticipating a Biden victory or a Trump victory,” he tells Fortune.
Currently, most national polls put Biden ahead, but Hamrick points out that investors “have to take into account the standing of the polls has been known and well-understood for some time, but we also understand that wasn’t terribly instructive in 2016.” And while some analysts have argued a Biden presidency wouldn’t be a deathknell for markets, Wells Fargo Investment Institute’s senior global market strategist Sameer Samana suggests it would increase “the level of uncertainty.” Trump is a “known known for markets,” he tells Fortune.
But for investors looking to trade on the election, Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, has a word of caution: “The economy drives what the policy priorities are, so I think it would be treacherous to try to pregame this to any significant degree.”
Analysts are already projecting an especially volatile patch in the event of a contested result. In that sense, Samana suggests “in many ways the market probably hasn’t started to discount just the level of uncertainty.”
Senate Republicans are set to vote on their own legislation this week for another round of stimulus amid a stalemate on Capitol Hill over what the next package should look like. The bill is expected to be around $500 billion and will likely include more enhanced unemployment benefits, more Paycheck Protection Program loans, and funding for a vaccine, testing, and schools.
That $500 billion, though, is still a far cry from the Democrat’s recent proposal of $2.2 trillion, and strategists say stimulus is very much on the brain for markets.
If a deal is made soon, Hamrick believes “the market could get a short term lift from any positive development with respect to relief, because what we’re really talking about is applying some much-needed first aid to the economy,” he notes.
But the problem may be that markets are banking too heavily on a deal getting done at all. With the current stalemate in Congress, “I don’t think not getting [another stimulus package] is priced in,” argues Sonders. “I believe there’s more downside risk if we don’t get something than there is upside possibility from these levels if we do.”
An inflation snapshot
The Fed has made it clear with its new policy to keep inflation around 2% that low rates aren’t going anywhere—a boon for investors in equities, which analysts have long called the only place to find yield in this environment. That’s why those like Sonders think the inflation numbers shown in the Producer Price Index (PPI) and Consumer Price Index (CPI) (which track the average change in the price paid for consumer and producer goods and services over time) released Thursday and Friday, respectively, should be “pretty interesting both long term and near term.”
In the short term, Sonders notes that the PPI can give investors an idea of whether the manufacturing side of the economy is picking up steam (she says it appears to be), while the CPI should give insight into how prices are popping higher following the shutdowns. But the longer term issue that might mean “more inflation than people are expecting is I think we are shifting from what I think has been a purely monetary policy regime … [to] the onus [being] now on the fiscal side,” says Sonders. And “historically, fiscal policy dominance has meant much more inflation.”
While those long term implications remain to be seen, last month, the PPI jumped 0.6% in July while the CPI also rose 0.6%. Although “one inflation read isn’t going to change the Fed’s mind, … if inflation data were to start to heat up, … that could be really interesting because in some ways … the Fed [will] at least have to explain what their thinking is if inflation were to tick back up,” notes Samana.
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