BUSINESS

Stocks face final days of 2014 in far better shape; traders look to GDP data

12/21/2014 10:00 EST | Updated 02/20/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - North American stock markets are facing the last few trading sessions of 2014 in better shape than they have been in weeks after suffering steep declines amid a collapse in oil prices, concerns about U.S. interest rate hikes and the after-effects of the end of the Federal Reserve's third round of quantitative easing at the end of October.

"I think we will see things kind of stabilize — it's been a pretty wild first half of December," observed Colin Cieszynski, chief strategist at CMC Markets.

"But from here on, I suspect it is going to be pretty quiet. Maybe we’ll get some action at the beginning of next week, but after a day or so that will be about it."

Traders are facing a much-shortened trading week with Toronto and New York closing at 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Toronto stays shuttered for the rest of the week while New York reopens Friday.

But there is still some top-drawer economic data to consider this week, including the latest readings on Canadian and U.S. gross domestic product along with American reports on durable goods orders, consumer sentiment and new home sales.

Toronto and New York soared last week, with the TSX gaining 736 points or 5.36 per cent while the Dow industrials bounded ahead 524 points or three per cent.

Key to performance was last week's interest rate meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Short-term rates near zero have been a huge aid in the recovery of stock markets since the 2008 financial collapse. Investors have come around to accepting that the Fed will move to start hiking rates next year, likely around the middle of 2015.

But there have been concerns that the Fed could move a lot earlier and the central bank sought to allay those fears last week, saying it would be "patient" in deciding when to hike rates and Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen said that she foresaw no rate hike in the first quarter of 2015.

But analysts suggest that maybe markets are reading too much into the Fed announcement.

"I thought (Yellen) was hinting that they might start to move as early as April and I think the U.S. dollar picked up on that and stocks didn’t — very odd," said Cieszynski.

"In the long run, usually you go with the bond market and currency markets are usually right."

The energy sector was a huge winner on the TSX last week, up about 15 per cent. The sector is still down about 18 per cent year to date, having been positive by about the same amount mid-summer before oil prices started to collapse by about 50 per cent amid demand worries and, especially, a glut in supply.

Crude prices seemed to find support around the US$54 a barrel level this week. On Friday, oil in New York climbed $2.41 to US$56.52 a barrel but analysts said it was too early to call a bottom.

"There is a supply overhang that we have to deal with," said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.

"Until we actually see some supply curtailments or a miraculous rebound in demand, I think the price might be on the defensive. It‘s almost a matter of who is forced to blink first in the oil market."

On the economic front, the major report is the latest revision to third-quarter economic growth in the United States. The latest reading showed gross domestic product up 3.9 per cent, following a solid 4.6 per cent advance in the second quarter.

"It looks as if the momentum was largely maintained in Q4," added Porter, who thinks that previous Q3 reading will be revised upward.

"There is obviously underlying strength in the U.S. economy, which we think will continue through 2015, but it looks like there is a good chance it gets revised up and it could mark the second quarter in a row of better than four per cent growth."

On Tuesday, Statistics Canada will release its October GDP reading. Economists generally expect a rise of 0.1 per cent. Oil prices fell 11 per cent in October alone but Porter said the slide in prices won't be reflected very much in the GDP data.

"I think there is a big effect, it just won’t necessarily show up in real GDP," he said.

"Just as during the commodity boom, during the last decade, we didn’t have overly strong real GDP growth, that’s really not where it showed up. It really shows up more in such things as corporate profits and government revenues and incomes, not so much in real output."