Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Week Ahead: Policy and a Report Card

This week's focus is monetary and fiscal policy, and the 1200-pound-gorilla of report cards on how we've been doing. It is a week with more than usual potential to motivate traders.

Monday is quiet -- just a few T-bill auctions.

On Tuesday, the Federal Open Market Committee begins a two-day meeting to discuss monetary policy, and President Obama, at 9 p.m. Eastern, gives the State of the Union Address to Congress, wherein fiscal policy -- read "jobs" -- is sure to stand front and center.

Oh, and in an action having potential impact on future policy, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney will make available his 2010 tax return and a 2011 estimate sometime on Tuesday, no doubt hoping the details -- he estimates his Federal tax rate at 15% -- will be buried in an avalanche of Obama budget proposals.

Hmmm. Now if I were one of the president's speech writers, I would be looking for a way to say something about rich people's taxes that would land at least a mention of Gov. Romney's tax return in paragraph 2 of any State of the Union story. 

The Federal Reserve announces results of the FOMC meeting on Wednesday, at 12:30 p.m., and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke follows with a news conference at 2:15 p.m.  

The Fed's day will be especially interesting because FOMC members will, for the first time, release their individual forecasts for the central bank's key interest rate: The Fed Funds Rate, now standing at 0.08%. The fedsters' forecasts will be anonymous -- more's the pity -- but the release will provide insight into the body's thinking, and the breadth of the forecasts will say something about their unity of opinion, or lack of.

Also on Wednesday, the energy sector gets a weekly petroleum inventory report at 10:30 a.m., followed at the same time on Thursday by the natural gas report.

But Thursday will be dominated by three major econ data dumps: Durable goods orders and weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m., and new home sales at 10 a.m.

Durable goods and new home sales are basically confidence indicators, for big manufacturers and regular families, respectively. Weekly jobless claims say something about why confidence stands where it does.

Finally, on Friday, The Report Card -- the Gross Domestic Product -- gives us a first look at how we were doing as an economy in the 4th quarter of 2011.

This week's GDP is the advance figures -- the first stab at calculating growth or decline. There are two more Q4 releases -- the preliminary in February and the final in March -- that will refine those numbers.

And of course, all of this is happening at the peak of 4th quarter earnings releases, as corporations rate their own performances, as the law requires.

So there are a lot of moving wheels this week, which will make it all very interesting.

Practical trading: By my rules, as of Monday I can trade February vertical, calendar, diagonal and butterfly spreads, iron condors and covered calls, and May singles and straddles. Of course, shares are good at any time.

Good trading!

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