Where oil goes, stocks will follow

Patrick Chovanec

From Patrick Chovanec, Chief Strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management:

…..so far this year stock market sentiment has taken many of its cues from the price of oil. On any given day, if you knew which way oil prices moved, you probably could tell which way the stock market moved. While we believe this linkage fails to recognize the critical distinctions we have so often highlighted, it can’t be ignored in anticipating future market movements, at least in the near-term. The recent firming of oil prices reflects some important developments. After more than a year, we are finally seeing the initial signs of capitulation on the supply side: U.S. oil output has topped out and the most vulnerable OPEC members are agitating for cutbacks. Nevertheless, accumulated crude oil inventories remain at record high levels, which makes us wary concluding that the oil market has reached a hard bottom. While we think the oil price, and the producer industry, will gradually recover, we also think “consensus” expectations of a dramatic +20% gain in S&P 500 operating earnings this year, driven by a large and sudden rebound in the energy and materials sectors, continue to be overly optimistic. With this in mind, we are likely to see more sentiment-driven volatility in U.S. stock prices ahead, even as the U.S. economy continues on its path of slow growth.

Keep a weather eye on the flattening yield curve and shrinking bank interest margins. If these continue to shrink, “slow growth” could easily become “no growth”.