The Wall of Worry just keeps adding more bricks. Although there has been much talk about the impact of low oil prices on the U.S. high yield debt market and by extension the U.S. banks that did the lending, the bigger worry now is the stability of the European banking system. It is like 2011 all over again. Also, there continue to be signs of an insidious corporate “earnings recession.” Such headlines add to the steady stream of “worry bricks” that have so confounded disciplined fundamental investors for at least the past seven months or so.

Headlines continue to dominate the trading landscape, perpetuating a news-driven trader’s market rather than allowing a healthier valuation-driven investor’s market to return to favor. After all, that’s what stock market investing is supposed to be about. Narrow market breadth and daily stock price gyrations have been driven primarily by three headline generators -- oil price, the Fed’s monetary policy, and China growth. Sure, there were many other important news items, notably the sinister course of Islamic terrorism.

Some weeks when I write this article there is little new to talk about from the prior week. It’s always the Fed, global QE, China growth, election chatter, oil prices, etc. And then there are times like this in which there is so much happening that I don’t know where to start. Of course, the biggest market-moving news came the weekend before last when Paris was put face-to-face with the depths of human depravity and savagery. And yet the stock market responded with its best week of the year.

November got off to a strong start early last week, and the rally broadened to include financial and retail stocks. But after a torrid six weeks of bullish behavior while ignoring (or perhaps reveling in) concerns about the global economy during, U.S. stocks encountered some strong technical resistance in the middle of last week, and it has continued into Monday. The Dow Jones Transportation Index continues to a drag on the overall market, and this segment will need to gather some enthusiasm if the broader indexes are to resume their advance.

Stocks closed last week on a strong note, with the S&P 500 notching a new high, despite lackluster economic data and growth. I have been suggesting in previous articles that stocks appeared to be coiling for a significant move but that the ingredients were not yet in place for either a major breakout or a corrective selloff. However, bulls appear to be losing patience awaiting their next definitive catalyst, and the higher-likelihood upside move may now be underway. Yet despite the bullish technical picture, this week’s fundamentals-based Outlook rankings look even more defensive.

As we get into the heart of earnings season and anticipate the GDP report for Q1, the investor spotlight has been taken off the Federal Reserve and timing of its first interest rate hike, at least temporarily. Even though Q1 economic growth will undoubtedly look weak, the future remains bright for the U.S economy – even though many multinationals will struggle with top-line growth due to the strong dollar – and any near-term selloff resulting from weak economic or earnings news should be bought yet again in expectation of better results for the balance of the year.

In the ongoing bad-news-is-good-news saga, last week’s surprisingly weak jobs report led to speculation that the Fed would delay hiking interest rates, which is perceived as a positive for equity investors. So, bulls are getting a boost for the moment, although those previously hard-won round-number price levels for the major indexes are now serving as ominous overhead resistance that will likely require a strong new catalyst to break through. Whether stocks are destined for downside or upside from here, Q1 earnings season starts this week and will likely provide the catalyst.

Volatility continues as the parade of mixed earnings and economic reports marches along amidst a backdrop of global unrest and economic uncertainties. This has led to a neutral near-term outlook for both the technical picture and fundamentals-based sector rankings. Nevertheless, the longer-term trends appear to favor further flattening of the yield curve and continued strength in the dollar, gold, volatility, and equities.

Scott MartindaleStocks were able to leverage some optimistic news and dovish words from the Fed to take another stab at an upside breakout attempt last week. Although readers have sometimes accused me of being a permabull, I am really a realist, and the reality is that the slogans like “The trend is your friend” and “Don’t fight the Fed” are truisms. And they have worked.

Although the stock market displayed weakness last week as I suggested it would, bulls aren’t going down easily. In fact, they’re going down swinging, absorbing most of the blows delivered by hesitant bears. Despite holding up admirably when weakness was both expected and warranted, and although I still see higher highs ahead, I am still not convinced that we have seen the ultimate lows for this pullback. A number of signs point to more weakness ahead.

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