Greece promises more fireworks for investors in the post-holiday week, after an emotional Sunday referendum on reforms proposed by lenders.
“I think that the market has come to grips with the real possibility of financial disaster in Greece, and what that means,” said Steven Wieiting, global chief investment strategist at Citi Private Bank.
He said Greece could default again, potentially resulting in financial turmoil, or even its exit from the euro. While there could be heightened volatility, ultimately Greece should not be a big factor for U.S. markets, he said. “Greece is small. It’s containable from a financial perspective, and thus we see this mild response in markets,” he said.
In the past week, markets were volatile, with the S&P 500 losing 1.24 percent to 2,076, its first weekly move of more than 1 percent in 10 weeks. The dollar was flat against the euro for the week, rising 0.3 percent on Friday, but the yields on peripheral European debt did not move nearly as much as they had in other crisis, indicating less anxiety about contagion.
Marc Chandler, chief currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman, said the outcome for Greece is bleak regardless of how the referendum turns out. “Even with a yes vote, I kind of think you still have a political crisis because the government resigns. I think that’s a danger,” he said. “The banking crisis is going to intensify no matter what. Some people think the banks could reopen on Tuesday. I don’t see that.”
Chandler said a no vote would mean no more emergency funding for the banks from the European Central Bank. “If they say yes, the capital controls only make the hemorrhaging into a slow bleed. The problem with banks is they’re going to go from a liquidity crisis to a solvency crisis.” If the banks were insolvent, they would not be eligible for ECB funds, he said.
The most important moment for Fed watchers will obviously be when Yellen speaks Friday, but other hints on Fed thinking could be in the minutes of the last Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Important will be Yellen’s reaction to events in Greece and comments on the U.S. economy, particularly after the June jobs report showed flat wage growth and a larger number of people leaving the workforce.
“The composition of the FOMC is shifting, and it’s a little bit harder to gauge exactly where the consensus is going as a result of the shifts,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “Maybe they’ll provide a little more color around what they’re looking at to determine when they’ll raise rates. Yellen has been pretty explicit about jobs and wages and inflation and ultimately financial conditions.”
Because the jobs report is always important to the Fed, disappointment over the internals of June’s employment report sparked speculation that perhaps the Fed will not be able to hike rates in September or December, as economists expect.
There were 223,000 nonfarm payrolls added in June, but the unemployment rate dropped to 5.3 percent because of a lack of participation in the work force. Average hourly wages were flat but gained just 2 percent year over year, slower than May’s 2.3 percent. Revisions to April and May data also ended up erasing 60,000 jobs over those two months.
“Liftoff is still possible (for September), but the risks of a delay are rising quite rapidly,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. “One month does not a trend make. We need a reversal now. We just hit another pothole.”
As for markets, Greece could be a major factor. “We’ll have our summer wobbles,” said Wieting, noting that the lack of market players and light summer volume could result in even more volatile markets.
While some strategists expect the upcoming earnings season to pose a headwind for stocks, Wieting does not. “The one thing we consider is U.S. earnings reports in the first quarter were much stronger than expected. Excluding energy, there was 7 or 8 percent growth,” he said, noting oil has now fallen and stabilized. “That’s a diminishing negative going forward.”
According to Thomson Reuters, analysts are forecasting a 3 percent decline in profits for the S&P 500 companies in the second quarter, compared to a 4.9 percent gain when the energy sector is excluded.
Wieting said he favors European stocks over the long term but the U.S. could see some opportunities in the near term, as Europe deals with Greece.