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@theMarket: Stocks Consolidating Near Highs Into End of First Quarter
By Bill Schmick, iBerkshires columnist
02:29PM / Friday, March 29, 2024

An important government inflation metric, the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCE), for February came in as expected on Good Friday. Since the markets were closed, as investors celebrate the three-day Easter holiday weekend, Monday, April 1, should be interesting.
Core PCE rose by 0.3 percent from the previous month. Year-over-year PCE prices rose by 2.8 percent, easing slightly from the 2.9 percent increase in January. The PCE is the Federal Reserve Bank's favorite inflation indicator. As such, it carries a lot more weight when determining whether the central bank will stand pat or decide to cut interest rates in the months ahead. The February numbers will likely not change the current stance of the Fed.
Given that both the Consumer Price Index and the Producer Price Index came in hotter than expected in both January and February, investors had worried that the PCE could do the same. It did, but so slightly that next week traders will need another reason to either push equities higher or continue the recent trend of selling large-cap tech and buying other areas like financials, industrials, small-cap, precious metals, and cyclicals.
The plot thickens when we consider the changes that have been going on all week behind the scenes. The stock market has just finished another strong quarter. The S&P 500 Index was 10 percent, the largest first-quarter gain in years. As is often the case, pension funds, money managers, and other investors at the end of a robust quarter are expected to adjust their asset allocations to account for the outperformance by equities. As such, pension funds, for example, were expected to sell as much as $32 billion in stocks that had outperformed the most during the quarter and invest the proceeds in the debt markets.
At the same time, a large hedged-equity fund, the $16 billion, JP Morgan Hedged equity Fund that holds a basket of S&P 500 Index stocks, along with options on that index, is expected to roll over its options positions on Friday. Given the low market liquidity on this holiday, that rollover could exacerbate or suppress stock market moves on Monday.
This week also saw Donald Trump's social media company begin trading on the NASDAQ. The Trump Media & Technology Group's main asset is Truth Social.  Readers may recall that the social media platform was established by Trump following the Jan. 6 insurrection. It was at that time when the former president was booted off social media's mainstream platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. Since then, he has been reinstated on both but has stuck with Truth Social as his main avenue of social communication with his followers.
The stock (symbol DJT) of which Trump is the dominant shareholder (58 percent), has exploded in price in its first week in trading and has been called the ultimate Meme stock. Like most such stocks, it is losing money and has little in the way of financials.
Theoretically, most shareholders have a lock-up period of at least six months before they can sell their shares. Given Trump's need for cash because of legal proceedings that have gone against him, the company's Trump-friendly board of directors could waive or shorten the lock-up period.
That could turn messy, however, because a sale by the majority shareholder would likely depress the stock price. That would allow shareholders to show injury and give standing to lawsuits on behalf of public shareholders. More should be revealed in the weeks ahead.
In any case, stocks overall have continued to rise and have traded higher than my best-case forecast of 5,240 on the S&P 500 Index. On Monday, because of all this rebalancing and the outcome of the PCE data, we could see the markets react strongly one way or the other. The best I can say is that April Fool's Day may be nothing to fool around with.
By the way, my cataract surgery on my left eye came off without a hitch, which was why there was no column last week. I get my right eye done on April 3, so unfortunately no columns next week either. 

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.


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