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Merger Activity Trumps FOMC Anxiety

Last Friday's stronger-than expected November jobs report punctuated the idea that strength in the service sector more than offsets weakness in manufacturing and housing. The idea of a soft landing has solidified for many investors.

This economic landscape follows the Fed's forecast from earlier this year, which foretold a weakening economy that tempered inflation on its own. But Fed officials, led by chairman Ben Bernanke, have been hawkish in their rhetoric since they paused in August after 17 consecutive interest rate hikes. Bernanke has contended that inflation hasn't waned fast enough, even as the Treasury bond market seems to be screaming that the weak housing market heralds a recession in 2007.

But since Bernanke's Nov. 28 speech, economic data have pointed ever more to a soft landing. Housing and mortgage activity suggests that the worst of the housing market's downturn could be history, while the labor market remained robust and third-quarter unit labor costs were revised sharply downward.

The Treasury bond market, which sold off Friday on news of a strong November payrolls report, rebounded Monday. The 30-year bond gained 16/32 to yield 4.62%, while the 10-year gained 8/32 to yield 4.52%, and the two-year added 1/32 to yield 4.66%. These yields are about 10 basis points off their lows of the year, which gives bond investors some wiggle room to rally if Tuesday's FOMC statement is indeed more dovish. It also gives them room to sell off if the statement declines to acknowledge the latest data.

So, the recent history leaves stock and bond investors longing evermore for a rate cut even though they fear recession less intensely. Perhaps Bernanke & Co. will give the markets a sign of rate cuts to come -- the holiday present most traders are wishing for.

In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, Rappaport doesn't own or short individual stocks. She also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. She appreciates your feedback. Click here to send her an email.
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