Smart investors know it's a market of stocks vs. a monolithic stock market, Aaron Task, told
"RealMoney" radio show listeners on Tuesday.
"But if any day is a day to care about the 'macro' issues vs. company-specific ones, it's today," he said. Task, co-executive editor of
was filling in for Jim Cramer.
Among events to watch in the bigger picture, Task named the
Federal Reserve Open Market Committee
meeting, when policy-makers are widely expected to raise rates to 4.5%. He also said that President Bush's State of the Union address was the event that could move markets overnight.
Bush is expected to push for broader tax deductions for health care expenses and expanded use of health savings accounts, Task said, adding that the president may also address issues such as Social Security reform, the alternative minimum tax and energy.
In previous State of the Union addresses, the president has discussed alternative energy, and that has boosted stocks in the sector, he said, adding that Bush's rhetoric on Iran and Hamas is important for everyone -- market participants or not.
As far as investors are concerned, the health savings accounts issue could have the biggest impact, said Task.
An HSA is like an IRA for your health care costs, he said, adding that the money contributed to the account is pretax and can be withdrawn to pay medical costs that are not covered by insurance.
Bank of America
have already begun to open HSAs, or will do so soon, Task said.
But he cited a
New York Times
article that said HSAs will have a miniscule impact on the earnings of a giant such as Citigroup.
Marc Lichtenfeld, a contributor to
, said that
could be the way to play the HSA trend.
It's a generally unloved bank that has had problems, said Task; but
Lichtenfeld writes that Webster is turning around its operations and that it has banks in well-heeled areas in Connecticut and New York. Most importantly, the bank recently acquired
and is the largest custodian of HSAs, Task added.
The stock trades at a below-average price-to-earnings ratio of 15 and has a 2.2% dividend, Task said, adding that Lehman Brothers sees the company as a takeover candidate in the $60 range.
Measure for Measure
As for the Fed decision, the central bank raised the overnight lending rate by 25 basis points, as expected. But the policy statement that accompanied the statement dropped the word "measured," which has been attached to the last 13 rate hikes.
A majority of market participants -- i.e., the bulls -- believes that the Fed may have one more rate hike after today. A few believe that today marks the end of the tightening cycle and that the Fed may ease before the end of the year, Task said.
"But it's worth noting that the futures markets are pricing in 80% odds of a 4.75% fed funds rate by the March 28 Fed meeting -- up from less than 50% a few weeks ago -- and that there are 100% odds of that rate being reached by the middle of the year," Task said.
Last week's dismal GDP report and today's weak employment cost index support a view that the Fed is nearly done, according to Task. But he reminded listeners that other economic data suggest that fourth-quarter weakness will be followed by a rebound.
Task pointed to last week's stronger-than-expected reports on durable goods and new-home sales and this week's reports on consumer spending and confidence as evidence of economic strength.
Joining Task to analyze the decision to raise rates and the FOMC statement was Barry Ritholtz, president of Ritholtz Capital Partners, a New York-based hedge fund and a contributor to
"It looks like a very hawkish statement from the Fed, Task said, citing a line in its statement that said, "The committee judges that some further policy firming may be needed to keep the risks to the attainment of both sustainable economic growth and price stability roughly in balance."
But Ritholtz said the decision doesn't mean as much for the stock market as Wall Street hopes it will.
"The consensus view that the economy will grow once the Fed stops hiking is wrong," Ritholtz said. He cited statistics showing that in the six months after a rate-hiking cycle ends, the
is down more than 4% on average.
Ritholtz said that Fed watchers are confusing cause and effect. "When the Fed stops tightening, it's because they think the economy is soft or that it's going to slow down enough to cool inflation," he said.
Task added that some have made the argument that it's good when the Fed is tightening because it means that the economy is strong enough to handle less money.
Ritholtz agreed, asking listeners to imagine what would have happened to the market if the Fed had said it had no reason to raise rates. People would have worried and assumed that the central bank thought that there were soft economic numbers around the corner, he said.
Ritholtz, who just published an article on
biggest myths about Greenspan, said the No. 1 Greenspan myth is that he was the banker who killed inflation.
Inflation averaged 3.7% a year from the end of World War II until Greenspan took the Fed reigns, but averaged only 2.4% during Greenspan's tenure, said Ritholtz. That's because Paul Volcker, the chairman before Greenspan did the heavy lifting.
A caller wanted to know what Task and Ritholtz thought of the latest news from
Affiliated Computer Services
( ACS) that the company will buy back up to 45% of its stock.
Task said that the stock shot up and that analysts liked the decision, suggesting that the decision could be a positive move.
Ritholtz said that he hasn't been following the company closely enough to speak directly to Affiliated Computer's decision.
However, he said, there were about a half trillion dollars in buybacks last year, accounting for about 30% of year-on-year earnings gains. But Ritholtz believes that there are better ways for a company to use its cash.
If you're just going to buy back all your stock, he asked, why not just take the company private?
Just before time ran out, Ritholtz said that he is still bullish on Asia, despite Japan's recent 500-point day.
There's been a lot of volatility, but Ritholtz still sees more upside, adding that the
could run to 18,000.
Aaron L. Task is the co-executive editor of TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships.
to send him an email.