Even by recent standards, this has been a bizarre week: the
below 10,000 (it moved back above), the
below 2000 (it hasn't) and Japan worries. Friday's session -- a
triple-witching day, when futures, index options and equity options expire -- may add another wrinkle.
Recent Daily Interviews
Matthews Japan Fund's
Gerard Klauer Mattison's
Standard & Poor's
Merrill Lynch Investment Managers'
What's the mood at ground zero these days? Can it get worse? For today's Daily Interview,
put these and other questions to Phil Ruffat, senior vice president at
, the get the pulse of the market. Ruffat offers his take on why there's no panic and points out a few bright spots.
TSC: What's the sentiment among traders? Is anyone hitting the panic button?
There's no panic. Obviously, we've seen fluctuations up and down. I think we overdid it with the Nasdaq, the
and the Dow.
We don't have any reason not to buy stocks. Some of the customers that we handle -- pension plans, hedge funds, 401(k)s and the like -- basically don't have a compelling reason
to own anything, both tech, Old Economy and New Economy. What they need is some sort of a catalyst for purchases.
These companies have committed money to the markets and bring large inflows of cash. On top of that, many of them have pretty big war chests of cash on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity. I would not say that they are waiting for the bottom, but they are not jumping in right now.
TSC: So, what are investors buying right now?
Most are nibbling at the large-cap tech stocks, like
, the companies that have solid earnings.
Investors are also moving into other stocks like
as they go through rotations and look for adding value to the equation. Defensive stocks are also still part of the portfolio.
TSC: What would be some of the likely catalysts that could turn things around?
It's pretty clear right now that we need
in the game with the 75-basis point paddle, rather than the 50-basis point paddle. Bond traders and stock traders both would like to have a good shock to the system. We need a good story, like if Oracle had come out today with earnings of 15 cents rather than 10 cents and told the Street, we did better than we expected. We'd then see stocks go up.
The second thing is we need visibility for earnings from the large-cap Nasdaq and Dow companies. We need the CEOs and the CFOs to tell the Street about their visibility for the next quarter in more specific terms. Everybody is running scared right now. They don't know whether it's a credit issue, an inflation issue or a recession. Nobody can really answer that question until the companies give us some visibility and some kind of handholding.
A couple days ago,
GE's chairman-elect Jeffrey Immelt gave us
great visibility and the stock and to some extent the whole market went up as a result of that.
TSC: What are you expecting from triple-witching Friday?
We are thinking the volatility might drop after 12 o'clock. This is very important because during the higher volatility, the less likely long-term buyers of stocks will come in. We have the
, which is the
volatility index, still over 30 at 32.6, which is way too high for your average pension plan or 401(k) guy. It's been 26 since the beginning of the year. We are way, way too high. Once equity options expire between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., we expect volatility to come down, and then we will see a bid back into market, specifically into the S&P 500, not so much the Nasdaq.
Unless we have some weird economic number from the
housing starts numbers due tomorrow, outside the statistical norm, then we would see volatility.