A new Fed chief, the pulse on the housing market and bitcoin mania


A new Fed chief, the pulse on the housing market and bitcoin mania

The stock market opens the last week of November at yet another record. Wall Street will be watching the changing of the guard at the Federal Reserve and a few key economic data points to set the tone for the week. Plus: How far will bitcoin mania go?

A new Fed chief

Tuesday is the Senate confirmation hearing for Jerome Powell, President Donald Trump's nominee to head the U.S. central bank. We'll get to hear Powell's ideas on monetary policy, banking regulation and his general approach to run one of the most important institutions in the world. Confirmation hearings are often unpredictable. While Powell could face some scrutiny, particularly from Republicans who don't care for the central bank to begin with, and Democrats who want a tighter rein on Wall Street, Powell's confirmation is all but assured. However, the market will be watching closely for clues on how Powell, currently a Fed governor, will approach the position. A day later, current Chair Janet Yellen will talk to Congress as part of her semiannual testimony, with the focus being an update on how the economy is doing. Expect Yellen to discuss where the Fed stands in its quest to normalize monetary policy — and to deliver something of a valedictory on her nearly four years in charge. There are a bunch of other Fed speeches scheduled: Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari and New York's William Dudley on Monday, Dudley and Philadelphia President Patrick Harker on Tuesday, Dudley yet again on Wednesday, Fed Governor and newest central bank official Randal Quarles, along with Dallas President Robert Kaplan, on Thursday, and St. Louis Fred President James Bullard, Kaplan and Harker on Friday.

Key economic data points

There's only a smattering of data points this week, and contrary to what you might expect, there will be no jobs report. The Labor Department usually releases its nonfarm payrolls count on the first Friday of the month, except when it falls on the first of the month. So, no jobs Friday this week, but there will be some other economic news investors should be watching. Housing will be the focus. Tuesday's number is the most closely watched, as that is when the Case/Shiller home price index is released. In addition, Monday will see new home sales while Wednesday is pending home sales. Also, Wednesday will feature the revised count for second-quarter GDP growth, with the number likely more than 3 percent. In other data, Friday will see the key ISM manufacturing index and construction spending, consumer confidence is on Monday, and Thursday features the usual weekly jobless claims.

A few other things to keep an eye on: The S&P 500 crossed the 2,600 mark for the first time Friday, just two days after minutes from the last Fed meeting showed concern about valuations of risk assets. Bank of America Merrill Lynch also drew some notice last week after it forecast that the bull market that began in 2009 will end next year.

Another price worth watching is bitcoin. The cryptocurrency kept climbing last week, reaching past $9,600. Investing heavyweight Michael Novogratz may have sounded a tad optimistic initially last week when he predicted the digital currency would reach $10,000 by year's end, but by the end of the week that number sounded conservative.

The last word

This week's last word comes from Mitch Goldberg at ClientFirst Strategy. Goldberg is comparing the current bitcoin mania to the dotcom craze in the 90s, when "all a company had to do to drive its stock price higher was announce a shiny new internet strategy and add '.com' to its name." Such moves are "the final and stupidest part of the bull market," which he explains could be upon us. Here's what to watch: "If history is any guide, I'd expect a lot more companies to take notice and start accepting payment in Bitcoin. I also expect to see new investment products to package 'bitcoin-related' stocks, such as chip makers Advanced Micro Devices and Nvidia, and merchant processor Square; so everyone can have the ability to jump onto the bandwagon. "I'd say it's about to get real stupid out there, but it already started."