The Fed, Trump at the UN and bitcoin


The Fed, Trump at the UN and bitcoin

The stock market weathered a strange week by continuing to defy expectations of a September slide. In fact, the market posted a pretty nice winning streak as we had into the back half of what is supposed to be the worst month of the year. The S&P 500 ended the week with a nifty close of 2,500. On the docket this week: the Fed, more political drama and no doubt the usual complement of you-can't-make-this-up market-moving news. A sampling:

Figuring out the Fed

If you have a one-track mind when it comes to the Federal Reserve, here's the one sentence you need to know, then you skip to the next item: No rate hike this week. The central bank uses its benchmark funds rate to determine the level of rates you pay for all kinds of adjustable-rate debt, like credit cards, loans and mortgages. Those rates won't be changing as a result of the Fed's actions this month. Here's what else to look for out of the meeting, in case you're a Fed junkie: Officials will give their revised economic projections, which the market will be watching closely, particularly as it pertains to inflation. Also, there will likely be an announcement that the Fed is going to start unwinding its $4.5 trillion balance sheet, which is a portfolio of bonds the central bank accumulated during its efforts to stimulate the economy. Finally, after the meeting, Chair Janet Yellen will be holding a news conference, during which she'll field an array of questions about policy and the economy. All the news will start breaking Wednesday at 2 p.m. EDT.

Politics watch

President Donald Trump last week threw pretty much everyone for a major loop with news that he had reached an agreement with the Democratic leadership on spending and, depending on whose account you believe, immigration. Markets have been rising all year at least in part on hopes that the White House would be able to push through a tax-reform bill that would bring the U.S. corporate rate down from the highest in the world while also closing loopholes and giving a break to workers. Progress on that front could well give the bull market another boost. A step backward could bring around that long-awaited correction many investors have been waiting for all year. Through it all, Republicans have promised they will deliver a spending plan by the end of September. How the various proposals wash out will be critical for the market. Also worth watching: Trump speaks Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly. Will it be Trump the diplomat, as we've occasionally seen, or Trump the agitator — always a possibility considering the derision the president has heaped on the U.N. in the past?

Bitcoin's ups and downs

Not that long ago, bitcoin was a shadowy proposition that existed at the dark edges of legitimacy, understood only by tech geeks and doomsday planners. That's changing, fast. The cryptocurrency has seen its price soar this year, starting 2017 around $800 and zooming to near $5,000 as September dawned. But bitcoin had a bad week last week. China announced it was clamping down on fraud, and the price tumbled so far that bitcoin lost about one-quarter of its value. By Monday morning, it had risen by more than a third from Friday's depths. Of course, we've seen ripsaw moves before for this asset. Respected strategist Tom Lee at Fundstrat thinks the near-term target is around $6,000, with a long-term move to $25,000 still on target. Bitcoin's legitimacy can be disputed, but its emergence as a formidable asset cannot.

The last word

Let's stick with bitcoin and the aforementioned Tom Lee to give us the view heading into the week on bitcoin: "Bitcoin is a volatile instrument, so investors need to appreciate the high volatility when looking at an investment in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. However, we do not believe Bitcoin is a fraud nor is it a Ponzi scheme. Rather, blockchain represents an enhancement of digital trust. Perhaps the recent security breaches of Equifax highlight the importance of personal digital cryptography and merits of blockchain."