Retail sales — What you need to know in markets on Wednesday

Myles Udland
Markets Reporter

Investors will be looking for a rebound on Wednesday.

In the morning, retail sales data for February will be the economic highlight as economists expect a 0.3% increase in sales over the prior month after January’s data disappointed.

Ian Shepherdson, an economist at Pantheon Macro, notes that retail sales rocketed higher after last summer’s hurricanes in Texas and Florida, pushing three-month annualized sales gains through November to 10%, more than double the prior trend. Recent data is now moving past this inflated period, and some softness in retail sales could persist into the end of the first quarter.

Economists are looking for a rebound in retail sales after January’s data disappointed. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

On the earnings side, results expected on Wednesday include quarterly results from Progressive (PGR), Williams-Sonoma (WSM), Noodles & Co. (NDLS), and 3D Systems (DDD).

But investors will be looking for more positive action in the stock market on Wednesday after stocks sold off across the board on Tuesday following a flurry of news out of Washington, D.C., some of which mattered to investors and some of which was largely a sideshow.

Wild Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

The biggest story of a hectic Tuesday for political news was the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by President Trump, a move that Tillerson implied in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that he learned of on social media. Tillerson will be replaced by CIA Chief Mike Pompeo, and a report from The New York Times on Tuesday indicated that Energy Secretary Rick Perry could soon be named secretary of veterans affairs.

The parlor game of West Wing personnel moves has, throughout the administration, been overlooked by markets. But not everything happening in Washington, D.C. over the last 48 hours is quite so distant from financial markets.

Late Monday, the Trump administration barred Broadcom from pursuing its $117 billion merger with Qualcomm (QCOM) citing national security concerns. Shares of Qualcomm fell 5% on Tuesday, leading a sell-off across tech stocks.

This move by the White House also calls into question a market assumption that appears to have become built-in to investor thinking, which is that the Trump administration would, in the end, not pursue economic policies that upset markets. Like harsh tariffs or restrictions on Chinese imports or foreign investment in U.S. companies.

Reports late Tuesday suggested the administration is seeking to impose tariffs on $60 billion worth of Chinese imports, casting further doubt on the notion that the softened steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the administration last week were a preview of things to come. These may eventually prove the exception.

President Donald Trump arrives speaks to service members at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

And as The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman noted on Tuesday, Trump’s recent personnel moves reflect a growing confidence in his position as president and are reflective of someone that Haberman says is less likely to be swayed by those around him.

For markets, then, the question becomes whether an emboldened Donald Trump pursues the more protectionist and market-unfriendly policies discussed during much of the presidential campaign.

Ahead of the election, many predictions of the market and economy’s demise under Trump were underwritten by a conviction that then-candidate Trump’s economic plans not be taken literally. The economic goals — in addition to cutting taxes and repealing and replacing Obamacare — during Trump’s campaign appeared to be cancel NAFTA, impose harsh limits on trade with China and expel millions of illegal immigrants.

Only cutting taxes has come through, a move that markets embraced enthusiastically and which, to a large extent, still supports investor and business confidence in the economy.

But in the second year of the administration, and with an increasingly emboldened commander-in-chief, one wonders if the Trump markets feared isn’t on the verge of revealing himself. Or, perhaps, this process has already begun.

Myles Udland is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland

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