STRATEGIES

Unusually mixed economic reports are stopping the US stock market from surging higher like many of the other global markets, but will this "wall of worry" be overcome? MoneyShow's Tom Aspray analyzes the data to determine whether you should be worried about the strength of the economy and which sectors you should watching for new investments.

The conflicting economic data last Friday made for further choppy trading, and the major averages closed mixed. The Dow Industrials and S&P 500 were higher, while the Nasdaq-100 closed the week lower.

It has been my view over the past few months that the stock market's strength was a sign that the economy was really stronger than the majority thought. Over the past few months, the economic data has been better than expected, with the housing sector especially strong.

From a global perspective, the industrial production has continued to be a concern, as it has turned negative for most of the world with the exception of the US and China. Therefore, last Monday's sharp drop in the ISM Manufacturing Index caught many off guard, as the consensus view was for a reading of 51.7 while the actual number was 49.5.

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A value over 50 indicates an expanding manufacturing sector, so the November report did raise some concerns, as the chart shows a pattern of lower highs (line a) since early in 2011.

This report was followed last Wednesday by the ISM Non-Manufacturing Index, which came in at 54.7, above the consensus of 53.6. It indicates that the non-manufacturing economy is generally expanding. The chart on the right shows a gradual rise from last May's lows, but also shows a pattern of lower highs (line b).

The economic outlook was clouded further Friday when the monthly jobless report was much stronger than anticipated, while the preliminary University of Michigan consumer sentiment plunged to 74.5 from last month's 82.7. This suggests that the concerns over the fiscal cliff are making consumers more pessimistic.

So what does this mean for the stock market? Since early in November, overseas markets have been acting better and looking stronger than the US market. The major US averages need a burst of upside momentum and a close above the Election Day highs to signal the market is trending higher.

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While the US markets have failed to break out, the markets in Asia are continuing to look very strong. For the year, the iShares MSCI Philippines ETF (EPHE) is up well over 45%, followed by a 30%-plus gain in the iShares MSCI Thailand (THD) and over 26% by the iShares Singapore (EWS). All three have more than doubled the 13% gain of the Spyder Trust (SPY).

The charts of many of the European ETFs have completed their three-month corrections and appear to be resuming their uptrends. Some are overbought short term, and could pull back this week before they again move higher.

The action of the global markets and the apparent bottom for the Chinese economy are likely to translate into higher US stock prices. It may take until early 2013 for the US market to catch up with stronger trends in the global markets, but I think the economy will come out fine.

This week, we have the FOMC meeting and its announcement Wednesday afternoon. This may be an important meeting ,as Operation Twist is set to end at the end of the year. Of course, the question is whether they will decide to do additional buying in 2013 in addition to the mortgage-backed securities. An aggressive new effort could help reverse the weakness in the metals.

Also on Wednesday, we get import and export prices, followed on Thursday by jobless claims, retail sales, the Producer Price Index and Business Inventories. Then on Friday, we get the Consumer Price Index and Industrial Production.

Also on Thursday and Friday, the European Council holds one of its meetings, as it does every six months. The announcement after their last meeting in June caused many of the markets to move sharply.

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Tickers Mentioned: Tickers: SPY, DIA, QQQ, IWM, XLF