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(Jacob Wackerhausen/iStockphoto)
(Jacob Wackerhausen/iStockphoto)

When markets may finally wake up Add to ...

Asleep? You can be forgiven. Eddy Elfenbein at Crossing Wall Street pointed out on Wednesday that the S&P 500 has been mostly within a 1.5 per cent trading band since early August, meandering between 1400 and 1420.

Exclude the first few trading days in August, the S&P 500’s biggest up-day sent it all of 0.7 per cent higher; the biggest down-day sent it down 0.8 per cent. Over this period, the index has risen 0.9 per cent. Yawn.

August is known as a slow month for stock-trading, given its popularity as a vacation time. But September has not yet proved to be much of a wakeup month. On Tuesday, the S&P 500 fell slightly more than 0.1 per cent and on Wednesday afternoon it was down slightly less than 0.1 per cent.

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, failed to get much traction when he spoke at Jackson Hole, WY, last week. The annual economics event had been widely seen as an ideal time to float an aggressive turn in monetary policy – perhaps pounding the podium in favour of a third round of quantitative easing. While he left the door open to such policy, the speech was anything but a rallying call for investors.

Still, there are other events this month that could provide a jolt to markets. On Thursday, the European Central Bank will announce its latest monetary policy. Most economists expect the ECB to cut its key interest rate to 0.5 per cent from 0.75 per cent – but the real waker-upper could come in the form of an announcement on what the central bank plans to do about the ongoing sovereign-debt crisis. There is some talk that it is proposing an unlimited bond-buying plan to help drive down borrowing costs.

If markets are still sleeping after that, there is always the U.S. Labor Department’s report on nonfarm payrolls to look forward to. That’s due out on Friday, and economists expect tepid job gains of 127,000 in August, down from 163,000 in July. Anything significantly more or less than that, and markets could be buzzing with the excitement of either economic renewal or Fed stimulus action.

No? Well, there’s always next week’s Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting. The Fed will keep its key rate unchanged when it makes its announcement on Wednesday. But there is always the possibility that it could shift its tone toward the need for stimulus.

When the Fed last weighed in, it held its cards close: It said it would “closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments and will provide additional accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery...”

Has that moment arrived? Slumbering investors are dying to find zzzzzzzzzzzz.

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