New economic & political concerns are putting stocks to the test.
Dow drops again, analysts wonder. March 13 saw another triple-digit descent for the blue chips – the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted more than 230 points, the second market day in less than two weeks to witness a loss of 150 points or greater. The S&P 500’s (small) YTD gain was also wiped out by the selloff. As the bull market enters its sixth year, it faces some sudden and potentially stiff headwinds, hopefully short-term.1,2
In Ukraine, the situation is fluid. As the trading week ended, much was unresolved about the nation’s future. The parliament of its autonomous Crimea region had announced a March 16 referendum, which gave voters two options: rejoin Russia, or break away from Ukraine and form a new nation.3
Ukraine’s government calls the referendum unconstitutional. The United States and key European Union (EU) members agree and claim it violates international law. Russia welcomes the vote – 60% of the Crimean Peninsula’s population is made up of ethnic Russians, and Russian troops more or less control the region now.3
Russia wants the real estate (its Black Sea naval fleet is based on the Crimean Peninsula) and could spread its economic influence further with the annexation of that region. The cost: economic sanctions, probably harsh ones. Should diplomacy fail to stop the secession vote, then Russia can expect “a very serious series of steps Monday in Europe and [the United States],” according to Secretary of State John Kerry.3
So far, the moves have been largely symbolic: a suspension of the 2014 G8 summit and the talks on Russia’s entry into the OECD, and asset freezes for individuals and companies deemed to be hurting democracy in Ukraine. Additional “serious” steps could include financial sanctions for Russian banks, an embargo on arms exports to Russia, and the EU opting to get more of its energy supplies from other nations. Russia could respond in kind, of course, with similar asset freezes and possible pressure on eurozone companies doing business in Ukraine. The fact that Russia has already staged war games near Ukraine adds another layer of anxiety for global markets.4
Investors see China’s growth clearly slowing. Its exports were down 18.1% year-over-year in February. Analysts polled by Reuters projected China’s industrial output rising 9.5% across January and February, but the gain was actually just 8.6%. The Reuters consensus for a yearly retail sales gain of 13.5% for China was also way off; the advance measured in February was 11.8%. These disappointments bothered Wall Street greatly on Thursday. The news also roiled the metals market – copper fell 1.3% on March 13, its third down day on the week. Besides being the world’s top copper user, China also employs the base metal as collateral for bank loans.1,5,6
As Chinese Premier Li Keqiang noted on March 13, the nation’s 2014 growth target is 7.5%; the respected (and very bearish) economist Marc Faber told CNBC he suspects China’s growth is more like 4%. The upside, Faber commented, is that “4 percent growth in a world that has no growth is actually very good.”6
Will the bull market pass the test? It has passed many so far, and it is just several days away from becoming the fifth-longest bull in history (outlasting the 1982-7 advance). Bears wonder how long it can keep going, referencing a P-E (price-to-earnings) ratio of 17 for the S&P 500 right now (rivaling where it was in 2008 before the downturn), and the 1.9% consensus estimate of U.S. Q1 earnings growth in Bloomberg’s latest survey of Wall Street analysts (down from a 6.6% forecast when 2014 began).1
Then again, the weather is getting warmer and the new data stateside is encouraging: February saw the first rise in U.S. retail sales in three months, and jobless claims touched a 4-month low last week. Maybe Wall Street (and the world) can keep these signs of the U.S. economic rebound in mind as stocks deal with momentary headwinds.1
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is a capitalization-weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries. It cannot be invested into directly.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (the ‘Dow’) is comprised of 30 stocks that are major factors in their industries and widely held by individuals and institutional investors.
The P/E ratio (price-to-earnings ratio) is a measure of the price paid for a share relative to the annual net income or profit earned by the firm per share. It is a financial ratio used for valuation: a higher P/E ratio means that investors are paying more for each unit of net income, so the stock is more expensive compared to one with lower P/E ratio.
International and emerging market investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and political instability and may not be suitable for all investors.
1 – bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-12/nikkei-futures-fall-before-china-data-while-oil-rebounds.html [3/12/14]
2 – ajc.com/feed/business/stock-market-today-dow-jones-industrial-average/fYjPS/ [3/3/14]
3 – cnn.com/2014/03/13/politics/crimea-referendum-explainer/ [3/13/14]
4 – uk.reuters.com/article/2014/03/13/uk-ukraine-crisis-factbox-idUKBREA2C19L20140313 [3/13/14]
5 – cnbc.com/id/101492226 [3/13/14]
6 – cnbc.com/id/101489500 [3/13/14]
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