January jobs growth looked strong, but stocks remain under pressure in the face of rising bond yields.
***Updated Friday, Feb. 2, at 4:30 p.m. EST:
(Friday Market Close) Despite a strong January jobs number, the stock market cratered Friday as rising bond yields appeared to spook investors. By the end of the day Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ($DJI) had fallen more than 650 points, the first time it's fallen so dramatically since mid-2016 when Brexit occurred. Other indices finished sharply lower, as well, with a 2% drop for the broader S&P 500 (SPX) index.
Bond yields again played a starring role Friday in pushing stocks down from the record levels they had been at a week earlier. By late Friday, 10-year U.S. Treasury bond yields had popped up to as high as 2.85%, a nearly four-year peak. The 30-year yield pierced 3%.
It’s been pretty apparent for a while that some investors were looking for a reason to take profits after the stock market’s wild ride higher in January. The spike in bond yields that accelerated Friday might have been the excuse.
This all happened after the January jobs report Friday morning demonstrated signs of more strength in the U.S. economy. The headline jobs number advanced from an upwardly revised 160,000 in December, while unemployment stayed at 4.1%. Once again job growth occurred in career-building sectors, with construction climbing 36,000, health care rising 21,000, and manufacturing up 15,000, the government said. Hourly wage growth rose 0.3%, in line with Wall Street analysts’ expectations.
In one sense, the big job gains might be weighing on the market a little bit. Many analysts think the country is near full-employment, so when job growth climbs this much, the fear is that eventually it could put pressure on employers to raise wages. Average hourly earnings are up 2.9% over the last year, above the pace of inflation. If wages rise, the thinking is eventually prices could follow, and that might put pressure on the Fed to get tougher on rates.
Earnings popped up one after the other late Thursday and early Friday, and for the big three tech companies results ranged from great to mixed to disappointing.
Amazon (AMZN) looked pretty positive as the company easily beat Wall Street analysts’ revenue expectations and tore the lid off of estimates for earnings per share, exceeding consensus by nearly $2. Cloud revenue jumped 45% in Q4, and net income more than doubled from a year ago. Shares jumped 6% in post-market trading, a big turn-around after the stock fell more than 4% Thursday in what looked possible profit taking.
On the less positive side, Alphabet (GOOG) disappointed and the stock took it on the chin in post-market futures trading. Though GOOG beat analysts’ revenue estimates, the company missed consensus for earnings per share as ad costs rose.
The one that’s a little harder to read is Apple (AAPL). Sure, the company beat analysts’ estimates for earnings and revenue in its fiscal Q1, but iPhone sales came in below expectations and fell from a year earlier. The question seems to be if it’s worth it for AAPL to sell some iPhones at a higher price but at a lower volume. Average selling prices for iPhones climbed sharply in fiscal Q1. The revenue beat suggests that perhaps the $999 iPhone X might have brought in some extra money, but at the cost to AAPL of fewer units sold.
The earnings parade continued early Friday with Merck (MRK) and Exxon Mobil (XOM). Merck beat analysts’ earnings per share expectations but came up a little short on Wall Street’s revenue estimate despite strong sales of cancer drug Keytruda, while XOM fell short of consensus estimates and shares slid in pre-market futures trading.
Meanwhile, crude — which had climbed more than 2% to above $66 a barrel Thursday amid growing market confidence that OPEC might stick to its production cuts — fell along with stocks and bonds. A persistent bearish factor is U.S. production. Output jumped above 10 million barrels a day last week for the first time since the year the Beatles broke up. Meanwhile, no one came to the dollar’s rescue. The dollar index fell below 89 early Friday amid more strength from the euro, but clawed back above 89 by late Friday. Volatility spiked, with the VIX rising above 17.
FIGURE 1: STRAIGHT A'S.
Amazon (candlestick), Alphabet (blue line) and Apple (purple line) all reported results late Thursday after a year in which their stocks registered big gains. It’s interesting to see here in this one-year chart how Amazon has started pulling ahead of the others in recent weeks while Apple has fallen off the pace a bit. Before recently, the three had been moving pretty much in sync. Data source: Nasdaq. Chart source: The thinkorswim® platform from TD Ameritrade. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results..
Lesson Learned: In what could serve as a learning opportunity for investors, it looks like Wednesday’s run for the hills that sent markets falling around midday might have been based on a rumor that never came to fruition. Word apparently surfaced that pension funds and other large holders were set to dump billions of dollars worth of shares to even their positions before the end of the month, an analyst told CNBC on Thursday. This rumor made sense on the surface, because after January’s rally it’s possible many pension funds had run up stock holdings to levels above their plans, meaning they might have to buy bonds or sell stocks to get their allocations back in order before the month closed.
Some of that may well have happened, but perhaps not to the extent it was rumored, because the market never really crumbled. Anyway, it’s something to keep in mind whenever the last days of a month approach — especially a month with a big rally or big loss — because major swings can occur that aren’t necessarily related to anything fundamental. The market lingo for these kind of last-minute profit harvesting and position-evening machinations is “window dressing,” and investors should always be prepared for possible end-of-month volatility due to such action.
Consumers Seem Ready to Spend: Something that may have been overlooked in this week’s consumer spending and income data is household net worth, which recently reached new heights thanks in part to jumps in equity and real estate markets. This measure could mean consumers feel more inclined to spend, explained analyst Lindsey Bell of research firm CFRA. “Most notably, the ratio of net worth to disposable income is at a record high (going back to 1960) of 6.7x,” Bell wrote in a note to investors. “This can lead consumers to feel more confident and increase their propensity to spend. Ultimately, we think all this adds up to show a strong consumer, which we know has been resilient in the past, and is a reminder that the economy is currently on solid ground.”
GDP Growth Above 5%? A strong consumer can also play into Q1 gross domestic product (GDP). This week, the Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now indicator rose to 5.4%, from the previous estimate of 4.2%. Last quarter’s GDP rose 2.6%. To find a quarter with 5% or better growth, you have to go back to Q3 of 2014. The last time growth topped the Atlanta Fed’s projected 5.4% was in Q3 of 2003, as the economy emerged from the dot.com recession. The Atlanta Fed’s GDP model’s web site explained the jump Thursday, saying “The forecast of real consumer spending growth increased from 3.1% to 4% after this morning's Manufacturing ISM Report On Business from the Institute for Supply Management, while the forecast of real private fixed-investment growth increased from 5.2% to 9.2% after the ISM report and this morning's construction spending release from the U.S. Census Bureau.”
FIGURE 2: ECONOMIC CALENDAR.
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