Stocks sagged Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average fell nearly 1 percent to 17,731, in the red for 2015. The S&P 500 dropped around 0.50 percent at 2,102, while the Nasdaq also fell about a half percent to 5,146. Big blue chips Caterpillar, American Express and 3M all weighed on the Dow after disappointing earnings news. The negative earnings and stock market reaction sent buyers into Treasurys. The 10-year yield Thursday was at 2.29 percent.
Gold rose but failed to really rally, remaining under $ 1,100, a key psychological level. Grains were mixed, and crude remained weak, settling at its lowest level since March 31.
While earnings reports are beating estimates at a high rate, those projections had been revised lower for many companies and some of the misses have been especially high profile, like Apple.
“There’s not that many positives out there, especially on the earnings front,” said Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading. “I feel like we’re lacking positives today. The upside leader is Apple, and it’s just still bouncing from bad earnings.”
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Amazon will likely help sentiment after Apple’s disappointing revenue and forecast clobbered the iPhone makers’ stock this week.
O’Rourke said investors are latching onto names like Amazon, Netflix and biotechs that fit in the momentum category, while industrials like Caterpillar sell off. “The money is rotating to names that are (measured by) nontraditional metrics. That’s viewed as a safe place to hide because you’re viewed as not being at the type of risk (of a Caterpillar) during a disappointing earnings season,” O’Rourke said.
He said traders are not yet focused on next week’s Fed meeting, but it could become a bigger factor Friday. While no action is expected, there will be plenty of market talk generated about when the central bank will start to raise interest rates.
“The data there is good enough. The problem is the earnings haven’t been good enough. While we had this great environment, where the Fed has bolstered asset prices for the last five years, it looks like they’re going to go ahead and hike, and profits already peaked,” O’Rourke said. “That’s the thing the market has to juggle. If profits peaked already, and we’re going onto a less benevolent environment for business that would prompt people to take some chips off the table. While (stocks) are weak, we haven’t had a meaningful selloff yet.”
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Adding to negative sentiment Thursday were reports of an investor letter from Bridgewater Associate’s Ray Dalio, who wrote about new concerns over China. In the letter, Dalio, a longtime bull on the Asian country, discussed the bursting bubble in China’s stock market and the difficulty the government could have in managing it without a painful slowdown.
Thematically, the comments added to Wall Street’s worries about the commodities selloff, which continued Thursday. Traders have been pinning the selling on China’s slowing and a stronger U.S. dollar, in anticipation of Fed rate hikes. However, on Thursday the dollar was weaker and markets were more concerned with talk of a slowing China.
Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic advisor at Allianz, also spoke about China on Thursday, saying he believes the country can engineer a soft landing after the stock market selloff, but the economic slowdown is raising issues.
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“China is no longer a locomotive of global growth, and that has implications for companies. It has implications for commodities markets,” El-Erian told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”
Morgan Stanley strategists Thursday reiterated their call on sectors, emphasizing they are underweight industrials, because of China exposure as a risk to earnings estimates. They said they like energy, financials and consumer discretionary stocks.