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Dow dives downward again, with no sign ahead of a Santa rally |

Dow dives downward again, with no sign ahead of a Santa rally

The Washington Post
| Monday, December 17, 2018 4:51 p.m
Specialist Vincent Surace works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

U.S. stock markets again swept downward Monday as the volatility of recent weeks resumed ahead of the holidays.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down off 507 points, or 2.1 percent, extending a slide after a 496-point loss Friday. The blue-chip barometer is notching its worst month in more than three years.

The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and the tech-laden Nasdaq composite also dropped 2.1 and 2.3 percent respectively.

The Dow for last week was down 1.18 percent, the S&P down 1.26 and the Nasdaq down 0.84 percent. All three indexes — Dow, S&P and Nasdaq – are in correction mode. A correction is a 10 percent retreat from recent peaks.

Energy is down and health care stocks are down on federal judge’s ruling last week saying the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Banks were also down Monday.

The next two or three weeks are historically a happy time for shareholders — dubbed the Santa Claus Rally — as traders finish out one year and reach for optimism to start the next.

For the past five decades, the last week of the year and first couple of trading sessions in January have been a healthy time for stocks, with indexes marking more than 1 percent gains.

Markets generally languish for a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving as traders sell investments and losers in preparation of the tax season.

Toward the end of December, some stocks may be on sale, causing investors to scoop them up and push indexes higher.

Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, said there is still time for a late-December, Santa Claus Rally.

“If (Fed chairman Jerome) Powell puts on a Santa suit on Wednesday and tries to calm everybody down, we could have a rally,” Yardeni said. “He precipitated this sell-off in early October when he said we were a long way from the ‘neutral’ federal funds rate. Now he needs to calm everybody down and say we’re going to stop for a while and see how the economy absorbs it all. It wouldn’t be hard to have a rally, given how far we have gone down since late September.”

The market is in the throes of a slow-growth narrative that is taking over sentiment. Stocks will need a bump higher these last two weeks to finish in the black. The Dow and S&P are down for the year, and the Nasdaq is hanging in positive territory by less than a percent.

This year may be different as investors factor in the week’s anticipated quarter-point interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve, the ongoing U.S.-Chinese trade dispute, low oil prices, a possible U.S. government shutdown and the turmoil surrounding Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Trump administration economic adviser Peter Navarro said on CNBC on Monday morning that the Fed is the source of volatility and the stock slide.

“The economy is growing without inflation,” said Navarro, calling on the Fed not to raise interest rates.

In addition to Navarro, respected Wall Street figures have criticized the Fed in the last day, urging the central bank to not raise interest rates when it meets Wednesday.

“I think they shouldn’t raise them this week,” said Jeffrey Gundlach in an interview Monday with CNBC. Gundlach, chief investment officer of DoubleLine Capital, said “the bond market is basically saying, ‘Fed, you’ve got no way you should be raising interest rates.’”

Billionaire investor Stanley Druckenmiller co-authored an opinion piece with former Federal Reserve Board member Kevin Warsh in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend in which the authors argued against the Fed raising rates.

The U.S. economy “can ill afford a major policy error, either from the Fed or the rest of the administration,” said the authors. “Given recent economic and market developments, the Fed should cease – for now – its double-barreled blitz of higher interest rates and tighter liquidity.”

Oil prices were rocked Monday, with benchmark West Texas Intermediate down nearly 4 percent, resting below the critical $50 per barrel threshold. Bent Crude was down 2.3 percent to $58 and change. The $50 mark is crucial because oil producers find the path to profits more of a slog at sub-$50 prices.

Analyst Phil Flynn of the Price Futures Group said oil prices dropped on a private forecast report over the weekend that showed oil inventories building up. That and the stock market crush are hurting shaking confidence in global growth and future demand for oil.

“All the unanswered questions — the stock market being weaker, the Fed meeting on Wednesday, a possible government shutdown — are adding to the bearish momentum and the negative mood,” Flynn said. “The concern is that all that negativity could shake the confidence of business leaders, and it then becomes self-fulfilling.”

As for a Santa rally, well, at least one investor wants more.

“Year-end trading can be slow, as window-dressing can easily take over trades,” said Howard Silverblatt of S&P Dow Jones Indices. “At this point the best gift St. Nick can give us is a stable market. Gains would be a nice extra, but less volatility would help support confidence in the market, and permit longer-term investment decision – by investors and corporate planners.”

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