AFP – Unease over emerging markets dominated a busy week of economic and corporate news, pushing stocks lower for a second week in a row and resulting in losses for January.
The declines were not as deep as last week’s, but all three indices ended lower following big swings.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 180.26 points (1.14%) to 15,698.85 over the five days of trade.
The broad-based S&P 500 declined 7.70 (0.43%) to 1,782.59, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index fell 24.29 (0.59%) to 4,103.88.
The week’s losses also ensured that January was a month in the red, with the Dow shedding 5.3%, its largest percentage decline since 2009.
The S&P 500 shed 3.3%, its worst January since 2010, and the Nasdaq fell 1.7%.
Most analysts had predicted a correction at some point given the huge gains last year. The question now is whether the current retreat is a correction of an overvalued market, or a symptom of deeper economic problems.
Anthony Conroy, head of global trading at Bank of New York Convergex, said investors’ worries include mixed earnings and the precipitous drop in emerging-market economies.
“More than anything is nervousness about the global recovery,” Conroy said. “I think that emerging markets are probably weaker than expected.”
The unease over the drop in currencies of Turkey, Argentina and South Africa is reminiscent of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, said Hugh Johnson of Hugh Johnson Advisors.
The 1997 crisis showed that “problems which can seem to be small and isolated can turn out to be a big problem for everybody,” Johnson said.
A steep downturn in those markets would hit other countries exporting goods and services to them, Johnson said.
“What I am worried about is that you will start to see economists start reducing estimates for global economic growth and US economic growth because of this situation,” Johnson said.
Even amid some mixed data, there were sources of confidence in the week’s news.
The US Federal Reserve Wednesday cut its stimulus for the second month in a row, concluding that current trends are “consistent with growing underlying strength in the broader economy.”
Then on Thursday, the Commerce Department said the US economy grew at an annual rate of 3.2% in the fourth quarter, above the 3.0% projected by analysts. The data included a solid 3.3% rise in consumer spending, which accounts for the bulk of US output.
Positive earnings surprises included Dow component Caterpillar, which reported better results that suggested its hard-hit mining segment had finally bottomed out after three bad quarters in a row.
Google rose after disclosing a handsome boost to online ad sales, while Facebook shot up to record highs after earnings jumped eightfold on rising ad sales.
But Apple sank after forecasting lower sales in spite of a long-awaited deal with China Mobile. Amazon produced another big increase in revenues, but earnings missed forecasts due to rising costs.
Yahoo plummeted after falling revenues sparked doubts about whether chief executive Marissa Mayer’s turnaround efforts were on track.
Old-economy heavyweights that fell included ExxonMobil, which reported another drop in oil and gas production, and Boeing, which fizzled after its 2014 forecast fell short of expectations.
Other disappointing results came from Chevron, Mattel and MasterCard. Wal-Mart closed out the week by forecasting lower fourth-quarter profits, in part due to reduced consumer spending from food stamp cuts.
Major earnings reports next week include Merck, General Motors, Twitter, Time Warner and the Walt Disney Company.
A big week of economic data includes the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing and services indices, on Monday and Wednesday, respectively; the US international trade report for December on Thursday; and Friday’s highly anticipated labor and unemployment report for January.