Last Friday’s stock rally that pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average up nearly 400 points gave markets a much-needed boost, which helped certain sectors such as technology.
But the jump in trading values wasn’t enough to erase all of the losses seen in the U.S. retail segment, which is experiencing a more cautious consumer even as wages rise and the employment situation improves. Globally, economists are now expecting slowed growth to continue, which is dragging down emerging markets — particularly China and Russia.
The blame is clearly on crude oil, which is now at record-setting supply levels thanks to overzealous production in the U.S. and no slowing of production in Middle Eastern oil states. But that could change over the next year. In the meantime, the price of crude oil has become one of the most critical variables in investment algorithms, and is now firmly correlated to the market.
Last Friday, slowed growth in U.S. Gross Domestic Product wasn’t enough to hold back global equities as traders keyed into rising crude oil prices as well as a Bank of Japan stimulus move that was seen as reason for the Federal Reserve to perhaps reconsider its planned interest rate hike in the first quarter.
As a result, stocks rallied, with the Dow gaining 397 points, or 2.3 percent, to 16,464, while the S&P 500 rose 2.5 percent to 1,940. The Nasdaq rose 2.4 percent to finish at 4,614. However, the S&P Retailing Industry Group Index, dragged down by Amazon’s retreat of 7.6 percent to $587, closed down 0.3 percent to 1,190.
For the year-to-date period, the Dow is down 6 percent — an improvement over the 10 percent drop it had a week ago. The S&P 500 is off 4 percent so far this year while the Nasdaq is down just 0.9 percent. The S&P Retailing Industry Group Index is down 5.6 percent year to date.
On Friday, all the major indices in Europe and Asia closed higher. The FTSE 100 in London closed up 2.6 percent to 6,084 while the German DAX rose 1.6 percent to 9,798 and the CAC 40 in France increased 2.2 percent to 4,417. The Asia Dow closed up 1.9 percent to 2,513, while the Nikkei 225 gained 2.8 percent to 17,518 and the Hang Seng index jumped 2.5 percent to 19,683. The Shanghai Index in China finished up 3.1 percent to 2,738.
The boost to Asian and European issues strengthened the WWD Global Stock Tracker, which rose 2.6 percent to 109.32 on Friday and helped push up the tracker 1.5 percent for the year-to-date period. But the tracker, composed of 100 global retail, fashion apparel, beauty and luxury stocks, has more decliners than gainers. Year to date, there are 69 issues in the tracker that have declined while 31 have advanced.
Friday’s rally also helped boost several notable stocks in the WWD tracker that had been previously distressed. The top gainers for the year-to-date period are Lululemon Athletica Inc. with a 20 percent increase to $62.08 and Macy’s Inc. with a 14.2 percent gain to $40.41. Coach Inc. was the third top gainer with a 13.4 percent increase to $37.05.
The top decliners for the year-to-date period are Younger Group Co. with a 32 percent drop to $1.74 and Ascena Retail Group Inc. with a 28 percent decline to $7.38, as well as Matsuya Co. with a 24 percent decrease to $7.82.
The global rally on Friday was triggered when the Bank of Japan moved to a negative interest rate policy, which sent the value of the yen plunging and stock markets in Asia higher. Gains in crude oil also buoyed results with the commodity closing the day with a 1.3 percent gain to $33.64 a barrel.
Regarding U.S. GDP for the fourth quarter, it increased 0.7 percent, which is lower than the third quarter’s 2 percent gain. Meanwhile, prices continued to drop with the fourth-quarter price index increasing only 0.2 percent, which compares to the third quarter’s 1.3 percent gain. The report also showed that personal income fell while personal taxes gained and personal spending declined. Household savings showed a gain.
This week, personal expenditure data is due as well as construction spending. Later in the week, the monthly employment report will be released. Wall Street will also be eyeing the trade balance report due on Friday for any signs of weakness. If these reports show a slowing of the economic engine, stocks could rally again as it gives the Fed further reason not to implement additional rate hikes.
For retailers, the consumer remains a puzzle. Wages are up, but so are household savings. But spending has been soft — except on dining out and bigger-ticket items. And going to see blockbuster films such as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which continued to set records. Last month consumers were in a good mood. But on Friday, the Michigan Consumer Sentiment fell 0.6 points for January. Survey respondents’ take on current economic conditions also dropped.
Chris Christopher, director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight, said sentiment fell “due to stock market volatility, despite falling gasoline prices and a well-received employment report. The fall in consumer optimism in January was somewhat uneven, with respondent’s evaluation of current economic conditions taking a hit, while consumer expectations remained unchanged.”
Christopher noted that higher-income households’ consumer sentiment “has not been holding up very well since they feel the sting from the ups and downs of equity markets.”
“Many lower-income households that live paycheck-to-paycheck are feeling more comfortable due to a little extra spending money from the pump price dividend and lower household utility bills,” he said, adding that “unseasonably warmer weather in December and lower energy prices are a big double positive for lower- and middle-income households.”