U.S. retail stocks were largely spared from the continuing bloodbath in global stock markets Thursday.
As all the major U.S. indices declined by over 2 percent following steep falls in Asia and Europe, the S&P Retail Index dipped only 0.6 percent to close at 4,385.91. The WWD Global Stock Tracker mirrored the S&P Retail Index closing at 105.92, down 0.53 cents, or 0.5 percent. The relative strength of the retail indices was surprising given that December comparable-store sales results were just so-so — although not as bad as generally expected — and that there are growing concerns that the U.S. economy might be heading toward another recession. Two of the poorest comp sales performers were Macy’s Inc. and Gap Inc. Macy’s shares actually rose Thursday by 2.1 percent to close at $36.91 as Wall Street cheered the retailer’s cost-cutting and restructuring moves.
The Gap had a great day as its stock moved higher by 5 percent to $26.74, but then dashed shareholders’ hopes when it reported that holiday sales dropped sending the stock plunging by more than 9 percent in after-hours trading.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. saw its shares rise 2.3 percent to $65.01 even as rival Target Corp.’s stock dipped 0.4 percent to close at $73.79. Other retailers ending the day on a positive note included Stein Mart and Steve Madden, which both rose more than 3 percent to close respectively at $7.01 and $30.70. J.C. Penney jumped more than 3 percent to $7.26 on news of strong holiday sales and The Children’s Place popped more than 6 percent to $63.70 after raising its guidance following strong sales.
Even as many stocks sold off, Chris Christopher, director of U.S. and Global Consumer Economics at IHS, said, “Looking ahead, the positives clearly outweigh the negatives on the consumer front for 2016, premised on continuing strength in real disposable income growth, further gains in auto sales, increasing household real estate wealth, elevated levels of consumer confidence, modest consumer price inflation and a housing market that is gaining traction.”
Brad Sorensen, managing director of market and sector analysis at the Schwab Center for Financial Research, said, “The American consumer has shown a remarkable ability to overcome obstacles and we’re optimistic that will continue to be the case. However, we believe the consumer discretionary sector’s performance will be more muted in coming months.”
In Europe, fashion and retail shares had a mixed performance. LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton saw its stock dip 0.1 percent to 136.60 euros, or $139.33 at current exchange, but competitors Kering’s shares fell 3.5 percent to 144.95 euros, or $147.85; Compagnie Financière Richemont’s dropped 1.5 percent to 67 Swiss francs, or $67.41, and Burberry’s fell 3.3 percent to 1.06 pounds, or $1.55. Yoox Net-a-porter Group’s shares bucked the trend, rising 2 percent to 31.41 euros, or $32.03.
The day overall was another seesaw ride as steep declines in the Chinese market spurred selling worldwide. U.S. stocks trimmed their early market losses around noon, but then the buyers headed to the exits and selling resumed with a vengeance.
All the major indices declined over 2 percent as the safe haven of gold moved higher by 1.4 percent to sell at $1,107 an ounce. Oil broke below $30 a barrel at one point, but was last trading at $33 a barrel. That is the lowest level since 2004. Saudi Arabia, in what is best described as a “Hail Mary” pass, floated the idea of an initial public offering for its state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco.
The S&P 500 closed down over 2 percent or 47 points to 1,943 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day down over 2 percent losing 392 points to 16,514.
The Nasdaq suffered the most, closing down over 3 percent or 146 points to 4,689 as technology stock shareholders decided to take profits. The Nasdaq has now lost 10 percent of its value since July, which puts it officially in correction mode.
There is rumbling about a return to the financial crisis of 2008. That’s because the market is off to its worst start since that year. That fear was compounded as several investment banks began cutting their U.S. GDP forecasts earlier this week, following a downward revision by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
The World Bank cut its 2016 forecast saying that the global economy could not run off of America’s strength alone. The World Bank warned that oil exporters such as Russia would see its economy contract to just 0.1 percent. The report suggested that it was a low probability that China would have a “disorderly slowdown,” but just the mention of such a scenario is worrisome.
Last August, when the Greek fiscal concerns shook the market along with the crash of China’s stock market, David Levy, economist at the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center, said China’s woes were part of a larger, more troublesome issue that would likely rear its ugly head again. Levy said the fiscal issues in China “virtually guarantee that sooner or later, China will undergo a crisis, profound retrenchment and enduring adjustment problems. [The excesses] are interconnected by a complex web of causality. No single part may seem to be a large threat to national or global stability, but as part of a broad global balance sheet correction, each part looks much more ominous.” Levy said at the time that China’s stock bubble is “one of many excesses that make up a Chinese bubble economy, along with severely overextended export capacity, real estate markets, bank debt and shadow banking debt.”
In addition to the Chinese stock market crisis, investors are getting nervous that China will continue to devalue its currency, the yuan, in an attempt to jump-start its exports. The yuan is down 6 percent against the dollar over the past year, with some discussion that the country is willing to let it go down 10 percent. It gives the country a competitive advantage, but the downside is that in might lead to panic selling in the currency.
Looking ahead, China is suspending its circuit breakers in its stock markets, so there could be continued selling. In the U.S., December non-farm payrolls report is released at 8:30 Friday morning and the Briefing.com forecast is for an addition of 230,000 jobs, while the overall market is expecting 200,000. A strong number from this report could help the U.S. stock market recover.