Is it really going to be that kind of year?
Fashion and retail shares rode global stock markets down Monday as a stock market crash in China, Saudi-Iranian squabbling and weak economic data caused major indices in Europe and the U.S. to plummet. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had its worst opening day since 1932.
The sell-off began in China with growing concerns over its economy and caused authorities to suspend trading for the rest of the day. The selling then spread to Europe, which hit all the major European luxury groups, with Burberry down more than 4 percent to 1.14 pounds, or $1.69 at current exchange; Kering dropped more than 3 percent to 151.80 euro, or $165; LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton fell more than 3 percent to 139.20 euro, or $151, and Compagnie Financière Richemont down 3.1 percent to 69.85 Swiss francs, or $69.69.
Among the decliners were two companies that were stars of the WWD 100 Global Stock Index last year: Yoox Net-a-porter Group and Pandora A/S. YNAP’s shares dropped 7.1 percent to close at 32.11 euros, or $34.77, while Pandora’s shares fell 1.8 percent to close at 856 Danish kroner, or $124.23.
In the U.S., the Nasdaq took the biggest beating as the “FANG” stocks, comprised of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google (Alphabet) led the index down more than 3 percent at one point, but trimmed those losses at the close and ended down 2 percent to 2,903. The Dow opened down by triple digits and kept up the selling throughout the day when at one point it had dropped more than 440 points and fell below 17,000. At the close, the losses were trimmed to 276 points to end at 17,148. The S&P 500 fared the best of the three as it only slid 1.5 percent to 2,012.
Both the Market Vector Retail ETF and the Power Shares Retail ETF lost more than 2 percent of their value on Monday. Fossil was the worst-performing fashion stock as it slid more than 6 percent to $34.34 and is now down 69 percent for the last 12 months. Amazon also took a dive as it dropped 5.7 percent to $636.99.
A select group of apparel stocks that bucked the trend for the day included Lululemon and Ascena Retail Group. Lululemon moved higher by more than 6 percent to $55.86 following an upgrade by Wells Fargo analysts. The upgrade to outperform from market perform was based on the thesis that Lululemon has made improvements to its supply chain and they expect fewer markdowns. Ascena jumped more than 6 percent to $10.52 as insider buying and technical trading signals got the attention of investors.
Other retailers also benefited. Steinmart increased 4.9 percent to $7.06; J.C. Penney rose 4.6 percent to $6.97; Gap Inc. climbed 4.3 percent to $25.52; Kohl’s jumped 4 percent to $49.55, and Macy’s Inc. rose 2.4 percent to $35.52.
A steady stream of bad news out of the Middle East fed the selling. In the region, embassies were closed, air traffic halted and various countries began picking sides. Initially oil prices ticked up to $38 a barrel. This is a common reaction when tensions escalate in that region. The fear that oil deliveries will get disrupted causes the price to rise. This time around there is a global glut of oil supplies and that combined with the worry about a Chinese economic slowdown pushed prices back down to $36 a barrel.
To add insult to injury, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta slashed its GDP forecast for the fourth quarter to a paltry 0.7 percent from the 1.3 percent originally forecast — roughly a 50 percent cut. The Atlanta Fed has tended to be fairly accurate in its GDP forecasts and this report is fueling those bearish analysts that believe the U.S. could be headed for economic weakness, if not another recession.
“Anything that comes out that is negative doesn’t help,” said Mark Newton, chief technical analyst at Greywolf Execution Partners.
Newton, though, wasn’t feeling panicky. “These things sometimes happen when there’s not a really good reason,” he said. “Sometimes time-outs are good.”
He doesn’t think that China was completely to blame for the U.S. market sell-off. Newton also pointed out that the so-called “Santa Claus” rally, when stocks trade higher between Christmas and New Year’s Day, was the worst since 2000. So heading into the first day of trading for 2016, there wasn’t a big appetite to buy stocks.
He added that the U.S.’ Institute of Supply Management Manufacturing Index data was weak, with Monday’s report showing the lowest level since 2009. The index declined to 48.2 in December from 48.6 in November. Anything below 50 means manufacturing is contracting.
More optimistically, Charles Schwab market researchers wrote, “While manufacturing is important and shouldn’t be ignored, it represents only 12 percent of the U.S. economic activity; while the export market is a relatively small part of overall gross domestic product. The services side of the economy [representing 88 percent of U.S. activity], in contrast, remained healthy throughout 2015 and looks to continue that performance entering 2016. Additionally, the U.S. consumer looks to be in good shape heading into the New Year.”
Gold prices moved higher as some investors opted to place their investments in the safe haven of the metal. But Newton believes that if the dollar remains strong, gold will not be able to sustain the higher prices.
Many long-term investors have expectations that the selling won’t continue.
Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, said, “If the decline persists into the close, it would mark the worst opening day to start a year for the S&P 500 since 2001 — and only the 15th time in the S&P’s history when it opened a year down more than 1 percent. Big data show that a weak opening day of a year was historically met with buying in the remainder of January. Nearly 80 percent of the 14 prior incidents saw positive January returns, with a median gain of 5 percent. As for the remainder of the year, the percentage of time with positive returns dropped to 57 percent, with a median gain of 7.2 percent.”
Nick Colas, chief market strategist for Convergex, said, “If the sell-off accelerates into the close, you’ll start to hear about how trading in the first week of the New Year informs the market’s direction for the entire year to come….”
Colas was referring to the old market adage that says, “As goes the first trading week of the year, so goes the entire year.” That rule has only worked on the upside, though. If the markets have a positive week for the first five days, there is an 86 percent chance the market will rise for the year.
The good news, if any, about Monday’s market debacle? There is no statistical bias if the markets go down in the first five days a new year.