The Dow industrials extended their steepest October retreat since the financial crisis Wednesday, posting an 832-point decline that raises fresh concern about the health of the nine-year-old bull market for stocks.
The selling was led by the technology shares that have fueled much of the 2018 advance in U.S. stocks, with
declining 6.2% and
off 4.6%. Combined the three companies shed nearly $120 billion in market value on Wednesday.
Selling accelerated toward the end of the day and losses spread well beyond tech stocks; bank stocks were pummeled along with companies exposed to global trade such as Caterpillar Inc.
Investors turned to shares deemed likely to do better in tougher economic times, such as utilities companies. That rotation out of tech and other growth stocks has been sparked in part by the recent jump in government bond yields and the Federal Reserve’s interest rate increases.
When asked about Wednesday’s market decline, President Trump said “the Fed has gone crazy.”
The Fed’s more-restrictive stance has joined with other signals to unsettle investors even as major U.S. indexes rose to new highs. The market’s worries aren’t all aligned—some investors are worried a strong economy will lead the Fed to rate increases that hurt stocks, while others on Wednesday pointed to recent indicators in housing and autos that suggested the economy is losing steam. A shared concern, however, is that trade tensions between the U.S. and China appear to be worsening and that a slowdown in the Chinese economy could spill over into global markets.
Chinese authorities have stepped up their efforts to keep money flowing in the world’s second-largest economy amid concerns about the ramifications of a yearslong increase in Chinese debt issuance.
The result: A simultaneous selling of 2018’s biggest stock-market winners in the U.S.
Heading into the fourth quarter, investors were piling into many of the same trades, particularly in large U.S. tech stocks, said Andrew Slimmon, senior portfolio manager with Morgan Stanley Investment Management. “If everyone is on one side of the boat and they suddenly realize this, everyone would scramble.”
The shift has come as the yield on the benchmark U.S. Treasury note has risen to seven-year highs. It settled at 3.221% Wednesday, up from 3.055% at the end of September.
The S&P 500 tumbled 3.3% Wednesday, its fifth consecutive session of declines and longest losing streak in nearly two years. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 3.1% to 25599, falling 4.6% from its all-time high notched Oct. 3. Both indexes registered their biggest losses on a percentage basis since Feb. 8.
All sectors in the S&P 500 slumped Wednesday, with technology stocks down nearly 5%. Other growth sectors including consumer-discretionary and communications shares posted big declines as well. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped 4.1%, extending its declines for the month to 7.8%. The index is suffering its worst start to a fourth quarter since 2008, when it fell 21%.
Traders and portfolio managers said trading during Wednesday’s declines was largely orderly and that phones weren’t ringing off the hook with upset clients. Even so, some on trading floors were struggling to reconcile the strong financial results of large tech firms with the day’s heavy selling.
“It really doesn’t make any sense to me that some of these stocks are getting beaten up as much as they are,” said Mark Stoeckle, chief executive of Adams Funds.
Richard Drew/Associated Press
Some Vanguard customers had problems logging on to their accounts online and by phone, and some took to
to complain about the technical issues.
“Vanguard today experienced periodic network connectivity issues,” a spokeswoman said in a statement, adding the technical issues weren’t a result of more customers trying to log on.
Possibly exacerbating the decline for tech stocks is the absence of one of their biggest buyers: the companies themselves. In the weeks leading up to reporting their corporate results, companies typically don’t repurchase their own shares due to regulations. Analysts have said record stock buybacks have underpinned the stock market’s recent gains, and some traders said the elimination of this support could be worsening the selloff.
Investors’ bet on tech companies with strong earnings growth has been a crowded one in 2018, according to Ann Larson, managing director of global quantitative research at AllianceBernstein. Her firm identifies crowded trades by looking at the top positions of active managers, which stakes they have been building over the past several quarters, and which names have a high proportion of “buy” ratings from bank analysts who cover the companies. The model also considers how well an investment has done compared with the rest of the market.
On Wednesday, just 17 stocks in the S&P 500 rose, or about 3% of the broad index. Some of the buying centered on consumer-staple companies, which investors tend to favor for their durability during tough economic conditions and the generous dividends they pay. General Mills Inc. and J.M. Smucker Co. both added 1.5%, Wednesday, while
rose 0.5%, leaving consumer-staple stocks in the S&P 500 off 1.3% for the day.
Utilities, which also generate hefty dividends, fell only 0.5%, the least of all other S&P 500 sectors.
For most of 2018, the bets on tech and growth stocks served investors well. Even with the recent drawdowns, Amazon shares are up 50% so far this year, while Netflix has risen roughly 70% and Apple is up nearly 30%. Of the so-called FAANG group of big U.S. tech names, only
shares are down for the year.
“Crowded trades are popular for a reason. They’re good stocks. There’s just risk attached to them,” said Ms. Larson.
The risks have borne out in the past when other popular trades have unraveled. Bets against volatility fed the stock market’s tumble in February after the implosion of a number of exchange-traded products that had risen in value when gauges of volatility declined. Similarly, bitcoin investments tumbled at the beginning of the year on doubts about the practical utility of cryptocurrencies. And stocks with high dividends sold off following the 2016 presidential election as investors bet big on growth stocks.
This time around, some investors say such a pullback—so long as it’s not prolonged—is a good thing after tech’s seemingly unceasing climb higher for so many months.
“As much as it’s painful short term, it’s actually really healthy longer term that they’re pulling back,” said Mr. Slimmon, who added that after a reset in these momentum stocks, he could see these company shares rising again into the end of the year.
Write to Corrie Driebusch at [email protected]
Source : WSJ