Skip to main content

Zzzzz. Thursday stocks grind, financials fail to inspire

Written By | Feb 4, 2016

WASHINGTON, February 4, 2016 – It’s looking like another boring yet tension-filled day on Wall Street today, with the Dow attempting to stay in the green while other averages are pinned inside the negative red zone. As usual, confusing figures and stories continue to cross the tape and one senses that investors and even those allegedly emotionless machines are getting fed up with it all.

At the moment, oil has backed off a bit from its highs after Wednesday’s furious rally, likely caused by a short squeeze as many recent but short-lived general market rallies have been since early January. In general, you can feel the general sense that everyone is exiting these markets quietly but quickly, having lost faith in the wisdom of central banks. It’s a phony faith that should have been lost a long time ago, except that it’s really more the fault of phony socialist do-nothing Western governments that still feed off a failed status quo.

Productivity declined 3 percent in the fourth quarter, its biggest drop since the first quarter of 2014, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Markets are currently convinced that the Fed either won’t raise interest rates any more this year after witnessing the financial market disaster their first tiny rate-raise has caused; or will only raise rates a couple of times in 2016 and not in March. But it’s really all just a guess. (We wonder if they’re offering odds on this stuff right now in Vegas.)

Since (right or wrong) perceptions are growing that the Fed is either done or mostly done with interest rate raises for awhile, stocks in the financials (banks, insurance companies, etc.) are mostly getting whacked today. That’s because these businesses need higher interest rates in order to achieve something like the profitability they enjoyed pre-Great Recession. Thus, the prospect of no further interest rate raises this year is seen as a potential show-stopper for the financials’ collective return to normalcy.

Joblessness has recently ticked up, which is no big surprise given it’s the end of a rather dismal Christmas selling season. But that isn’t helping things either. Neither is another downtick in worker productivity measures, although this likely reflects the lower skill levels of seasonal workers, at least in current figures. According to the Department of Labor (DOL), productivity declined 3 percent Q4 2015, the biggest drop in that measure since Q1 2014.

To sum it all up, things are just boring today, which, given current events, may actually be a good thing. Markets could take on a bullish hue if they could just calm down for a while, if oil could stabilize at least a bit higher, and if someone, somewhere could reliably signal that some government somewhere has at least a clue about what to do next.

As a result of this continued inconclusive trading, we think it’s probably best to sit on the sidelines today, exit any modestly profitable situations, and stay as much in cash as possible until we see what might happen next. It remains very dangerous out there, particularly when even experienced investing pros aren’t doing any better—and often worse—than rookie stock market dart and dice throwers.

Dull, dull, dull, but it’s what we have today.


Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17