There was a glimmer of hope at Tuesday's open that today might be the day stocks reverse their recent downward trend. But that was dashed mid-morning when the major market indexes took a decisive turn lower after a pair of economic reports poured cold water on expectations the Fed might slow its rate-hiking campaign anytime soon.
Specifically, data from the Labor Department this morning showed the number of job openings in the U.S. rose to 11.2 million in July from 11 million in June, while those quitting their positions were little changed at 4.2 million. Additionally, the Conference Board's consumer confidence index spiked to 103.2 in August from July's 95.3, due in part to falling gas prices, the first time this value has been above its benchmark of 100 since May.
"With consumer confidence climbing higher as gasoline prices continuing to inch lower, and providing an extra $100 dollars in consumer pockets, coupled with indications that the labor market remains tight, the Federal Reserve has yet to see the 'pain' necessary to tamp down demand," says Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist for independent broker-dealer LPL Financial. " For an inflation-fighting central bank, what's good news on Main Street now makes the job to rein in inflation that much more difficult."
By the close, the Nasdaq Composite had slumped 1.1% to 11,883, the S&P 500 Index had given back 1.1% to 3,986, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 1.0% at 31,790.
Other news in the stock market today:
The small-cap Russell 2000 slumped 1.5% to 1,855.
U.S. crude futures plunged 5.5% to finish at $91.64 per barrel.
Gold futures fell 0.8% to end at $1,736.30 an ounce.
Bitcoin slipped 0.7% to $19,960.36. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 4 p.m.) "Risk aversion is firmly back in place and that sent Bitcoin below the $20,000 level," says Edward Moya, senior market strategist at currency data provider OANDA. "If the broad selloff on Wall Street intensifies, Bitcoin is looking very vulnerable here."
Best Buy (BBY) rose 1.6% after the electronics retailer reported earnings. In its second quarter, BBY recorded higher-than-expected earnings of $1.54 per share and revenue of $10.3 billion. Still, CFRA Research analyst Kenneth Leon kept a Hold rating on Best Buy, noting that the economic downturn is weighing on demand for consumer electronics. "Highest comparable sales came from appliances (17%, -1.2%), while consumer electronics (30%, -14.7%), followed by entertainment (5%, -9.2%), services (5%, -8.5%), and other (1%, +15.6%)," Leon writes in a note to clients. "Gross margins declined 170 basis points year-over-year [a basis point is one-oine hundredth of a percentage point] to 22.0% on higher promotions, lower demand, supply chain costs, and margin pressure from Totaltech membership."
Stocks' Roller-Coaster Ride Isn't Over
While stocks remain solidly above their June lows, all three major indexes are heading toward stiff losses for August. And this volatile price action is likely to stick around for a bit. "The next few months could be choppy or lower for equity markets, while economic data weaken, financial conditions tighten and financial markets eventually accept that the Fed and other global central banks will raise and hold rates until price stability returns," says Paul Christopher, head of Global Market Strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.
For investors, this means "making patience and quality the daily watchwords," the strategist says. He suggests continuing to pursue a defensive approach by focusing on sectors such as energy and healthcare.
If you follow that approach you'll also want to check out the best stocks for a bear market, which tend to have a long history of dividend growth and relatively low volatility. We've compiled 10 such names that fit that bill – and each one boasts Buy ratings from the analyst crowd.