It’s Groundhog Day and Wall Street is seeing a repeat of January’s volatility.
February initially opened the way last month ended, with stocks lower in early trading. Investors getting an unpleasant pre-market surprise from the Commerce Department, which reported personal spending fell 0.3% in December, the biggest decline since September 2009. That was followed by another report showing manufacturing growth was weaker than expected in January.
However, sentiment turned later in the morning, with the Dow (^DJI) reaching triple-digit gains. But that enthusiasm has faded a bit and now stocks are struggling to stay positive.
Jonathan Corpina of Meridian Equity Partners tells Yahoo Finance’s Midday Movers program we’re seeing a lot of volatility because investors are having a tough time getting a handle on exactly where stocks are heading.
“This is a new, uncharted environment that we’re in,” he says. “Tapering is done, the talk is interest rates and when we’re going to turn the switch up on that. We’re in this limbo point right now. So investors are going to have to really take their time figuring out where to go.”
Yahoo Finance’s Jeff Macke feels Wall Street’s more than 5-year-long bull run is at a really crucial juncture right now.
“We closed last week under that 2000 level on the S&P 500 (^GSPC). Traders are watching that really, really closely; it’s a huge place to mark,” he says. “If we can stay above this level people who aren’t long stocks here will start chasing them higher.”
Among the stock market winners:
Apple (AAPL) shares are higher as it filed to sell $5 billion in corporate bonds. Investors speculating that money will be used for stock buybacks.
Yahoo Finance Senior Columnist Michael Santoli says the move makes sense even though Apple has plenty of money on hand already.
“There’s a way of thinking that a balance sheet is much more efficient if you have a little bit of debt on top of it,” he points out. “Basically, you have amazingly cheap borrowing available to you, you might as well take it, use it to the benefit of shareholders.”
Shares of Exxon Mobil (XOM) are also on the rise. The energy company posting 4th quarter earnings that topped analysts’ estimates. However, revenue declined 21%, in part because of rapidly falling oil prices.
Corpina feels what’s happening in the oil patch is yet another area of uncharted waters for investors.
“Oil trading at where it is, companies just don’t know how to forecast,” he notes. “Yes, Exxon earnings beat on the front end. But the forecast isn’t as bright. This is a new environment. They don’t know how it’s going to play out.”
And while more than 70% of the S&P 500 companies already reporting have had earnings that topped estimates, Corpina isn’t sure Wall Street is buying into the belief that things are going great guns in corporate America.
“I don’t think investors are convinced quite yet,” he says. “Previous earnings seasons we’ve seen much better results and much better forecasts moving forward.”