November 26, 2020
Markets PAID

Dow on Track to Wrap Up Worst Month Since March

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U.S. stocks fell Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average on track to close out its worst week and month since March in the final lap of the presidential race.

Volatility has dominated markets in the week before the Nov. 3 U.S. elections. Investors have been spooked by a record high in coronavirus infections in the U.S., fresh lockdowns in Europe that threaten economic growth, and a mixed bag of earnings from big tech.

“Markets are concerned that we are replaying February and March,” said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG Group. “It probably still isn’t in that category yet, but it is heading in the wrong direction.”

The Dow dropped 1.3%. The blue-chip index has shed more than 7% this week, putting it on track for its worst weekly performance since the height of the pandemic-induced market tumult.

The S&P 500 fell 1.8%, pulled down by declines in all 11 sectors. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.8% following a sharp selloff in big technology stocks.

U.S. households boosted spending in September, according to the Commerce Department. But even as consumers increased spending since the summer, economists expressed concerns that many remain left out of a recovery.

“It would be no surprise that the beneficiaries of this strong spending are  the high-income bracket households,” said S&P Global’s U.S. Chief Economist Beth Ann Bovino. “If a large number of people are unable to participate in the expansion, the economy suffers.” 

Earnings reports and guidance from technology companies weighed heavily on internet giants.

“Big tech stocks were priced for perfection,” said Michael Mullaney, director of global markets research at Boston Partners. “Any disappointment would be ripe for lower prices. They’re getting slammed today.”

Twitter
plunged 20% after posting its slowest user growth in years and warning that uncertainty around the U.S. election could compress ad spending.

Apple shares dropped 5.8% after quarterly iPhone sales fell from a year earlier. That, combined with a delay in the launch of the company’s new smartphone, led to iPhone revenue falling more than analysts had expected.

Shares of
Facebook,
Amazon.com,
Tesla,
Microsoft
and
Netflix
all declined more than 1%.

“The big tech earnings were not that bad but markets did not respond positively, so that does suggest a deeper sense of negativity in the market,” said Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors.

In contrast, shares of Google’s parent Alphabet rose 4.7%. The company reported third-quarter profit that outstripped analyst estimates.

Shares of
Exxon Mobil
fell 2.1% after the energy giant reported its third consecutive quarterly loss as the pandemic continued to sap oil demand.

Small stocks, which have outperformed their larger peers this month, also came under pressure. The Russell 2000 dropped 1.5%.

The prospect of a contested election continues to cast a shadow over the market.

‘There’s unprecedented uncertainty around who will be elected and when we will know,” said Adam Grealish, director of investing at Betterment. “We’re using our election systems in ways we’ve never before.”

Some investors have swooped in take advantage of bargain prices. Ariel Investments has been adding to positions in industrials and media in recent weeks, said Charles Bobrinskoy, vice chairman at the value investment management firm. Ariel sees a major chasm between how smaller value stocks and the broader markets are priced.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 0.872% Friday, from 0.834% Thursday.

Overseas, the Stoxx Europe 600 edged up 0.2% after wavering between gains and losses for much of the session.

Europe is once again at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with the continent now recording more and faster-rising deaths than the U.S. in an abrupt reversal of fortunes. Fresh lockdowns by governments in response to the rising infection levels, led by France and Germany, are weighing on markets.

Related Video

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced new lockdown measures Wednesday, as Europe sees mounting cases and deaths related to the coronavirus. Photo: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

The rise in infections across parts of Europe is stretching the capacity of hospitals in the worst-hit cities in France, Belgium, Italy and elsewhere. On a per capita basis, deaths from Covid-19 in Europe are now rapidly approaching U.S. levels, after running significantly below since May.

“The sentiment is just so whipsawed at the moment,” said Andy Maynard, managing director of equities sales trading at China Renaissance Securities, citing the uncertainty surrounding U.S. elections and the resurgence of virus infections. While the election and U.S. stimulus negotiations were a focus for investors, “

the bigger risk is actually on global economic recovery and what’s happening to Covid, especially looking at Europe right now,” he added.

In Asia, major markets ended the day sharply lower. South Korea’s Kospi index dropped 2.6%. China’s Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.5%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng declined 1.9% and Japan’s Nikkei 225 shed 1.5%.

Apple shares dropped about 5% after quarterly iPhone sales fell from a year earlier.

Apple shares dropped about 5% after quarterly iPhone sales fell from a year earlier.

Photo: Richard B. Levine/Zuma Press

Write to Dawn Lim at dawn.lim@wsj.com

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