The S&P 500 has dropped more than 5% in 2014, and virtually of all that has come in the past week. Much of the blame has been put on financial risks in emerging markets. Interest rates in some of these have risen as their economies have stalled. Additionally, the drop in the Federal Reserve’s bond buying has raised the fear that cheap money will be hard to come by.
However, at the heart of the drop is something that is hard to combat. Earnings reports from many large companies have been weak, forecasts have often been poor and the stocks of these firms have plummeted.
First among the companies that disappointed is Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), which missed Wall Street’s best expectations for iPhone sales and posted a gloomy forecast. Another major component of the S&P 500 — International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) — did almost as badly. No one was impressed with General Electric Co.’s (NYSE: GE) numbers. Figures released by the major financial firms were mostly lackluster. Citigroup Inc.’s (NYSE: C) shares are off 6% in the past five trading days, and shares of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) are down 4%. Also among the major components of the S&P 500, Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG) disappointed as its razor customers stopped shaving.
These earnings leave only a few large companies that might report strong number to turn the perception of the earnings collapse around. Chevron Corp.’s (NYSE: CVX) earnings are expect to be less than stellar, if trading in its shares over the past week are any indication. This, in turn, leaves Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM).
The two large oil companies will have trouble. Exploration spending has stayed high, oil prices relatively low and there are appropriate concerns that refinery margins will not make up for these problems. Barron’s recently quoted Barclays’ reasons for a poor earnings report, and it said the run up in Exxon’s shares was over. Many of the same troubles plague its immediate rivals.
Finally, that isolates America’s two retail giants to pull the market out of the mud. Walmart probably will have earnings hampered by what was a disappointing holiday sales season. And, because its share of the U.S. retail market is so large, it cannot do much better than that market. As for Amazon, expectations for revenue have been set as high as $26 billion for the most recent quarter. Even a tiny miss would throw shares off. An outperformance will only show that Amazon continues to create unprecedented opportunities for itself, the scope of which cannot be duplicated by other companies.
Looking over all the reasons for a 10% market sell-off creates the strong impression that the sell-off will continue, and probably accelerate.