Dow Drops Back to January 11 Level: Battle Between Corporate Earnings and Inflation

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To put the 666-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in context, the index fell back to its January 11 level. From that point of view, not very much of a correction. The drop took the Dow back to 25,521.

Going forward, the next stop investors might worry about is where the Dow traded at the start of the year, at just above 25,000. It had a wild run from there to 26,616, setting an all-time peak on the last trading day of January.

The index and the broader market have been pressured from three sources:

  • Earnings, which have been largely good
  • Worry about a run-up in bond yield, which has been damaging
  • Strong economic data, particularly the December employment numbers

Taken one by one, earnings have for the most part been strong. This is certainly true among the major tech stocks, some of which are not in the Dow. Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) is, however. Its strong earnings have driven its share price up 7.3% to $92, despite the recent sell-off. Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA), another Dow component, posted much better-than-expected earnings. Its shares are up just over 18% this year to $349. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), another Dow component, disappointed Wall Street. Its shares are off a little more than 5% to 161. That drop was entirely due to the major sell-off in the market.

Do stronger earnings mean more job additions? Not necessarily, as companies look for ways to improve productivity and margins.

The bond run-up is the most legitimate fear. The 10-year Treasury yields hit a four-year high of 2.85%, mostly because of the January jobs report. If that yield continues to spike up, presumably higher rates would damage an economy built in part on low interest rates.

That brings around the discussion to the jobs report. Ironically what is good for the economy is both good for it as well as bad. The good news was that the economy added 200,000 jobs and continued a nearly unprecedented run of job growth. On the worrisome side, hourly wages rose 0.3% to $26.74.

It appears that the market’s direction will be dragged up and down based on financial and economic factors that are tightly related. What is good for business and workers may end a period of almost no inflation. The arm wrestling has started.