First-quarter gains have taken a huge hit against large declines in the second quarter. According to Morningstar’s ‘super sectors’ reports, Information is down 10.46%, Service 12.23%, and Manufacturing 10.92%. Some market data would suggest that an underlying cause of these losses is uncertainty in the market.
Before getting into downfalls of the market, it’s worth pointing out that corporate earnings in the first quarter have shown that consumers and businesses are once again willing to buy and invest. A very broad example of this can be seen in the hardware sector. Apple’s stock price is up more than 7% due to strong iPad and iPhone sales. This has also benefited Sandisk, a supplier of flash memory for mobile devices. The company returned 21% in the quarter.
There is still an elevated unemployment rate, and job growth may be slow or delayed for months or even years in the future. The uncertainty among the American population regarding their job security and employment prospects makes it difficult to stabilize the housing market and boost consumer spending. Recent housing data has shown that even though mortgage rates are at record lows, the demand remains significantly down. Of course, it’s just common sense that people unsure of future cash flows will hold off on purchases that require a large monthly obligation, so investors are left skeptical of the housing market’s ability to recover fully after the expiration of the housing tax credit.
In the Manufacturing Sector, energy companies have been harmed by falling oil prices, the drilling moratorium, and fear over increased regulation in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. The anxiety over increased regulation seems to be a common denominator across the market, as there has been a weak performance of the financial sector as well. This is due to Washington and Wall Street turning their attention to financial reform. With this news of government intervention, bank and financial stocks were sold off as investors feared the impact of reform.
Large-cap companies have also been subject to substantial headline risk in 2010 as well. When the public focuses on large companies like banks, oil companies, and healthcare, Congress does so as well. These negative headlines not only affect investor sentiment, but can also affect the company’s underlying business. A general idea of the impact of the financial reform bill being passed should become clear in the upcoming month, as the financial sector gains a little more clarity on what it faces in terms of new regulations and compliance.
Excessive government debt is another uncertainty that has been at the forefront throughout 2010. The flight from the troubled European debt of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain has led to a historic rally in the U.S. treasuries. The U.S. dollar, like in the past, has been seen as a safe haven to invest in despite growing borrowing needs and fundamentals that might suggest a rise in interest rates. The Federal Reserve, though, has committed to keep interest rates low for the foreseeable future. Although the U.S. still holds AAA status and should be in no immediate danger of a downgrade, the mounting debt issue with the US government will come under pressure unless measures are taken to reduce the record budget deficit, according to Moody’s Investor Service.
Granted, uncertainly will always be a factor in the market. Accurately predicting the future in the midst of reform, regulation, unstable governments, and future debt obligations is an extremely difficult proposition. In these times of negative feelings and general uncertainty, though, we can be certain that the different sectors will react negatively as they have this past quarter. In subsequent quarters, many of these unknowns will begin to come to light and the uncertainty driving the market currently will be clearer to investors.
By Paige Slusser