Investors are rattled by an intensely bitter U.S. presidential election, middling corporate earnings, an imminent interest rate hike, and seesawing energy prices.
New predictions of doom only worsen Wall Street's mood. Notably, strategists at the investment bank HSBC (HSBC) - Get Reportthis month issued a "red alert" to investors, warning of a looming market crash on the magnitude of the 1987 "Black Monday" collapse. Should you be worried?
First, let's look at the bad news. Then, we'll take a collective deep breath and examine the investment opportunities amid the turmoil.
The major stock indices fell on Friday, capping a disappointing week for stocks. Telecom stocks continued their month-long slide, after news reports that Time Warner (TWX) was in merger talks with AT&T(T) - Get Report . TWX jumped 7.82% on Friday, but AT&T plunged 3.19%.
Other phone companies closed the day sharply lower, as investors concluded that technological disruption (combined with higher interest rates) would weigh on dividend-paying telecom stocks. The biggest losers included Verizon(VZ) - Get Report (-1.91%), Sprint(S) - Get Report (-2.53%) and T-Mobile US(TMUS) - Get Report (-0.64%). The S&P 500(SPY) - Get Report fell 0.01% on Friday, but it's up 4.8% for the year.
Throwing shade on this already gloomy picture are weak third-quarter corporate earnings so far. Notably, industrial giant General Electric(GE) - Get Report fell 0.31% on Friday after the company reported that third-quarter earnings plummeted 20% compared to the same quarter a year ago, largely due to the poor performance of its oil and gas segment. Oil prices hover at about $50 a barrel, but in recent weeks they've plunged at the slightest hint of bad news.
Now here's why you should maintain serenity.
Earnings from the major banks and other financial services companies have been mostly better than expected, helping drive the sector upward. The benchmark iShares Trust - iShares U.S. Financials ETF(IYF) - Get Report is up 2.21% year to date and the sector's momentum appears sustainable as energy prices rise and home values increase.
Energy companies are finding it easier to service their bank debt, while confident consumers are taking on new mortgages and whipping out their credit cards. In addition, higher rates will make it easier for banks to make money.
Technology is another sector that's gathering strength. Software giant Microsoft(MSFT) - Get Report spiked 4.2% on Friday, a day after it posted unexpectedly high earnings for its fiscal first quarter.
MSFT's positive results underscore the company's wisdom in shifting to online services and bode well for the entire sector. The benchmark Technology Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLK) - Get Report is up 10.97% year to date.
In the week ahead, a large batch of corporate earnings reports and economic data will help us determine whether the bright spots, such as financial services, technology and aerospace/defense, can continue to buoy this aging bull market.
Below is a selective list of scheduled earnings results of major firms, with estimates from Capital IQ versus the actual figures posted in the same quarter a year ago:
Monday, October 24: Kimberly-Clark (KMB) - Get Report ($1.54 vs. $1.51); T-Mobile US (22 cents vs. 15 cents); Visa(V) - Get Report (73 cents vs. 62 cents); BE Aerospace (BEAV) (80 cents vs. 73 cents).
Tuesday: Lockheed Martin (LMT) - Get Report ($2.87 vs. $2.76); Baker Hughes (BHI) (-44 cents vs. 5 cents); DuPont (DD) - Get Report (21 cents vs. 13 cents); Eli Lilly(LLY) - Get Report (96 cents vs. 89 cents); General Motors(GM) - Get Report ($1.45 vs. $1.50); Merck (MRK) - Get Report (99 cents vs. 96 cents); Procter & Gamble(PG) - Get Report (98 cents vs. 98 cents); AT&T (74 cents vs. 74 cents).
Thursday: Bristol-Myers (BMY) - Get Report (65 cents vs. 39 cents); Dow Chemical(DOW) - Get Report (79 cents vs. 82 cents); Raytheon (RTN) - Get Report ($1.64 vs. $1.47); Twitter (TWTR) - Get Report (9 cents vs. 10 cents).
GENERAL ELECTRIC, VISA, BRISTOL-MYERS and DOW CHEMICAL are holdings in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. See how Cramer rates the stock here. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells GE, V, BMY or DOW? Learn more now.
Friday:AbbVie(ABBV) - Get Report ($1.20 vs. $1.13); Chevron(CVX) - Get Report (40 cents vs. $1.09); Exxon Mobil(XOM) - Get Report (57 cents vs. $1.01); Phillips 66(PSX) - Get Report (88 cents vs. $3.02).
In the week ahead, salient economic data to watch include Consumer Confidence (Tuesday), New Home Sales (Wednesday), Jobless Claims (Thursday), and U.S. gross domestic product (Friday).
Glancing at the numbers, the recurring theme in the week ahead appears to be strength in the consumer, banking, pharmaceutical and aerospace/defense sectors and continued weakness in energy and telecom. Aerospace giants such as BA, LMT and RTN look particularly promising, propelled by the tailwinds of commercial aviation demand and increased defense spending.
As super investor Benjamin Graham once said: "Buy not on optimism, but on arithmetic." By that reasoning, there's still plenty of justification for investors to stay calm.
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John Persinos is an investment analyst at Investing Daily. At the time of publication, he owned stock in GE, VZ, BA, and RTN. Persinos also covers the aerospace/defense industry and serves as an analyst with the aerospace consultancy Teal Group.