Tech stocks fell for a second day on Wednesday, led by Amazon.com Inc., which slipped by 4.3% on a report that Donald Trump wants to go after the online retailing giant. It's another day when the President's messaging has gotten in the way of the good news his policies have largely delivered for the shareholders of U.S. public companies.
The Amazon news tended to obscure reports that fourth-quarter GDP rose faster than expected; that consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, grew by 4% instead of the expected 3.8%; and that pre-tax profits are growing faster than Wall Street estimates. All those positive numbers stem from the Trump tax cuts, his administration's determination to rescind or revoke regulations, and the ongoing assault on the labor movement.
The basic features of a prosperous corporate environment are all around us, but it's become difficult to stick to that narrative amid all the diversions, including from the President.
"While there is no shortage of noise out there to distract investors, ... upward revision (of GDP) should serve as a reminder that economic fundamentals carry weight and remain strong," said Mike Loewengart, vice president of investment strategy at E*Trade Financial Corp.
Reflecting that reality, drug companies and consumer staple stocks rose today, led by Merck (MRK) - Get Report , Pfizer (PFE) - Get Report and Proctor & Gamble (PG) - Get Report . But, Trump can't seem to leave well enough alone.
While it's possible to believe that the President's attacks on Action Alerts Plus holding Amazon reflect a sincere desire to ameliorate unfairness or inefficiency in such things as antitrust issues in the retail sector, internet taxes, or postal shipping rates, it's also worth noting that the President is aware that Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, one of the richest people in the world, also owns The Washington Post, one of the newspapers that covers the nation's capital. Trump isn't a fan of the Post, which he often excoriates for publishing "fake news."
So while Trump may just be trying to fake out some of his Twitter readers, investors had to worry a little bit, and bid Amazon's stock down.
That's not to say that President Trump actually plans to do anything about Amazon. For one thing, it would require getting federal authorities in gear to begin antitrust investigations. Working amicably with Jeff Sessions' Justice Department hasn't been one of Trump's strengths so far.
It was the same thing with Trump's threats to impose global steel tariffs, which have basically come to nothing. The stock market clutched its pearls last week on reports that the new tariffs would affect relations with important trade partners including Canada, Mexico and South Korea. Instead, those countries have been exempted from the new levies.
Part of the reason the Dow lost 1,100 points in two days last week was on fears of a China trade war. But, it turns out that the $50 billion in levies aimed at China is a pitiful fraction of the entire U.S.-China trade nexus, and fears in the market faded.
Still, the unpredictable Commander-in-Chief retains an ability to shock and move markets. If the strength of a nation's currency in some ways reflects investor confidence about the nation's economic prospects, then the declining dollar is not a positive sign. Same with U.S. debt, where prices are falling and yields are rising as concern grows about where the U.S. is heading.
Some of you dollar-cost averagers out there, you might consider buying the increasingly cheap 10-year U.S. Treasury bond. There's almost every likelihood that Trump will leave office one day and the securities will recover.
Action Alerts Plus holding Facebook (FB) - Get Report shares rose a little today as investors reckoned that a business model which requires its customers to sign up for a Big Brother surveillance state still has some legs in it, though with CEO Mark Zuckerberg holding all the voting rights the equity owners may have no other option than to hang on and see what happens. That's one stock where the whiffs of corruption, scandal and incompetence don't emanate from the banks of the Potomac.