Retail stepped into the spotlight in the past week to report on recent quarterly performances. And it wasn't a pretty sight.
Most of the department store chains that reported in the past few days suffered negative same-store sales as Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) and discount retailers took over a larger chunk of the market share.
More than two-thirds of companies in Thomson Reuters' Retail/Restaurant Index have reported on their first quarter. Of those, 68% have exceeded earnings estimates, below the general beat rate of 75% seen across S&P 500 companies.
Weak retail earnings hit the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the past week. The S&P 500 declined 0.35% over the past five days, while the Dow fell 0.53%. The Nasdaq rose 0.34%.
Macy's (M - Get Report) missed profit and sales over its recent quarter and forecast a 3.2% to 4.3% decline in full-year sales. It wasn't much better at J.C. Penney (JCP - Get Report) , where sales fell short of estimates and a decline in same-store sales came in five times wider than analysts anticipated.
Kohl's (KSS - Get Report) also reported a sharper-than-expected decline in same-store sales over its first quarter. Same-store sales dropped 2.7%, a steeper drop than an anticipated 1.2% fall. Revenue came in lower than a target. Nordstrom (JWN - Get Report) also missed on same-store sales even though profit and revenue came in higher than expected.
Nordstrom's recent quarter only highlights how Amazon is shaking up the retail sector, Jim Cramer argues on TheStreet's premium site for investors, Real Money. Get his insights with a free trial subscription.
Fossil Group (FOSL - Get Report) posted a loss of $1 a share over the three-month period to April 1, steeper than the loss of 27 cents that analysts surveyed at Factset expected. The company also issued an outlook below expectations.
"I feel for the retail sector," Rob Bartenstein, CEO of Kestra PWS, said in a phone call. "Like most other industries, retail will find a way to stay relevant. It's going to require a lot of change and maybe even some wholesale revision... I think they will find a way but it will require consolidation, it will require significant investment. It's just going to be a recasting of that segment of the economy."
Macy's declined by more than 18% over the past five days, J.C. Penney slid nearly 17%, Kohl's fell 9%, Nordstrom tumbled 15%, and Fossil tanked 24%. The S&P Retail SPDR ETF (XRT - Get Report) dipped 2.8%.
In better news for the sector, retail sales rose at a healthy pace in April, a promising sign that recent strength in consumer confidence had begun to translate to spending. U.S. retail sales increased 0.4%, slightly weaker than an expected increase of 0.5%. However, March's monthly decline of 0.2% was revised to show a 0.1% increase.
A rebound in retail sales revived talk of a rate hike in June. The chances of an increase in the federal funds rate to 1% to 1.25% at the June meeting sits at nearly 74%, according to CME Group fed funds futures. A better-than-expected April jobs report last week raised the prospects that the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets monetary policy, would raise interest rates in June.
President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey wrapped the White House in another controversy mid-week, worrying investors holding out for progress on Trump's business-friendly agenda.
"I think the biggest issue is what this does to the Trump agenda in taxes," said Matthew Peterson, chief wealth strategist for LPL Financial. "The market really is expecting a cut. We still feel it's a matter of when, not if a cut happens. But any thought this gets pushed to '18 is a market negative."
The White House pointed to Comey's handling of the investigation into former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's private email server as reason for the firing. However, Trump frequently praised Comey's decision to go public with details of the investigation on the campaign trail.
Comey was leading an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called upon Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is currently in charge of the investigation into Russian connections, to hand off the case to a special prosecutor.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the need for a special prosecutor on Wednesday. McConnell said that a new investigation would "only serve to impede the current work being done." Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that Comey's firing and the Russian probe were not related.
Trump always planned to fire Comey regardless of a Department of Justice recommendation, he told NBC's Lester Holt in his first interview since the termination. Trump also said the Comey had personally let him know he was not under investigation.
The Nasdaq closed at a record for the fourth session in a row on Wednesday as volatility held at its lowest level in more than two decades. The tech-heavy index has closed at records 31 times so far this year. The Volatility Index, often referred to as the fear index, was trading at 10, its lowest since early 1994.
Jim Cramer laid out the powerful themes driving this bull market over on our premium site Real Money. Get his insights with a free trial subscription to Real Money.
The S&P 500 has fallen or risen by 1% or more only three times since the beginning of the year. The benchmark index has averaged 4.25 days of swings of more than 1% every month since 1950, according to CFRA.
"U.S. equity market volatility should begin to rise (at least modesty) in the coming weeks," said Nicholas Cage, chief market strategist at Convergex. "We should be at the trough of [a low-volatility cycle] right now... That should cause a pullback in stocks, but it does not portend a subsequent meltdown (or melt-up, for that matter)."
Over at Real Money, TheStreet's premium site for investors, Helene Meisler said to pay no mind to this environment of low volatility. High volatility is the better indicator of a buying opportunity. Get her analysis with a free trial subscription to Real Money.