President Donald Trump shot off a tweet Friday morning warning North Korea that United States military solutions are now "locked and loaded" should the country "act unwisely." Two hours later, stocks opened marginally higher.
"There's a lot of sabre rattling going on, but I don't think the markets truly believe that either side is going to do something incredibly stupid," said John Bredemus, vice president of asset allocation for Alliance Investment Management-US, a Minneapolis-based firm that has more than $700 billion in assets under management. "Is this really going to be the catalyst that causes a turnaround in the markets? I think people really just don't believe it at this point, but they're currently a little cautious."
Investors were shaken on Thursday when Trump, speaking from his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, said his already unnerving "fire and fury" comments on North Korea made earlier in the week may not have been tough enough.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day down 0.93% on Thursday, the S&P 500 declined 1.45% and the Nasdaq dipped 2.13%. Safe haven gold ended the day up 0.94%. Market volatility, measured by the CBOE Volatility Index, reached its highest level since the 2016 election.
But on Friday, investors seemed to have relaxed, despite Trump's early-morning tweet. The Dow gained 0.25%, the S&P 500 0.36% and the Nasdaq 0.56% in mid-morning trading. Gold was up 0.16%, the dollar declined 0.15%, and 10-year Treasury yields floated up 0.0174.
Bredemus attributed Thursday's selloff, at least in part, to some profit-taking in the wake of the market's recent run-up. The Dow notched its ninth straight record close on Monday.
"We were coming off of almost record highs," he said. "You start seeing a little selling, people decide to take a little bit off the table, take some profits."
That's not to say Wall Street isn't paying attention to what's happening between Trump and North Korea, or strategizing about what to do in the event the conflict escalates.
Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital, said if there were to ultimately be a significant military conflict, with North Korea likely launching missile attacks against South Korea and Japan, "this would entail a more significant impact on share markets, with, say, 20% or so falls before it became clear that the U.S. would prevail," according to The Wall Street Journal.
"[United States-North Korea] tit-for-tat rhetoric continues to ratchet higher. We find it impossible to put odds on outcomes," said Cowen defense and aerospace policy analyst Roman Schweizer in a note.
Despite some nerves, Wall Street appears relatively unfazed by increased tensions between the United States and North Korea. As WSJ noted on Friday, stocks have a long history of ignoring provocations from North Korea, not only because real conflict does not yet seem imminent but also because if there is a nuclear military confrontation, what's in your stock portfolio might not matter. If there are only two possible outcomes -- nothing happens or global thermonuclear conflict -- there's no reason to sell.
"The markets just really doesn't think that this is going to be a terrible event," said Bredemus. "It's a slight flight to quality, but clearly the market is discounting that anything will really happen."
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