A rare solar eclipse that traversed only the U.S. demanded the country's attention on Monday, Aug. 21. Meanwhile, on Wall Street, stocks failed to find direction and closed narrowly mixed.
Bulls waited on the sidelines for reason to move back into the market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were slightly higher, up 0.13% and 0.12%, respectively, while the Nasdaq was off 0.05%. Stocks spent much of the morning session flitting between slight losses and gains.
The sun, moon and Earth lined up perfectly for a few minutes on Monday in the first total solar eclipse to travel from the West Coast to the East in 99 years. The eclipse began in Oregon at around 1 p.m., turning day to night, and ended in South Carolina at roughly 3 p.m. Millions of Americans headed outdoors to watch the eclipse -- productivity lost is expected to total $694 million.
Stock markets were on edge on Monday as geopolitical tensions came into focus again to begin the week. Worries over North Korea resurfaced over the weekend after the authoritarian nation warned that its army could target the U.S. at anytime, and that Guam, Hawaii nor the mainland won't be able to "dodge the merciless strike." In its official government newspaper, North Korea also said that the United States' upcoming military exercises with South Korea are "reckless behavior driving the situation into the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war."
Tensions between North Korea and the U.S. had ratcheted up earlier in the month on increasingly aggressive threats between the two countries. President Donald Trump promised "fire and fury like the world has never seen" on Aug. 8, prompting North Korea to announce that it had pinpointed U.S. territory Guam as a possible target for an attack. Tempers eased somewhat in the past week.
Trump's presidency came under scrutiny again on Friday, Aug. 18, after news broke that chief strategist Steve Bannon had left his position. The New York Times reported that Trump insisted that Bannon resign and the adviser submitted his formal notice on Aug. 7. His departure was delayed by the violence at a right-wing rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and its aftermath. Bannon has since resumed his position as head of alt-right platform Breitbart News.
The Secret Service is running out of funds to protect the president and his family, according to an exclusive USA Today report. Secret Service Director Randolph Alles told the newspaper that more than 1,000 agents have hit their federally mandated salary caps after covering the Trump family's business and vacation trips over the months Trump has been in office. Trump has drawn criticism for his near-weekly trips to his properties in New Jersey and Florida, among others, since assuming the office in January.
Turmoil in and outside of the White House has worried investors keen on seeing progress on Trump's tax-cutting agenda. Stock markets have seen significant increases since the November presidential election on high hopes for business-friendly deregulation and favorable changes to the tax code. Markets sold off last week on worries Trump's agenda had derailed.
"Ever since the election, the broader market has been more upbeat on potential business friendly policy changes given that the president has surrounded himself with staff from the business community," Nomura analysts wrote in a note. "Any material changes to that formula finally caught the equity markets' attention. The risk of losing focus on business includes pivoting to a more populist trade agenda, failing to make reasonable picks for the Federal Reserve and other economic posts, and compromising the ability to formulate a reasonable tax plan."