U.S. stocks struggled to hold record levels on Monday, Oct. 23, after a winning streak that propelled the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 to all-time highs last week.
The Dow was up 0.02%, the S&P 500 fell 0.07% and the Nasdaq fell 0.14%. Any gains for each of the indexes would mark an all-time closing high.
Wall Street ended last week in good spirits with all three major indexes ending at records as Congress took the first legislative steps toward tax reform. Gains pushed all three indexes to records, the Dow and S&P 500 for their fifth session in a row. The rally kicked off after Senate lawmakers voted to pass a fiscal 2018 budget resolution, the first step toward tax cut legislation.
Markets have managed to hit new heights with little volatility. The Volatility Index, otherwise known as the fear index, remains around 10 on Monday, though hit its lowest level ever on Oct. 5. That reading of 9.19 was even lower than a 9.31 reading hit in Dec. 1993, the previous record low.
"I feel like a broken record, but so many times when I'm talking about 2017, I usually say 'the last time since 1964, 1965, or 1995' when making comparisons to 2017," said Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Research. "Those three years are widely considered the least volatile years ever, and 2017 is right there with them trying to make the medal stand."
LPL Research noted that the S&P 500 has not seen a daily drop of more than 0.5% in 33 straight sessions, its longest streak since 1995. So far this year, the index has fallen by 1% or more only four times, its fewest since 1964. Low volatility is in part tied to strong earnings, though LPL Research does expect an eventual return to normal volatility with the possibility of a correction as the "economic cycle continues to age."
General Electric Co. (GE) was the biggest weight on the Dow as analysts downgraded the stock following its first earnings miss in more than two years on Friday. Morgan Stanley downgraded its rating to underweight from equal weight and cut its price target to $22 from $25 on the likelihood GE will implement a dividend cut. Cowen also sees chances of that and cut its price target to $22 from $24.
UBS reduced its rating to neutral from buy and pulled its price target down to $24 from $31. The firm sees "a lot of negative sentiment now reflected in the shares."
GE shares were down 5%, putting the company on track for its worst daily performance of the year and its largest percentage decline since August 2011.
Earnings were a big driver of moves on Monday. Roughly one-fifth of S&P 500 companies have reported earnings so far, the majority of which have bested profit and sales estimates. Analysts anticipate blended earnings growth of 4.2% in the third quarter, or 2.1% excluding energy, according to Thomson Reuters estimates. Revenue is expected to rise by 4.4%.
Hasbro Inc. (HAS) was tumbling even after a better-than-expected quarter. The toymaker earned $2.05 a share over its third quarter, 11 cents above estimates. Revenue increased nearly 7% to $1.79 billion, $10 million higher than consensus. By sector, entertainment and licensing revenue grew 4%, franchise brand revenue 7%, and gaming revenue 22%.
However, Hasbro dropped 8.7% after issuing weaker guidance than anticipated. The world's third-largest toymaker anticipates fourth-quarter sales growth of 4% to 7%. Consensus suggested growth of 11%.
Hasbro weighed on competitor Mattel Inc. (MAT) . Mattel shares declined 3% in their worst daily performance in just over a month. The Barbie parent company is slated to report earnings after the bell Thursday, Oct. 26.
Halliburton Co. (HAL) topped profit and sales estimates. The industrials company earned net income of $361 million, far better than $28 million in the year-ago quarter. Per-share profit of 42 cents came in 5 cents above estimates. Revenue of $5.44 billion exceeded estimates of $5.34 billion. CEO Jeff Miller said in a statement that Halliburton's international business "proved resilient in a challenging environment."
VF Corp. (VFC) reported a better-than-expected third quarter. The apparel company, which owns brands such as Wrangler and The North Face, earned an adjusted $1.23 a share over its recent quarter, above expectations of $1.12. Revenue of $3.51 billion came in ahead of $3.39 billion consensus. VF Corp. also raised its outlook for the full year -- the company anticipates adjusted earnings of $3.01, up from a previous $2.96 forecast, while revenue is expected to come in at $12.1 billion, up from a previous target of $11.85 billion.
Arconic Inc. (ARNC) topped quarterly revenue estimates and guided for robust full-year sales growth. The aluminum producer generated revenue of $3.24 billion, higher than $3.09 billion consensus. Adjusted earnings did fall short, however. Profit of 25 cents a share missed by 2 cents. For the full year, Arconic anticipates sales of $12.6 billion to $12.8 billion, higher than a previous $12.3 billion to $12.8 billion. Consensus was for $12.5 billion in full-year sales.
In international news, European markets were higher after Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy outlined measures to take control of Catalonia. On Saturday, Rajoy unveiled a number of measures, including a plan to clear out the entire separatist regime in Barcelona and take control of key institutions in the media and police, in response to the region's disputed referendum on independence on Oct. 1.
The Catalonian parliament will meet on Thursday to decide on how to respond to Rajoy's measures. The Spanish senate will meet on Friday and is expected to sign off on the measures that will likely see Catalan's President Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet fired. Spain's chief prosecutor said that Puigdemont could face 30 years in jail if he declares independence.
Asian markets were mostly higher after a landslide victory for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Nikkei closed up more than 1%. Abe's victory will ensure loosened monetary policy will continue and clears a hurdle for Abe's long-term goal to amend the constitution. Nikkei's gains marked its 15th straight day in the green, its longest winning streak on record.
Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) agreed to acquire Broadsoft Inc. (BSFT) in a deal worth $1.9 billion. The offer of $55 per Broadsoft share prices the company at a 2% premium to its previous close. Reuters previously reported in August that Broadsoft was exploring a possible sale.
In other deal news, Deltic Timber Corp. (DEL) increased 6% after agreeing to a merger with Potlatch Corp. (PCH) in a share-for-share deal with an enterprise value of $4 billion. Deltic shareholders will receive 1.8 Potlatch shares per one Deltic share. The deal is expected to close in the first half of next year.
Netflix Inc. (NFLX) moved lower after announcing that it would offer $1.6 billion in a debt offering to finance content production and acquisition. The streaming service has invested heavily in original content in recent years to differentiate itself from a rising number of video-on-demand competitors.
Tesla Inc. (TSLA) , the electric carmaker, reached an agreement to set up its own manufacturing facility in Shanghai. The deal will allow Tesla to build a wholly owned factory in Shanghai's free-trade zone, according to The Wall Street Journal. The arrangement, the first of its kind for a foreign automaker, could enable Tesla to slash production costs but it would still likely incur China's 25% import tariff.
Investors were also looking toward the first estimate of third-quarter economic growth to be released on Friday, Oct. 27. A string of severe hurricanes that swept across the south and southeastern portions of the U.S. and Puerto Rico toward the end of the quarter could put a big dent in growth. Economists surveyed by FactSet anticipate the U.S. economy to have grown 2.5% from July to September, slowing from 3.1% growth in the second quarter. This is just a preliminary number -- it will go through two revisions.
Updated from 1:19 p.m. ET, Oct. 23.
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