Dow Jones Today: The Return of Unpleasantness

It was a wicked Wednesday as stocks tumbled amid mounting concerns that some major global economies, including the U.S., are flirting with recessions. Adding to the recession concerns, there was another instance of yield curve inversion today.

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For those not familiar with the vernacular, yield curve inversion is an instance of 10-year Treasury yields dipping below those on 2-year notes. This has happened several times this year. Over the course of history, such inversions have proven to be reliable harbingers of looming economic contraction.

Speaking of contracting, that’s exactly what Germany’s economy, the Eurozone’s largest, is doing which adds to risk-off pall cast over global equity markets.

“Germany’s economy shrank 0.1 percent from April through June and has been treading water for the last year, the government’s official statistics agency said. Analysts at Deutsche Bank predicted that the economy will shrink during the current quarter as well, meeting the technical definition of a recession,” reports The New York Times.

Here in the U.S., the Nasdaq Composite plunged 3.02% while the S&P 500 sank nearly 3%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 3.05%.

In the category of “what a difference a day makes,” yesterday I had the privilege of saying that all 30 Dow stocks traded higher. Today, I’m sad to report that in late trading, all 30 Dow components were in the red.

Dow Winners In Short Supply

Today was one of those days when it’s more about highlighting the best of the worst Dow stocks, not the biggest winners, because there weren’t any winners to speak of. In late trading, just five Dow members were sporting losses of less than 1%.

One of those names was Walmart (NYSE:WMT). The nation’s largest retailer reports earnings tomorrow and in what could prove to be some much-needed good news, analysts are speculating that if Walmart beats, it could boost guidance.

“E-commerce sales performance in the U.S. will be closely watched. Telsey Advisory estimates a 37% year-over-year gain, which would match the first-quarter growth. Bank of America is looking for a 35% advance, and Tesley predicts a rise of at least 30%,” according to Bloomberg. “In addition, analysts may have lingering questions around tariffs, even as the Trump administration said Tuesday it will delay until mid-December the 10% tariff on some Chinese products.”

I recently explored the long-term potential of Walmart’s e-commerce efforts here.

Consumer Staples Hold Up

As for the other members of today’s least-bad group, a couple of those were consumer staples names, Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). Given the risk-off tenor to the day, it wasn’t surprising to see these stocks hold up, relatively speaking.

However, there may another force at play. Historical data suggest that after yield curve inversion, the best-performing sectors are utilities and consumer staples. However, those historical anecdotes are not always all-encompassing. Just look at Walgreens (NASDAQ:WBA), shares of which slid 5.01% today.

Dow Warning Signs

Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) reports earnings after the bell today, but some investors departed the name in advance of that report as highlighted by the stock’s 4% tumble today. Laboring around the $50-$51 area, this report is critical for Cisco’s near-term fortunes. A move to the mid-$40s seems almost as likely as jump to the mid-$50s.

There is also growing sentiment that McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), the Dow’s best stock in August and one of the index’s top performers this year, could be ready to decline, but that seems to be a technical bet, not a commentary on the stock’s underlying fundamentals.

DJIA Bottom Line

I cannot confirm that a recession is imminent and it should be noted that the yield curve inversion, while reliable, is not 100% accurate. Nor am I glossing over the weakness in stocks, but historical data also confirm that the third quarter (August in particular) is usually unkind to equities.

Perhaps the best strategy for the rest of this month and into September is to keep some cash on the sidelines and wait for more attractive opportunities to come available, particularly if the best defensive sectors can do is decline less than their high beta counterparts.

Todd Shriber does not own any of the aforementioned securities.

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