The majority of the stocks in the S&P 500 lost ground today as traders attempted to quantify and make adjustments for the uncertain risk they face with the Trump administration's tariff deadline looming at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning.
The risk is uncertain because nobody knows if the Trump administration is going to go through with tariff increase. The U.S. Trade Representative's (USTR) office filed paperwork on Wednesday to raise tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%, but that doesn't mean the administration has to pull the trigger.
However, the S&P 500 component that lost the most ground today didn't drop because of uncertain tariff risks. It fell because it faces easily quantifiable risks – 38 billion of them to be precise. Until today, Occidental Petroleum Corporation (OXY) had been in a bidding war with Chevron Corporation (CVX) for Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (APC). Chevron originally bid $33 billion for Anadarko, but then Occidental came in with a $38 billion bid that eventually forced Chevron to bow out of the competition.
While Occidental is excited to get access to Anadarko's energy assets in the Permian Basin, traders are nervous that the company may have overbid for the acquisition. If Occidental can't fully monetize Anadarko's Permian Basin-based oil at higher prices, it may take much longer to recoup its $38 billion investment than management thinks.
Crude oil prices still haven't fully recovered from their 2014 plunge, and they have been pulling back once again during the past two weeks. Crude oil prices are driven largely by the health of the global economy. When the global economy is strong, demand for crude oil goes up, which pushes oil prices higher. Conversely, when the global economy starts to slow down, or contract, demand for crude oil goes down, which pulls oil prices lower.
At a time when the entire stock market faces broad-based tariff risks, traders seem to be punishing firms that are taking on too much additional risk – like they did today by pushing Occidental Petroleum stock to a 10-year low.
The S&P 500 went on another roller-coaster ride today as the index dipped to an intra-day low of 2,836.40 before rebounding into the closing bell to close at 2,870.72, which was 10.88 points above its open price for the day.
The rally was ignited by President Trump's comments that the trade deal is not dead and that he has "an excellent alternative" to the original deal if it falls through. The president gave no further details regarding his alternative, but it sparked enough hope on Wall Street to lift stocks just a little bit.
So far, the former resistance level that was established by the high the index reached on March 21 is holding as a new support level, and the S&P 500 is still above the resistance level at 2,816.94 – the high from Oct. 17, 2018 – that kept the index down until mid-March, but that could all change tomorrow if traders don't like the tariff and trade negotiations news they get tomorrow.
Risk Indicators – Copper
Market analysts are always looking for shortcuts in their analysis. For instance, to gauge investor fear, they look at the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX). Similarly, when they want to get a sense for what investors believe the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is going to do with its monetary policy, they look at the federal funds futures contracts.
But when analysts want to get a quick glimpse of how strong the global economy is expected to be, they look at the price of copper. Copper is important because it is used heavily in industrial production – whether it's in the form of copper tubing and wiring for construction or advanced circuitry for an ever-growing list of high-tech products.
When the global economy is growing, industrial production increases – which drives up the demand for, and price of, copper. Conversely, when the global economy slows down, industrial production decreases – which drives down the demand for, and price of, copper. By monitoring the bullish and bearish moves in the price of copper, analysts can gauge whether investors believe that demand for industrial metal is going to be increasing or decreasing in the future.
Today, the price of copper almost completed a head and shoulders bearish reversal pattern as investors worried that the Trump administration's threatened tariffs could fan the flames of a trade war between the United States and China, which would have a dampening effect on the global economy. Copper dropped to an intra-day low of $2.73 per pound – which would have completed the bearish pattern if the price had remained at these low levels – before rebounding to close just below $2.77 before the closing bell.
I will be watching copper closely tomorrow to see where it ends the week. If the tariff increase goes into effect Friday morning, copper is likely to drop and complete the bearish reversal pattern – indicating that investors believe global economic growth is likely to slow down during the last half of 2019. If, however, copper prices are able to rally tomorrow, it could be a positive sign for anticipated strength in the global economy and the potential of a continued bullish run for the U.S. stock market.
Bottom Line - Waiting for 12:01 a.m.
Wall Street has been reacting to every bit of news that has come out of the trade negotiations between the United States and China, and I don't see any reason why that is going to stop tomorrow.
If the tariff increase goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Friday morning, financial markets around the world are likely going to dip. On the other hand, if the Trump administration postpones the increase, watch for financial markets to rebound.
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