Stocks Crushed After Caterpillar Warns of Peak Margins


The stock market fell on Tuesday following comments from industrial bellwether Caterpillar indicated that margins were reaching their limits. Bond yields rose enough for the 10-year Treasury note to break the psychologically important level of 3 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average went on a wild ride. In early trading, the index climbed more than 200 points, only to fall to midday lows of around a 600 point loss. By the closing bell, it had bounced back a bit, ending the day on a 424.56 point decline, a 1.75 percent drop.

The broader S&P 500 index fell by 1.34 percent. The tech heavy Nasdaq Composite fell 1.7 percent, with the so-called FAANG stocks–Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google’s Alphabet–registering big declines.

Caterpillar’s earnings beat market expectations. Initially its shares pushed higher. On a conference call with analysts, however, chief financial officer Bradley Halverson spooked investors by saying that the company’s outlook for the future assumed the first quarter of 2018 would be “the high water mark for the year.” He added that the company did not expect its operating margins, a measure of profitability based on the amount of each dollar of revenue remaining after subtracting the cost of goods sold and labor costs, to improve.  Shares of Caterpillar fell by 6.2 percent for the day.

Eight of the 11 sectors of the S&P 500 declined. Real estate, telecommunications, and utilities rose, a classic “flight to safety” stock market move. Companies in those three sectors pay sizable dividends but typically are not expected to see much growth in share prices.

Overall, corporate earnings for the first quarter of 2018 have come in strong, in aggregate up by between 18 and 20 percent compared with last year. But even as companies report results that beat analyst expectations, stocks have fallen. “It’s a sell the news trade,” is something people say. No one knows what that means but it sounds reassuringly informed.

Alphabet, which is the name you are supposed to call Google, fell 4.8 percent. The company reported surging profits but also said it had higher expenses. It seems to have dramatically increased capital expenditures, which might be a pretty smart way for a company to take advantage of some of the short-term incentives contained in last year’s tax cut scheme. But investors did not like it.

Facebook shares fell 3.7 percent. Amazon was down 3.8 percent. Netflix was down 3.6 percent. Shares of Apple were down 1.4 percent, which is almost like being up on a day like Tuesday.

Shares of 3M fell 6.8 percent after the company said that it was lowering the upper end of its earnings guidance. In other words, they still expect good news to come but not quite as good news. SELL EVERYTHING!

Yields on 10-year Treasuries breached 3 percent but settled the day at 2.93 percent, which is just a bit higher than where they were Monday afternoon. If anyone tells you today’s stock market moves were caused by fears of inflation or higher rates, check your wallet. That guy is trying to con you.

Geopolitics did not play much of role today, as far as anyone can tell. It’s possible that the stock market hates France’s Macron and was protesting his visit but that seems unlikely. Macron is just not that unlikeable as far as French guys and he’s going home shortly. Maybe stocks just confused him with Canada’s Justin Trudeau.



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