Trouble on Wall St – Stocks see second-worst week all year

Poor retail performance has led U.S. stocks to see their second-worst week all year – is the economy in huge trouble?

The U.S. stock market saw one of its worst weeks all year after growing fears of a slow holiday season tanked retail holdings. According to a report from the Washington Post, the week broke a six-week streak of consistent gains, shaking confidence at a crucial time in the year.

The dip started when Nordstrom reported less than stellar results for the third quarter, and Macy’s followed with similar bad news. To make matters worse, oil prices continue to drop as new supplies are popping up around the globe. This could lead to a strong dollar, which would pressure the energy sector to continue to lower prices and cut costs.

The damage was widespread; the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 202.83 points, the S&P 500 dropped 22.93 points, and the Nasdaq composite index dropped 778.22 points. Each of the major indices posted losses of at least 1.1 percent over the course of the week.

The drop comes after stocks experienced a strong October, with stocks dipping seven out of the past eight days. The S&P 500 is down 2 percent for the entire year.

Investors are worried about the performance of large retailers as the nation heads into the holiday season. Nordstrom’s stock dropped 15 percent to $53.96 per share, cutting its forecast for the remainder of the year, and Macy’s posted similar dismal results.

It will only be two weeks before Black Friday, the kickoff weekend to massive holiday sales and some of the biggest rushes of the year at locations across the country. Despite the tradition of frenzied shoppers lining up in the wee hours of the morning, investors lack confidence that this year’s Black Friday will result in positive sales figures for some of the bigger retailers. Macy’s and Nordstrom’s both experienced two-year lows on Friday, and consumer discretionary stocks showed the weakest performance out of all the groups in the S&P 500.

Despite poor performance from Macy’s and Nordstrom, J.C. Penny was on par with analyst predictions. It still posted a loss of 15.4 percent, bringing its total stock price down to $7.44 per share. Other retailers that offer many of the gifts given during the holiday season, like video game chain GameStop, dropped 16.5 percent to $37.18 per share. Watchmaker Fossil Group dropped a whopping 36.5 percent to $32.39, the lowest level in the past five years.

A recent government report revealed that U.S. retail spending rose just 0.1 percent in October, despite strong performance in other sectors. Farmers, manufacturers, and other producers saw their prices drop in October, and inflation remains low throughout the economy. This has resulted in constricted consumer spending, which is not good for large retailers.

According to Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe, the drop in retail stocks was an overreaction. He predicts that shoppers will still come out and spend large amounts this holiday season, and despite the shift away from smaller, less expensive gifts to high-ticket items like smartphones and video game systems, all areas of retail are expected to perform well in the last two months of the year.

Jaffe did note that U.S. spending habits had changed significantly in recent years. Consumers are buying fewer clothes, and younger generations are much more interested in technology and new products than traditional gifts like socks and sweaters.

The drop in oil also led to a decline in U.S. stock prices. According to the International Energy Agency, commercial inventories were approaching 3 billion barrels at the end of September, shattering previous records. The agency also predicts that demand in global oil demand will slow its growth in the next year, leading to lower prices.

U.S. crude oil dropped 2.3 percent to $40.47 a barrel in New York, 13 percent lower than at the beginning of the month, and the lowest price since the end of August. Brent crude oil, the international price benchmark, dropped 1 percent to $43.61 per barrel in London.

Oil prices have been significantly lower than in previous years, dropping to an all time low of $37.75 this year. Heating oil dropped 2.5 cents to $1.381 per gallon, and wholesale gasoline dropped to $1.239 per gallon. The price of natural gas, curiously, rose 10.1 cents to $2.361 per 1000 cubic feet.

Despite the poor performance on the part of retail stocks over the past week, the holiday season is expected to bring a higher degree of normalcy as people spend more on gift items.

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