Dow starts day with a bang and ends in a whimper

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York on Jan 16, 2018.
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York on Jan 16, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (WASHINGTON POST) - The Dow Jones industrial average roared past 26,000 Tuesday morning (Jan 16) - only to give it all back by the end of the day and close down 10 points.

"It got to a point where people were saying, 'Wow,'" said Steve Johnson, a portfolio manager at Adviser Investments. "It's momentum. You had everyone on TV saying we were up 1,000 points in seven trading sessions. People took profits on the short term and that took some members of the Dow down."

The Dow was up 283 points before that was erased by a retreat in oil prices and talk of a government shutdown. Oil supermajors Exxon and Chevron both dropped.

Oil prices have risen well into the US$60-a-barrel range and are threatening to go higher. But brent crude, a key industry price metric, dropped more than 1 per cent as US shale oil production is reported to be reaching new records. US domestic production is about to return to 10 million-plus barrels a day, a mark not reached since the 1970s and one that was thought to be a pipe dream a few years ago.

Oil company prices tend to rise with the price of crude oil because higher prices make oil companies more profitable.

Dow star Boeing was leading the way for a while Tuesday, hitting highs of US$348 before it settled back to $335, putting it in negative territory with some of the other transportation stocks.

Consumer staples, which have struggled, picked up some slack with Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble both gaining. General Mills and Kimberly Clark also were up.

"It is kind of interesting that consumer staples, which had not done well, are now leading the market," Johnson said. "That shows people becoming a little more defensive."

The Dow had started strong after some pre-market estimates predicted an opening gain of 245 points. And the index of 30 major US companies did not disappoint as it crossed 26,000 out of the gate - the quickest 1,000-point gain in its history.

The Dow crossed 25,000 on Jan 4, the third trading session of this year. It was up more than 5 percent for 2018 during the height of its surge on Tuesday.

Billionaire investor Sam Zell said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" Tuesday morning, "I think the current situation seems like irrational exuberance."

Zell was echoing a widely quoted statement that then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan proclaimed in 1996, when the market was frothy.

Zell, known for his real estate success, said much of his assets are in cash.

Even after Tuesday's afternoon retreat, the Dow is up 4.34 per cent this year. That comes on the heels of the Dow's 25 percent increase in 2017.

Despite Tuesday's down day, markets are off to a prosperous 2018. The Nasdaq, Standard & Poor's 500-stock index and small-cap stock index Russell 2000 were also in the red at the end of Tuesday; the S&P 500 is up 3.85 per cent in 2018, the tech-heavy Nasdaq is up 4.64 per cent and the Russell 2000 has gained 2.44 percent.

Jeff Carbone, managing partner at Cornerstone Wealth, saw Tuesday's downdraft as temporary.

"With earnings, tax reform, economic data and a Federal Reserve cautiously tightening, we saw the wind die down a bit in the markets," Carbone said in a email after markets closed. "I do not believe (the market) will be blown off course for long as we go deeper into earnings season."