Here's why investors are nervous about stocks right now

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Yahoo Finance

Following Friday’s massive market selloff, the biggest points decline for U.S. stocks since the financial crisis, analysts and fund managers are laying out a laundry list of things that could derail the now almost nine-year-old bull run.

Friday’s fall seemed to be triggered by the especially strong U.S. non-farm payrolls report that showed average hourly earnings posting the strongest annual gain since June 2009. Traders worried the strong wage growth could spur the Federal Reserve to hike U.S. interest rates more than expected this year, slowing earnings growth and throwing a wet blanket on the fire of economic expansion.

The selloff introduced a new degree of fear into the market, analysts say. The biggest worry for investors seems to be government policy, both from the fiscal and monetary side.

“Was it a good idea to hit the accelerator when the economy was already at the speed limit?”

The other major worry, though, appears to be over the tax reform bill passed earlier this year by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump. Economists and money managers fear that the increase to the $20 trillion U.S. national debt could carry major blowback to markets.

“The issue is, did tax reform kill the bull market or is tax reform a fiscal policy mistake? That’s what the market is struggling with,” said Nicholas Colas, co-founder at DataTrek Research, in a phone interview.

Colas said the market now has to factor in the issue of inflation, which for about a decade has been largely a non-factor, and whether that will slow or overtake gains in growth and earnings.

Operators working on the New York Stock Exchange, which on Friday fell by the largest margin since 2009. Analysts say recent economic data and the Trump administration’s policies have caused a rethink in the market, Feb 5, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Operators working on the New York Stock Exchange, which on Friday fell by the largest margin since 2009. Analysts say recent economic data and the Trump administration’s policies have caused a rethink in the market, Feb 5, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“Was it a good idea to hit the accelerator when the economy was already at the speed limit?” he said.

There is also the issue of debt. As the Fed has already announced it will start to reduce its more than $4 trillion of bond holdings this year, the increase in debt issued to pay for the tax cuts and the reduction of the Fed’s holdings could flood the market, driving prices lower and yields even higher.

“There’s a lot of maturities coming due, so that means a lot of supply that needs to be taken care of,” said Ellis Phifer, market strategist at Raymond James in Memphis, Tennessee, via phone.

And that’s been accompanied by a fear of the looming battle over the debt ceiling. The government will need to raise its borrowing limit soon and there’s no deal in sight between congressional Democrats and Republicans. Because a deal will require 60 votes to pass, investors are worried that the government could shut down right in the midst of a brewing market meltdown.

“Icing on the cake”

The release of a memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes on the FBI’s handling of a court warrant in the investigation of the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia was the “icing on the cake,” said Art Cashin, UBS director of floor operations at the New York Stock Exchange in a note to clients.

“That prompted an instant buyers boycott since no one wanted buy into a potentially wild Washington weekend with possible resignations and even a possible Constitutional crisis,” Cashin wrote. “The attitude was – I might as well wait until Monday and a possible all clear. With the buyers boycott as the key factor, the stock market went through several stages of near freefall in the afternoon on only marginally higher volume.”

Perhaps more importantly, Cashin said that the stock market rout that followed the memo’s release, as traders sat on the sidelines, caused some to “reassess the status of the Big Bull” market.

That’s got some investors looking to take some chips off the table.

“In general I would slowly lock in gains, to be honest. We’re a bit concerned about what might go down in February,” Mohannad Aama, managing director at Beam Capital Management in New York, told Yahoo Finance.There is a strong indication that this economic recovery is going to start slowing down even though it hasn’t been gang busters to begin with.”


Dion Rabouin is a markets reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @DionRabouin.

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