Stocks slide lower, eye a precipice

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Stocks whipsawed again last week but managed to defend a key level as investors await first-quarter earnings.

The S&P 500 slid 1.4 percent between Thursday, March 29 (March 30 was Good Friday) and Friday, April 6. Every major sector finished in the red, and fewer than one-quarter of the index’s members rose. The Nasdaq-100 and Dow Jones Industrial Average fared even worse.

Still, buyers defended the 2600 area on the S&P 500, which is both its 200-day moving average and a closing low from February. Chart watchers may consider that evidence the market is trying to stabilize on the heels of a two-month volatility spike.

Headline risk fueled much of last week’s volatility, with President Donald Trump and China going head-to-head over tariffs. The White House also hammered e-commerce darling Amazon.com (AMZN) — a mainstay of most institutional portfolios — over its use of the U.S. postal service.

Employment data was surprisingly weak: Jobless claims shot up more than expected and payroll growth slowed much more than feared… but that didn’t keep Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell from talking about higher interest rates.

S&P 500
S&P 500

Incyte (INCY) was the biggest loser in the S&P 500 last week after disappointing results for a cancer treatment hammered the shares 23 percent. Nektar Therapeutics (NKTR) followed in sympathy, down 12 percent. Those helped make biotechnology the worst major industry overall.

Semiconductors also took a beating amid the China-trade flap and worries about a peak in memory-chip pricing. Industrials and transports were other big weak spots. The only groups that managed to eke out gains were retail, housing and gold miners.

The producer price index tomorrow morning is the first big event scheduled for this week. Attention will quickly shift to Capitol Hill, where Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg begins two days of testimony about the social media giant’s data breaches.

Wednesday also brings oil inventories, consumer prices and minutes from the last Fed meeting. Jobless claims follow Thursday morning.

Friday kicks off earnings season as financial heavyweights JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Citigroup (C) and Wells Fargo (WFC) issue results.

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David Russell is VP of Content Strategy at TradeStation. Drawing on nearly two decades of experience as a financial journalist and analyst, his background includes equities, emerging markets, fixed-income and derivatives. He previously worked at Bloomberg News, CNBC and E*TRADE Financial. Russell systematically reviews countless global financial headlines and indicators in search of broad tradable trends that present opportunities repeatedly over time. Customers can expect him to keep them appraised of sector leadership, relative strength and the big stories – especially those overlooked by other commentators. He’s also a big fan of generating leverage with options to limit capital at risk.