The major domestic equity indexes ended the trading day on Wednesday on a lower note after a rocky session as gains in consumer staples and healthcare were offset by a sharp drop in Amazon shares and a continuing slide in technology stocks.
Amazon was down as much as 6.7 percent, losing more than $53 billion in market value after a report that President Donald Trump indicated he wanted to rein in the company. The stock later pared its loses to end the day down 4.4 percent.
Shares of Tesla slumped 7.7 percent, extending recent losses, following a credit downgrade and news that officials are investigating a fatal crash and fire in California.
Countering those losses were gains for consumer staples, real estate, telecom, and healthcare.
The S&P Energy index posted the largest loss of the 11 major S&P sectors, ending 1.99 percent lower as crude prices fell after data showed a surprise build in domestic inventory.
The markets shrugged off a report from the Commerce Department that the economy slowed less than previously reported in the fourth quarter as consumer spending grew at its fastest quarterly pace in three years. GDP expanded at a 2.9 percent annual rate in the last three months of 2017, ahead of the previously reported 2.5 percent.
Strong economic data could invite a more hawkish approach by the Fed this year with respect to further interest rate hikes.
China is expected to announce a list of tariffs on U.S. imports in retaliation against the expected tariff proposals from the U.S. on Chinese goods.
Approximately 6.96 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, as compared to the 7.36 billion share average over the past 20 trading days.
Day’s Economic News
The nation’s economic growth during the fourth quarter slowed less than previously estimated as the largest gain in consumer spending in three years partially offset the drag from a rise in imports.
According to a report by the Commerce Department released Wednesday morning, gross domestic product expanded at a 2.9 percent annual rate during the final three months of 2017, instead of the previously reported 2.5 percent in the third quarter. That was a bit less than the third quarter’s growth rate of 3.2 percent pace.
The upward revision to the fourth-quarter growth estimate also reflected less inventory reduction than previously reported.
There are signs that economic activity slowed further in the first quarter, with retail sales falling in February for a third straight month. Housing data have been weak, and the trade deficit hit a more than nine-year high in January. The economy grew 2.3 percent in 2017, an acceleration from the 1.5 percent logged in 2016.
The Atlanta Federal Reserve is currently forecasting the economy growing at a 1.8 percent rate in the January-March period. First-quarter GDP growth tends to be weak because of a seasonal quirk.
That could keep the door open to slightly more aggressive interest rate increases from the Federal Reserve this year. The Fed is currently projecting at least two more hikes for 2018. The Fed also lifted its economic growth projections for this year and 2019.
There are worries the Trump administration’s adoption of protectionist trade measures could sour business sentiment and hurt spending on capital goods.
Trump last week signed a memorandum targeting up to $60 billion in Chinese goods with tariffs over what his administration says is misappropriation of U.S. intellectual property. Trump also has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
The government also reported on Wednesday that after-tax corporate earnings increased at a 1.7 percent rate in the fourth quarter after rising at a 5.7 percent pace in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, an alternate measure of growth, gross domestic income, rose at a 0.9 percent rate in the October-December period. GDI expanded at a 2.4 percent rate in the third quarter.
The average of GDP and GDI, also referred to as gross domestic output and considered a better measure of economic activity, increased at a 1.9 percent rate in the fourth quarter. That followed a 2.8 percent rate of growth in the prior period.
Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was revised up to a 4.0 percent rate in the fourth quarter from the 3.8 percent pace reported last month. That was the quickest pace since the fourth quarter of 2014 and followed a 2.2 percent rate of growth in the July-September period.
Imports grew at an upwardly revised 14.1 percent pace instead of the previously reported 14.0 percent rate. That was the fastest pace since the third quarter of 2010 and overshadowed a rise in exports driven by weakness in the dollar.
The resulting trade deficit sliced off 1.16 percentage points from GDP growth last quarter, the most in a year, after adding 0.36 percentage point in the third quarter. Trade will likely remain a drag on GDP growth in the first quarter.
A separate report from the Commerce Department on Wednesday showed the goods trade deficit rose 0.1 percent in February as an increase in imports slightly outpaced a jump in exports.
While consumer spending curbed the accumulation of inventories, the slowdown in inventory investment was not as steep as previously reported.
Inventory investment rose at a rate of $15.6 billion in the fourth quarter instead of the previously reported $8.0 billion pace. Inventories subtracted 0.53 percentage point from GDP growth after adding 0.79 percentage point in the prior period.
Inventories could contribute to growth in the first quarter. According to the Commerce Department wholesale and retail inventories increased solidly in February.
There were modest downward revisions to business and residential construction spending growth estimates in the fourth quarter. Growth in government spending was raised slightly.
Trump Wants to Curb Amazon
Amazon fell almost 5 percent on Wednesday, wiping more than $30 billion off its market value, after news website Axios reported that Trump is obsessed with the world’s largest online retailer and wants to rein in its growing power.
Trump has talked about using antitrust law to “go after” the company because he is worried about mom-and-pop retailers being put out of business by Amazon, Axios reported, citing five sources it said had discussed the issue with him.
Trump also wants to change Amazon’s tax treatment, the Axios report said, an issue the president raised publicly last year when he called for an internet tax for online retailers, even though Amazon already collects sales tax on items it sells direct to customers.
Trump has been complaining about Amazon in private, believing the company has become too powerful.
Trump associates chief executive Jeff Bezos’ private ownership of the Washington Post, which he has called “fake news” for its critical coverage of his administration. Trump regards the newspaper as a mouthpiece for Bezos’ business interests, calling it #AmazonWashingtonPost on Twitter.
Trump has criticized Amazon over taxes and jobs in the past, without offering evidence. The president urging the use of antitrust law to selectively thwart a company would be unprecedented, according to Jeffrey Jacobovitz of the law firm Arnall Golden Gregory LLP.