Stock Markets Take A Dive After Months Of Growth

On Friday, the stock markets took a dive for the first time in months. NPR's Eric Westervelt asks The Wall Street Journal's Erin McCarthy whether mounting global conflicts had something to do with it.

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ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

From the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Eric Westervelt.

Heavy fighting continued in Gaza today. Israel's prime minister said, his country will continue its military operation as long as needed to stop Hamas attacks. In spite of that conflict, and those raging elsewhere around the globe for much of this year, the stock markets have been steadily rising. But they may now be showing a few signs of weakness. Yesterday, the major markets in the U.S., Europe and Asia all ended down. It was the Dow's worst week since January and the worst week in two years for the S and P 500.

Erin McCarthy is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. I asked her if dip in the markets had anything to do with those global conflicts.

ERIN MCCARTHY: It might. There was actually a lot of confusion about the drop on Thursday and Friday. People were sort of scratching their heads about it. Some analysts attributed the drop to some of these geopolitical conflicts. Others pointed to disappointing earning results out of Europe and out of companies in the U.S. And some of the other thoughts were longer-term; people are looking at the Federal Reserve and when they might be raising interest rates, which is still pretty far down the road, but given some positive U.S. economic data this week people are wondering, when is that going to happen? And that will obviously have a big impact on markets.

WESTERVELT: Right. So the stimulus programs from central banks around the world have been pumping money into the market, and the U.S. Federal Reserve is part of that punch bowl. But that's going to slowly go away. The taper, as they call it. You know, what happens when our economy is strong enough that the Fed ends its assistance?

MCCARTHY: Well it's - people are still pretty confident that markets will have a good level of support, even when the bond-buying program ends - which people are saying will probably happen in October - but even when that finishes up, interest rates in the U.S. are really, really, really low. And that's been another pillar of support for markets since the financial crisis. So even when the tapering wraps up there's still going to be a pretty good amount of support for the markets.

WESTERVELT: So what's your take? The dip Thursday and Friday in the market was a bit of an anomaly. I mean, the markets have been doing pretty well since January in spite of all of this global conflict, correct?

MCCARTHY: Yeah. They've been doing really great. You know, for the past five months it's been just on an upward trajectory. But one of the things a lot of analysts have been saying is, you know, given that it's been rising so steadily it's due - or it has been due a little bit - for a pullback. People might be taking a step back, taking profits, looking at the market, looking at the geopolitical situations, corporate earnings and taking the opportunity to close out some of their positions.

WESTERVELT: So what's your take? What would it take to really rattle global markets? I mean, there's no oil in Gaza. And it was surprising to some that even the Ukraine fighting hadn't rattled markets that much either.

MCCARTHY: It has been surprising. I think one of the things, like you mentioned, is the oil market. So far, there haven't really been any disruptions to oil production globally. So for now that's not a huge impact. If in some way oil production was disrupted, I think that could have a spillover effect into other markets. Other factors could be if the U.S. got more involved in some of these geopolitical conflicts. So far, you know, they've had largely a diplomatic role. If that changed, I think that could get markets a little more worried.

WESTERVELT: Always seems to come back to oil and whether the U.S. is going to put boots on the ground.

MCCARTHY: Yeah, absolutely. That's a big factor. And people are also looking at the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Central Bank, and how they're gauging the situation. And so far, the Fed hasn't really signaled a lot of concern about these geopolitical issues and their economic impact. So while the Fed seems not super concerned, markets will also take that as a cue that maybe they shouldn't be.

WESTERVELT: That's Erin McCarthy. She's a reporter with the Wall Street Journal.

Erin, thank you.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

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