Thursday began as another bullish day in the extended rally for the North American markets as the Dow Jones set record highs on sales guidance from mega-retailer WalMart (NYSE:WMT). Technology also got off to a good start as earnings estimates and price targets were getting bumped higher virtually across the board.
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) received two price target bumps yesterday morning from analysts at Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, pushing shares to an all-time high above $170. Similar highs were seen in momentum favourites: Research In Motion (RIMM), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) and VMWare (NYSE:VMW).
Just before 2pm in Thursday afternoon's trading, the markets were up over half a percentage point. It appears whispers traveled and the buyers' dam broke and flooded into a massive sell-off. Within minutes, the Nasdaq was in the red and major technology stocks saw their new highs evaporating. Cautious comments from JP Morgan regarding Chinese Internet portal Baidu's revenue for the upcoming quarter sparked slight profit taking which seemed to snowball throughout the technology sector.
Further adding to the panic were comments made in Europe by European Central Bank Council member Axel Weber who insinuated that 1) the ECB may need to raise rates in order to keep inflation in check, and 2) that inflation should be priority number 1, not economic stability.
There was concern that the Federal Reserve's half point rate cut was a worrisome approach to economic stability. These comments out of Europe show that the ECB seems to have a firmer stance than the U.S.on the issue of inflation.
These comments seemed to rekindle trader fears of inflation and pushed the selling further. A rally that was built around the Fed cutting rates by half a percentage point will certainly not hold up well if there's talk of a potential rate hike to curb inflation. The sectors that were been gaining the most during the rally, technology and energy, were hit the hardest during the selloff.
Investors should take heed that the indices were brought back after the drop, meaning that the Dow was able to hold and close above 14,000. If there are more inflationary comments, there could be tremendous volatility in the markets ahead, but investors should be concerned with specific company fundamentals, especially as the earnings season gets into high gear.