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Stock Market Report For Week Ended October 17, 2014

Benchmarks end mixed after dramatic week
The major benchmarks ended mixed for the week after a powerful Friday rally stopped the downdraft, at least temporarily, that had sent stocks sharply lower since the start of the month. By Wednesday morning, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index had sunk to levels last seen in early summer and stood just above the 10% decline threshold that is typically considered a market correction. Meanwhile, the S&P MidCap 400 Index moved into correction territory and fell below its level at the start of 2014, where it joined the small-cap Russell 2000 Index. The late rally in smaller-cap shares was particularly strong, however, helping both the mid- and small-cap benchmarks end the week with gains. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index and the large-cap benchmarks recorded losses.

Ebola fears hurt sentiment
Although its impact was difficult to quantify, the alarming news over the weekend that a nurse in Dallas had contracted the Ebola virus was clearly one factor weighing on sentiment as trading began on Monday. These fears deepened Wednesday, after reports that another nurse had been infected, and were probably one factor in driving stocks to their lows for the week. The Ebola concerns had their most direct impact on the industrials sector, where airline stocks sold off sharply in anticipation of reduced air travel.

Slowing global growth and falling inflation also weigh
Factors more directly related to the economy and markets also drove much of the selling, however. An unexpected decline in consumer spending in September helped feed Wednesday's selling, as did further signs of falling inflation in many countries. In particular, worries about the possibility of a renewed recession in Europe and slowing growth in China continued to drive a sharp decline in oil prices, which have fallen by roughly one-quarter since the summer. An unexpectedly sharp rise in U.S. oil inventories also fed fears of a global supply glut.

Oil prices likely in long-term downward trend, but energy sector opportunities still exist
T. Rowe Price energy analysts believe that we are in the midst of a long-term downward trend in energy prices, even if we see some recovery in the near term. Nevertheless, they continue to see very compelling opportunities among energy firms, including exploration and production companies that are reducing costs and accelerating growth through the development of their assets. Midstream/infrastructure companies should also benefit from the need to ship booming North American production to domestic and international markets. Pipelines, rails, and even barges should be key beneficiaries of North American energy supply growth.

Possibility of tapering pause may be catalyst for market rebound
Market sentiment turned sharply on Thursday morning, helping sustain a rally that lasted through the close of Friday's trading. The catalyst for the shift may have been an interview that St. Louis Fed President James Bullard gave to Bloomberg, in which he stated that a pause in the Fed's taper of its monthly asset purchases might be warranted at its late-October meeting. Especially because he stated that he still expected that the U.S. economy would remain healthy, some traders took the remark as a statement of implicit Fed support for equity markets, should they continue to fall.

U.S. economy likely to prove resilient
Indeed, more favorable economic data later in the week seemed to indicate that the U.S. economy was weathering the global slowdown. T. Rowe Price chief economist Alan Levenson notes that a fall in weekly jobless claims, reported Thursday, suggested continued healthy payroll growth, which should in turn support renewed gains in consumer spending. Business's capital expenditure plans should also support the economy, while the supply-driven drop in oil prices is likely to provide a meaningful boost to disposable incomes.


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