On January 26, 2018 the stock market in the U.S. hit record highs, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial which closed at 26,616.71 that day, on a one-day rise of 225.92. The market was also doing quite well as measured by the broader based S&P 500, which closed at 2,8372.87. That was up 33.62 from the day before.
Since that day, the U.S. markets as measured by either of these indexes have turned markedly bearish. The next business day was Monday, January 29, on which the Dow went to 26,439.48. After a little zig-zagging, the Dow ended last week at 25,520.96. That was a down week, though not drastically so.
Absolute versus Relative Numbers
Many observers pointed out at once that this was (in absolute terms) the largest single-day point drop in the history of the Dow. Other observers responded (appropriately) that an absolute point drop doesn’t mean much. After all, the absolute point drop on October 24, 1929, a famously horrible day, was only 33 points. But that was 9% of the total value of the index, and it was shocking enough to force JP Morgan to put together a syndicate to try to hold things together (a syndicate that markedly failed in that goal during the following week).
Measured by that standard, the percentage of a decline as against the Dow, the price decline on Monday, February 5, 2018, looks …not so Black. In percentage terms it was about 5%.
The situation is politically volatile because the administration of President Donald Trump has often over the past year used the upward movement of the stock market as an argument in favor of its policies.
Right Wing View
One right wing view is that the downward move of stock prices right now is a good thing. Perhaps what it means is that business expansion implies that businesses are increasingly pressed to compete for the loyalty of workers, that workers will be able to cut themselves better deals as a result, and that this in turn will cut into profits. If that is what is scaring off investors, then they are being scared off for reasons that themselves will prove transitory, and that in the while they last ought to make most of the population happy.
Perhaps, in other words, a moderate decline in stock prices is a part of the making of America great again that we’ve heard about.
Another right wing view: the sharp decline is a bad thing, and was arranged by conspirators (headed by George Soros, who is often at the heart of this sort of theory) who did it precisely in order to cause Trump’s base to lose confidence in him.
Left Wing View
Horror novelist Stephen King states concisely one common left of center view of the stock decline in a sarcastic tweet, “Stocks down 1,000 points just today. Another victory for Trump-onomics.”
Yet another take: Josh Barro, a senior editor at Business Insider and a MSNBC contributor, suggests that the United States has gone “back to normal.” Back to the way things were before the dotcom boom of the end of the last millennium, that is.
In the old days, Barro says, growing budget deficits crowded out private investment, thus dampening stock prices. Then “we had a weird 20 years where” the crowding out effect wasn’t an issue. Now, it is simply back.
Robots are to Blame
There is also a point of view, hard to nail down in ideological terms, that says that the sell-off was a consequence of a defective market structure, which includes too much reliance on automatic algorithmic (if you like, robotic) trading. Stephen Sweeney and Gregory Calderone, writing for Bloomberg, give credence to this view.