U.S. stocks drop most in 2017

Bloomberg News

U.S. stocks fell Tuesday the most since Donald Trump’s election. Looming above the worst bank rout since June were Trump and concern that his pro-growth agenda may not be the slam-dunk investors had bet on.

The S&P 500 Index sank more than 1 percent for the first time since Oct. 11, with the sell-off deepening in the final 30 minutes of trading after Reuters reported North Korea would pursue accelerating its nuclear program. Banks led the rout throughout the day, tumbling the most since June as Treasury yields tumbled and Morgan Stanley warned its fixed-income trading won’t pick up.

Industrial and material shares slumped as House Republicans warned failure to pass a health-care bill on Thursday could imperil tax and spending reforms. Oil resumed a slide as U.S. crude stockpiles are forecast to increase. Gold topped $1,240 an ounce on haven demand.

Trump met with House Republicans Tuesday morning to rally support for the repeal of Obamacare as investors look for signs that his plans to cut corporate taxes and boost spending will move forward. Fed Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari repeated Tuesday his opposition to the Fed’s latest rate hike and argued the central bank shouldn’t rush to tighten with signs of inflation remaining subdued.

“With the health-care morass, the Trump effect is taking a little bit of a backseat in peoples’ minds,” said Steve Sosnick, an equity risk manager at Timber Hill LLC, the market-making unit of Greenwich, Connecticut-based Interactive Brokers Group Inc. “It feels like the market needs another catalyst. The catalysts had been coming largely from the Fed and the Trump effect. Something is spooking people.”

Michael Block, chief strategist at Rhino Trading Partners LLC in New York., said, “People are realizing that Dodd Frank and Volcker aren’t just vanishing into thin air. Even if they do, secular change means commissions, fees and trading profits are not a given. The group is overcrowded and warranted a pullback.”

The clearest signal from markets in the aftermath of the election was that Trump and a Republican Congress would roll back regulations such as the Dodd-Frank Act that prohibit proprietary trading and require elevated levels of capital, unshackling banks that would then benefit from faster economic growth and an attendant rising rate environment.

Trump’s ability to enact the promised agenda is headed for a major test, as the repeal of Obamacare comes up for vote in the House on Thursday — and the outcome is in doubt. Adding to uncertainty was Trump’s own ability to influence policy, a day after FBI Director James Comey said there was no evidence to support his claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him.

“We are growing increasingly concerned that the Trump administration and Republican Congress may not be properly unified or focused,” BMO Capital Market’s Charles Sebaski wrote Tuesday in a note to investors. “Even if health-care reform happens, the longer this issue takes to play out, the less likely we believe it is that tax reform makes it on the 2017 agenda.”

Bank bulls aren’t getting much help from the Federal Reserve either. While the central bank lifted its benchmark rate by a quarter of a percent last week, officials maintained expectations for two more increases this year — a disappointment to hawks who thought the March tightening would mean an acceleration of future hikes.

Since the Fed’s decision last Wednesday, the spread between two- and 10-year Treasuries has narrowed, as has the spread between five- and 30-year bonds.

“The rally in bonds after the Fed meeting hit financials,” Mark Kepner, a managing director and equity trader at Themis Trading LLC in Chatham, New Jersey, said by phone. “Investors are also seeing it’s not easy to pass legislation. If it’s a dogfight to pass health care it may be just as hard to pass taxes, infrastructure and everything else — and maybe we’ve come too far too fast.”