“The fact the tech stocks selling was less intense helped,” said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS. “That’s what’s calling the tune [for Friday].”
He said the tech sell-off, which started up again Wednesday after taking a pause, was discouraging to traders. “They thought it was going to be a very short occurrence.”
A high-profile casualty of the tech sell-off was Snap, trading down nearly five percent and closing just on its $17 per share IPO price. Traders will be watching to see if it breaks that level Friday. FANG tech stocks remained under pressure Wednesday but also recovered from steeper losses. Amazon.com ended down 1.3 percent and Facebook, off 0.3 percent.
Oil could also be a factor in Friday’s trading, especially if it heads toward $40 per barrel, a level considered too low for most U.S. shale drillers to make money. On Thursday, crude futures slid to a fresh 7-month low, with West Texas Intermediate futures settling at $44.46, off 27 cents, and just below the key psychological $45 per barrel level.
“I just think people are discouraged in energy. There’s no way of seeing how it trades higher,” said Steve Massocca, managing director with Wedbush Securities. “We’re getting to where the guys in the Permian Basin aren’t going to make money at this price.”
He said oil may be at a low now, but the catalyst for a move higher is unclear.
The S&P energy sector was down 0.7 percent Thursday. “A lot of stocks that I’m involved with seem to be very correlated to oil, and they have nothing to do with oil,” Massocca said, noting some shipping and logistics stocks were moving lower. “Anything that even sniffs of oil is getting hit pretty good today.” He pointed to Western Refining Logistics and PBF Logistics.
Friday’s “triple witching,” or concurrent expiration of options and futures on stock indexes, doesn’t currently look to be projecting a negative or positive move.
“Quarterly expirations, that’ll keep things in order. … I don’t see them tilting one way or the other,” Cashin said. “The real wild card is Washington and what comes out of there.”
The expiration triggers trades in index futures, options and the underlying stocks, and occurs on the third Friday of March, June, September and December.
Massocca said the expiration is a short-term event and could bring on some volatility. “It could have an impact at the end of the day,” he said. “By Tuesday, it will be a forgotten memory. It doesn’t move the needle in terms of investors, but for a trader it could be an issue.”
Friday’s data includes housing starts and building permits, at 8:30 a.m. ET. There is also the business leaders survey at 8:30 a.m., and consumer sentiment at 10 a.m.
Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan speaks at the Park Cities Rotary Club in Dallas at 12:45 p.m., and Kansas City Fed President Esther George speaks during the luncheon and closing economic outlook of the Kansas City Fed’s Agricultural Symposium.
Massocca said the market is somewhat nervous about the Fed. On Wednesday, the Fed raised interest rates and indicated it intends to hike again this year, despite soft inflation. Other data, such as May retail sales, have also missed expectations.
“There’s a lot of people talking about how we’re not in good enough shape to have rates going up,” said Massocca. He said the low yields in the bond market could be a warning. “What is the bond market seeing that the Fed’s not? The Fed’s talking about continuing to raise rates and reduce the balance sheet. You look at the fixed income market, and it doesn’t seem to be telling the same story, and it’s gotten people spooked.”
Treasury yields were slightly higher Thursday, with the 10-year at 2.16 percent in late trading.
The Nasdaq Thursday closed down a half percent at 6,165. The Dow, coming off Wednesday’s all-time high, lost 23 to 21,351, and the S&P 500 was down 5 at 2,432. The XLK, the Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund ETF was down 0.5 percent, after trading off as much as 1.6 percent at the lows.