So what gives? Below are a few of the issues that have stock prices dropping.
The latest slide in stock prices started on Jan. 23, when a report showed that China’s manufacturing sector was contracting. In addition, China's official gauge of its manufacturing industry, released Jan. 31, also fell to a five-month low. A slowdown in that massive, export-driven economy could create global ripples -- a fact that made investors jittery.
Yes, the job market has improved massively over the last few years, but the stock market isn’t always spectacular at taking the long view. According to one equity analyst, recent tepid jobs numbers are making investors nervous.
“Current concerns over the pace of U.S. growth can be traced back to the weak December employment report, and a stronger showing this Friday would help those worries recede,” writes David Joy, chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial, in an investor note.
The last employment report counted only 74,000 new jobs in December. Other recent data, like a disappointing manufacturing survey out Monday, also signal a slowdown. If January’s jobs report, which is due on Friday, is likewise disappointing, it could be taken as a signal of economic weakness, causing more fears among investors.
Yes, everyone knew it was coming, but the Federal Reserve’s pullback in its monthly asset purchases -- a policy known as QE3, or the Fed's third round of quantitative easing -- is still having an effect on the stock market, says Wells Fargo Advisors Chief Macro Strategist Gary Thayer. Under QE3, the Fed had been buying $85 billion in securities each month, a total the central bank pulled back to $75 billion in its December meeting and $65 billion in its January meeting. That stimulus program had contributed to the recent bull market.
Though tapering might be dragging on stocks, Thayer emphasizes that the effect is both limited and likely to diminish further.
“I think it's a sort of a modest effect,” he says. “I do think that if the Fed continues to taper, that doesn't mean the market has to continue to go down.”
Other Emerging Markets
At the start of 2014, organizations like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank had sunny predictions for global growth this year. But at the same time, Thayer says, emerging markets worldwide started showing some troubling signs. Now, inflation is a problem in emerging markets like Argentina, Turkey, South Africa and India. In some markets , central banks are pushing their interest rates way up in an attempt to cool off inflating currencies (volatility that is, incidentally, in part due the Fed’s tapering).
“As those emerging market problems became more evident, a lot of investors started to re-evaluate the risk assumptions they had been holding,” Thayer says, adding that the economic landscape suddenly looked “more risky than some of those rosy forecasts would suggest.”
... which is to say that a stock market correction - has been overdue for a while, and for the record, it hasn't even happened yet. The market has lost only about 6 percent since the most recent slide began in January, meaning it’s not quite in correction territory. A correction is when stocks lose more than 10 percent of their value.And should that happen, it won’t necessarily be a bad thing. While corrections often are catalyzed by bad economic news
– weakness in China or other emerging markets, for example -- they are not necessarily signs of problems. Rather, one analyst says, they’re normal, if sizable, fluctuations that happen when the stock market has had a long period of strong growth. Currently, it has been about two and a half years since the last stock market correction.“The market was due for a pullback, and we're pretty confident it is not a signal of impending economic problems – at least domestically it's not,” says Hank Smith, chief investment officer at The Haverford Trust Company.