With a nervous eye on the worsening geopolitical conflict between Russia and Ukraine, stocks sold off heavily today. All 10 market sectors lost ground; Wall Street fears that the U.S. response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula could negatively affect global commerce, and that's not inconceivable. Not only could economic sanctions hurt the flow of goods and services between the U.S. and Russia, but if it reached the point of U.S. military intervention, the economic risks couldn't immediately be foreseen. Recognizing the existence of unknowable risks, investors headed for the exits, and the S&P 500 Index (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) lost 13 points, or 0.7%, to end at 1,845.
While losers outnumbered gainers by a 2-to-1 margin in the stock market today, some stocks felt the pain more harshly than others. Avon Products (NYSE: AVP ) and the two stocks below are such examples. Shares of the beauty products company lost 2.8% Monday, perhaps because investors realize the significant challenges Avon still faces. The entire business model depends on the size and capability of Avon's sales representatives, and last year their fleet size fell by 15%. With North American sales halved since 2007, sales still falling in the most recent quarter, and a net loss in the fourth quarter, things don't look great right now. Thankfully, Avon is popular with the Hispanic community, which should be a boon to its revenue as U.S. demographics change over time.
International Game Technology (NYSE: IGT ) , which largely lives and dies with the success of the casino industry, saw shares slump 2.5% today. Not only is International Game Technology in the traditional business of offering products like video poker and slot machines, but it's at the forefront of social, mobile, and online gaming, all of which are enormous avenues for growth in the industry going forward. Unfortunately for IGT, its $500 million investment in social gaming company Double Down in 2012 is starting to look like a dud, with Double Down's founders leaving IGT earlier this year, just as the company announced an earnings hit from the two-year-old acquisition.
Lastly, shares of Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF ) shed 2.4% today. Iron ore and coal producers like Cliffs Natural often, by their very focus, derive a substantial portion of their revenue from steel producers, who use the aforementioned materials to forge steel. Unfortunately, if these materials companies aren't sufficiently diversified, they can essentially morph into proxy investments in the steel industry, and Cliffs investors got a painful reminder of that last week. Shares slumped nearly 5% last Tuesday when reports surfaced that Asian lenders were starting to loan less money to real estate projects in an effort to discourage over-speculation, sending steel prices lower and hitting Cliffs shareholders in the process.
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