The stock market suffered major declines on Friday, with the Dow losing almost 400 points and other major market benchmarks posting drops of around 2.5%. Investors were spooked by hawkish comments from Federal Reserve officials that suggested that the central bank would be more aggressive in moving toward raising interest rates than most had hoped. Commodity prices also moved lower, with crude oil falling almost $2 per barrel to fall below the $46 level, and gold was down about $10 per ounce. Amid all the turmoil, there was no shortage of losing stocks, but Noble Corp. (NEBLQ), U.S. Steel (X 2.12%), and Beazer Homes (BZH) stood out from the many decliners in the market Friday.
Noble follows the energy wave lower
Noble Corp. fell 10% on a bad day for energy stocks across the board. Yet Noble's greater decline was typical of offshore drilling specialists, several of which underperformed their land-based counterparts. In general, Noble and its peers have been more sensitive to the big drop in crude oil prices over the past two years, in large part because offshore projects tend to be closer to the margin in terms of being profitable.
Even though some land-based projects have become profitable in oil's bounce from $30 per barrel to $50, Noble would prefer to see a bigger rebound in order to drive longer-term decisions toward higher-cost projects. Without a larger bounce, the rates that Noble is able to command for offshore drilling units might well fall, and that could cause longer-term problems that the whole offshore industry is likely to face.
U.S. Steel hardens up
U.S. Steel dropped 8%, with the steel industry as a whole responding negatively to the potential for the Fed to increase interest rates. Even though the U.S. economy has held up fairly well, the rest of the world hasn't generated nearly enough demand for steel and similar construction materials to drive growth for steelmakers, and U.S. Steel has had to find ways to become more efficient in dealing with rock-bottom prices for its products.
Even efforts to fight against anti-competitive practices in the global steel market haven't been successful in supporting stock prices for domestic steel producers. Until global economic conditions pick up, U.S. Steel will have to struggle to maintain its position in the world steel market.
Beazer Homes fears a housing slump
Finally, Beazer Homes declined 7%. News of rate increases could be potentially catastrophic for the prospects for the housing market, and Beazer, in particular, needs continued strength in the housing market in order to help it succeed financially.
Late Thursday night, Beazer said that it had increased the size of a senior debt offering by a third, to $400 million, and the homebuilder priced the six-year debt at par, paying 8.75% on the notes. The unsecured debt will go toward refinancing outstanding notes maturing in 2018 and 2019, buying itself extra time and taking advantage of low rates as long as they last. However, if the Fed boosts interest rates, then it could start the clock for leveraged companies like Beazer to find ways to pay down debt before they have to refinance at potentially much higher rates in the future.