After starting Thursday more than 100 points in the red, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) spent much of the day climbing back toward breakeven. Unfortunately, it ended with a loss of 0.2%, despite an early afternoon bounce from lows as markets began to move past fears that the Federal Reserve would begin its inevitable rate hikes earlier than anticipated.
St. Louis Fed President James Bullard warned investors on Maria Bartiromo's morning Fox Business program that the Fed might raise rates as soon as the first quarter of 2014, and he also expects inflation to move at a 2%-plus pace through 2015. Because investors have long lived in fear of a rate hike drawing interest away from stocks -- which are the best option for returns until bonds resume yielding more than many dividend payouts -- this warning was more ominous than far-worse news yesterday of a record non-recessionary plunge in GDP.
While nearly every Dow stock was down in early trading, five components have since clawed back to gains of at least 0.1%, and another three are effectively trading at breakeven on the day. The day's clear Dow leader was Boeing (NYSE:BA), which rose 0.7% on news out of Kazakhstan that it would soon roll out a new commercial jet to replace its long-discontinued 757 model.
Kazakhstan's Air Asana expressed interest in buying a medium-sized medium-range jetliner that could carry about 180 passengers, a configuration that would fill the gap between the smaller 737, which commonly carries about 120 passengers but has been modified to carry up to 215, and the new 787, which can seat between 210 and 335 passengers depending on configuration. Boeing ceased production of the 757 in 2004, and its role has largely been supplanted by Boeing's 737-900ER, which has been in production since 2006. On balance, this news seems rather meaningless -- Air Asana and other airlines already have options to replace their aging 757s. However, interest in new orders is always a net positive for Boeing.
While no Dow component moved in excess of 1% in either direction, there was still plenty of volatility to be found among the S&P 500's (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) more varied components.
Leading the way were shares of Iron Mountain (NYSE:IRM), which popped 20% after the company gained IRS approval to convert itself to a real estate investment trust. Iron Mountain's stock had already offered a yield in excess of 3.6% before its REIT conversion was approved, but the company's free cash flow payout ratio had also already been hovering well above 100% for more than a year. This indicates that there may not be a whole lot of additional yield to be found in this conversion. No other S&P stock moved by double digits in either direction.
On the other end of the scale, Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) shareholders took another hit in what's been a rather miserable year, finishing with a 7.2% loss after dropping as far as 10% on its second-consecutive disappointing earnings report. The home-goods purveyor has become one of the year's worst stocks, as growth has apparently ceased; but while its shares are trading 30% lower in 2014, its forward P/E ratio is also at its lowest level in an entire decade: