Thursday brought some much-needed calm to the stock market, even though some investors might not have felt like the ups and downs during the day really indicated a drop in volatility. A confluence of confusing indications from the energy, commodities, foreign exchange, and bond markets all played a role in whipsawing stocks, but the net effect was a relatively quiet day in which broad market benchmarks generally closed with very small gains. Some stocks weren't able to escape downdrafts, however, and ConocoPhillips (COP -1.64%), Primero Mining (PPP), and Credit Suisse (CS -1.98%) were among the higher-profile losers of the day.
ConocoPhillips dropped 9% in the wake of the energy giant's decision to cut its dividend payment by nearly two-thirds. The stock's dividend yield had climbed to nearly 8% as an increasing number of energy-market analysts suggested that ConocoPhillips would have to make a payout reduction in order to conserve cash and give itself the ability to make smart strategic acquisitions when they arose. Still, some investors aren't sure whether the move will be sufficient, as the new dividend will still produce a yield of nearly 3% and ConocoPhillips has multiple demands on cash flow, including debt coming due and capital expenditures on existing wells. Companies throughout the oil and gas sector will have to make similar decisions if energy prices remain as low as they are now for an extended period of time.
Primero Mining plunged 28% after the Canada-based gold-mining company received a legal claim from tax authorities in Mexico. The Servicio de Administracion Tributaria is looking to nullify an Advance Pricing Agreement that established the basis under which the Mexican government would impose taxes on the proceeds from Primero's mining properties within Mexico. For its part, Primero argues that the agreement should cover the 2010 to 2014 years without dispute and that no retroactive consequences should occur from any decision to change such an agreement. Yet even though Primero feels certain that the claim is without merit, investors seemed to conclude that in a difficult environment for mining generally, the last thing that Primero needs is the distraction of a tax headache to put new uncertainty over the miner's future.
Finally, Credit Suisse dropped 11%. The Swiss bank's stock responded negatively to the denial of a report that it was considering selling some portion of its investment banking business to Wells Fargo. The stock had risen immediately after the report, perhaps because Credit Suisse has said that the tough environment in the fixed-income trading market has hurt the investment bank's results recently. Credit Suisse's CEO has already pledged a restructuring in which it will seek to reduce its exposure to the volatile investment banking business in favor of more of a wealth-management focus. With the prospects of a rapid strategic divestiture apparently off the table, impatient investors weren't willing to give Credit Suisse more of the benefit of the doubt.