Negative forces were at work on Thursday, keeping the Dow Jones Industrial Average below the magic 20,000 mark once again.
Prior to the market open was the ADP jobs report for December, which, in anticipation of Friday's non-farm payroll report, reported that the US added 153,000 jobs in the month, below consensus analyst estimates of roughly 170,000 jobs.
That, in addition to the ongoing turmoil in Chinese yuan was enough to start US markets off on a very tepid tone.
By late morning, the Dow had sunk to what would be the lows of the day, off by 113 points to 19,811, but the plunge was not significant and very short-lived.
Also weighing on stocks was the retail sector as Macy's and Kohl's both reported sluggish holiday sales after the bell on Wednesday. Macy's plans to close 68 stores nationwide and displace over 10,000 workers. Sears chimed in as well, announcing store closures and selling its iconic Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker for $900 million.
Still flirting with the 20,000 level, the Dow stabilized close to the 19,900 level as continued optimism at the prospects of a Trump-inspired stimulus kept spirits somewhat still ebullient, though subdued.
Since mid-December, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been hanging onto gains and closing just below historic highs, though signs are evident that the rally may not have much stream remaining. Those clinging to gains from the post-election surge may be gradually trimming their positions, as stocks seem to have stalled after Christmas.
What everyone believes but is loath to admit is that stocks are not fairly valued. They are expensive and a significant decline of five to ten percent might be just what's needed to resume the climb to new records. In other words, a short-lived sell-off might present a buying opportunity. On the other hand, market participants are fearful that any decline in equity values could unleash an uneasy and still-hibernating bear.
Tomorrow's non-farm payroll report for December should be enough of a catalyst in one way or another. The wait continues...
At the close 1.5.16:
Dow: 19,899.29, -42.87 (-0.21%)
NASDAQ: 5,487.94, +10.93 (0.20%)
S&P 500: 2,269.00, -1.75 (-0.08%)
NYSE Composite: 11,244.07, -2.47 (-0.02%)