Monday's big rally failed to inspire much confidence as the major averages fell sharply on Tuesday, giving back most of the gains from the prior session.
If it seems that stocks have hit a wall or are in stall mode for the present, it's because they are. The last all-time high close on the Dow Jones Industrial Average was March 6, when the bellwether ended the day at 20,954.34.
The other averages have been in similar holding patterns, though the markets overall - despite their closeness to record levels - do not appear very fragile. It's just that there isn't very much velocity or volatility, and even with first quarter earnings thus far somewhat positive, they haven't supplied a catalyst to move stocks out of a Spring funk.
Without a clear case for an upside move, speculators may be looking more to politics for a positive tone, but the rancor in Washington has been at near-deafening levels since the inauguration of Donald Trump in January and the Democrats seem to be dug in to obstruct any and all of the President's agendas.
China and Russia moving troops to the borders of North Korea, along with US warships steaming towards its coast, probably has dampened investor appetite as well.
But that's all for the time being. Economic data is pointing to more of the same, a slow, dolorous economy that isn't making anybody happy, least of which are the governors of the Fed, who wish to see more robust job creation and some pricing power by corporations, but, exclusively in the latter case, are seeing the opposite. Consumers are no longer the suckers they once were, and are beginning to demand value for their dollars. Retailers and restaurants - the front lines for consumer inflation - have been feeling the pinch, with many regional and national chains already engaged in a pitched price war.
That kind of activity can only go one way, and it's not the way of inflation. Bond sellers are a happy bunch for this, with prices for their offerings high and yields down.
Trump may want to make America great again, but it may have to start with better deals for consumers.
At the Close, Tuesday, April 18, 2017:
Dow: 20,523.28, -113.64, (-0.55%)
NASDAQ: 5,849.47, -7.32 (-0.12%)
S&P 500: 2,342.19, -6.82 (-0.29%)
NYSE Composite: 11,378.58, -48.50 (-0.42%)