Signs of Slowing China Rattle U.S. Stocks; Cryptos on the Verge of New Lows

U.S. stocks sold off anew Friday after Chinese retail sales data pointed to a severe slowdown in the nation’s consumption-oriented growth, triggering fresh concern over the health of the global economy. Meanwhile, the cryptocurrency market approached $100 billion for the first time since August 2017, a level that would have seemed unfathomable just six months ago.

Learn more about the factors that influenced the market in our weekly review.

Hard Fall on Wall Street

The benchmark U.S. indexes fell hard in the final session of the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 496.87 points, or 2%, to close a 24,100.51. The Dow 30 is down a staggering 2,700 points from its October peak.

The much broader S&P 500 Index fell 1.9% to 2,599.95, the lowest in over eight months. All 11 primary sectors finished in the red, with health care and energy stocks leading the market lower. Health stocks plunged by an average 3.4%. Shares of energy companies were down 2.4%. Information technology and consumer staples also posted heavy losses.

A hard slide for information technology dragged the Nasdaq Composite Index sharply lower. In doing so, the tech-heavy index nearly joined its counterparts in negative territory for the year. The Nasdaq closed at 6,910.67, having lost 2.3%.

The CBOE Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, rose in the final session of the week, painting a grim picture for Wall Street over the next 30 days. VIX climbed 4.8% to close at 21.63 on a scale of 1-100 where 20 represents the historic mean. The so-called “fear index” has gained a whopping 87% this year.

Investors are exiting U.S. stocks in nearly record fashion, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. In a note obtained by Bloomberg, the bank said U.S. equity funds have experienced their second-biggest run in history, bleeding $27.6 billion through Dec. 12. As Bloomberg notes, the bloodbath on Wall Street has erased up to $4 trillion in U.S. stocks since the end of September, a period that was characterized by record highs.

China’s Cause for Alarm

Once again, China was at the center of the selloff on Friday after Beijing reported the biggest slowdown in retail sales in over 15 years. Receipts at Chinese retail stores rose just 8.1% annually in November, which was well below forecasts calling for 8.8%. Industrial production also languished, rising just 5.4% annually during the same month.

The world’s second-largest economy is in the midst of a multi-year cooldown marked by slowing industrial output and a gradual shift away from export-oriented industries. This is part of a much broader strategy to transform China into a consumer-oriented economy. However, heavy reliance on traditional smokestack industries remains a focal point to the nation’s short-term economic well-being.

China remains heavily dependent on exports, which means it relies on a strong U.S. economy as a destination market. This has given the Trump administration considerable leeway in pressuring Beijing to reform its trade policies. China and the U.S. have made considerable progress on trade talks in recent weeks but a comprehensive deal has yet to be reached.

Cryptos Locked in Bearish Retreat

Cryptocurrency prices on Friday touched new lows for the year, offering little doubt that a new bear-market bottom was around the corner. The combined value of all coins in circulation fell to $102 billion, the lowest in 16 months.

Bitcoin’s price briefly fell below $3,200 for the first time this year, extending its daily loss to more than 4%. The leading digital currency is down roughly 5% for the week, though its share of the overall market continues to grow amid a mass exodus from altcoins.

XRP, Ethereum and EOS each recorded declines of at least 3% on Friday; Stellar XLM was down 9%, falling below 10 cents for the first time this year.

With the exception of Tether, a dollar-backed stablecoin valued at $1.00, all cryptocurrencies in the top-20 were down at least 4% during the session. Twentieth ranked Maker (MKR) was the biggest laggard, falling 13% on the day.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Chief Editor to and Contributor to, Sam Bourgi has spent the past nine years focused on economics, markets and cryptocurrencies. His work has been featured in and cited by some of the world's leading newscasts, including Barron's, CBOE and Forbes. Avid crypto watchers and those with a libertarian persuasion can follow him on twitter at @hsbourgi