Unexpectedly Intriguing!
September 24, 2015

October is often the most volatile month for U.S. stock prices. The reason why that's the case is because fourth quarter earnings season, which begins each year in the second week of October, is the time that publicly-traded U.S. firms announce if they are doing better or worse than expected for the year.

It's called the October Effect, and from the data we have at this point of time, it looks like 2015 will be a year in which the market may be prone to crashing during the month.

We're looking at two specific industrial sectors of the stock market to make that assessment: manufacturing and oil.

For manufacturing, Mike Shedlock has put together a quick roundup of the latest Bloomberg news service reports, which we've linked here for convenience, covering the home regions of the Philadelphia, New York, Dallas, Kansas City, and Richmond branches of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The one consistent theme in each of these surveyed regions is that the manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy is considerably underperforming analyst expectations.

Meanwhile, there hasn't been much noise from the U.S. oil industry lately, as the falling prices that had troubled the industry beginning in mid-2014 had stabilized earlier in the year, but which have resumed falling sharply during the last two months.

And though we won't hear much from the industry until Schlumberger takes the lead on reporting its earnings on 15 October 2015, the following Reuters article regarding the French national oil producer Total may provide a preview of what to expect:

French oil major Total has cut its capital and operating expenses again in response to low oil prices and trimmed its ambitious output growth targets but reassured the market that its dividend was safe.

The cost cutting deepens previous steps taken by Total to withstand the oil price rout and is similar to measures taken by rival majors. So far only Italian firm Eni has cut its dividend among oil majors, most of whom see the payout to shareholders as the chief factor supporting share prices.

"We cannot control the price of oil and gas but we can control our costs and allocation of capital," Chief Executive Officer Patrick Pouyanne told investors in London on Wednesday.


Total said in a presentation to investors and media in London that it would reduce capex to $20-21 billion from 2016 and to $17-19 billion per year from 2017 onwards compared with $23-24 billion in 2015 and a peak of $28 billion in 2013.

The important information to take away here is that the troubles in the oil industry and manufacturing industry are not independent of one another. Larger than previously expected reductions of capital investments in the oil industry, driven by the need for oil industry companies to control their costs to remain profitable in the face of falling revenues resulting from falling global oil prices, is spilling out of the sector into the manufacturing industry through much fewer than expected orders for new equipment.

If, like Total, U.S. firms can cut back their costs of business without reducing their dividends, U.S. stock prices will simply follow their current slowly falling trend, as companies in more than one sector of the market have their profit margins squeezed in the current revenue environment. But, if they're not able to cut their costs by enough to avoid significant dividend cuts, particularly at the largest market cap weighted firms in the U.S. oil industry, then we can expect an outsized and negative response in U.S. stock prices.

Most announcements coming out of the troubled oil industry will be occurring during the last half of October 2015, which will be the most likely period in which negative volatility will rear its ugly head in the stock market.

That assumes that the U.S. Federal Reserve or other central banks (most notably the People's Bank of China) will not seek to shore up the future outlook for businesses by announcing new rounds of quantitative easing or adopting other economic stimulus measures as they have done in ways that also boost stock prices on previous occasions.

If so, that will be quite a reversal of the direction of the policies that they currently have in place.

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