U.S. equity markets started the week on a down note as European concerns hurt confidence and a bribery charge for number one retailer Wal-Mart hit the staples. As a result, the Dow was off about 0.8% along with the S&P 500 while the tech-heavy Nasdaq experienced a 1.0% loss in comparison.
Losses were also bad in some of the big banks while basic materials and business services also had a rough day as well. Events weren’t helped by a slight strengthening of the U.S. dollar as the dollar index added 0.21 cents on the day as the euro and pound both lost against the greenback in Monday trading. Additionally, investors continued to pile into low risk Treasury bonds to wait out the storm as the 10 year saw yields fall again to start the week, this time falling to the 1.94% mark.
Thanks to the slightly stronger dollar, investors saw a mixed performance in commodity markets. Some of the softs such as orange juice and cocoa had a rough day while silver and copper also lost more than 1.7% as well. However, strength was seen in most of the grains while natural gas added nearly eight cents to climb back above the 2.0 mark (see Fundamental Bond ETFs: Better Fixed Income Picks?).
In ETF trading, most of the major products saw more trading activity than usual, led by strong volumes in funds tracking the Nasdaq, and several other country specific ETFs. Investors also continued to see light trading in many commodity products although natural gas funds saw a spike, thanks in large part to the price jump in the underlying commodity.
In particular, investors saw outsized trading volume in the iShares MSCI France ETF (EWQ - ETF report) ) which saw volume of 1.3 million shares compared to its 414,000 average. This surge was largely due to continued concerns over the health of the euro zone as well as the political risk stemming from the French election (read Three European ETFs Beyond The Euro Zone).
In the first round of the presidential election, incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy finished in second to Socialist candidate Francois Hollande who garnered about 28.6% of the vote compared to Sarkozy’s 27.2%. Thanks to this, many are now projecting Hollande to win the run-off and become the next president of France.
However, it remains unclear how the market will react to a Hollande presidency as taxes could rise on the very wealthy while he has also spoken out against the financial sector in the past. Yet, it should also be noted that the ‘far-right’ candidate received 17.9% of the vote, a level that could still swing the election among the two remaining candidates.
As a result of this uncertainty, EWQ fell by about 2.5% on the day, pushing the fund to a nearly 4.2% loss over the past three month period.
Beyond this French ETF, investors also saw a huge spike in volume in the Market Vectors Uranium & Nuclear Energy ETF (NLR - ETF report) . The semi-popular fund saw volume of 430,000 shares in Monday’s session, more than 10 times what the product usually sees in a normal day (see Three ETFs For a Nuclear Power Renaissance).
The reason for this huge spike was unclear as the fund’s top securities are generally safe utilities or heavily diversified industrial corporations. Furthermore, the ETF has a heavy international component so U.S. earnings season doesn’t appear to be that big of a deal for the fund. Nevertheless, speculation is beginning grow over South Africa’s budding nuclear industry and the potential $50 billion the country looks to award in contracts.
This huge infusion could be great news for the beleaguered nuclear power industry and add as a huge stimulus for the sector. Speculation regarding this could have sparked some of the trading while NLR’s large component in European securities—roughly 22% of the fund—probably also contributed to the fund’s outsized trading volume in today’s session.
(see more in the Zacks ETF Center)