Markets plunge to 2018 lows with Dow posting record worst Christmas Eve session

TORONTO — North American markets plunged to their lowest levels of the year as political uncertainties sent the Dow Jones industrial average to its worst ever Christmas Eve trading session and the price of crude oil dropped to its lowest level since the summer of 2016.

The market moved on ongoing concerns about a trade skirmish between China and the U.S. and political negativity coming from the United States, says Allan Small, senior investment adviser with HollisWealth.

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That includes a partial U.S. government shutdown, tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump, rumours that he has asked about firing the Federal Reserve chairman and weekend calls by the Treasury secretary to the heads of the largest U.S. banks.

Just when markets open higher and appear to be ready to stage a rally, someone in the administration says something that hurts market sentiment, Small said in an interview.

"It just seems like there's nothing positive happening," he said, pointing to Trump's tweets as predominately negative.

"I think a lot of his tweets unfortunately right now are causing more anxious moments than positive moments."

The S&P/TSX composite index closed down 155.25 points at 13,780.19 after hitting a low of 13,776.88 for the year in very light trading. The Toronto Stock Exchange closed at 1 p.m. and reopens Thursday after a two-day holiday.

The market fell less than U.S. exchanges as the influential materials sector rose 1.72 per cent as gold stocks like Goldcorp Inc., and Barrick Gold Corp. benefited from higher gold prices.

The February gold contract was up $13.70 at US$1,271.80 an ounce and the March copper contract was down 1.3 cents at US$2.66 a pound.

The Canadian dollar traded at an average of 73.59 cents US, the lowest level since May 2017, compared with average of 73.71 cents US on Friday.

The energy sector lost 3.2 per cent as share prices of large producers like Enbridge Inc. and TransCanada Corp. fell as crude prices slipped to a 17-month low.

The February crude contract was down US$3.06 at US$42.53 per barrel and the February natural gas contract was down 33 cents at $3.42 per mmBTU.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 653.17 points or 2.9 per cent to 21,792.20 for the seventh worst daily drop in 2018. The S&P 500 index was down 65.52 points at 2,351.10, while the Nasdaq composite was down 140.07 points at 6,192.92.

Small said markets are effectively acting like they're in a bear market situation even though there's no signs of a recession.

Some of the largest U.S. and Canadian banks are trading at big discounts from their highs of just a few months ago even though from an economic standpoint we're "nowhere near Armageddon," he said.

The Bank of Montreal is down 21 per cent from its 52-week high, the Royal Bank 17 per cent, J.P. Morgan 23 cent and Citigroup Inc. 39 per cent.

"We're not talking about marijuana stocks here, we're talking about your largest banks and financial institutions in North America," Small said.

"I think that a year or two from now anyone who actually has the guts, the stomach to buy some of these really good quality names that are down by 20 to 30 per cent, I think there's going to be better for it."

Companies, index and currency in this story: (TSX:ENB, TSX:TRP, TSX:RY, TSX:BMO, TSX:ABX, TSX:G, TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD)

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