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After an epic 2017, the three major U.S. stock market indices are trending toward a negative year in 2018, with a return to volatility and puzzling sell-offs after strong — but not astronomical — earnings numbers in formerly stalwart U.S. stock sectors.

Expand chart
Data: Money.Net; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Between the lines: Maybe the valuations were a little too hot, or investors were spoiled by double digit returns.

  • Perhaps it's people looking at the economy and forthcoming interest rate hikes and deciding to sell off now in case things turn south.
  • Or maybe it's the fear of second-order effects from a potential cold war with China.

The other side: “This sort of price action is extremely normal,” Peter Lazaroff of Plancorp told MarketWatch. “What was strange was the outsized returns investors have earned in recent years with effectively no volatility.”

Driving the news:

  • The FAANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) have collectively lost $1 trillion in market value from their 52-week highs.
  • Four out of the 5 worst performing S&P 500 stocks today were retail companies (L Brands, Target, Ross Stores, and Kohl's), per FactSet.
  • In the last 3 months, the Volatility Index (VIX) — a fear indicator on Wall Street — has surged more than 50%, per FactSet. The gauge still remains low by historical standards, but it's producing big daily swings like the chart shown below.
Data: Factset; Chart: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The bottom line: Enjoy the holidays and get some rest. December and 2019 could be a wild ride.

Go deeper

3 hours ago - World

U.S. and NATO answer Putin in writing while bracing for Ukraine invasion

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty

The U.S. and NATO provided Russia with written proposals on Wednesday to advance a "diplomatic path forward," even as they warned that Russia could invade Ukraine within days.

Why it matters: This is a delicate diplomatic balancing act. The U.S. and NATO want to show they're serious about diplomacy but unwilling to compromise on "core principles" — all without providing Vladimir Putin with an additional pretext for escalation.

The political leanings of the Supreme Court justices

Data: Martin-Quinn scores; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Supreme Court will continue to have a solid conservative majority even with Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement.

How to read the chart: An analysis by political scientists Andrew Martin and Kevin Quinn, known as the Martin-Quinn Score, places judges on an ideological spectrum. A lower score indicates a more liberal justice, whereas a higher score indicates a more conservative justice.

The front-runners for Biden's Supreme Court pick

Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson (left) and Justice Leondra Kruger (right) Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images and Lonnie Tague, US Department of Justice

Two highly accomplished Black female judges — Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court — are seen as the early front-runners to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The big picture: Jackson is a powerful federal judge with a record that progressives feel they can trust. Kruger was a highly regarded litigator and has carved out a reputation for working well with conservative judges.