After a gut-wrenching drop and impressive rise, the major indexes are about flat on the year — the Dow Jones industrial average is up about 3 percent, the S&P 500 is up 2 percent and the Russell 2000 is down 1 percent.
One set of stocks that is turning out impressive outperformance? The users of trains and boats and planes and trucks, as tracked together by the Dow Jones transportation average. That index is up 6 percent in 2016.
The group appears to be the beneficiary of a rare gift in financial markets: low expectations, due to struggles in the energy patch and the industrial economy more generally.
For instance, when CSX reported earnings on Tuesday, the railroad company announced that its profits had fallen 20 percent versus the year prior, and revenue was down 14 percent — matching and missing analysts' expectations, respectively. The fall corresponds to the troubles in America's coal business.
Yet the stock still managed to rise powerfully on Wednesday, likely because the company was able to show cost savings.
"We know 2016 will be a challenging year," but "we will leverage technology to further improve safety, service and efficiency, as we continue to evolve our business for the realities of tomorrow's economy," CEO Michael Ward said on the company's earnings call, in what must count for bullishness in the current environment.