Analysts say fear of trade wars and tariffs are a big factor behind the near 8 percent sell-off in stocks this month, yet companies so far aren't broadly seeing much of an earnings impact from President Donald Trump's trade strategies.
Along with higher interest rates, slowing global growth, and fears that tariffs and rising costs will hit earnings are among the most discussed catalysts behind the selling. The S&P 500, from Oct. 1, has lost 8.2 percent, while the Dow is down about 6.5 percent.
Sectors that could be most impacted by trade skirmishes have been hit the hardest this month. Materials are off the most, down 12 percent, followed by consumer discretionary, off 11 percent, and industrials, also off 11 percent.
Despite the hand-wringing, even Wall Street analysts have not penciled much impact from tariffs into their corporate earnings forecasts, because companies for now are being just a little too vague. That could be because the duration of the tariffs is unclear, and also unknown is whether further tariffs will be slapped on Chinese goods, as threatened by the Trump administration, or exactly how China will respond.
"So far, it's similar to last quarter," said Jill Carey Hall, Bank of America Merrill Lynch equity strategist. Companies are saying "it's too early to tell, or there's some impact from tariffs but they're able to shift supplies or they can price it through or it's having limited impact. Then there are some companies indicating there's some impact."
Yet, just the mention of tariffs and higher costs sends a chill through the stock market. Caterpillar spooked the market even though it beat on earnings and revenues. Its comments included that tariffs are contributing to higher costs.
Hall notes that companies that have been beating on earnings are being unduly punished after their reports, something seen at the peak of market cycles.
"Even beyond tariffs, the stock reactions have been atypical," said Hall. On average, companies that beat have underperformed the market by 0.3 percent, while they usually outperform, according to Bank of America.
"This is something we haven't seen since 2000. We saw it right around the peak of the tech bubble. It's a bear market signpost," Hall said.