Dan Laboe here, Editor of the Headline Trader portfolio. I am covering for the acclaimed Jim who will be back in action tomorrow.
The market is growing increasingly cautious as we enter post-earnings season action. This precarious market posture was apparent in today’s dicey trade. Stocks were buoyant for most of the day (trading right around even) until the last hour of the session, where indecisiveness turned into panic, causing all the major averages to spill into the close. We are entering a seasonally weak period for the public equity market (September & October have been the worst months for stocks in the past decade), where down days are expected. Market participants are increasingly taking on the mindset that this may be as good as it gets, which could cause further short-term volatility.
This is the second consecutive down day for all the major averages, with the S&P 500 and Dow Jones slipping 1.07% & 1.08%, respectively. The growth-driven Nasdaq 100 was punished marginally less because of its larger decline yesterday but still experienced a 0.97% decline. The VIX broke above its 200-day moving average for just the 3rd time since early March, and its 50-day turned into a support today. This may be an indication that volatility will remain with us for a time.
Consumer discretionary, the biggest laggard yesterday following weak retail sales data, was the only market sector to close in the green today. This morning, robust earnings from Lowe’s (LOW) and TJX (TJX) drove fresh hope back into the retail space.
July’s Fed Minutes were published this afternoon, and the markets had an immediate knee-jerk reaction to the Fed’s focus on the potential impact of the Delta-variant, causing the US 10 Year yield to plummet and equity indexes to jump in the 5 minutes that followed its release. This move quickly reversed with an exaggerated move in the opposite direction, which inevitably led to the end of session sell-off.
Today’s released Fed Minutes were stale. The Fed in last month’s FOMC meeting is not the same Fed that we have today. Since the exceptional July jobs report earlier this month, members of the Fed have changed their stance on the tapering timeline. In the last couple of weeks, several Central Bankers have come out and said that it would be prudent to start paring its $120 billion in asset purchases sooner rather than later. The markets are now pricing in a September announcement (FOMC meeting September 21-22) to start tapering in October and complete its asset purchasing program in mid-2022.
This morning, St. Louis Fed president James Bullard discussed the risks of delaying monetary tightening, stating that if the Fed’s inflation projections are wrong, they may be forced to implement abrupt and potentially “very disruptive” policy changes. He declared that “every indication is that labor markets are about as tight as they ever get.” Bullard wants the Fed to be done tapering by the first quarter of next year so that the Central Bank would have the flexibility to begin liftoff (first Fed Funds rate hike) as soon as possible. Every day it seems that the Fed gets more hawkish, but if the Delta-variant does begin to impact the economy, this narrative will quickly reverse.
Is This As Good As It Gets?
Market participants are taking on a ‘this is as good as it gets’ mentality with peak earnings growth, ultra-low interest rates, peak consumer demand, and accommodative monetary/fiscal policies, all now ostensibly in the rearview mirror.
Investors still have their mouths open as we round out a jaw-dropping Q2 earnings season. This was one of the best earnings seasons in history, with 88% of companies beating EPS estimates by an average of 17.5% while exhibiting record profit margins averaging 13.6%. Earnings and revenues are up an unprecedented 103% & 28% year-over-year, respectively. Despite the exceptionally weak Q2 2020 EPS comps, earnings are still up over 30% from pre-pandemic levels. Now investors are looking at decelerating earnings growth in the coming quarters, forcing market participants to reevaluate the market’s rich valuation multiples.
Since the pandemic lockdowns began, the Fed-induced ultra-low interest rate environment has provided a nice tailwind for high-growth stocks. Record low cost of capital (driven by low yields) provided nascent innovation-powered companies with an almost endless upside in the equity market. Analysts were able to catapult the value of growth businesses’ projected future earnings, justifying some of the crazy valuation multiples we saw earlier this year. Most of the over euphoric valuations on unprofitable growth stocks have been compressed by the rising yields in anticipation of liftoff.
Consumer spending took off in the first 4 months of 2021 as the economic reopening drove an unparalleled tidal wave of pent-up demand on Main Street. The pandemic lockdowns and resulting record levels of savings/wealth in the US ($19 trillion increase in wealth, 26% increase in net wealth) propelled our society’s propensity to spend as storefronts reopened across the country. This effect has decelerated since April, causing investors to question if peak consumer spending is in the past. With back-to-school shopping and the holiday season around the corner, I find this notion unlikely.
The unprecedented level of accommodation provided by record monetary (Federal Reserve) and fiscal (Federal Government) spending amid the pandemic is the only reason that our economy has been able to not only recover at such a speed but come out the other side better than ever. The PPP loans, COVID checks, and unemployment benefits provided by the Federal government provided the economy with enough liquidity to do a little better than survive last year and now thrive during the recovery.
The Fed’s swift action of dropping Fed Fund rates to 0-0.25% and its subsequent $120 billion monthly asset purchases (aka quantitative easing) allowed the equity market to take off after the initial pandemic sell-off. The accommodative monetary and fiscal policies are beginning to phase out. Still, I expect the aforementioned positive impacts will continue to echo in our economy for quarters to come.
The best is yet to come. We are reentering the Roaring 20s with ambition. Technological advancements are accelerating faster than ever, pushing our economy to do the same. I expect to see growing annual stock market returns as prolifically advancing tech thrusts valuations to continuously new highs.
A Technical Omen That Could Spell Trouble For Investors
A Hindenburg Omen, a technical indicator that signals an elevated probability of a market crash, has been reached by this precarious market. This indicator looks for an elevated number of new 52-week highs and lows that surpasses 2.2% of all securities traded that day (the number of highs cannot be more than double the number of lows), along with an upward trending 50-day moving average, and negatively shifting market sentiment (indicated by the McClellan Oscillator or MCO).
This indicator generally implies that market participants are tentative and uncertain. The Hindenburg Omen almost always precedes a stock market downturn but is only about 25% accurate when it is seen.
Investors have been positioning themselves defensively as post-earnings price action commenced. These defensive investors are buying stocks in low beta sectors like health care, utilities, consumer staples, and real estate, which have led over the past week of trading. All of the previously mentioned sectors have lagged the broader market over the past 52-weeks, so it’s only natural for weakness chasing money managers to rotate into these segments even if an index level correction (10%+ decline from recent highs) isn’t coming.
I’m not running for the hills quite yet, with trillions of bullish capital still waiting to be deployed on even the most immaterial dips. I am also not adding many new positions to my portfolio. I don’t think we will experience a full correction, but I do believe that some consolidation may be in order over the next few months.
Cathie Wood vs. The Big Short’s Michael Burry
Expected interest rate growth and overzealous valuation multiples on ultra-high-growth stocks have some investors betting against Cathie Wood’s Ark Innovation ETF (ARKK). ‘Big Short’ investor, Michael Burry, who is famous for predicting and profiting from the 2008 financial crisis, revealed a $31 million put position against ARKK, along with a $731 million bet against Tesla (TSLA), which happens to be Cathie’s largest holding, in his latest 13-F filing (institutional investment managers’ SEC required quarterly report).
The actively traded ARKK fund has become the benchmark for high-growth ‘market-disruptors,’ and Cathie Wood has become an investing icon. Her innovation-driven ETF saw an impressive bull run during the pandemic, exhibiting a 384% 11-month rally from its March 2020 lows to its peak in mid-February, but has recently fallen out of market favor. Soaring yields forced investors to reevaluate the extreme growth multiples in Cathie’s 4th Industrial Revolution focused holdings.
Cathie Wood fired back at the press surrounding Burry’s notable position against her ETF with a tweet saying, “I do not believe that he (Michael Burry) understands the fundamentals that are creating explosive growth and investment opportunities in the innovation space.” Burry doesn’t have a vendetta against Cathie Wood but sees a short-term trading opportunity. He is making a relatively small bet in his over $2 billion Scion Asset Management portfolio (ARKK put up just 1.5% of total assets under management). Burry believes that the current fundamentals of ARKK’s high growth holdings are out of whack in this rising interest rate environment, and he is not alone with this thinking.
A record 13.5% of outstanding ARKK shares are currently held short (24.87 million shares), and a Short ARKK ETF, which will trade under the ticker SARK, is awaiting SEC approval. ARKK is looking at a days-to-cover short ratio (number of shares held short divided by daily volume) of 4.6, which isn’t exactly a concerning level yet, but it is growing.
I personally love how Cathie Wood views this rapidly advancing market and focuses on long-term profitability instead of short-term volatility. I perceive Cathie’s pandemic success as a reflection of her savvy ability to recognize market-disrupting innovators, and it finally paid off after more than 5 years of flying under the radar (relatively speaking). That being said, I still utilize her ETF for put option opportunities when they reveal themselves because of the speed at which ARKK moves.
Cathie Wood remains one of if not the most influential players in the market today. “The Cathie Wood Effect” has replaced “The Warren Buffett Effect” in this rapidly progressing and digitalizing economic/market environment. ARKK is undoubtedly a long-term hold for the commencing 4th Industrial Revolution, which is already changing the world in which we live.
Today’s Portfolio Highlights
Options Trader: Following some of this week’s precarious price action, Kevin is pulling profits on the September call option in Nasdaq, Inc (NDAQ), after almost two months of holding. The NDAQ September 180 call contracts crossed the 30 days till expiration threshold, and Kevin doesn’t want to lose that time premium baked into these options. This exchange has been an excellent trade for the Options Trader portfolio this year, with NDAQ providing three separate profit-driving trades since April. According to Kevin: “First one was a $892 gain on 4/16. Second one was a $906 gain on 6/24. Looks like we’ll get approx. $435 on this one.” NDAQ has been on an absolute tear so far this year, rallying over 40% year-to-date (more than doubling the S&P 500s performance). Kevin stated that he would likely jump back into this trade as he still sees further upside potential.
Stocks Under $10: The health care sector has led the broader market over the past month of trading, with Moderna (MRNA) and Pfizer (PFE) leading the pack. Brian is taking advantage of this sector’s momentum with the addition of Immunovant (IMVT) on this down day for the market. IMVT and its development of monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of autoimmune diseases are developing an early treatment for those with COVID. Brian expects this stock to get a Delta-variant catalyzed boost, and most analysts seem to agree with him with every price target showing a sizable increase from current price levels.
Surprise Trader: Car manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand as chip shortages continue to plague the space, causing used/old cars to stay on the road longer. Dave is taking advantage of this notion with a read-through trade, adding Advanced Auto Parts (AAP) to the Surprise Trader portfolio. More old cars on the road means more tune-ups and breakdowns that will require vehicle parts. The company is reporting before open next Tuesday, and Dave believes that it has some strong upside potential that the markets are yet to price in.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.