Market Overview

Keeping Perspective: Despite Heavy Losses, Markets Remain Near Highs At Mid-Year


It’s the last day of the quarter and the first half, and the stock market is coming off a steep decline Thursday. Still, it’s important to keep things in perspective, because the tech-heavy Nasdaq is still up 5% for the quarter and the broader market remains near all-time highs.

Yesterday was a terrible day for stocks, but some of the selling pressure probably represents a natural cycle. The market has been up, up, up, and now some people are taking profit. Since late May, info tech shares have had several days like Thursday with sharp losses. Thin, holiday-type volume sometimes accentuates gains and losses.

Today might see some rebalancing during the last session before Q3. The so-called “high-five” stocks: Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL), Facebook Inc (NASDAQ: FB), Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT), Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) and, Inc (NASDAQ: AMZN) have really taken it on the chin lately after accounting for a major part of the broader market’s success so far this year. Speaking of success, don’t forget the banking sector has had a very robust week, and financial shares rose again Thursday despite other parts of the market sinking. We could be seeing a bit of a sector rotation underway here (see below).

Anyone looking for a splash of volatility with his or her July 4 fireworks got a good dose on Thursday. The VIX zoomed to its highest intraday level since May 17. As the Nasdaq (COMP) charged back from its midday low, the brief flurry in VIX faded and the fear index fell back. VIX continued to fall early Friday, sinking down toward the 11 mark after moving up to above 15 at one point Thursday (see chart below). It might be interesting to see if VIX can execute another drive toward higher levels, because investors conceivably could be tired of paying up for volatility protection only to see it wane two days later. 

As stocks fell on Thursday, bond yields crept within site of the 2.3% level, an old support point. The 10-year Treasury yield stood at 2.26% as of Friday morning. There’s one school of thought that suggests the recent rise in yields, from lows below 2.15% earlier this month, might be slowing down the stock market. That’s despite yields remaining well below the 2.6% highs recorded earlier this year. Again, keep things in perspective. Some people are out there saying higher yields might be spooking stocks. But in the hunt for some bad news, that might be taking it a step too far. How many people at the start of the year would have guessed yields would be this low come the end of June?

There was some good news from earnings row late Thursday as Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE) reported sales and earnings that beat Wall Street analysts’ expectations. Arguably the most important takeaway from Nike’s earnings call was hearing how the company’s membership program comprised three-quarters of online sales. That’s a sign of strong brand loyalty and repeat customers.

Over in the tech sector, anyone looking for good news might have noticed some from Micron Technology, Inc. (NASDAQ: MU), which beat earnings expectations yesterday. The bulk of earnings are several weeks away, and if corporate results look strong, that could continue to underpin equities.

Oil keeps drifting higher this week, recovering smartly from recent lows below $43 a barrel and trading above $45 by Friday morning. Prices are up nearly 5% this week. There doesn’t appear to be much fundamental change at work here, as supplies remain heavy. The next benchmark for the oil market is today’s weekly Baker Hughes tally of U.S. oil rigs, which has grown for 23 consecutive weeks.

FIGURE 1: VIX'S WILD RIDE. The VIX, tracked Thursday on the thinkorswim® platform from TD Ameritrade, looks like a roller coaster on the charts, topping 15 at one point during the day from below 10 earlier as Nasdaq (purple line) crumbled amid info tech pressure. However, Nasdaq recovered a portion of its losses by the end of the session, and VIX cooled off significantly. Source: For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.    

Passing the Baton?

Even with their resurgence this week, financial sector stocks trail the S&P 500 (SPX) in year-to-date performance, rising about 6% vs. an 8% gain for the SPX.  Meanwhile, Info tech, despite recent stumbles, still outperforms the SPX year-to-date with a 16% gain. There are signs, however, of a possible shift in emphasis. Over the last month, info tech is down more than 2% compared to a roughly flat SPX, while financials are up nearly 5%. Perhaps we’re seeing a shift in focus, as the tech sector starts looking a little tired while financials — aided by a number of positive fundamental developments along with rising Treasury yields — show signs of taking more of a leadership role, as they did late last year. It’s sometimes said that it’s hard to have a rally without financials, though the market managed to do so most of the first half. If financials are stepping up to participate more, perhaps that could help blunt the effect of any weariness on the tech side in the second half. Time will tell.

Not So Mellow Monday

This coming Monday falls between a weekend and Tuesday’s July 4 holiday, when the markets are closed. That means we could see some low-volume trading. Remember, however, that even though some people are taking four-day holidays, Monday is a working day for the markets, the government, and many companies. That means investors will get a decent amount of data that day, including auto sales for June, construction spending for May, and the June ISM index. Maybe those data won’t be enough to light up any major fireworks, but anyone still watching the markets that day might want to keep an eye open.

Halftime Score

If the year were a football game, we’d be in the final seconds of the first half, with the offensive team probably about to take a knee. So let’s check the scoreboard. As of late Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ($DJI) has risen 7.7%. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 (SPX) was also on track for a first half gain of 8%. The Nasdaq (COMP) outdid both the other big indices, rising about 14% so far this year even with Thursday’s losses included. Additionally, the small-cap Russell 2000 is up 4.3%. All right, then. Who’s performing the halftime show?


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