It’s been more than a week since Technology finished in the green. Tech stocks rose in pre-market trading, but can they maintain those early gains? That’s one question hanging over Wall Street today.
We’ll talk more about the trauma in Tech lower down. First, let’s take care of some data and earnings business.
There’s more good news on the jobs front today as initial weekly jobless claims fell to 498,000, well below the 527,000 Wall Street had expected. It’s the fourth week in a row below 600,000 and the first reading below 500,000 since before the pandemic. Having the number come in below 500,000 is going to set up some high expectations for tomorrow’s nonfarm payrolls report.
On the earnings side of things, Uber UBER shares didn’t receive the same kind of love in overnight trading as competitor Lyft LYFT did the night before. Instead, UBER turned lower after the company reported a narrower than expected quarterly loss following the close yesterday. A miss on the revenue line and hints of rising expenses might help explain why investors were less enthusiastic. Most companies missing on revenue have gotten taken out to the woodshed this earnings season.
That’s what’s happening to Moderna MRNA in pre-market trading, too. Its shares are down 5% following a miss on revenue and a beat on earnings per share for the Covid vaccine company. MRNA, along with BioNTech BNTX—another Covid vaccine maker—might be getting hurt more by the growing momentum among global policymakers to waive patent protection for Covid vaccine makers. President Biden yesterday added his name to the list of those supporting the idea.
Another company we’ve heard a lot about over the last year, Peloton PTON, is scheduled to report after the close one day after shares tanked following its treadmill recall. Roku ROKU and Square SQ are other earnings reports to consider watching today, with ROKU another good chance to check how streaming demand is looking. “Gross payment volume,” or GPV, is a key metric to watch when you check SQ’s earnings.
Stocks have really entered a holding pattern here. If you check the close of the S&P 500 Index (SPX) yesterday vs. its close on April 15, it’s a three-point difference. A holding pattern would probably sound good right now to anyone with lots of Tech stocks in their portfolio. The Nasdaq 100 (NDX) is down nearly 4% since April 15.
Technically, however, both the SPX and the Nasdaq (COMP) have remained above their 50-day moving averages. Any test of those levels could be interesting to watch for signs of either buying the dip or a new wave of selling. The 50-day MA for the SPX is 4019, and for COMP is 13,513.
Hurry Up And Wait For Jobs Report
Yesterday and today appear to be mostly about range-bound trading ahead of tomorrow’s April payrolls report. As a reminder, consensus on Wall Street is for a gain of one million jobs and a decline in the unemployment rate to 5.8%.
The same numbers were 916,000 and 6% in March, so we’re talking incremental improvements. Even if the data meet expectations, the economy will remain way behind where it was pre-Covid on the jobs front, so it’s important not to let a few good numbers cause anyone to forget that.
As always, it’s also important to check the mix when you look at job numbers. In March, most of the growth was concentrated in lower-paying services jobs as reopening gained steam. Overall wages actually fell. There’s nothing wrong with leisure and hospitality jobs like bar-tending or waiting tables, but it would be better for the economy to see bigger gains in higher-paying positions like manufacturing and construction. Those had slight gains in March after a rough winter, so let’s see if the recovery there continued.
From an inflationary standpoint, if jobs growth in tomorrow’s report is concentrated in the leisure and hospitality area, that might cool off some of the concerns. It’s positive to create any jobs, but the hospitality ones aren’t inflationary because they tend to pay lower wages. If we see more jobs created in health care, manufacturing, and construction tomorrow, that could increase inflation worries.
Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida said yesterday that it’s not time to talk about tapering monetary policy support for the economy and he doesn’t see the economy overheating, Reuters reported. So the Fed’s not backing off its dovish statements. The dollar is at a two-week high. But there’s still a lot of curiosity around the employment report with people on the lookout for anything that might seem too “hot.”
Don’t be surprised if the market keeps treading water today ahead of the report. That was the story yesterday, when the major indices finished mixed after a lackluster session. Earnings strength continued with LYFT and General Motors GM, but didn’t see much reflection in the trading session. It’s the same old story, really. Stocks aren’t getting much of a lift from earnings. Part of this could be that investors suspect the best numbers are already in (see more below). With major indices near record highs, it takes a really perfect news environment to see much more upside.
Tech Can’t Get Out Of Own Way
Once again, the Nasdaq (COMP), which is dominated by Tech shares, lost ground Wednesday. It’s been down the last seven sessions.
Back in February when Tech hit a speed bump, you could look at the Treasury market and blame rising yields there which threatened long-term growth for Tech companies whose valuations build in a lot of future earnings gains. This time, with the Treasury market stuck in a range of its own, it’s a bit harder to point to a single reason for Tech’s misery.
One thing that may be hurting the sector is that it’s lost some leadership. Apple AAPL and Microsoft MSFT just haven’t been delivering the goods lately when it comes to stock market performance. Neither seemed to get any respect from monster earnings results in the current reporting season, and that might have dashed some hopes. Meanwhile, semiconductor stocks have been playing defense lately, almost falling into a 10% correction before rebounding slightly yesterday.
If the mega-caps and chip stocks can’t lead the parade, the rest of Tech seems to lose direction, too. One theory being heard around Wall Street is that the Biden administration’s proposed capital gains tax increase might be weighing on the market as a whole. You never know exactly why people are selling, so that reason can’t be written off. However, the proposed tax rise is far from a done deal and would really have an impact only on the wealthiest investors.
There also may be lingering inflation concerns. Key inflation data are due next week, and many investors worry about rising inflation and what that means for profitability of companies.
So Where Are The Gains Coming From?
If you’re looking for sectors that are doing well, check the commodity-focused ones that actually tend to benefit from inflation.
Energy had a massive rally yesterday even though crude prices fell slightly. The value of crude remains near its 2021 highs above $65 a barrel, right around the point where it’s seen selling pressure over the last few months. Also, ConocoPhillips COP got an upgrade from a Wall Street analyst after reporting better than expected earnings earlier this week and resuming share repurchases. Shares jumped more than 5% on Wednesday.
Crude inventories fell a massive 8 million barrels last week, the U.S. government said, and that could point to more signs of a healthy economy. It’s normal to see stockpiles fall this time of year ahead of Memorial Day and the traditional start of “driving season,” but with gas prices already approaching $3 a gallon across the country, there’s a bit more trepidation about the impact that might have on wallets.
Commodity-driven stocks go way beyond oil and gas. Consider copper, too. Freeport-McMoRan FCX, the big copper miner, roared 5% higher yesterday and has doubled in six months. Global copper prices jumped from $3.05 a pound at the end of last October to $4.50 a pound at the end of April amid higher demand for electric vehicles and general economic improvement that tends to help raise demand for the key industrial commodity. Overall, commodity prices are at their highest levels since 2011, Bloomberg reported.
CHART OF THE DAY: WHO’S AT THE WHEEL? Copper (/HG—purple line) is used in many Technology components and has had a banner year so far. The Tech sector, represented here by the Nasdaq 100 (NDX—candlestick) on the other hand, has bounced around. Last time Tech had a downturn, the price of copper also moved lower and then flattened. Could the same thing happen now as Tech shares are down nearly 4% since mid-April? So far, the answer appears to be “no” as copper keeps on chugging upward. Data Sources: CME, Nasdaq. Chart source: The thinkorswim® platform. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Payrolls Report Approaches, But Next Week’s Data May Be Key: If you ask most people, they’ll tell you the next big data point to watch (besides weekly initial jobless claims tomorrow) is April non-farm payrolls on Friday. That’s hard to argue, but you could make a claim that next week’s April consumer and producer price index data (CPI and PPI) might get even more attention, considering all the focus on inflation lately.
The inflation focus picked up after March producer prices rose a full 1%, raising concerns that some of this could soon translate to higher consumer prices, as they sometimes tend to do. The fact that many companies reported pricing pressure this earnings season and others like JetBlue JBLU and Coca-Cola KO announced price hikes adds to the drama. Commodity prices keep ramping up, including the big three-C’s of the commodities world—“crude, corn and copper.” If this continues, a lot of companies could find their margins under pressure as the year advances. Then the choice becomes whether to accept weaker earnings or pass along prices to consumers.
Caution Reflected In Bond Market: The relatively firm bond market, which hasn’t lost much ground recently despite all these incredible earnings and data, also could reflect a growing cautiousness among investors aware that stocks aren’t far from record highs and there aren’t a lot of catalysts looming going into summer. Some analysts also think the fading of the yield rally after February and March reflected investor beliefs that the economy wasn’t going to get much better than it already is. Which is debatable, obviously.
The 10-year yield crept up a little by mid-week to just below 1.6%, but that’s roughly in the middle of its recent 1.55% to 1.65% trading range. It still enjoys a nearly 180-basis point premium to the benchmark German 10-year bund, which could be making U.S. Treasuries more attractive to foreign buyers and keeping the yield compressed a bit.
Tech Sector Faces Comparison Concerns: Another idea possibly holding back further rallies in the stock market is the sense that for many companies, comparisons get tougher as 2021 moves forward. We’re already seeing the major “stay at home” companies like Zoom ZM and Peloton take major hits to their share prices as the firms run up against tough comparisons to the first wave of Covid demand a year ago. The same is going to likely get more evident in Q2 earnings for mega-cap firms like Apple AAPL and Amazon AMZN. Everyone basically went online at the same time a year ago. Now those companies have to improve even as the economy reopens and more people head back to work and away from their home screens. For AAPL, Mac, iPad, and Services revenue (which includes the App Store and Apple Music) all boomed during shutdowns. Can the pace of growth continue? Next quarter’s earnings is when the rubber hits the road, so to speak.
TD Ameritrade® commentary for educational purposes only. Member SIPC.
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