Investors send global stocks higher on vaccine hopes and stimulus goodies—but tech shares continue to lag

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Good morning, Bull Sheeters. European stocks are powering on in early trading on Thursday , lifted by fiscal stimulus spending measures and COVID vaccine breakthroughs. U.S. futures are off their lows, pointing to another positive open.

Let’s see where investors are putting their money.

Markets update

Asia

  • The major Asia indexes are mixed in afternoon trading, with Japan’s Nikkei up nearly 1%.
  • The Chinese markets may be in the red, but the latest economic data looks solid. For a fourth straight month, China’s service sector, which represents roughly 60% of the economy, showed solid growth.
  • The China-India tensions are heating up again as India drew up an updated list of banned Chinese tech. Popular apps from the likes of Tencent, Baidu and Ant Group made the list.

Europe

  • The European bourses opened solidly in the green with France’s CAC up more than 1.5% in the first half-hour after Emmanuel Macron’s government unveiled a huge €100 billion stimulus spending package.
  • Sanofi announced promising results from its latest COVID vaccine trials, giving stocks an added boost.
  • Is the ECB plotting an end game for its €1.35 trillion emergency bond-buying program? Policy hawk Jens Weidmann thinks it’s time to start thinking about when to wind it down, or at least limiting its scope.
  • Royal buzz. Netflix added the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and the former Meghan Markle, to its production lineup. Netflix shares teetered yesterday 0.7%.

U.S.

  • The Dow and S&P futures point to further gains with Nasdaq futures in the red. On Wednesday, all three indexes soared, breaking a few records along the way, despite lousy ADP payrolls data and a worrying tabulation of America’s finances.
  • According to the Congressional Budget Office, U.S. debt will reach or exceed 100% of GDP this year, putting U.S. indebtedness in the company of Japan, Greece and Italy. Spoiler: that’s not good company. You can add staggering sovereign debt to the list of things the bulls don’t care about. (It’s a long list.)
  • Can the U.S. once again return to a jobless claims number in the six-figure range? Economists forecast that about 950,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past week. Warning: there’s a new counting methodology in this week’s numbers, which may trigger a wild spike in either direction.

Elsewhere

  • Gold is having an incredibly volatile week. It’s trading under $1,940/ounce after nearing 2,000 bucks a few days ago.
  • The dollar is up slightly. Again.
  • Crude is flat with Brent hovering below $45/barrel.

***

Are tech stocks overheating?

Yesterday was an odd day for the S&P 500. The benchmark went up, which wasn’t odd. But it did so with little help from Big Tech.

Utilities, materials and real estate were the big three winners while IT came in 10th place out of the eleven S&P industry components. (Yes, unloved energy stocks remain the most unloved of all. That’s unlikely to change any time soon.)

And while a few days of upside-down trading (Nasdaq futures are the lone downer this morning) is by no means enough to call a floor to the tech rally, it’s worth nothing that a new level of wariness has settled into the markets in recent days. In short, August’s un-August-like performance is adding uncertainty to the tech bull rally. As several market watchers have noted, tech-trading volatility—as measured by the VXN, the so-called “fear index”—has spiked over the past two weeks in line with a spiking Nasdaq 100.

And here’s the trailing 30-day VXN from this morning. You want to see this chart flat-lining—a sign of market stability—not climbing. The VXN, like the VIX, measures market risk and investor sentiment. When it climbs, there’s a greater sense of perceived risk.

What’s the source of the volatility? Sky-high valuations, for starters. The Nasdaq 100 is powering to its best run in a decade. There’s a lot of knockout earnings packed into those valuations, but is such a rally justified when the rest of the economy is hardly back on its feet?

Another explanation is the way many investors are trading tech stocks: through put/call trading options. The periodic unwinding of these positions adds further price volatility to tech stocks.

Back in June when the Nasdaq topped 10,000—yes, it wasn’t even three months ago—market observers watched in awe. It’s climbed a further 20% since then. Could it climb another 10-20% in the next three months? Could it fall by just as much?

Again, it’s too early to say whether this tech rally is running out of steam. But fears are growing.

***

Have a nice day, everyone. I’ll see you here tomorrow. 

Bernhard Warner
@BernhardWarner
[email protected]

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