The rough season for stocks is upon us, and so far, the financial markets have not disappointed. Most of the focus is and has been on the technology sector, which remains overvalued on many metrics. Other parts of the markets have declined some, but at a much slower pace than technology. The big news of the week was the Fed meeting, where little was done, and plenty was inferred. It was not a surprise rates were held at zero and indications were for rates to stay there for at least a few more years. Inflation got a pass, and many wondered if inflation would ever be a problem again. Former Fed Chief Volker must be flipping in his grave! Chair Powell exhorted Congress again to pass additional stimulus as the Fed could only do so much for the average consumer. The financial markets reacted negatively, hoping that they would announce additional financial measures and monetary easing to help keep the markets going. When that announcement did not come, stocks headed south. The coming week will focus on housing, with the release of home sales for August. One thing to keep an eye on is lumber prices, as the prices have nearly tripled from their lows of early April to the end of August, only to drop by a third this month.
The meek may indeed inherit the world, but the laggards this year are getting their day in the sun this month. The higher the exposure to technology, the worse the performance – exactly the opposite of the results through the end of August. More concerning has been the breakdown of some of the market internals. Like the net number of rising vs. falling stocks. After peaking mid-August, ahead of the SP500 apex at the end of August, the net number is back to July levels, when the markets were 4% lower than today. Daily volume has been expanding when stocks prices are falling and contracting when they rise. Again, a recent development that points to additional weakness ahead. At this point, additional weakness is not a market collapse, but a rotation toward parts of the markets that have not done well this year and away from technology stocks.
The declaration by Fed Chief Powell that interest rates are likely to remain at current zero rates for the next couple of years means income investors will continue to be starved trying to get some income safely without being subject to the wild swings in stock prices. While inflation is not returning quickly, the Fed feels confident in their ability to stave off “runaway” inflation as Volker did in the 80s by nearly killing the economy after hiking rates into the teens. A chapter that I am sure investors would not rather revisit. The implication is that the Fed would be much slower in hiking rates as the economy gains steam. This would mean that inflation would be running a bit higher and without at least similar wage gains, the average worker could find themselves losing purchasing power. A worry for another year, but one that needs to be kept an eye on.
Technology is dead, long live technology! A rather perverse argument is making the rounds these days. If investors believe the economy will not be recovering and everyone will remain “in place” (whether working, schooling or just living), then technology will continue to be a winning bet. However, if the economy continues to recover (estimates for a 30% gain in GDP in the third quarter!) many of the other parts of the market and sections of the economy should regain their footing and perform well, especially relative to the currently expensive technology sector. Finally, there is some better performance from international markets. As the dollar has weakened and better virus numbers from many emerging market countries, they are beginning to perform better than the US market. In fact, since the end of May, emerging markets is handily ahead of the US. We have seen this “head-fake” more than a few times over the past three years. Maybe this time for sure!
The rotation toward value and away from growth/technology sectors continues to gain steam during September. We are looking (again) at international holdings and may begin to slowly accumulate shares in the months ahead. As has been the case for months, bond investors should be expecting minimal returns as interest rates are not likely to move much over the next few years.
The opinions expressed in the Investment Newsletter are those of the author and are based upon information that is believed to be accurate and reliable but are opinions and do not constitute a guarantee of present or future financial market conditions.