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Big Tech is driving the markets rally. There are fresh doubts that trade will hold up

August 26, 2020, 9:53 AM UTC

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Good morning. The equities rally is losing steam with Asia, Europe and the U.S. futures all mixed as the economic data continues to show a patchy recovery. The biggest concern: The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index fell to a new “pandemic low” yesterday.

Here’s what’s moving markets.

Markets update

Asia

  • The major Asia indexes are mixed in afternoon trading, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng the best of the bunch, trading at a mere 0.02%.
  • Better late than never. Apple will open an online store next month in one of the fastest growing mobile markets on Earth: India.
  • One of the most hotly anticipated IPOs of 2020 will be Jack Ma’s Ant Group, which filed in Hong Kong and Shanghai yesterday, seeking a record amount. What’s most revealing is the huge profit reported in the filing papers.

Europe

  • The European bourses were gaining after a weak start, with Germany’s Dax up 0.5%.
  • Germany, late on Tuesday night, extended its “Kurzarbeitpayroll-subsidy program through the end of next year at a cost of about €10 billion ($11.8 billion).
  • The British government has granted scientists at the University of Cambridge 1.9 million pounds ($2.5 million) in funding to start trials on a new vaccine that aims to protect against a variety of coronaviruses.

U.S.

  • The U.S. futures are mixed this morning. That’s after tech shares drove up the S&P 500 and Nasdaq to—stop me if you’ve heard this one before—new records on Tuesday.
  • In pre-market trading, Salesforce shares were up more than 13%. That’s after the software company, and newest Dow entrant, reported a big earnings beat yesterday.
  • The incredible shrinking airlines industry continues to shrink. American Airlines yesterday announced it plans to cut 19,000 jobs come Oct. 1. If Congress can see to extending the Payroll Support Program, however, it may reconsider, the CEO says.

Elsewhere

  • Gold is flat. The shiny yellow stuff is now trading down around $1,925/ounce, off 7% from its Aug. 6 high.
  • The dollar is up slightly.
  • Crude is flat, with WTI a tick higher even as the U.S. energy industry braces for a big hit from Hurricane Laura making landfall somewhere along the Texas Gulf coast.

***

Does the S&P rally have legs?

The S&P 500 has closed at a new high each of the past three trading sessions. Goldman Sachs, for one, is not surprised. Goldman analysts have a 3,600 year-end handle on the benchmark index, which would suggest there’s at least a further rally of about 5% built in over the next three months.

Since its March lows, the S&P is up more than 50%. But the next 5% may be the hardest climb of all. The economic recovery looks rocky. Consumer confidence is shot. The labor market looks downright sickly. Oh, and Washington remains as divided as ever on a new stimulus spending measure that could keep the economy from plunging into a deeper recession.

And yet, given all that, your S&P-weighted index fund is a cinch to climb a further 5% by Christmas morning? Hmm.

There are plenty of doubters out there, as a growing chorus of voices warn the S&P is too expensive at these prices.

The latest warning comes from Bank of America—with some caveats.

BofA went back in time, to March, 2009. You remember it well. The subprime mortgage crisis triggered the global financial crisis, and the markets tanked in the autumn of 2008. The global recession was a huge shock, as was the loss of millions of jobs.

In the Spring of 2009, the economic picture looked something like it does today. There was one big exception: stocks were cheap back then. Stocks in March 2009, BofA found, “appeared inexpensive on all but one measure that we track—Trailing PE.”

And today? They’re expensive by almost every measure.

But there are still some bargains to be had if you look close enough. The segments of the S&P with the least “implied upside” (by forward P/E metric) are energy, consumer discretionary and industrials.

What’s “implied upside”? BofA bases it “on comparing the current relative multiple vs. the historical average relative multiple. Industries with <10 yrs of data history are excluded.”

By that measure, tech is no sure thing, with IT stocks flashing a -4% upside handle.

The biggest upside (by the same metric) would be health care, real estate and financials. See chart:

The S&P as a whole weighs in with a -30% implied upside, which should have passive investors a bit nervous.

But here’s why the S&P in general is still a decent bet. According to BofA, the index delivers a yield that’s over 3x the 10-year Treasury— the “highest since the ’50s,” they note. And “69% of stocks in the S&P 500 pay a dividend that is higher than bond yields. We still prefer stocks to bonds.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the explanation for this equities rally in a nutshell.

***

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

Bernhard Warner
@BernhardWarner
Bernhard.Warner@Fortune.com

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