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Investors pull back on vaccine jitters and earnings woes

October 14, 2020, 9:42 AM UTC

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Good morning. COVID vaccine jitters broke up a four-day rally in U.S. equities yesterday. Underwhelming bank earnings and a ho-hum Apple iPhone event didn’t help investor sentiment either. U.S. futures and global stocks are trading mostly in the green this morning, but are off their highs, as another big day of corporate results—Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and United Airlines—awaits.

Let’s see what’s moving the markets.

Markets update

Asia

  • The major Asia indexes are mostly lower in afternoon trading with Japan’s Nikkei the best of the bunch, up 0.1%.
  • China’s Ant Group is looking to raise a record $30 billion in an IPO. It’s a better bet now after the payments juggernaut booked a $2.6 billion profit last year.
  • China’s CSI 300 Index got a big boost from President Xi Jinping, nearly hitting a five-year high, on Wednesday. The president rolled out his plans for Shenzhen and the Greater Bay area.

Europe

  • The European bourses were flat out of the gates, before climbing. The Europe Stoxx 600 was up 0.2% two hours into the trading session.
  • The British pound is down significantly this morning as post-Brexit trade talks go down to the wire with the two sides still far apart.
  • The World Trade Organization ruled in favor of Europe in a long-running dispute over subsidies to planemakers, allowing the EU to impose up to $4 billion in tariffs against U.S. firms. Shares in both Boeing and Airbus fell more than 3% on Tuesday as the markets are hoping for a negotiated deal, not more tariffs.
  • I know the bond market is upside down these days, but I still never thought in my lifetime I’d see a news flash like this one: investors are snatching up Italian zero-coupon bonds. Zero coupon? Daje, ragazzi. Che fate?!

U.S.

  • U.S. futures are up modestly, though off their highs. That’s after all three major indexes closed in the red on Tuesday.
  • A risk-off mood overtook markets in afternoon trade yesterday after Eli Lilly announced it was pausing its coronavirus antibody treatment trials. Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca have also halted their COVID work in recent weeks, giving the investment world a crash course in the ups and downs of drug trials.
  • Shares in Apple closed down 2.65% after the company unveiled a range of new products, including a 5G iPhone, on Tuesday. It’s not uncommon for Apple shares to fall after these events.

Elsewhere

  • Gold is up after falling precipitously, below $1,900/ounce, yesterday on the latest setback on the vaccine front.
  • The dollar is up.
  • Crude is up, with Brent trading around $42.50/barrel.

***

In praise of patience (again)

How many of you thought about cashing out your stock holdings last month amid the great September swoon?

It was a fraught moment. The markets were falling, COVID numbers were soaring, and concerns about a disputed election were sky-high. My in-box filled up with all kinds of commentary and analysis from Wall Street vets who trotted out historical data showing the weeks prior to a U.S. presidential election are usually a dud, if not worse. The implied message: cash out now.

Fast-forward to today and the S&P 500 has rallied 7% since Sept. 2. You’d be out a nice chunk of change had you pulled the plug back then.

It’s yet another lesson in the virtues of patience—in investor parlance, the buy-and-hold strategy.

Joachim Klement, head of investment research at London-based Liberum, shared an investor note yesterday about how market volatility tends to diminish the returns of active traders.

He cites a recent research paper by two academics, from Emory University and the University of British Columbia. They looked at typical investor portfolios across multiple countries, comparing active traders (those who try to time the market, getting in and out of stocks over relatively short intervals) with the buy-and-hold crowd. The results were illuminating, as the two charts (first, for a single stock portfolio; then for a 50-stock portfolio) here show:

It makes sense that the more you trade, the more volatility you encounter. And that’s what you see in these charts. For the active trader, timing your trade so as to avoid portfolio-sapping volatility is key, and not so easy to pull off.

The research also revealed another dynamic. The active trader risks missing out on dividends, and those payments add up over the years. As Klement notes, “the volatility experienced by the investor was significantly higher than the volatility experienced by a buy and hold investor who reinvests all dividends.”

Patience, everyone. Patience.

***

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

Bernhard Warner
@BernhardWarner
Bernhard.Warner@Fortune.com

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Today's reads

Earnings, earnings, earnings. The corporate reporting season kicked off in earnest yesterday with banks, airlines and drugmakers all holding analysts calls. As investors await a parade of beats, Fortune's Shawn Tully looks closely at the great collapse in corporate earnings this year and just how we should be thinking about stock valuations in the COVID age. 

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Market candy

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The economic recovery is already slowing. Without additional support it threatens to stall out or even backslide.

That's Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, who tells Fortune that Washington's failure to agree on a stimulus package (of any size) right now spells bad news for the U.S. economy. It almost certainly spells bad news for your portfolio too in the long run.