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Good morning, Bull Sheeters. There’s plenty of green on the screens this morning—even U.S. tech futures are gaining ground as I type. And, a new breed of crypto bulls have sent Bitcoin overnight to a recent-week high. Perhaps the best news? Yields on 10-year Treasuries are subdued (for now).
That comes after a memorable Monday in which the blue-chip Dow gained a healthy 1% while the Nasdaq bombed lower by more than 2%. You’d have to travel back to the dot-com meltdown days, 20 years ago, to see such a pronounced decoupling.
Speaking of tech stocks, in today’s essay we travel back in time to this day one year ago. Yes, that’s when the great 2020 markets sell-off was at its worst. I offer some take-aways that could apply to today’s choppy trading.
But first, let’s see what else is moving markets.
- The major Asia indexes are mixed in afternoon trading, with Japan’s Nikkei up 1%.
- The Tokyo Summer Games, we now know, won’t involve spectators. What about the 2022 Beijing Winter Games? It’s looking iffy. China believes it won’t achieve herd immunity until mid-2022 at the earliest.
- Looking for stock winners? Check out Singapore’s Straits Times Index, up more than 9% this year, one of the standouts of 2021.
- The European bourses were a touch lower out of the gates with the Stoxx Europe 600 down 0.1%, before gaining ground. Energy and utilities stocks were the top performers.
- Shares in Vodafone were up 1% mid-morning as more details emerge of its plan to raise $3.1 billion in an IPO of its mobile-phone towers unit.
- No date has yet been set for the hotly anticipated Deliveroo IPO. But after a Monday regulatory filing, at least we know a bit about their operations. They’re still losing a lot of money.
- U.S. futures point to a solid open this morning. That’s after the Dow climbed 1% and the Nasdaq closed in correction territory yesterday, down more than 10% from its Feb. 12 close.
- Ark Investment Management founder Cathie Wood has been hitting the airwaves a lot lately to remind the masses that true bulls don’t throw in the towel just because of a little sell-off. Yesterday was no exception. Her appearance on CNBC prompted a tweeter to dead-pan: “If I were Cathie Wood, I would simply add stocks that go up into ARK ETFs.”
- Which brings us to GameStop. The volatile meme-stock soared 41% yesterday on actual news. What’s afoot? The video game retailer announced it will form a committee to figure out how to transition to e-commerce. Yep, that’s the news. If they ever approve a new Twitter logo, watch out!
- Gold is up, trading around $1,700/ounce.
- The dollar is down after hitting a three-month high yesterday.
- Crude is up with Brent trading around $69/barrel.
- Bitcoin surpassed $54,000 over night, before falling some, on news that big institutions are pouring into the digital asset.
Doomed to repeat it
Here in Rome we’ve greeted today with a pit in our stomachs. It was exactly one year ago that Italy imposed a national lockdown, the first of its kind in a Western democracy. That pronouncement roiled the global markets. Soon the rest of Europe and most U.S. states and Asia would join the house party.
In this very spot, a year ago, I shared my doubts that such a move could shelter the country (let alone the planet) from the worst. I wrote back then:
The Italian authorities are betting that a few weeks of restricted travel and self-containment may prove a hit to the economy in the short term, but will help its aging population and healthcare system get through the crisis.
Italians have a word for that kind of wishful thinking: magari. Translation: God willing.
Any wishful thinking was pretty much dashed immediately. An already jittery market went into panic mode. The following day, on March 10, the Dow crashed. It dropped 1,400 points, officially tumbling into a bear market. As you’ll recall, we entered the year with such high hopes. We were, after all, a whisker away from Dow 30,000 in January 2020. And then, at the March 10 close, the Dow sat at 23,553.22. Less than two weeks later it was at 18,213 before making its epic rebound.
You’re going to see a lot of anniversary stories in the coming days as Wall Street pros continue to grapple with the tumultuous markets rout of March 2020, and the lessons they drew from it.
To me, there are some obvious take-aways. The good news is that we now have a clear blueprint for how to trade the next pandemic. (Oh, there will be more.) When lockdowns become national policy, we now know that you should stock up on toilet paper and flour to make pizza, and rearrange your portfolio. You go overweight work-from-home, shelter-in-place stocks, and underweight the go-outside-and-have-fun stocks. You buy Netflix and you dump AMC Entertainment. You liquidate your cruise stocks for cloud computing stocks.
We have also learned how to play the recovery trade, which is where we are today. You go overweight value (banks and energy) and underweight those growth stocks that soared during the lockdown— particularly the ones with gaudy PEs.
But then there are all kinds of new occurrences to emerge from this pandemic that aren’t so easy to explain. The rise of the retail trader is top of the list. The trade-from-home crowd is now the biggest force in the markets. That won’t go away any time soon, particularly not before another round of “stimmy” checks arrives in bank accounts later this month. As Goldman Sachs equity analysts wrote in an investor note yesterday, “we forecast households will represent the largest source of demand for US stocks in 2021 ($350 bn).”
Another certainty is that we’re entering a cycle of higher inflation expectations and steeper yield curves. The markets have been focused on the impact of the latter in recent weeks. But historical trends show rising rates are not quite the portfolio-killer that inflation is. Ben Carlson at Ritholtz Wealth Management crunched the numbers for Fortune, revealing that the markets have gained impressively even in periods of rising rates, including the most recent run between June, 2012 and October, 2018.
Inflation, on the other hand, “is far more important to stocks,” he writes. Based on the average returns for the S&P 500 since 1928, the stock market performs best when the inflation rate stays below 3%, and “that it’s falling not rising.”
Rising prices are inevitable during times of economic recovery, particularly a recovery aided by trillions in fiscal give-aways. The upshot: the conditions look good right now for rates-sensitive stocks (think banks) and not nearly as promising for growth stocks.
Markets, of course, look forward. The anniversary stories are important reminders about where we came from. But the markets of March, 2020 are a far different place than the markets of today.
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ARK of the diver. ARK ETFs have fallen into bear territory in the past month, leaving Cathie Wood in a bit of a dilemma: Double down, and buy on the dip, or diversify a bit? Part of the problem with her investment strategy, some markets observers now say, is that there are lot of unprofitable and volatile "disruption" stocks like Roku and electric-vehicle manufacturer Workhorse Group that could drag down the ETFs amid the great rotation play into value stocks.
Should I stay or should I go? Cathie Wood isn't the only investor at a crossroads. Tech bulls yesterday watched in dread as the Nasdaq closed in correction territory, leaving many to wonder: is it time to rethink the long-tech trade? Fortune's Anne Sraders pressed some of Wall Street's top investment minds on that very question. Here's what they told her.
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Quote of the day
We estimate 25% of colleges could go out of business in the next few years.
That's Dan Rosensweig, CEO of education technology firm Chegg, speaking to Fortune about the feared COVID fallout on America's education system. Chegg works closely with universities around the country, and so has an up-close view of what's at stake.