Bitcoin, crude, and tech stocks: The big winners and losers from a historic first-half of trading
There’s plenty of green on the screens on both sides of the Atlantic on the first trading day of the second half of 2021. And that’s after U.S. stocks finished one of their best first-half performances in a generation.
That said, there are plenty of questions for investors going into the second half. Can the tech rally last? Is the reflation trade already over? Is the Q2 crypto slump a blip, or the start of a more protracted drawback? How much higher can crude go?
In today’s essay, I dig deep into the winners and losers of both the first half and the second quarter. You’ll see plenty of divergence from quarter to quarter.
Before that, let’s see what’s moving the markets this morning.
- The major Asia indexes are in the red in afternoon trade, with the Nikkei off 0.3%. The Hang Seng is closed today for a holiday.
- The buzziest IPO of the year, that of Didi, had a wild debut yesterday on the NYSE. The Beijing-based riding-hailing firm closed 1% higher in New York, but was up nearly 30% at one point, showing there’s still plenty of demand for Chinese tech companies in America.
- European stocks were a blur of green out of the gates with the Stoxx Europe 600 up more than 1% in the first hour of trade. All sectors were were gaining, led by travel and leisure, utilities and energy.
- Shares in retailer H&M were down 3.9% despite reporting a big top-line beat. Analysts are worried about softness in its longer-term outlook.
- U.S. futures are gaining this morning. That’s after the S&P 500 closed yet again in record territory on Wednesday.
- Shares in CureVac were down as much as 16% in pre-market trading today on news of lackluster COVID vaccine trial results. That comes after the CureVac shares took off on Wednesday following the company announcing a management shakeup.
- In a sneak peek at the labor market, we get the jobless data ahead of the opening bell this morning. The consensus estimate is that initial unemployment claims fell to below 400,000 in the past week.
- Gold is up, trading around $1,780/ounce.
- The dollar is up, too.
- Crude is higher ahead of today’s OPEC+ meeting in which production hikes will be discussed, with Brent trading above $75/barrel.
- Crypto is slumping despite news that billionaire financier George Soros is making a big bet on Bitcoin. On cue, BTC is trading around $33,500.
First half: taking stock
Welcome to the second half of 2021. We made it!
We saw a few big reversals in the second quarter. Tech stocks made a big comeback, and crypto collapsed. Gold started the quarter on a hot streak, and then fell off a cliff in recent weeks as the dollar surged.
But the big story was crude and stocks. As the chart below shows, WTI crude, the U.S. benchmark, continued its impressive rally in Q2. For the year, the price has soared by 52% on strong demand, pushing it above $74/barrel this morning. That’s messing with nominal inflation (and, no doubt, your summer travel plans.)
Stocks, meanwhile, are having a strong run on both sides of the Atlantic. The S&P 500 has now posted 34 record closings so far this year. 34!
That helped power the benchmark to one of its best first-halfs in the past 20 years. Energy, financials and real estate are the top three performing S&P sectors, YTD. But if you zoom into Q2 performance, the top sector was tech.
And now to the underperformers… and yes, there are some stock sectors in that dubious grouping.
“Even as most assets have had a decent return over the last month and quarter,” writes Jim Reid, global head of credit strategy and thematic research at Deutsche Bank, “some of the most Covid-sensitive assets like travel and leisure stocks have struggled amidst the rise of the more infectious delta variant.”
Utilities stocks, too, have had a rough year. It was the lone S&P sector to finish Q2 in the red, and it’s more or less flat on the year.
Speaking of flat… Tesla’s difficult 2021 continues. Despite a positive Q2, the stock is now down 3.7% this year. Japanese stocks, too, had a dismal quarter. It doesn’t appear we’ll see any kind of Olympics lift for the Nikkei.
Finally, one winner I left off today’s chart is the meme-stock king, GameStop. It’s a good news/bad news story. Shares in GME have fallen 24.1% in the past month, but are still up more than 1,000% YTD.
The future of meme stocks is anybody’s guess.
We’ll be here to keep tabs on how that story goes.
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Looking ahead. Investors, you're not alone. Wall Street money managers are unclear which conclusions to draw about the dominant themes for the second half after what we just went through in 1H. All manner of questions loom about tapering, infrastructure spending and inflation.
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