After a strong start to the new year as decent corporate earnings helped the market shrug at the continued overhang from global economic growth fears, fresh data from Europe seems to have ratcheted up that fretting.
Eurozone growth forecast reduced to 1.3% from 1.9%
Twitter beats on earnings, disappoints with guidance
Bank merger announcement adds some upbeat news
(Thursday Market Open) Wall Street appears to be back in worry mode. After a strong start to the new year as decent corporate earnings helped the market shrug at the continued overhang from global economic growth fears, fresh data from Europe seems to have ratcheted up that fretting.
The European Commission cut its growth outlook for the eurozone this year to 1.3% from 1.9%. And weak German industrial production figures for December underscored the gloomier outlook.
The news comes as growth expectations for China have been slipping and the United States remains in a protracted trade war with the Asian nation, the world’s second-biggest economy. Compounding the growth outlook for Europe is uncertainty about Britain’s exit of the European Union and political instability in Italy and France.
The downbeat outlook comes amid a mixed earnings season that has seen an increasing number of companies report disappointing guidance.
Twitter (TWTR) joined that club and said it expects increasing expenses. TWTR’ shares were down more than 7% in pre-market trading. Still, the company beat analysts’ expectations on both revenue and earnings and it appears the company has improved in monetizing its user base. Also, it may be worth keeping in mind that this quarter a year ago was quite strong for the company, making it tough for a comparison to really shine.
In other corporate news, SunTrust Banks (STI) and BB&T Corp. (BBT) shares were up about 9% and 4% in pre-market trade after they announced a merger deal valued at $66 billion. The move will create the sixth-largest bank in the U.S. by assets.
Meanwhile, investors were digesting Chipotle’s (CMG) quarterly report, which helped the stock jump more than 8%. The restaurant chain beat expectations on its top and bottom lines and reported same store sales growth of more than 6%.
While there certainly have been strong earnings reports this season, the overall tone of guidance hasn’t been as optimistic, apparently helping to reduce forecasts for this year’s corporate earnings.
Guidance helped trip up gaming stocks yesterday. Video game companies helped to snap the S&P 500’s five-day winning streak and weighed on the tech-heavy Nasdaq. Take-Two Interactive (TTWO), Electronic Arts (EA) and Activision Blizzard (ATVI) all dipped by more than double digits after disappointing forecasts from EA and TTWO. That helped drag down the S&P 500 communication services sector, with its 1.49% drop making it the biggest loser among the index’s 11 sectors.
The video game industry and its publicly listed companies are now big enough to help sway the market as a whole, perhaps creating a silver lining for anyone on the losing side of Wednesday’s trading who still wants to stay invested in the industry.
At the other end of the spectrum, semiconductor stocks got a jolt with Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) jumping more than 11% and Micron Technology (MU), Microchip Technology (MCHP), Xilinx (XLNX), Lam Research (LRCX), and Nvidia (NVDA) also doing well Wednesday. However, each of those stocks were poised to ease off their gains early Thursday, down about 1% to 1.5% in pre-market trade.
Because the semiconductor industry relies on China for a good chunk of its supply chain and sales, the rally in chip stocks may be due in part to a growing optimism that the recent pressure on equities from worries about slowing growth in China amid the ongoing trade war may have gotten overblown a bit.
Plus, it shows that there is positive enough sentiment that corporations around the globe are still spending the money to keep chips in demand, which is another counterpoint to the doom-and-gloom scenario that helped keep stocks on the back foot for much of last month.
The gains in the chipmakers on a day when gaming stocks got hit so hard also underscores how diversified the semiconductor companies’ businesses are.
As we’ve noted here before, market fear has been easing, and Wednesday’s trading was no exception, as the Cboe Volatility Index (VIX) fell further below 16. Although it’s risen a bit above that level this morning, just a few weeks ago, it was above 30. (See chart below.)
It’s particularly interesting to see the VIX so low so close to the anniversary of one of the craziest days the market ever had on Feb. 4, 2018. Around this time a year ago, if you remember, the VIX was galloping to briefly rise above 50, and the stock market was entering a very brief but sharp correction that was followed by another sharp drop in early spring. That trading came after a strong January rally and in some ways helped set the tone for what proved to be a volatile year driven in part by fear of higher interest rates and the U.S-China trade war.
Now the Fed has hit the brake pedal, but some analysts have been saying a couple more payrolls reports like the blockbuster one we saw last Friday could conceivably mean Fed Chair Jerome Powell and company end up having some second thoughts.
The perceived rate hike pause looks like the bullish storyline for Wall Street. The bearish story could be earnings expectations for Q1 and beyond. Concerns about company guidance seen this earnings season have some analysts expecting earnings to actually decline year over year this quarter. (See more on earnings expectations below.)
Figure 1: Market risk tolerance seems to be on the rise, based on declining fear levels as illustrated in this chart of the Cboe Volatility Index from late Wednesday. Although Wall Street’s main fear gauge has risen some this morning, the overall level of worry is down. We’ll have to see if that holds. Data Source: Cboe Chart source: The thinkorswim® platform from TD Ameritrade. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Lower Earnings Growth Ahead? S&P Capital IQ consensus estimates for 2019’s S&P 500 operating earnings per share (EPS) growth are now close to three percentage points lower than they were at the end of the quarter. Given that initial EPS growth estimates have been higher than actual results 60% of the time since 2000 and have overshot their mark an average of around five percentage points, that implies that EPS will grow just 1.5% for all of 2019, according to investment research firm CFRA. And the bulk of those revisions occurred during the first quarter of the year, not during the first month, according to CFRA. “The market continues to advance in price despite these reduced growth estimates, possibly indicating investors' belief that the market can withstand P/E multiple expansion, now that the Fed's rate-tightening cycle has possibly reached its conclusion,” the research firm said.
GDP Rescheduled: The government’s report on gross domestic product is one of the most widely anticipated and watched economic reports. Put out by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the most recent data, for the first estimate of Q4 GDP, was scheduled for release on Jan. 30 but was delayed by the partial government shutdown. Although the shutdown ended a few days before the report was due out, the funding gap had still interrupted the data gathering process. But the market now has a new date to look forward to. The BEA said on Wednesday that it would release a report combining the first and second GDP estimates on Feb. 28. Those needing an estimate sooner can check out the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast. The latest estimate, also from Wednesday, shows Q4 real GDP growth coming in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.7%. That’s up from a Feb. 1 estimate of 2.5%, with the increase reflecting the contribution of net exports based on the government’s international trade report on Wednesday. For a different take, Action Economics is more optimistic, projecting Q4 GDP growth of 3.2%.
Slipping on Factory Floor:Although GDP growth of around 3% isn’t anything to sneeze at, concerns about the economy still remain and appear to have pushed the Goldilocks scenario into the rearview mirror. On this note, government data from earlier this week showed that factory orders unexpectedly decreased in November. The reading showed a 0.6% decline when a Briefing.com consensus had anticipated a 0.3% gain. And that was after a 2.1% decline in October. “The key takeaway from the report is that it showed a drop in business investment in November,” noted Briefing.com. “That raises the potential for a further decline in December since the November softness preceded the big market sell-off in December and the start of the partial government shutdown in January that were drags on business confidence.”
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