(Thursday Market Open) Taxes and gasoline prices, two of those unavoidable facts of modern life, take the spotlight on Wall Street today as the Senate prepares for a vote on tax reform and OPEC meets. Pre-market futures trading pointed toward a possible higher open, including for tech stocks that got trounced in a broad sell-off yesterday.
Attention veers toward Washington, D.C., where the Senate might vote on the Republican tax plan either today or tomorrow. While a vote is likely, it’s not guaranteed. Watch for any signs of a delay, because that might signal trouble within the Republican ranks. As of early Thursday, there were still moving pieces. Even if the vote occurs and the bill gets passed, the legislation likely needs to go through the committee process, where House and Senate negotiators would hammer out the bill’s final parameters. There’s a long way to go, but a yes vote today would probably give markets a shot in the arm, because a lot of people are enthusiastic about the plan’s proposed corporate tax cuts. Hopes for a positive vote might be one factor behind the overnight rally in stock futures.
OPEC is also gathering, and the latest word is that the organization might agree to extend oil production cuts farther into 2018 than the current March cut-off, but with some sort of mechanism to end the plan if oil prices get too high. Some analysts say the oil market has already priced in the cuts for all of next year, and any plan that has an exit clause would be considered bearish. We shall see. Oil prices rose slightly overnight after coming under pressure the last couple of days. The question is whether U.S. crude futures can make a run toward $60 a barrel, as the price has had a lot of trouble getting past $58.
Tech names like Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), and Facebook (FB) that took big hits yesterday also bounced back a little in pre-market trading Thursday. There have been several days this year like Wednesday where tech names took a beating, only to lick their wounds and quickly recover. There’s still some buzz about yesterday’s more than 1% drop in the tech-heavy Nasdaq (COMP), because one theory holds that investors might be shifting their money into other sectors after the huge tech rally. It would take more than one day’s sell-off, however, to prove such a theory.
Still, the tech slide put a new twist on an old story. One of the themes over the last few years has been how online retailers like AMZN and even traditional retailers like Wal-Mart (WMT) — with its growing web presence — are outpacing traditional big box and mall shopping.
The tables turned on Wednesday, at least for the day, as AMZN shares dropped sharply while shares of Macy’s (M), Target (TGT), and Nordstrom (JWN) climbed 7% or more and represented some of the leading stocks of the session. Heavy holiday shopping tallies from Black Friday weekend seemed to help, as did talk that firms with a bigger U.S. presence might benefit more from the proposed tax reform plan than info tech companies — the majority of whose revenues tend to come from overseas.
However, it wasn’t just the prospect of tax legislation that weighed on info tech. It looked like profit taking came to bear after the sector had risen nearly 40% year-to-date. It’s still up 35% after Wednesday’s haircut, with the next-best SPX sector performer, health care, well back at 20% gains. The SPX itself is up 17.3% year-to-date.
Investors moving out of tech helped send markets in all sorts of directions, with the Nasdaq taking a more than 1% plunge, the S&P 500 Index (SPX) staying about flat, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ($DJI) climbing once again to new highs. The DJIA boasts a number of financial and big industrial stocks, which have been doing well lately. In addition, the telecom sector has been on a roll this week, with major gains for stocks like AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ). Banks got a lift in part from the government’s report of 3.3% gross domestic product (GDP) growth in Q3.
Additionally, transport stocks rose 3.3% to new record highs. Transports are sometimes seen as a good barometer of overall economic health. The GDP data probably helped get the transport engines revving.
Investors also sold bonds on Wednesday, putting a little life into yields for the first time in a while. The 10-year Treasury yield rose four basis points to 2.38%, and the yield curve, which had been at 10-year lows, moved in the other direction, Briefing.com pointed out. A climbing yield curve would normally be seen as bullish for stocks, but stocks have rallied lately without much help from yields.
Asian and European stocks took a mixed tone overnight. Gold prices hit a one-week low after the positive U.S. GDP data.
The strong GDP estimate came on the same day that Fed Chair Janet Yellen went over to Capitol Hill and delivered an upbeat assessment of the economy. The economic expansion has broadened, she said, and she expects growth to continue. “Economic growth appears to have stepped up from its subdued pace early in the year,” Yellen told the Joint Economic Committee. “Moreover, the economic expansion is increasingly broad based across sectors as well as across much of the global economy.”
On a less positive note, she said growth remains slow by historic standards, and that productivity growth — sometimes seen as a key component of overall economic growth — is rising slowly. The elephant in the room might have been the Republicans’ proposed tax plan, and Yellen didn’t directly address it. However, she said the national debt “should keep people up at night.” The plan would raise the debt, according to non-partisan studies.
In another data development, personal consumption expenditure (PCE) prices came out this morning, giving more perspective into the inflation picture. The headline figure rose 0.1% in October, in line with Wall Street analysts’ projections and another instance of relatively tepid price growth. Core PCE prices were a little stronger, rising 0.2%, also matching expectations. The report, which is said to be the Fed’s preferred inflation model, delivers little sign of inflation despite the strengthening economy.
What’s Your Sector’s U.S. Exposure? As info tech stocks took a dive early Wednesday, the Street buzzed about the possibility of sector rotation ahead of this week’s possible Senate vote on tax reform. One school of thought suggests that investors are starting to shuffle out of sectors like info tech — with its high exposure to foreign sales — for sectors that seemingly could better benefit from U.S. tax cuts. While that’s just a theory, one thing to consider as we await the vote is which sectors, other than info tech, have the least and most exposure to U.S. sales. While that doesn’t necessarily mean these sectors would benefit most from a tax cut, it might be good to keep in mind in case sentiment keeps turning this way.
From a percentage basis, sectors with the highest U.S. revenue exposure include utilities (95%), telecom (94%), real estate (91%), financials (79%), and consumer discretionary (73%), according to S&P Dow Jones LLC. Sectors with the least U.S. revenue exposure are info tech (47%), materials (52%), consumer staples (66%), and health care (67%). The average U.S. revenue exposure by sector is 70%, and industrials and energy are near that level.
Pre-Weekend Data Dump Ahead: Investors might want to consider tuning in Friday for a host of economic data on the first day of the new month. No, there isn’t a payrolls report. That’s the following week, because the government traditionally doesn’t release payrolls if the first day of a month happens to be Friday. So stay tuned. Instead, we get a look at auto and truck sales for November, which will filter in from different companies throughout the day and could give more vision into whether the strong consumer confidence translated into sales of big-ticket items. September and October stand now as the strongest two months of the year for auto and truck sales, so see if that trend continued. The November ISM manufacturing index, which slipped a little in October after a strong September, comes out at 10 a.m. ET Friday, accompanied by November construction spending data at the same time. So investors could go into the weekend with a better sense of economic trends, as well as more insight into the tax reform picture assuming the Senate does indeed hold a vote.
Greenback Gives Back: The dollar has quietly had a very bad month. After a rally in late October that took the dollar index toward 95, it’s fallen back to trade near 93. Remember, it was above 100 at the start of the year. One thing to keep watching is whether the dollar’s struggles might continue to help earnings for some U.S. companies, particularly multinationals with big sales abroad where a weak dollar makes their products cheaper.
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