What Can Stop This Selloff?

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What’s in Today’s Report:

  • What Can Stop This Selloff?
  • Weekly Market Preview:  A Very Important Week of Earnings, Fed Decision and Economic Data
  • Weekly Economic Cheat Sheet:  A Busy Week (Jobs Report Friday, ISM PMIs Wed/Fri)

Futures are moderately higher on a small reduction in geo-political tensions and better than expected inflation data.

Geo-politically, Israel moved forces into Gaza over the weekend but the operation isn’t as large as feared (yet) and that’s helping to slightly reduce geopolitical anxiety.

On inflation, Spanish CPI rose 3.5% vs. (E) 3.8%, providing another reminder that global inflation is declining.

This week will be a very busy one as we get a Fed decision and important economic/inflation data, as well as the final “big” week of earnings.  But, it starts slowly as there are no economic reports today, so focus will be on earnings and some important reports today include:  MCD ($3.00), WDC ($-1.87), ON ($1.35), SOFI ($-0.07), ANET ($1.58).

What Can Stop This Selloff?

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Four Questions for the Selloff

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • 4 Questions for the Selloff: Why Have Stocks Dropped to the March Lows, What’s Holding Up Best, What Makes This Stop, and How Bad Can It Get?

S&P futures are up 1% this morning as yesterday’s steep declines are digested amid upbeat earnings and guidance out of MSFT after the close yesterday (MSFT is up 5%).

Economic data was net negative overnight as Australian CPI was hotter than expected while U.K. CBI Distributive Trades and the German GfK Consumer Climate Index both badly missed estimates, however, investors are shrugging off the data as the focus is on earnings this morning.

Looking into today’s session, there are two economic reports: International Trade in Goods (E: -$105.0B) and Pending Home Sales (E: -1.1%) but neither should move markets and no Fed officials are scheduled to speak.

There is a 5-Yr Treasury Note auction at 1:00 p.m. ET that could move the bond market as yields have pulled back considerably since last week’s highs and a reversal back higher could become a headwind on stocks again, especially growth names.

Finally, the market’s main focus at the moment is earnings and we will get results from: BA (-$0.26) and HOG ($1.52) before the bell and then FB ($2.58), F ($0.39), PYPL ($0.89), QCOM ($2.91), and DFS ( $3.58) after the close. If earnings, especially by big tech companies can top estimates, a relief rally could play out as stocks are near-term oversold, however, momentum through yesterday’s close has been decidedly negative and the price action remains heavy.

Fed Meeting Preview

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • What to Make of Yesterday’s Selloff and Reversal
  • FOMC Preview
  • Chart: S&P 500 Measured Move Reached

Futures are trading off of the overnight lows but still down roughly 1% as yesterday’s volatile session is digested ahead of the Fed while IBM posted strong Q4 earnings yesterday and economic data largely met estimates overnight.

The FOMC meeting begins today which will increasingly capture trader focus ahead of tomorrow’s announcement and press conference.

Economically, we get two reports on the housing market this morning: the Case-Shiller Home Price Index (E: 1.0%) and the FHFA House Price Index (E: 1.0%) but Consumer Confidence (E: 111.9) will be the more important number to watch given the growing uncertainty about the state of the economic recovery. Another bad print like we saw with yesterday’s Composite PMI Flash could send stocks lower.

There is a 5-Yr Treasury Note auction at 1:00 p.m. ET and investors will be looking for strong demand (which would reflect dovish shifting Fed expectations) as we saw with yesterday’s 2-Yr auction which helped stocks bottom and reversed so sharply in intraday trade.

Finally, on the earnings front, we will hear from: JNJ ($2.12), VZ ($1.28), GE ($0.83), MMM ($2.03), and AXP ($1.78) before the open, and then MSFT ($2.29), TXN ($1.95), and COF ($5.14) after the close.

What to Make of Yesterday’s Selloff

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • What to Make of Yesterday’s Selloff
  • OPEC+ Policy Update and Oil Outlook

Price action is mixed across asset classes this morning as equity futures are cautiously rebounding with EU shares but bond yields made new lows amid lingering Delta variant fears.

Economically, German PPI fell to 1.3% vs. (E) 1.1% in June, down from 1.5% in May which offers some new support for the transitory inflation thesis.

Economically, there is one report on the real estate market today: Housing Starts and Permits (E: 1.590M, 1.700M) but it should not have an impact on stocks or bonds, and no Fed officials are scheduled to speak.

That will leave trader focus on earnings early with: ALLY ($1.49), PM ($1.54), TRV ($2.35), and SYF ($1.51) reporting Q2 results ahead of the bell and NFLX ($3.16), UAL (-$4.17), IBKR ($0.83) reporting after the close.

Outside of those potential catalysts, the broader market focus remains on the latest developments regarding the Delta-variant of COVID-19 and any subsequent restrictions or lockdowns that may be announced around the globe.

As has been the case in recent weeks, the stock market will likely react to moves in bonds, so if yields begin to extend this morning’s early drop amid new risk-off money flows, expect volatility to remain elevated. Conversely, if bond yields begin to recover meaningfully, then stocks would likely follow, potentially rising back towards Friday’s closing levels.

Why the Falling Yuan is Causing a Selloff

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Why the Falling Yuan is Causing a Selloff
  • Weekly Market Preview
  • Weekly Economic Cheat Sheet

Futures and global markets are sharply lower as the U.S./China trade war intensified over the weekend.

China allowed the yuan to weaken below the psychologically important level of 7/dollar on Monday, signaling a likely acceptance of a long U.S./China trade war.

Economically, global July composite PMIs were better than feared and generally in-line with expectations, while the British services PMI easily beat estimates (51.4 vs. (E) 50.2).

Today, the key report is the ISM Non-Manufacturing PMI (E: 55.5) and the market will be looking for solid data.

Regarding U.S./China trade, undoubtedly there will be tweets flying today but there is a chance for some good news on U.S./China trade this week.  The Commerce Department may grant waivers for U.S. companies to do business with Huawei, and if that happens, it’ll help offset some of this recent trade escalation.

Why Taxes Caused Yesterday’s Selloff, August 18, 2017

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If there was one “reason” for the sell-off yesterday, it was taxes—specifically, the dying dream of tax cuts and a profit repatriation holiday.

That’s why the Cohn headline spooked stocks. It’s not that markets particularly love Gary Cohn. Instead, he’s important because he’s viewed as a key figure in pushing tax cuts through in early 2018, an expectation that market has held on to (until, perhaps, yesterday).

If Cohn resigns, then the prospects for tax cuts (and almost more importantly, the foreign profit repatriation holiday) dim… significantly.

The declining expectations for tax cuts and profit repatriation hit tech especially hard yesterday and it combined with the underwhelming CSCO/NTAP earnings to push that sector sharply lower—and falling tech dragged the whole market down yesterday afternoon.

Now, going forward, clearly there’s been some damage done on the charts (the S&P 500 closed at a one-month low), and momentum indicators are showing warning signs.

And, those warning signs are appearing at a particularly dangerous time for markets (in the short term) as late August is particularly favorable for “air pockets” to form in the markets given that a lot of desks are minimally staffed due to summer vacation. Point being, I don’t think we’re done with the uptick in volatility yet—again due mostly to the calendar.

However, Nasdaq, SOXX and FDN all remain above last week’s lows. So, while Thursday’s trading was clearly painful, I’m not ready to get materially more defensive just yet (although clearly we’re watching those indicators very, very closely going forward).

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What Caused The Mid-Day Selloff?

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The most likely “cause” of the midday reversal and selloff (which frankly looked ugly for an hour or so) was a cautious report from JPM quant analyst Kolanovic, and the reasons it caused a dip are twofold. First, Kolanovic is very respected on the Street, and he was one of the first analysts to correctly identify the role of “Risk Parity” funds in the violent market declines of August 2015.

Second, he outright suggested investors hedge equity exposure.

Now, to be clear, it wasn’t a bearish report, as he did note there are strong, positive fundamental factors supporting stocks including a rising economic tide and growing earnings.

However, he made the point that, in his opinion, market volatility is now at an all-time low. The specific accuracy of this claim can be debated, but let’s all agree market volatility is close to, if not at, all-time

The all-time lows in volatility have caused funds to use increasingly leveraged strategies to generate outsized returns. Selling volatility options is one of the simplest leveraged strategies, but the point is this: Quant funds and traders will ratchet-up leverage in low volatility environments to increase returns amidst perceived lower risk. And, since volatility is at or near all-time lows (and has been for some time) these leveraged strategies are both abundant and large.

And, this all-time low volatility and explosion of leveraged strategies is coming right at a time when global central banks are reducing monetary accommodation  for the first time in, well, a decade.

So, while the analogy of fireworks sitting on top of a powder keg is a bit over the top, it does illustrate the general idea behind Kolanovic’s caution.

Bottom line, in my opinion, this report by itself isn’t a reason to materially de-risk, as the same argument could have been made about this market over the past few months (as it’s made new highs). But, Kolanovic is a smart guy, so his caution should be noted.

Finally, two anecdotal points. First, I believe what really spooked markets yesterday was that Kolanovic referenced this current set up as being similar to “Portfolio Insurance,” a strategy that failed miserably and contributed to the crash of 1987. Obviously, that’s not an uplifting analogy.

Second, for those of us watching the tape yesterday, the mini-freefall we saw in tech and specifically SOXX and FDN, was a bit unnerving. Things steadied, but the pace of the declines midday yesterday was a bit scary. That tells me these are very, very crowded trades, and I am going to have a “think” on potentially lightening up some exposure to that tech sector in favor of shifting it internationally (Europe, Japan, and perhaps emerging markets). Food for thought.

Getting back to the markets today, the Employment Cost Index is the key number to watch. If it’s hot, we could see yields rise, and that might pressure stocks mildly. Meanwhile, a soft reading will send yields lower and likely push stocks higher short term. Inflation remains a much more important influence on the markets right now than measures of economic growth.

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