Big US firms post good results but values slide
"Over-concentration can lead to too much volatility on the downside”
Better earnings equals higher share prices, or so goes the customary thinking. For technology stocks during this reporting season, it’s the exact opposite.
Companies from Alphabet to Microsoft announced quarterly results that beat analyst estimates by a combined 7.7 per cent, more than any other industry group in the S&P 500 Index. Yet their stocks posted the worst first-day reaction, falling an average 1.8 per cent. As tech megacaps from Facebook Inc. to Amazon.com and Google parent Alphabet reported earnings, the Nasdaq 100 Index ended a three-week streak of gains. The gauge finished the five-day period with a 0.2 per cent loss and dropped 0.7 per cent from a record-high Wednesday.
“Look at some of the businesses, whether it’s Apple or Google, their revenue and profit growth is staggering,” said Marshall Front, who manages $800 million at Front Barnett Associates in Chicago as chairman. “But over-concentration can lead to too much volatility on the downside.”
The S&P 500 slipped less than 0.1 percent over the five days. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.2 per cent as robust results from Boeing, Verizon Communications and Caterpillar were rewarded with weekly share gains exceeding 7 per cent.
The disconnect highlights the challenge for high-fliers such as Apple and Nvidia still due to announce results and poses a risk for a sector that has been whipsawed by price swings since June. Good profits aren’t proving to be enough for investors who have already held a record-high percentage of tech stocks in their portfolios.
Bank of America strategist Savita Subramanian flagged the potential for lacklustre returns earlier this month, warning that the bar had been set higher for tech companies after investors crowded into stocks with the highest growth potential.
“Positioning risk may be an overhang to performance despite solid fundamentals,” she wrote in a July 7 research note.And too much love can prove perilous when momentum reverses. In June, after investors had flocked to tech stocks anticipating faster earnings growth in a move that pushed the Nasdaq 100 Index to rise twice as fast as the S&P 500, they rushed for the exit all at once, sparking the worst selloff since 2008 relative to the rest of the market.
The vulnerability was on display again Thursday as tech stocks bore the brunt of a selloff triggered by a note from JP Morgan quant strategist Marko Kolanovic that cautioned investors about the risks of record-low volatility in the equity market.
In another sign that folks are on edge, about US$2.5 billion was pulled out of the largest exchange-traded fund tracking the Nasdaq 100 over the week, the most since 2007.
While tech stocks as a whole are trading at valuations similar to the broader market, anxiety is growing over prices for the industry’s leaders. The five biggest American companies by market capitalisation, all involving Internet or software, have rallied an average of 32 per cent since December, accounting for almost one third of the S&P 500’s advance in 2017.
The cohort, also known as FAAMG, fetched a price-to-earnings ratio of 62, almost triple the S&P 500. Apple, the largest, is due to announce results Tuesday and analysts predicted an 11 per cent increase in profit.
“The earnings reports, however strong, don’t boost the sentiment toward tech stocks when valuations are this rich,” said Ilya Feygin, senior strategist at WallachBeth Capital. “There is scope for a pullback in the sector.”
Updated: July 29, 2017 08:50 AM