Crossing Wall Street Review – March 24, 2017
By Eddy Elfenbein, editor of Crossing Wall Street and portfolio manager of the AdvisorShares Focused Equity ETF (NYSE Arca: CWS)
While there’s been a lot of talk of the Trump Trade, properly speaking, there were two separate trades in recent months.
The first Trump Trade came immediately after the election. That’s when stocks soared. The stock rally was matched by a big downturn for bonds. Within a few days, the yield on the 10-year Treasury jumped from around 1.8% to close to 2.3%. That’s an unusually large move for such a short period of time. Combine that with the fact that the 10-year yield had been creeping higher since the summer, and you can see how dramatically the interest-rate outlook had changed.
Here’s what was happening. This first stage of the Trump Rally was based on the idea of a markedly improving economy. Traders thought policies in Washington would shift towards fiscal stimulus. That’s why the cyclicals stocks led the way. The yield curve widened, and defensive areas like utilities and staples didn’t fare so well.
But by early December, that stage of the rally had petered out. By December 13, the S&P 500 had reached a near-term peak of 2,271.72. The stock market was pretty flat for a few weeks after that. By Inauguration Day, the S&P 500 closed at 2,271.31.
Stage Two of the Trump rally really got going in February. This second stage was led by large-cap tech stocks. Unlike stage one, this time the long end of the bond market was relatively stable. The yield on the 10-year bond peaked around mid-December and has mostly been in a trading range since (between 2.3 and 2.6%).
Instead, the interest-rate action has been at the short end. The second stage of the Trump Rally happened at the same time there was a perceived need for higher interest rates. This is when we saw yields at the short end of the yield curve touch levels they hadn’t seen in seven or eight years. This move in the market foreshadowed last week’s Fed rate hike. In fact, it also caused traders to think more hikes were on the way.
But now, that thesis is starting to show holes. For one, we can’t help noticing the price of oil. One month ago, West Texas Crude got as high as $54.45 per barrel. Everything was going right for OPEC. The production cuts were holding. Finally! But the latest numbers show that there’s still an oil glut. In fact, it’s a big one, and the oil markets are taking notice. At one point, the price of oil fell ten times in eleven days. This week, West Texas Crude came close to falling below $47 per barrel.
Goldman Sachs noted that OPEC’s production cut has had an unintentional side effect—it has spurred the biggest productions in history. It’s hard to say that the Fed needs to raise interest rates to combat inflation when the price of oil is dropping.
Both parts of the Trump Rally have seen rising share prices and low volatility. If I had to pinpoint a single day when the Trump Rally peaked, it would probably be the day after President Trump’s congressional address. Traders loved the speech. The Dow shot up 300 points the following day.
Since then, however, the market has had a tough time getting its footing, and some cracks are starting to show. For example, 217 stocks in the S&P 500 are currently below their 50-day moving average. The overall index is just 0.72% above its 50-DMA. There are now 171 stocks in the index that are more than 10% below their 52-week high, which is the traditional definition of a market correction. In other words, more than one-third of the index is effectively in a correction already.
On Tuesday, the S&P 500 lost 1.24%. Ryan Detrick notes that the average worst day of the year is three times worse than Tuesday’s loss, which is our current worst day of the year. It wasn’t bad, but it was different from the trend, and that’s what catches our attention. The Nasdaq Composite, actually, hit a new all-time high on Tuesday, which shows the impact of large-cap tech.
So stage one of the Trump Rally (November and December) was about a resurgent economy. Stage two (February) was about taking on more risk due to higher rates.
What to do now: I’m still holding on to my view that stocks are due for a modest pullback. It may have already started, since the S&P 500 has now gone three weeks without making a new high. But let me caution you not to worry. I’m not expecting a major decline.