Our top market takeaways for November 19, 2021.
All things considered, it was a quiet week in markets. Stocks drifted higher, driven by big tech and the #metaverse (whatever that means). Semiconductor stocks got a boost due to data center strength, secular opportunities in automobiles and increased manufacturing capacity in places such as Malaysia. And while the October retail sales report showed a healthy consumer (even after adjusting for inflation), the most economically sensitive sectors (materials, financials and energy) were the worst performers. Nonetheless, the S&P 500 made its 66th new all-time high of the year on Thursday. It only needs 12 more to break the record of 77 set in 1995.
In the aftermath of last week’s inflation reading, bond yields were relatively tame. Markets continue to think the Federal Reserve will embark on a rate-hiking cycle by the middle of next year, and higher short-term interest rates in the United States seem to be drawing in capital. The U.S. dollar is the strongest it has been relative to a basket of other currencies since last June.
As we head into the holiday season, we want to keep our eye on five developments that matter for markets. This week, we want to give a quick update on them.
But really, where’s my stuff? Delivery times are still super long across the globe, largely due to surging demand for goods in the United States. But, maybe, just maybe, we’re starting to see flickers of hope that the supply chain pain is easing. Semiconductor prices (which soared amid demand for all things digital) have turned lower. U.S. auto production (which has been plagued by the semi shortage) rebounded in October. Cargo ship transportation costs have recently declined, big retailers reported better hiring conditions, and backlogs eased. The number of delinquent containers sitting at the Port of Los Angeles is down by almost 30% since the Port instituted a $100 fine per day for every container that sits idle for more than nine days. And companies such as Walmart have said they expect shelves to be fully stocked ahead of holiday shopping sprees. While we’re not out of the woods yet, the latest trend is certainly encouraging.
Winter is coming. While energy commodities such natural gas and oil are in short supply, it’s possible that the situation is becoming incrementally less severe. For instance, our Investment Bank believes the crude oil market will have excess supply as soon as the first quarter of next year, and even though the supply response has been moderate, the United States has added nearly 200 active rigs so far this year.
Not to mention that politicians have taken notice (even if they have limited control over oil prices). The United States discussed releasing some Strategic Reserves (which hold over 620 million barrels of crude in the Gulf Coast) to add supply to the market, and China may also release some of its reserves.
Indeed, crude oil and gasoline prices are down around -7.5% from peaks, and U.S. natural gas is down -25%. While it is too early to call the top in energy prices, any softening could go a long way to quell the fears around both a winter energy crisis and inflation.
This month marks two years since the first reported COVID-19 case, and while day-to-day life has certainly improved from the throes of lockdown, it’s still anything but normal. Europe is facing an intensifying wave of new infections, accounting for almost 60% of the world’s new COVID-19 cases. Germany broke another record in new cases yesterday. Some policymakers, such as in the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium, are pursuing partial lockdown measures or restrictions on the unvaccinated. Such trends are worrisome, especially as we head further into winter.
Yet, we continue to believe in the power of vaccines, immunity from prior infection, and new treatments in preventing the worst case outcomes. Fifty-two percent of the world’s population has received at least one vaccine dose, compared to 10% in June. Booster shots in a handful of countries are underway. And breakthrough treatments, such as Pfizer’s take-home pill, are already making waves. COVID-19 remains a concern, but the future looks brighter.
In Washington, lawmakers are still hammering out the final details of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan (which targets “social” infrastructure on top of the already passed physical infrastructure plan), discussing the impending debt limit (which could breach on December 15), and deciding who the next Fed Chair will be (current Chair Jerome Powell is the favorite, but if the last two years have taught us anything, it’s to not be surprised by the unexpected). We think the Build Back Better agenda (at least in some form) is likely to be passed before the new year. Given that the spending is almost fully offset by revenue raised, the headline economic impact could be modest. However, some sectors may be supported, and high-income families are likely to see higher taxes, which emphasizes the importance of being mindful around structuring one’s assets.
Meanwhile, President Biden met with Chinese President Xi to discuss, among other things, the (somehow still ongoing) trade war, increasing oil supplies and the Olympics. While we aren’t counting on the tariffs on Chinese imports getting rolled back, it could be an interesting option to improve supply chains and help deal with inflation.
Peloton is down over -70% as people choose to work out at the gym and not at home. Penn National Gaming, which surged over +450% in 2020, is down over -60% from peak after being left out of New York State’s online sports gaming program. Zoom, the online meeting provider, is down -25% this year as office occupancy continues to tick up. The ARK Innovation ETF, one of the darlings of 2020 and early 2021, is now down almost -30% from highs. Same thing with the SPAC Index.
Safe assets haven’t found any magic this year, either. Long-term bonds are down over -5%. Gold has lost over -2.5% this year and is -10% down from the 2020 highs. The worst-performing equity sectors in the United States are utilities and consumer staples. Earlier this year, we thought it would be best to overweight risky assets relative to “safer” ones, and so far this year that view has proved to be correct.
One area to keep an eye on is clean energy. Broadly, the sector is still down -25% from highs, but it did rally around +20% in the weeks leading up to and during the COP26 conference. It may be set to regain some magic in 2022.
With more record highs in 2021 than there have been weeks in the year, some investors may be questioning when the ball might drop. We continue to believe we are entering a vibrant mid-cycle environment (despite the risks), but we don’t discount the possibility of volatility rearing its head. Importantly, volatility is a mainstay of investing—and the average year since 1980 has seen an S&P 500 drawdown just north of 14%. But even so, the index has ended up on the year over 75% of the time. If history is any indicator, it’s taught us that staying invested tends to benefit over the long term.
All market and economic data as of November 2021 and sourced from Bloomberg and FactSet unless otherwise stated.
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