Tech reclaims market leadership with recovery showing cracks

Bloomberg August 21 | Updated on August 21, 2020

The jobless data suggests a stumble for the labour market

It’s been as reliable a trade as any since the stock market bottomed in March: Whenever economic data shows signs of slowing, pile into companies that benefit from a delay in the return to normal.

It was on display again Thursday, when the likes of Zoom Video Communications Inc, Peloton Interactive Inc and Netflix Inc left the broader market behind after an unexpected jump in weekly jobless claims. Stalwarts Inc and Apple Inc also rallied. Energy companies led declines in the S&P 500, closing down more than 2 per cent. Ulta Beauty Inc, the cosmetics retailer, slumped with Carnival Corp. The Nasdaq 100 jumped 1.4 per cent while the S&P 500 edged up 0.3 per cent.

“When you’ve had — whether it’s jobless claims or other events that have disappointed the market — we’ve seen a continuation of prior leadership which has been more tech-centric,” said Josh Jamner, investment analyst at ClearBridge Investments. “This is a good example that it’s not going to be a smooth recovery.”

US jobless claims unexpectedly rose last week to more than 1.1 million, surprising many and sparking another rotation into sectors of the market seemingly impervious to the pandemic. It’s a pattern that’s been prevalent all summer, where each new data point showing a waning economic rehabilitation has nudged traders away from recovery plays and back toward the mighty tech behemoths.

The jobless data suggested a stumble for the labour market and reinforced bets that while the worst may be over, the recovery could be arduous and drawn-out. Many companies hit hardest by the pandemic declined, with the Russell 2000 gauge of small firms falling 0.5 per cent Thursday. Gold, a safe-haven trade, advanced.

Meanwhile, in the tech space, many firms are benefiting from a prolonged downturn — and continue to gather strength the longer it goes on. Apple this week made history when it surpassed a $2-trillion market value.

The Nasdaq 100 closed at a record Thursday. The index, which is up 31 per cent this year, has hit a new high more than a dozen times since June. And ETF investors have added $2.8 billion to tech products so far in August, the most of any sector-focussed funds. Invesco’s QQQ, which counts Apple and as its top holdings, received more than $2 billion of that inflow.

“Any time you go to risk off, you should expect the stay-at-home and the stocks that have won will continue to win,” said Mark Stoeckle, senior portfolio manager at Adams Funds. “You will see the winners continue to win when risk is taken off.”

Published on August 21, 2020

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