U.S. stocks received a much-needed shot of life during Tuesday’s session when all three major domestic indexes scored their second best gain of the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 both climbed 2.1%, while the Nasdaq roared 2.7% higher, reversing the tech-centric index’s abysmal 1.6% loss Monday that saw it near correction territory.
Naturally, most investors are skeptically viewing Tuesday’s session as a dead-cat bounce, which is morbid market-speak for a temporary recovery in prices after a long decline. Even after Tuesday’s rally, all three indexes are still down more than 4% over the last month. That has investors worrying about whether or not the rally is an indicator of a longer-term recovery or if the melting pot of negative headlines means more suffering is on the horizon.
Here’s a closer look at the market’s performance Tuesday – and how it factors into the larger economic and political pictures that have dragged the three indexes lower since early May…
The biggest culprit behind the stock market’s enormous jolt on Tuesday was notoriously fickle Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who gave a speech in Chicago indicating that the central bank remains committed to making data-dependent decisions on interest rates. He particularly noted that he and his policymakers are “closely monitoring the implications of these developments for the U.S. economic outlook and, as always, we will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near our symmetric 2 percent objective.”
While Powell’s dry statements typically fall on deaf ears for the public, market participants seemed to interpret them as dovish and accommodative. Investors went risk-on with their buying activity and sent stocks higher on hopes that Powell’s words mean federal monetary policy will ease in the near-to-long term. The statements also came alongside heightened expectations of upcoming rate cuts, with the CME FedWatch tool – which measures the likelihood of rate hikes around upcoming Fed meetings – indicating a 90% chance of a September rate reduction and 80% for a December reduction.
How Investors Reacted
Some of Monday’s biggest losers were Tuesday’s biggest gainers, particularly the heavyweight components largely responsible for moving the three indexes in either direction.
For the Nasdaq, those were the FANG stocks: Facebook Inc. (FB), Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), Netflix Inc. (NFLX), and Alphabet Inc. (GOOG). Each saw respective gains of 2%, 2.2%, 5%, and 1.6% during Tuesday’s session. The S&P’s biggest winners included smaller-scale firms like Corteva Inc. (CTVA), Mattel Inc. (MAT), and Wynn Resorts Ltd. (WYNN), which vaulted 11.9%, 11.7%, and 9% on company-specific news. As for the Dow, the two highest performers were Dow Inc. (DOW) and Apple Inc. (AAPL) with respective 4.1% and 3.66% returns.
The Bigger Picture
Escalating trade tensions are nothing new, and they’re primarily to blame for the last month’s market downturn. But the newest addition to the mix has been the federal government’s renewed interest in launching antitrust probes against America’s most dominant tech firms, which on Monday singlehandedly dragged the Nasdaq to its lowest level since Feb. 11.
In fact, the government’s bullseye on the tech industry looms so large that the Department of Justice (DoJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) already appear to be splitting up the work. Yesterday, news broke that the DoJ looks poised to start investigating Alphabet and Apple specifically, while the FTC will take the reigns on diving into Facebook and Apple. Google already hit headlines last week when the DoJ said it would review the company’s practice of increasing the visibility of its own advertisements in the search engine’s results over other companies, which the government views is an effort to thicken the firm’s advertising revenue. After all, Google’s ad revenue last year exceeded $116 billion and constituted the majority of Alphabet’s overall business.
While that may seem like just a Nasdaq problem, it’s also a Dow Jones problem. Consider that Apple – which replaced AT&T Inc. (T) on the Dow back in March 2015 – constitutes 4.8% of the index’s total weight and is therefore its sixth heaviest component. That means AAPL’s 1% drop Monday and more than 15% plunge over the last month has made it one of the Dow’s biggest liability. Combine increased government oversight with ongoing trade tiffs with China – of which Apple is a central player in the smartphone war with Chinese tech giant Huawei – and the company could end up being an even larger liability in the long term.
The Fed news that fueled Tuesday’s rally can largely be dismissed for now, especially since the September meeting is over three months away and Powell’s interpretation of economic sentiment can change on a dime. The more aggressive threat to a market rebound is clearly the DoJ and FTC’s crusade against the tech industry, which could not only lead to further share-price losses but also to more talks of breaking up Big Tech, something that’s on several Democratic candidates’ minds moving into the 2020 election.
That being said, it’s still difficult to recommend investors steer clear of FANG stocks altogether. Even with mixed Q1 earnings across the board, these companies remain the stock market’s most formidable growth engines; a drop in iPhone sales, for instance, doesn’t mean revenue growth from iPhones will go away, something that was made abundantly clear by Apple CEO Tim Cook at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) this week. Investors should keep their wits about them in the long term but continue to follow their performance in the short term. There’s always money to be made in the tech sector, and any potential legislation that could derail profits likely won’t come into effect until after the election.