A Mini-Retailpocalypse Couldn’t Crush This Market: Taking Stock

(Bloomberg) -- The market shrugged off a mini-retailpocalypse, a major airline warning and a potentially imminent national emergency to finish the day yet again in the green. That’s nine out of the last eleven sessions that the market has closed higher (or ten out of eleven for the Nasdaq), for anyone that’s counting.

But as I mentioned in yesterday’s Taking Stock, there’s a sense that the recent bounce is feeling a bit long in the tooth, and I don’t think Thursday’s events change any of that.

In fact, a glance at yesterday’s S&P 500 sector performance breakdown, as seen in the graphic below, backs some of these vibes. The group’s that led the ~30-handle swing from the lows weren’t the usual suspects like tech or consumer discretionary, but rather the ones that are more defensive in nature e.g. the REITs, utilities and staples. That’s the complete opposite of what we’ve seen since the lift off in late December.

A Mini-Retailpocalypse Couldn’t Crush This Market: Taking Stock

Now that may all turn out to be a one-day blip attributed to the heavy selling in retail -- consumer discretionary had previously been the best performing sector since Christmas -- similar to how tech crashed off of Apple’s warning only to quickly resume its upward trajectory.

The graphic below shows how badly those defensive groups have lagged the broader market in the past eleven days. None of this is out of the ordinary, but it’s definitely something to watch if the rotation that we saw on Thursday shows that it has legs into next week.

A Mini-Retailpocalypse Couldn’t Crush This Market: Taking Stock

But for now, a classic case of FOMO appears to be trumping any broader concerns stemming from Apple, if you go by the weekly asset class flows data.

EPFR Global data, as cited by BofAML, shows that equities had their largest inflows in eleven weeks at $6.2 billion ($3.8 billion for ETFs, $2.4 billion for mutual funds) for the week ended Jan. 9. Lipper had similar numbers, with U.S.-based stock funds attracting $8.7 billion during the same week after a prior week withdrawal of close to $19 billion.

How Many Warnings Does It Take?

How many brutal earnings reports and preannouncements can this market take? We’ve gotten through the Big Kahuna in Apple’s revenue forecast cut, a gruesome print from Samsung, and sweeping layoff announcements at several giant corporations like Ford, Jaguar, and BlackRock -- all things that could have easily shaken investor sentiment.

And just yesterday, the market brushed off American Airlines’s warning (shares had an >8% trough-to-peak reversal) in addition to all of those retailers: The carnage included Macy’s plunging 18%, Barnes & Noble -16%, Kohl’s -4.8%, L Brands -4.4%, and Target -2.9%.

But what if GM warns big with its investor day today? Or what happens next week if a flood of companies kitchen-sink their yearly outlooks, or what if the banks break down again just like last quarter?

Or what, pray tell, would happen to this tape if we get a massive cyclicals unwind like last quarter, which was sparked by the Fastenal and PPG whiffs (both report next week), that ratchets up the sky-is-falling growth scenarios? Enough sell-siders are predicting a recession over the next year, so it’s not out of the realm.

And if we continue to melt higher, then that ~2,600 resistance on the S&P 500 looms large, especially considering we closed just a few points below that level on Thursday. Next up would be the 50-day moving average, which is in decline and only a handful of handles higher at ~2,636.

A Mini-Retailpocalypse Couldn’t Crush This Market: Taking Stock

On Tap for Next Week

I’ll focus on the micro, because I feel that the market is experiencing a bit of Fed speak fatigue (though we will get the Beige Book and even more comments from the central bankers throughout the week). Plus we’re now stuck tapping our foot as to what’s next in the U.S.-China trade talks situation -- WSJ reported last night that China’s Liu He will make a visit to D.C., but not for a few weeks -- as well as the potential for Trump to announce a national emergency to build that wall.

And so, it begins. And by "it," I’m referring to earnings season, which as per usual will get started by the banks (see our preview). Citigroup kicks it all off Monday morning while the rest of the week will be sprinkled with the likes of JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America.

Big results aside from the banks include Netflix, Blackrock, American Express, UnitedHealth, aluminum bellwether Alcoa, oil service major Schlumberger, Class 1 rail CSX, a couple of airlines, and the two cyclicals that put pressure on the tape last quarter in industrial distributor Fastenal and coating large-cap PPG.

Retailers, in focus after the barrage of holiday sales warnings, may get more fodder for the bears with the commencement of the ICR conference in Florida and the NRF event at the Javits convention center. Within the consumer arena, both Domino’s Pizza and Monster Beverage will hold investor days on the same day.

GM may set the tone for the autos sector with today’s event, but plenty of other OEMs and suppliers will present their case at a number of forums held in Detroit: Two sell-side conferences (Deutsche Bank and Wolfe Research) as well as the Automotive World Congress, all in conjunction with the Detroit Auto Show.

Sectors in Focus Today

  • Autos ahead of GM’s investor meeting (see our preview), which may include 2019 or longer-term guidance as well as bigger picture strategy commentary; note CEO Mary Barra will be on Bloomberg TV later this morning
  • Pot stocks after Tilray’s top holder said it wouldn’t sell on the lockup; also Aphria earnings are just now hitting the tape, and interestingly enough the company’s co-founder and CEO are leaving their roles

Notes From the Sell Side

Netflix (up ~3% pre-market) gets two upgrades going into next week’s earnings: 1) UBS lifts to buy, price target to $410, on upside to sub growth over the near-to-medium term; 2) Raymond James moves to strong buy, target to $450 as the company appears to be approaching a "profit inflection" thanks to content investments and film strategy.

Citi opened a positive catalyst watch on Intel (price target bumped up to $54) with expectations for another beat and raise: "Our recent checks indicate order rates from the PC end market remain solid driven by shortages of PC microprocessors (52% of C18E sales)."

One of the biggest bears on GE is back, with Gordon Haskett’s John Inch slashing estimates and reducing the price target to $7 (just a buck above the PT from JPMorgan’s Steve Tusa). He cites lower expectations for Power, Healthcare and Oil & Gas. Inch assumes GE sells off all of Baker Hughes and Rail by 2020; "We also assume that Healthcare is no longer part of the mix."

Tick-by-Tick Guide to Today’s Actionable Events

  • 7:30am -- INFY earnings call
  • 8:30am -- CPI
  • 9:00am -- GM CEO Mary Barra on Bloomberg TV
  • 9:00am -- APHA earnings call
  • 10:00am -- GM investor meeting
  • 11:00am -- MOFG extraordinary shareholders meeting
  • 12:00pm -- Monthly WASDE grains report (subject to govt reopening)
  • 2:00pm -- Monthly Budget Statement

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