Companies have been beating first-quarter earnings expectations nicely, but there's a big problem up on America's top lines.» Read More
Pimco may run the world's biggest bond fund. But that doesn't mean the company is universally enthusiastic about the bond market.
"Equities probably outperform bonds this year," Pimco market strategist and portfolio manager Tony Crescenzi said on Thursday's episode of "Futures Now." "Pimco would be fully invested in the S&P 500 this year."
"This may sound a bit different to hear from Pimco," Crescenzi conceded.
Yet Pimco's prediction about economic growth really leaves it with no choice but to prefer equities.
In the past, "we've focused on the idea of a 'new normal,' and we've been projecting growth of about 2 percent for a long time, and that's been where it's been," Crescenzi said. But now "we expect economic growth of between 2.5 percent and 3 percent in the United States this year. For Pimco, that's pretty high."
Of course, the "new normal" is the theory famously promulgated by Mohamed El-Erian, the recently departed former CEO and co-CIO of Pimco. In 2009, El-Erian presciently predicted that growth would remain unusually slow in the post-financial crisis period.
In a January appearance on CNBC, El-Erian said the "new normal" would soon end, and Crescenzi agrees that it's about time for that sluggish period to fade into the rearview mirror.
"PIMCO is projecting the old normal to return this year!" Crescenzi wrote enthusiastically in his notes to CNBC.
Many traders look to the copper futures market to provide clues about where stocks are headed. But as copper spiked on Wednesday after an earthquake struck off the coast of Chile, Wall Street was once again reminded that moves in commodities markets may not be quite as predictive of broader economic trends as one would hope.
On Tuesday night, an 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit the seabed off of the northern coast of Chile, resulting in six deaths and the evacuation of nearly a million people.
The news also spiked copper prices, as traders became concerned about supply given that Chile is the world's No. 1 producer of copper. But after hitting a three-week high in early Wednesday trading, the metal moderated as copper producers said they were not impacted by the quake.
Copper futures are closely watched by many, given the widespread theory that "Dr. Copper" provides a "check-up" on the health of the global economy. Copper indeed has a wide multitude of industrial functions, making copper usage a rough gauge of worldwide industrial demand. And copper and the S&P frequently move in the same direction.
However, over the last 12 months, stocks have soared and copper has tanked. This led many to warn that the action in copper was presenting a warning sign for stocks. But as copper's move off of the earthquake indicates, commodity prices quite often march to the beat of their own respective drums.
"For any sort of commodity, the end-all, be-all is that it's supply-and-demand-driven," said Brian Stutland, the CIO of Equity Armor Investments. "And supernatural events and surprises happen in the world that affect the supply-and-demand economics."
"I've been at this 40 years, and I've learned one thing: Don't fight the Fed," Gartman said. "If you do, it's a losing battle. They have a bigger margin account than you or I will ever dream of having, and they're continuing to fund your margin account."
Because the Federal Reserve has the market's back, Gartman says it's foolhardy to fret about the fundamentals of the economy. Indeed, if the jobs report fails to meet expectations on Friday, he says it would actually be good news for stocks.
"If the numbers aren't good, you might get the stock market to take that very affirmatively, because they'll take that to mean the Fed will continue the process of quantitative easing, although at a lower pace," said Gartman, the editor of The Gartman Letter.
As the first quarter ends, analyst estimates for Q1 earnings continue to slide. At this point, analysts expect to see year-over-year earnings growth that is not just anemic, but actually negative.
If those expectations play out, then it will be only the second quarter of negative earnings growth for the S&P 500 since 2009.
At the end of 2013, analysts predicted that S&P 500 companies would show earnings growth of 4.4 percent in the first quarter compared with the year prior. Those expectations have fallen 4 percent over the course of the quarter, so that a decline of 0.4 percent is now anticipated, according to FactSet.
The last time the S&P 500 earnings growth rate went negative was in the third quarter of 2012, when earnings dropped by 1.0 percent. Before that, the S&P 500 had not shown negative growth since the fourth quarter of 2009.
The good news is that just as it's not unusual to see earnings estimates drop over the course of a quarter (in fact, over the past five years, the bottom-up earnings per share has fallen by 4.4 percent during the average quarter), it's also typical to see the final analyst estimates to undershoot expectations.
America will learn Friday how many jobs were created in March. The result should help investors solve the mystery of whether harsh winter weather or slowing growth has been behind a spate of weak economic readings.
The consensus expectation is for 195,00 new jobs, according to FactSet. After three lukewarm-to-weak reports, that would mark the biggest nonfarm payrolls increase since November.
Joseph LaVorgna, chief US economist at Deutsche Bank, is expecting an even bigger increase of 275,000.
"I'm surprised people aren't higher on their numbers," LaVorgna told CNBC.com. "The true underlying pace of job growth is 180,000 to 200,000, probably, [and] 275,000 just gets us back to the trend that was in place prior to most of the weather distortion."
While LaVorgna expects to see the March number increased by a spate of delayed activity, he says that a weak reading still won't change his view that weather has been temporarily stifling the economy.
"Say that in March, we say half of what we're expecting. Well, then [the] weather payback effect could still be coming," the economist said. "We're going to need to see April and May data. We could be sitting here in June, still questioning whether there was a weather effect."
When Google effectively splits its stock on Wednesday, S&P Dow Jones Indices will do something unprecedented: It will keep both the old Google shares and the new ones in the S&P 500. That means the S&P 500 will technically have 501 components, though it will still have only 500 companies.
"It's a good trivia question for everybody," Cowen & Co.'s head of sales trading, David Seaburg, said on last Thursday's episode of "Futures Now." "Next Wednesday, how many stocks are going to be in the S&P 500? It's 501!"
On Wednesday, ahead of trading on Thursday, Google will offer shareholders nonvoting Class C shares as a one-time special dividend. Because there will be twice as many shares outstanding, the price of the shares is expected to fall in half, effectively making for a standard 2-for-1 stock split.
The move will not only decrease the plus-$1,000 price of Google's shares, but will also potentially reduce shareholders' voting power in the future, mitigating the risk of a messy fight with an activist investor who wants the company to distribute more cash (Carl Icahn's Apple fight might comes to mind).
In the past, S&P Dow Jones Indices, the company that runs the S&P 500, has not kept the additional shares that more than 40 S&P 500 companies offer in the index.
In fact, in a February press release, the company announced that it would switch Google from the Class A shares (which will trade under the ticker "GOOGL") to the class C shares (which will trade under the ticker "GOOG," and are likely to be more liquid).
But in a March press release, it revised that decision, and said both the Class A and Class C shares will be included in the S&P 500 (as well as in the S&P 100).
This is the first time that more than 500 stocks will be included in the S&P 500 for anything more than a temporary period.
The Nasdaq has been a major laggard this week, dropping 3 percent as the S&P 500 fell less than 1 percent and the Dow Jones industrial average has been nearly flat. And at this point, David Seaburg, the head of equity sales trading at Cowen & Co., says he doesn't know just what will end the selling.
"We are definitely seeing people sell a lot of names here. It is institutional selling on the desk," Seasburg said on Thursday's episode of "Futures Now." "I don't know who the incremental buyer is going to be when things really do start to pick up again."
The problem started when investors began to flee from high-beta momentum stocks.
"You're seeing a lot of the bigger high-beta names really being pushed down," Seaburg said. "We've seen a rotation out of the high-beta names into the high-value names, and it's been a clear rotation on our desk."
Then the results and guidance from Accenture, a major consulting and IT company, changed the outlook for larger tech companies. While the earnings results were weak, Accenture increased guidance, which some saw as a warning sign.
Bill Fleckenstein says that stock valuations have risen to absurd levels on the back of low interest rates. But though he remains staunchly bearish on equities, he still believes that it's not yet time to get short.
Valuations on certain tech stocks are "ridiculous—it's just plain ridiculous," Fleckenstein said on Tuesday's episode of "Futures Now." "But that doesn't really matter. Overvaluation, no matter how gargantuan, does not make stocks go down."
"When you get to a place where groups of securities can get wildly overvalued, usually that continues until they exhaust themselves, or until some monetary phenomenon upsets the apple cart," the noted short seller continued.
"But there can be no debate about absurd valuations. And you can't use zero percent interest rates as a justification, because the only reason rates are at zero percent is because of the same Fed that has caused the stock market to be infected with lunacy again."
Monday is shaping up to be a terrible day for the Nasdaq, as the Nasdaq composite slides 1.2 percent, and the more focused Nasdaq 100 index is down 1.0 percent, after bouncing back from its lows. What's notable is that a third of the decline in the Nasdaq 100 can be pegged on just three stocks that have been major tech darlings over the past year: Google, Facebook and Amazon.
"Ultimately, today, it's driven by the big names," said Rich Ilczyszyn, senior commodities broker at iiTrader. "Those big names took a shellacking on Friday, and you're seeing the carryover today."
Google dropped 2.1 percent on Monday, Facebook is down 4.2 percent and Amazon slid 2.5 percent.
Brian Stutland, of the Stutland Volatility Group, said a big article in Monday's Wall Street Journal about the problem click fraud poses for advertisers ("A 'Crisis' in Online Ads: One-Third of Traffic is Bogus") is likely weighing on Google as well as other companies in the space.
"That article has got a lot of people freaked out about these stocks," Stutland said. "Is the model still intact? Will there really be better revenue down the road?... So it's one piece of news that affects a number of names that are so much of the Nasdaq."
Peter Schiff has long held a dim view of the U.S. economy, and a cynical take on the bull market in equities. But even though he thinks stocks are a bad bet, Schiff would still never get short, because he thinks U.S. dollars are an even worse bet.
"Although I don't think there's a lot more upside in the stock market, I'm not looking for a collapse. But what I am looking for is a dollar collapse, so that even if the market continues to move higher, it's nominal highs only. It's not real highs adjusted for a loss of purchasing power in the dollar," Schiff said on Thursday's episode of "Futures Now."
The CEO of Euro Pacific Capital says that Fed stimulus will end up destroying the value of the dollar.
"As the Fed has to print more and more money to keep these asset bubbles inflated, it will diminish the value of the dollar," Schiff said.
So even though the Fed reduced QE once again on Wednesday, and Fed Chair Janet Yellen said that the fed funds rate could be increased sooner than many expect, Schiff doesn't believe the Fed will back away from stimulus.
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