A correction is long overdue, and one high-flying group could get hit hard, tech guru Dan Niles says

  • Niles says there's too much complacency among investors, especially when it comes to semiconductor stocks.
  • If those stocks see a sell-off, it could drag down the rest of the market, he says.
  • "The longer it keeps climbing and the higher valuations go, the more nervous I become," Niles says.

Closely watched hedge fund manager Dan Niles is taking note of unsettling activity that's getting more ominous every time the stock market hits a new high.

Niles, formerly a top chip analyst on Wall Street, says there's too much complacency among investors, especially when it comes to semiconductor stocks. If those stocks see a sell-off, it could drag down the rest of the market, the founding partner at AlphaOne Capital Partners said Tuesday on CNBC's "Trading Nation."

"The longer it keeps climbing and the higher valuations go, the more nervous I become," Niles said. "We're long overdue for a correction. This is the second-longest bull market since World War II."

The iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF has soared 67 percent in the past 52 weeks, a growth rate that Niles says is unsustainable.

"If you look at semiconductors — which is where I have the real problem — the semiconductor index in 2016 was up 37 percent. The revenue growth was 2 percent. This year, the semiconductor index is up 18 percent, and the revenue growth is maybe 5 percent," said Niles.

The three best performing stocks in the S&P 500 over the last year are all semiconductor companies. Shares of NVIDIA, Advanced Micro Devices and Micron are all up nearly 200% or more in that period.

Semiconductor companies, which are considered a highly cyclical area of tech, are facing serious demand challenges, according to Niles.

Not only are they trying to cope with a PC industry that's on track to see its sixth-straight year of softer sales, a struggling auto industry could also cause semis to come home to roost as early as summer, he said.

"China's auto sales last year were really stimulated by the fact that they cut taxes down to 5 percent from 10. So that went ahead and really ramped up auto sales last year into the double digits. The most recent month, it went negative," said Niles. "In the U.S., we all know what is going on with Ford."

Ford is planning to cut about 10 percent of worldwide workforce, sources told CNBC.

Niles made his comments hours after Bank of America Merrill Lynch put out new research showing that the Nasdaq is the most "crowded" trade on the planet right now.

"This market is very concentrated to say the least. But I think you do have to look at the individual names within the market," said Niles, who's still positive longer-term on internet stocks, particularly Facebook and Alphabet.

"This is nowhere near 2000 where you had stocks selling pet food on the internet that were over a billion dollars," Niles said.

"Quite honestly, I am not as worried about the internet companies because here you're talking names that are growing 20 percent-plus. If you can think about it logically, if they go up 20 percent a year, they are just keeping up with their growth rates. In fact, if Facebook [stock] doesn't go up 40 percent, it's getting cheaper every year."

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Trading Nation is a multimedia financial news program that shows investors and traders how to use the news of the day to their advantage. This is where experts from across the financial world – including macro strategists, technical analysts, stock-pickers, and traders who specialize in options, currencies, and fixed income – come together to find the best ways to capitalize on recent developments in the market. Trading Nation: Where headlines become opportunities.

Michael Santoli

Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's “Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET).   In addition, he contributes to CNBCand CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

Follow Michael Santoli on Twitter @michaelsantoli

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