We Zoom… we used to Xerox.

DJIA: 28,364

Different products, we know, but same concept – things change. There are few durable technologies and still fewer that don’t beget their own competition. Change, of course, takes time and it seems a bit premature to take action here. Indeed, it would be the inverse of catching that falling knife. In the case of Xerox (20), new and sometimes better copiers came along, new ways to Xerox, so to speak. In the case of video conferencing, already there are other ways to Zoom, so to speak. There’s a product out there called Teams, backed by a little company called Microsoft (215). Teams may not be reason to buy Microsoft, but it may be reason to be careful of Zoom (520). The numbers for Zoom, we are told, are over the top both in terms of growth and valuation. The latter, of course, doesn’t matter until it matters, but we do miss our Razr.

While Zoom seems the poster child for the so-called COVID or stay at home stocks, there are many. Time will tell, to coin a phrase, but most agree life has changed, the need for these companies will continue even when re-open becomes a reality. Sure we will fly again, but now we’ve learned there is an option. Even the FANGs have come to be thought of as COVID beneficiaries, if only because their businesses have not been impacted. This seems a bit of a stretch. These obviously are successful companies, but their success in the market seems a function of momentum chase. This could change and as a group they remain below their September 2 peak. A stock like Netflix (485) has gone nowhere since its little blowoff move in mid-July. It has been right to buy disappointments here, and there seems another opportunity? In a bit of irony, Google (1615) rallied on the anti-trust announcement, and it was good numbers by Snap (39) that dragged Facebook (278) higher on Wednesday. Go figure.

In recent weeks, there have been two points of note in indicatorland. Both involve the much overused term overbought, where there are as many measures as there are technical analysts, plus the media where measures are not required. By our measures an overbought extreme was reached on 9/2, and a very similar reading again on Monday 10/12. The former ushered in a near 10% correction into late September, the more recent a relatively modest consolidation. The bad news is Monday’s was a less than modest down day – 2.72 to 1 in terms of the Advance-Declines – and any weakness on Monday is itself unusual. The good news, and it is good news, the market has unwound the upside extreme, the overbought condition, without any follow-through to Monday’s weakness. The problem now is that back to a neutral position, the market seems just to be riding the stimulus roller coaster.

The S&P stood at 3307 on August 3, and as of Thursday was some 4.4% above that level. The August date marks three months before the election, and since 1928 the market’s performance during this period has an 87% accuracy rate when it comes to predicting the election’s outcome – an up market means an incumbent win, and vice versa. Doubt that’s of much help, but interesting nonetheless. Another date of some interest is September 30, when the S&P closed at 3363. The S&P lost 3.9% in September, marking its first down month since its loss of 12.6% in March. In turn, an up market in April led to a 15.6% gain through September. The trading system here is almost too simple to work, but it does. Go long the market when the market rose the previous month.

Gold remains in an overall uptrend and up some 20% from the March low. Since its August peak, however, it has been consolidating and as yet doesn’t quite look ready for prime time – a GDX move above 41 would suggest otherwise. Meanwhile, the ratio of Gold to Copper has dropped to a six month low, suggesting traders are seeking economic growth rather than the safety of Gold. Another positive economic sign could be the recent action in Parker Hannifin (225), not exactly a household name, but one which some see as another barometer of the economy. To get to that growth, of course, we need to get through the election. Two weeks ago the market saw stimulus in the color blue, but since then seems generally to have timed out. The possibility of a contested election, history suggests, is ample reason to do so. Since the surge and overbought reading of 10/12, it seems worth noting the NASDAQ 100 has seen only one up day, and modest at that. Anticipatory profit taking anyone?

Frank D. Gretz

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US Strategy Weekly: Counting Positives and Negatives

With a little more than two months left to the year, few would deny that 2020 has been an unusual year. The turning point was the historic, unpredictable, and relentless spread of the COVID-19 virus from China to most other countries around the world. It is not the virus, but its aftermath that will have major repercussions for people, companies, and economic trends for years to come. Yet in the face of this challenge, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite Index reached new highs in September and the DJIA, SPX and Nasdaq Composite are currently 4.2%, 3.9% and 4.5%, respectively, from all-time highs.

Some believe the rally in equities reflects a disconnect between the stock market and reality. But as usual, investors face a mix of positive and negative factors. Today is no different, even when putting the political backdrop aside.

The current negatives are obvious. The spread of COVID-19 resulted in mandatory shutdowns of businesses around the world. In the US, some businesses learned to adapt, and this created a division between winners and losers. But the bottom line is that the shutdown put 22.2 million people out of work between February and April, and 10.7 million of those remained unemployed at the end of September. Another negative is a resurgence of the virus in Europe which is generating a new round of restrictions such as curfews and limits on gatherings. This resurgence places a European recovery in the second half of the year on hold. Together, these two events create a third negative which is an enormous pressure on corporate earnings and an increasing risk of small business bankruptcies. As a result, the S&P 500 index is close to peak valuations on a trailing earnings basis and even when based upon forecasted 2021 earnings valuation remains at nosebleed levels. Added to these problems is the fact that the government is challenging the power and influence of the biggest technology companies with concerted anti-trust action. This week the Justice Department sued Google (GOOG.O – $1555.93) for illegally using its market strength to fend off rivals with distribution agreements that gave its search engine prominent placement on phones and internet browsers. Anti-trust action may prove beneficial to consumers in the long run, but in the shorter run it could pressure the big cap technology stocks that represent a large percentage of the SPX’s market capitalization. In short, it could hurt market performance.

The artificial shutdown of most economies was quickly followed by a series of policy measures to keep economies afloat. In short, the positives must begin with the extraordinary stimulative fiscal and monetary policies put into place around the world. As we have noted in the past, the combination of fiscal and monetary ease announced by the US totaled $5.5 trillion ($2.55 trillion in three fiscal packages and a $2.99 trillion expansion in the Fed’s balance sheet). This $5.5 trillion represents 28% of nominal GDP ($19.53 trillion at the end of the second quarter), or 3.4 months of economic activity. This stimulus went directly to consumers and businesses and it provided a safety net for the broader economy. In addition, another fiscal stimulus package is on the horizon, it is simply a matter of time and politics.

Yet, the biggest positive for investors is how well the economy is doing, particularly the tremendous strength in housing and autos. As of September, the NAHB single-family housing environment survey has recorded three consecutive months of record readings. Homeownership rates are surging in all regions of the US and reached 67.9% in the third quarter. This represents the highest homeownership rate since the 69.2% seen in 2004. See page 3. Residential building permits recorded a 10-year high in September and existing home prices have been moving steadily upward all year. See page 4. September’s retail sales rose 5.2% YOY overall and 3.9% YOY excluding motor vehicles and parts. Autos have been the brightest part of retail sales rising 10.5% YOY in September. Plus, September’s retail sales data included many bright spots in the economy with the exception of clothing, electronics and food and beverage establishments. The best part of all these statistics is that it all bodes well for third quarter GDP. See page 5.

Benign inflation is another positive for the equity market since low inflation is favorable for monetary policy, PE multiples and consumers. In September, the CPI rose 1.4% YOY, PPI finished goods fell 1.2% YOY, final demand PPI rose 0.5% YOY, crude oil fell 26% YOY and the PCE deflator gained 1.4% YOY. The decline in energy prices and positive spread between CPI prices and PPI prices is a favorable one for corporate margins. See page 6.

And despite negative US headlines, there is good news regarding virus trends. On October 20th, The NEW YORK TIMES ran a story including charts that showed “new COVID cases” are trending higher in October, but due to the substantial increase in the number of tests taken and diagnosed since early September. Most importantly, US deaths per day have held steady since early September at around 700. See page 7. In general, this implies the spread of the virus and its deadliness is slowly fading. Moreover, therapies for the virus have advanced dramatically in the last six months and a vaccine is expected early in 2021. Overall, we believe all this good news outweighs the bad.

We have noticed that both consensus earnings estimates for 2020 have had unusually large increases in recent weeks. See page 10. IBES indicated that of the 66 companies that reported third quarter earnings to date, 86% beat expectations. Therefore, 2020 consensus forecasts are apt to move even higher. However, stock prices have ignored 2020 and for the last six months have been trading on 2021 earnings. Unfortunately, the 2021 outlook remains uncertain and this brings us to the biggest unknown of 2020 — the election.

With less than two weeks to go and with early voting taking place at a record pace, election results remain highly uncertain. The polls give former Vice President Biden a sizeable lead, but the race continues to narrow. Statista reports that 55% of Americans feel they are better off than they were four years ago and most Americans, particularly Democratic voters, feel this election matters more than previous years. This is an interesting, but inconclusive mix. See page 8. In terms of the election, the market’s 3-month performance is showing a gain in the SPX of 5.3% and a gain in the DJIA of 7.1% to date. In past election years gains have foretold of an incumbent victory. On the other hand, one cannot be sure that 2020 is a “typical” year. See page 9.

Last but far from least, the charts of the broad indices and technical indicators have turned increasingly bullish in the last two weeks. All the popular indices rallied from important support levels that equated to their 100-day or 200-day moving averages and in particular, the Russell 2000 index began to outperform large cap indices. The advance/decline line reached a record high on October 12 and the new high list continues to expand. Our 25-day up/down volume oscillator is yet to reach a fully overbought reading, but it did record its highest reading earlier this week since August 2020. These are all supporting the bullish case.

We continue to have a long-term bullish bias but would expect the market to be choppy and trendless prior to the election. If there is no clear winner on election night, the uncertainty is likely to create even more volatility. This implies investors should be somewhat cautious near term and focus on companies that will perform well despite the virus and despite an uncertain political backdrop.

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4Q 2020: Be Alert to October Surprises

There is a growing consensus that Democrats will win the White House, possibly increase their majority in the House and could even tilt the balance in the Senate. And economists are now indicating the Biden-Harris platform may not hurt the economy as much as originally expected. However, history has shown that consensus views, and economist’s forecasts, are more often wrong than right. In short, it may be wise to stay alert for October surprises.

In terms of the Biden-Harris platform, former Vice President Joe Biden has stated he will repeal the Trump tax cuts which means taxes will go up for all individuals and businesses. To say that taxes will not increase for anyone making less than $400,000 a year is simply self-contradictory. Moreover, targeting tax increases on incomes of $400,000 or more could hurt millions of small business owners who need positive cash flow to expand. The only effective way to raise taxes on the wealthy and not hurt the average worker would be to eliminate tax breaks focused on the wealthy such as the carried interest loophole. More importantly, to raise taxes while the economy is still struggling to gain its footing from a mandatory shutdown seems reckless.

Some say the positive impact of the proposed Biden-Harris fiscal stimulus will offset the negatives from tax hikes. However, the Biden-Harris stimulus plan is tilted toward infrastructure spending on green and sustainable energy sources. This is an admirable goal, and it should be done, but it will take a long time. Federal infrastructure spending tends to be slow and inefficient. President Obama’s $830 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was the largest stimulus-spending package in all of American history, and it promised “shovel ready” construction projects to spark job creation and lift the economy. Unfortunately, only 15% of the money was used for roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects and it took more than three years to have much of any Impact. * In sum, we would be skeptical that the Biden-Harris stimulus plan will work as promised. The most effective way to stimulate the economy is to give money directly to consumers and businesses either through tax cuts or direct checks. And it should be done quickly. As Federal Reserve Chairman Powell indicated — more stimulus is needed since households need cash to pay rent and support their families.

The financial media appears perplexed by what they see as a disconnect between the soaring stock market and a weak economy; yet this disconnect may not be as big as perceived. As stock market averages are knocking on their all-time highs in October, there are also signs of a solid rebound. This can be found in the strong gains in disposable income, construction spending, auto sales, manufacturing, consumer, and business confidence. The household sector’s double-digit savings rate also points to more potential spending ahead. Perhaps the media is looking at shutdowns and virus trends while the stock market is looking to the future.

If there is a disconnect in the financial environment it is found in valuations. Equity prices are rising without a commensurate increase in earnings. As a result, PE multiples have jumped to record levels. If earnings do not rebound strongly from the big declines seen in the first and second quarters of 2020, the stock market will be trading well-above fair value. This is the crux of the stock market’s risk today.

Predicting Elections
October is an interesting month in many ways. A good equity performance in October during a presidential election year has been a good omen for the incumbent party. October is less than half over, but it is showing an above average gain to date. Furthermore, the equity market’s performance in the three months leading into the election has been a remarkable precursor of the election. A loss in either the S&P 500, the DJIA, or both, in the three months leading into the election has predicted a loss for the party currently in the White House. A gain has preceded a success. There have been few exceptions to this rule. In 1932, the equity market rallied strongly even though President Hoover (Republican), on the cusp of the Great Recession, lost the election to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Democrat). The market also declined in the three months prior to the successful re-election of Dwight David Eisenhower (Republican) in 1956, following the Korean War. And the stock market did not predict the change in political power in 1968 when Republicans (Nixon) succeeded Johnson (Democrat). However, President Johnson failed to win his party’s nomination at the 1968 Democratic Convention and was replaced by Hubert Humphrey. But aside from these anomalies, a positive performance from the end of July to the end of October has indicated that the party in power would retain the White House.

Although high PE multiples imply investors should be cautious and maintain a solid focus on value in the short term, we find many reasons to be bullish long term. Not only are the trends favorable in most economic data but in the breadth of the market as well. The number of daily new highs has steadily increased in October and the advance decline line reached an all-time high. The Dow Jones Transportation Average made a series of new highs in mid-October and the Russell 2000 index has become the outperforming market benchmark. These are all signs of a broadening advance. Supportive monetary policy, solid economic releases, and the potential of new fiscal stimulus sometime in the next three months, also implies equities should do well in the longer term.
Gail M. Dudack
Market Strategist

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Disclosure: The information herein has been prepared by Dudack Research Group (“DRG”), a division of Wellington Shields & Co. The material is based on data from sources considered to be reliable; however, DRG does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information. It is published for informational purposes only and should not be used as the primary basis of investment decisions. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes an offer, or the solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any security. The opinions and estimates expressed reflect the current judgement of DRG and are subject to change without notice. Actual results may differ from any forward-looking statements. This letter is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the specific needs of any person or entity.
This communication is intended solely for use by Wellington Shields clients. The recipient agrees not to forward or copy the information to any other person without the express written consent of DRG.
Copyright © Dudack Research Group, 2020.
Wellington Shields is a member of FINRA and SIPC

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2020 Third Quarter Review – The Final Stretch

We believe the market is in an uptrend but the near-term forecast is decidedly unclear. It’s been a wild ride so far and President Trump testing positive for the coronavirus may only be the first of many October surprises. The market’s rapid decline to the bottom on March 23rd resulted in an historic rally to record highs in September. The rally seemed to ignore the unraveling of the U.S.-China relations, antitrust actions against big tech, the potential for a Fall coronavirus wave, and a potential Democratic sweep portending tax hikes for both corporations and some individuals. A future potential negative may be a contested presidential election.

Yet the market has parsed through these concerns and the outlook for the economy and investors is not all grim. From depressed levels, economic growth continues to build. The Atlanta Fed US real GDP tracking estimate for the 3rd quarter is at +35.2%. Notably, the following economic indicators are above pre-lockdown levels: small business optimism, homebuilders housing index, non-defense capital goods spending and household durable goods consumption. ISM services remains firmly in expansion territory, with the employment component growing for the first time since February.  The unemployment rate was nearly halved from April’s level of 14.8% to 7.9% in October and 500,000 people per week are coming off the unemployment rolls.

Positively, as a result of the lockdown, some companies have grown stronger at the expense of their smaller competitors. Accelerated investment in technology, a surge in e-commerce, and forced expense streamlining have allowed dominant companies to grow even more dominant. They are enjoying improved margins, operating leverage, and earnings growth as demand returns. S&P 500 earnings expectations have steadily increased since bottoming on May 15th, and positive earnings revisions now stand near all-time highs.

Several factors are supporting the market. Inflation is not broadly visible, the Fed issignaling a rate increase is not in the cards for the next two years, market breadth is expanding, and credit remains well-behaved. The fiscal and monetary stimulus enacted thus far has backstopped consumption, though more is likely necessary and post-election, it is a near certainty. With prospects of continued growth off depressed levels and no attractive alternative in the bond market, equities should continue to enjoy tailwinds regardless of how the election is finally resolved. We continue to stress buying quality equities with good balance sheets and long term growth potential.

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