On Christmas Day 2018, President Donald Trump called the bottom of a near three-month sell-off in U.S. equities. He tried again this week, but the jury is out on whether this call will prove as prescient.
“Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” Trump tweeted after the Monday close on Wall Street, echoing his sentiments 14 months ago when he told reporters at the White House there was a tremendous opportunity to buy equities. Back then, the S&P 500 staged one of the biggest rallies of the decade-long bull market in its very next trading session.
“The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart,” Trump said in the tweet.
As of Tuesday morning, markets were showing less confidence: Futures for all three of the main American gauges threatened to give up their gains, raising the odds of a fourth day of declines for the S&P 500 for the first time since August.
Crucially, that would break a buy-the-dip pattern that for more than a year has helped keep the longest bull market on record alive. On the five occasions America’s benchmark fell more than 2% in 2019, the average gain in the next session was 1.4%. The advance in the five days following the drop was 2.9%.
Thank ongoing fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, and a drip-drip of bad news regarding the human and economic costs of the illness.
“If you have uncertainty still building you have to be very cautious to buy the dip, unless valuations are really bombed out,” Christian Mueller-Glissmann, managing director of portfolio strategy and asset allocation at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., told Bloomberg TV on Monday. “This correction could go a bit deeper.”
For a while on Tuesday it looked like investors might shrug off such warnings. Contracts for the S&P 500 had gained as much as 1% after the underlying gauge tumbled 3.4% a day earlier. But the mood was fragile, and futures briefly turned red before trading 0.5% higher as of 8 a.m. in New York.
The gloomy turn coincided with ongoing updates about the spread of the virus. Iran reported a total of 15 deaths from the illness, the most fatalities outside China. Italy, the outbreak’s epicenter in Europe, said infections in the Lombardy region rose to 212 from 172. Earlier South Korea reported 84 new infections for a total tally of 977.
‘Not Enough Pullback’
To be sure, it’s not so much that panic has set in. But there’s enough doubt to stay the hand of many buyers, while others think there is still a little more selling to go.
“I don’t think we have seen enough of a pullback to warrant dip buying just yet,” said Edward Perkin, the chief equity investment officer who oversees $45 billion at Eaton Vance Management in Boston. “For investors with mandates to be fully invested, I favor non-U.S. stocks and quality cyclicals with strong balance sheets. For investors looking across all asset classes, keeping some dry powder in cash and waiting for more compelling opportunities probably makes sense.”
If and when the buy-the-dip cohort decides the declines have run far enough, there are reasons to expect a rebound.
For one thing, the S&P 500’s earning yield — profit relative to share price — is more than 3 percentage points higher than the 10-year yield, the highest since October and way above its historic average in a valuation method known as the Fed model. For some, that’s a signal the share index is poised to climb as investors take advantage.
“We believe it’s not time to start counterpunching, but expect value to be uncovered and opportunities to arise over the next several days and weeks,” Wells Fargo Securities LLC strategists including Christopher Harvey wrote in a note this week.