Short sellers caught flat-footed by bank turbulence
Main U.S. indexes advance, but off highs: Nasdaq up ~1.5%
Tech leads S&P 500 sector gainers; energy weakest group
Dollar slips; gold, crude falls; gold, bitcoin gain
U.S. 10-Year Treasury yield dips to ~3.45%
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SHORT SELLERS CAUGHT FLAT-FOOTED BY BANK TURBULENCE (1330 EDT/1730 GMT)
The recent troubles across the banking sector that has sent the KBW Regional Bank Index .KRX down about 22% and the S&P 500 banks index .SPXBK down 21% for March caught short sellers by surprise, according to an analysis by S&P Global Market Intelligence.
At the end of February, short interest in financial stocks .SPSY sold across all major US exchanges was at 1.41%, the lowest of the 11 major S&P sectors and 9 basis points lower than it was at the end of 2022, S&P said.
At the other end of the spectrum was the consumer discretionary sector .SPLRCD, with short interest of 5.67%, which remains the most shorted sector "as sellers continue to bet that persistently high inflation will lessen demand."
While short interest had risen for nearly all sectors as recession worries have mounted, S&P notes that short interest in financials has remained relatively flat for months.
S&P notes that while short interest in some of the banks hardest hit by the recent crisis was above average, it remained well below that of some of the most shorted companies at the end of February and actually saw declines from the prior month. SVB Financial SIVB.O had short interest of 5.41% at the end of February, down from the 6.88% in mid-January. The short interest of Signature Bank SBNY.O was 6.09% at the end of February versus 6.37% in mid-January.
However, Silvergate Capital SI.N did see a jump in short interest, from 63.9% at the end of January to 66.8% at the end of February, making it the second-most shorted stock for the month, trailing only Bed, Bath & Beyond BBBY.O.
ACTIVELY MANAGED U.S. FINANCIAL SECTOR FUND REDEMPTIONS HIT 20-YEAR HIGH -EPFR (1215 EDT/1615 GMT)
With the recent banking sector turmoil, redemptions from actively managed U.S. financial sector funds were the most since 2003. This, according to research firm EPFR
EPFR says that retail redemptions from U.S. financial sector funds swelled to a 54-week high of $60 million (0.5% of assets) in the week ended March 15.
Institutional outflows continued for the third time in four weeks. Looking at actively managed U.S. financial sector funds, EPFR says their outflow of $550 million (1.6% of assets) last week was the most since 2003.
Of note, the research firm says that positioning in SVB and Credit Suisse from active managers was decreasing long before the two banking institutions began collapsing.
"Interestingly, passively managed US Financials Sector Fund inflows rose to a four-week high of $150 million (0.2% of assets), their fifth inflow in the last seven weeks," writes EPFR liquidity analyst Winston Chua.
Meanwhile, according to EPFR, institutional flows into U.S. bond funds were positive for the 11th consecutive week, though they did fall to a three-week low. Retail outflows from these funds rose to a four-week high of $1.9 billion (0.2% of assets), their 47th outflow of the last 52 weeks.
According to EPFR, from December to the end of February, demand for U.S. large cap value funds outperformed U.S. large cap growth, even though the former underperformed.
Additionally, like their larger brethren, EPFR says that U.S. small cap growth funds were more out of favor than U.S. small cap value funds.
Of note, U.S. small cap funds outperformed both U.S. mid caps and U.S. large caps in the three months ended February, with both categories having positive returns.
THE BANKING CRISIS BLESSING IN DISGUISE FOR MONETARY TIGHTENING? (1101 EDT/1501 GMT)
Ironic isn't it, that danger to the lifeline of modern economies, credit, can in anyway be a blessing, but some analysts now believe the banking rout we witnessed may have been a boon for markets battered by monetary tightening.
"Bank runs have done the Fed's job for it. The Fed acknowledged off the bat how credit conditions have tightened, which could reduce inflation. They also toned back the commitment to aggressive rate hikes," said David Russell, vice president of Market Intelligence at TradeStation.
Josh Nye, senior economist at Royal Bank of Canada also says that stress in the banking sector is likely to result in tighter credit conditions for households and businesses and to weigh on economic activity, hiring, and inflation.
A few weeks ago, market participants were pricing in a 50 basis point hike by the U.S. Federal Reserve in its March meet and a benchmark rate of nearly 6% in response to inflation bobbing up and down and a tight labor market.
But then the failure of two banks in the world's largest economy and the collapse of Credit Suisse in Europe who had been more than century in the banking business changed all that.
Traders then started betting on the Fed to hike by 25 basis points and some even expected a 'wait and see' attitude from the Fed.
All the major U.S. indexes logged their worst annual sessions since the great recession last year and entered 2023 with modest momentum on hopes of a pause by the Fed. And with all the run-downs the world has seen, it may seem markets may finally get that breakthrough.
However, to echo the Fed, markets will have to wait and see the impact of these last few weeks on the economy when the GDP figures for this month roll in.
(Johann M Cherian)
THERE'S GOT TO BE A MORNING AFTER: POST-FED DATA (1042 EDT/1442 GMT)
A smattering of post-Fed data provided a rinse and repeat of common themes - while the labor market is tight and the housing market might have found its basement, recession worries persist.
The number of U.S. workers filling out first-time applications for unemployment benefits USJOB=ECI essentially held firm last week, dropping by a miniscule 1,000 to 191,000 and moving in the opposite direction than analysts expected and the Fed wants.
It marks the ninth week of the last ten that initial claims landed below the 200,000 level widely associated with healthy labor market churn.
The report from the Labor Department sang a song we all know by heart - the jobs market is tight, employers are disinclined to hand out pink slips amid a worker shortage which is driving wages higher and keeping inflation sticky.
It also suggests the recent spate of high-profile layoff announcements - mostly from the tech-plus sectors - have yet to have much of an effect on the unemployment line.
The report covers "both the survey week for payrolls and the first full week following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, et al," writes Thomas Simons, economist at Jefferies. "We had anticipated that the banking stress and extreme weather in California would result in one of the higher claims prints that we have seen for the last 6 months, but instead they were steady."
However, ongoing claims USJOBN=ECI - which are reported on a one-week lag - increased by 0.8% to 1.694 million, inching closer to pre-pandemic levels and suggesting the hint of a crack, as if it's taking workers a little longer to find new gigs.
Moving on to the housing market, sales of freshly constructed homes USHNS=ECI surprised economists by rising 1.1% last month to 640,000 units at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR).
But while consensus called for a 3% drop, due to a downward revision to January data, the actual number landed 1.5% to the south of the expected 650,000 units SAAR.
Even so, the unexpected monthly gain is of a piece with other recent housing data, which has shown growing mortgage demand, cooling home price growth, a jump in existing home sales, rising housing starts and improving homebuilder sentiment.
Apparently, the sector isn't quite ready for demolition just yet.
"As buyers approach spring buying season, price adjustments and stabilized mortgage rates have led many buyers to commit before a potential upswing in demand," says Kelly Mangold, principal at RCLCO Real Estate Consulting.
"It will be interesting to see if the cloud of economic uncertainty most recently caused by bank failures will cause buyers to falter, or if it will dissipate as the traditional spring buyers with larger budgets come out in full force," Mangold adds.
Still, it's worth noting that while inventories of new homes on the market inched lower to 8.2 months supply, that number is well above the 5.7 pre-pandemic reading.
Finally, the Commerce Department provided a bit of ancient history regarding the fourth-quarter current account gap USCURA=ECI, which narrowed by 5.6% to $206.8 billion.
The data reflects all transactions Americans and others, covering trade in goods and services, remittances, and investments.
Recession worry-warts will find fodder in the chart below, which shows sharp contractions in the current account gap frequently accompany economic contractions:
Wall Street is bright green in late morning trading, apparently shaking off Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's insinuation that the central bank isn't done tightening.
Microsoft MSFT.O, Apple AAPL.O and Tesla TSLA.O are doing the heaviest lifting.
BOUNCE ATTEMPT (1016 EDT/1416 GMT)
Major U.S. indexes are higher in the early stages of trading on Thursday as they attempt to bounce from 1.6% declines across the three major indexes on Wednesday following the Federal Reserve's 25 basis point rate hike and comments from U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about blanket insurance for banking deposits.
Growth .RLG names are leading the charge higher, with communication services .SPLRCL and tech .SPLRCT the best performing of the 11 major sectors as U.S. bond yields eased with the Fed being seen as close to a pause on rate hikes.
Banks .SPXBK are up about 1% after dropping 3.7% on Wednesday, while the beleaguered regional banks .KRX are roughly flat following a tumble of more than 5% in the prior session.
Below is your market snapshot:
J&J'S 'HOT POTATO' APPEAL REACHES SUPREME COURT (0915 EDT/ 1315 GMT)
The U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely hear Johnson & Johnson's JNJ.N appeal to resolve its LTL Management unit's bankruptcy as the former could be reluctant to clash with the U.S. Congress, Bernstein analysts say.
J&J said on Wednesday that it would appeal to the SCOTUS to review the bankruptcy of LTL Management as the pharmaceutical giant seeks to use the bankruptcy to halt more than 38,000 lawsuits alleging that company's talcum powder products were contaminated with asbestos, a carcinogenic, which J&J denies.
"The case is a hot potato that has drawn quite a bit of political attention. While we would love to see the Supreme Court force Congress's hand on tort reform, we think it's much more likely SCOTUS will kick the case back to the tort system," Bernstein analysts said in a research note.
The bankruptcy strategy stumbled in January, when the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Philadelphia ruled that LTL's bankruptcy should be dismissed because neither LTL nor J&J had a legitimate need for bankruptcy protection because they were not in "financial distress."
Given that J&J ended 2022 with $24 billion in cash on the balance sheet, a tentative payout of $11.5 billion represents less than six months of the company's free cash flow according to Bernstein's estimates.
"It will take some time for the Supreme Court decision to come, and assuming the court declines to hear JNJ's case, it will take many years for talc cases to work their way through the courts. This litigation overhang on the stock could last a long time," Bernstein said.
FANGS SHARP AGAIN (0900 EDT/1300 GMT)
2022 was an especially rough year for high-P/E growth stocks. However, that's all changed so far in 2023.
S&P 500 growth .IGX is back to outperforming S&P 500 value .IVX. In fact, growth has now extended its record run of gains vs value to 14-straight days.
No doubt, growth owes its outperformance to the resurgence of tech .SPLRCT, while at the same time financials .SPSY, and especially banks .SPXBK, have been battered.
Of note, however, tech titans, as defined by the NYSE FANG+ index .NYFANG, have really turned it around in 2023.
NYFANG is equal-weighted and includes the six core FAAMNG stocks: Facebook-parent Meta Platforms META.O, Apple AAPL.O, Amazon.com AMZN.O, Microsoft MSFT.O, Netflix NFLX.O and Alphabet GOOGL.O. It also includes another four actively-traded tech giants: Advanced Micro AMD.O, Nvidia NVDA.O, Snowflake SNOW.K and Tesla TSLA.O.
After suffering its only losing year ever in 2022, NYFANG is up nearly 31% so far this year. This vs a 15% year-to-date advance for the tech sector, an 11.5% Nasdaq .IXIC gain, and a 2.5% S&P 500 index .SPX rise.
NYFANG traded at an 11-month high of 6,033.50 on Wednesday before selling off and ending at 5,812.55:
Traders will want to see a weekly close above the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement of the March 2020-November 2021 advance, at 5,930, to suggest potential for a greater recovery.
The rising 10-week moving average, now around 5,485, and the 50% retracement of the March 2020-November 2021 advance, at 5,266, are now support.
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(Terence Gabriel is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own)</body></html>
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