The Market’s Double-Edged Sword
It’s a tale of dual forces on Wall Street these days, and the once-powerful engines fueling the tech-stock boom of the year are starting to show signs of faltering. Last Thursday, the Nasdaq 100 Index (NDX), a tech-heavy entity, saw a significant drop, the largest in five months. This followed disappointing earnings reports from tech titans like Netflix Inc. (NFLX) and Tesla Inc. (TSLA), darkening the sector’s forecast.
At the same time, a robust employment data release reignited anxieties that the Federal Reserve might not cease its most aggressive monetary policy tightening in decades just yet. Simultaneously, around 170 companies in the S&P 500 Index (SPX), making up 40% of its market capitalization, are scheduled to post results next week. Tech bellwethers Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Meta Platforms Inc. (META), and Google parent Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) are among these.
The Fed’s Role and Investor Concerns
Come Wednesday, all eyes will be on Jerome Powell, Chair of the Federal Reserve. Following the Fed’s announcement on interest rates, Powell is expected to hint if the investors’ bet on a quarter-point rate hike being the last is indeed accurate.
According to Eric Diton, President and Managing Director of Wealth Alliance, “The number one concern for investors in the second half of the year is all about the Fed. If there are more hikes than Wall Street expects, it will be bad for tech and growth stocks. Valuations need to come down.”
Growth stocks are highly sensitive to interest rates, which are used to calculate the present value of future earnings. The tech sector, demonstrating resilient profits, has experienced a rally this year, helped by the Fed slowing down its rate hikes, even maintaining them steady at the last meeting.
The Rise and Potential Fall of Tech Valuations
The resilience of the tech sector combined with excitement over artificial intelligence breakthroughs has led to a surge in valuations. The Nasdaq 100 has soared by an impressive 42% this year, and currently trades at 29 times forward earnings (NDX). Notably, even after its worst day in months on Thursday, the index is set to end the week only slightly lower.
Big tech also plays a vital role in the S&P 500 index due to the large market values of tech companies, which give them the heaviest weighting in the benchmark. The five largest firms in the index — Apple, Microsoft, Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), Nvidia Corp. (NVDA), and Alphabet — trade at a combined 30 times forward earnings, nearly twice the multiple for the rest of the index.
However, this also indicates expectations for big-tech earnings to continue improving after the companies’ aggressive cost-cutting efforts.
Tech Titans and Future Earnings Prospects
Gina Martin Adams, Chief Equity Strategist at BI, suggests a favorable outlook for profits in the second half of the year, especially if easing producer-price inflation continues to boost margins. She points out, “No one is talking about the potential for earnings pressures to continue to ease for the top five companies in the S&P 500. That could actually resolve itself, with the rest of the index playing catchup with improving profits. That would ultimately help support equity prices more broadly.”
Microsoft has raised hopes that advances in artificial intelligence will start yielding financial results. The company announced that its pricing of corporate applications was higher than many investors expected, adding a dose of optimism to its scheduled earnings report on July 25.
The Potential of a Tech Bubble Burst
However, some investors express concerns that expectations may have run too far, with the steep run-up this year drawing comparisons with the buildup to the dot-com crash.
Cheryl Smith, a portfolio manager and economist at Trillium Asset Management, reflects this worry. She warns, “The tech ‘FOMO’ worries me in the coming months. If you look back at the turn of the millennium, the internet certainty transformed our lives, but in 1999 investors could have lost a lot of money getting caught up in the hype betting on them, so you have to be careful.”
In conclusion, with big-tech earnings, Federal Reserve policies, and future economic indicators in the mix, Wall Street faces a period of significant uncertainty. Investors are treading carefully, conscious of history’s lessons from previous tech bubbles. It’s a thrilling yet precarious period for the tech-stock surge, an era that demands caution and careful speculation.