There Goes Santa Claus

By: Steve Sosnick Chief Strategist at Interactive Brokers

Stock traders must have gotten a false reading from the Norad Santa tracker yesterday. As we noted, we saw a change in trader behavior, switching to “good news is good news” mode. But here’s the problem with that rubric – it’s not helpful when the news is bad. If there is a Santa Claus rally, in Virginia, then we need to wait at least another day.

Yesterday we rallied on good earnings from stocks that could be economic bellwethers. Today we are sinking on the exact opposite. It’s as though the bears said, “I see your better-than-expected results in FedEx (FDX) and Nike (NKE) and raise you with worse-than-expected results in Micron (MU) and CarMax (KMX).”In a way, this brings together the unwinding of two key Covid-era themes. Negative real interest rates and semiconductor shortages created immense demand for new and used automobiles. The stocks of KMX and MU benefitted immensely from those now-reversing trends.

On the surface, the MU earnings don’t seem all that bad. It’s only down about 3% drop morning. Yet MU offered a gloomy outlook about supply/demand mismatches in the semiconductor industry even as the stock flirts with two-year lows. This is causing an even larger selloff in that key sector, with the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index (SOX) falling about 4.5% so far today. Just as FDX’s could be considered supportive of corporate activity as a whole – they ship goods of all types – MU’s woes are being extrapolated to the overall tech sector. That is problematic because technology stocks have the highest weighting in the S&P 500 Index (SPX) – about 25% — while they represent the vast majority of the Nasdaq 100 (NDX). 

With interest rates rising, it hardly seems surprising that the auto sector might find itself under pressure. But the KMX results show that the pressure is becoming worrisome. Their 3Q EPS of $0.24 missed estimates by over 60%.This comes after their 40% miss against 2Q estimates. The stock’s current drop of “only” 7% (recovering from a 13% drop on the open) means that KMX investors had to be pricing in some sort of disappointment already. With its key competitor Carvana (CVNA) down over 90% from last year’s high, it would be hard to think that KMX would be immune from CVNA’s pressures.

And now a range of other auto-related stocks are under pressure as well. Ford (F) and GM are down about 4.5% and 5.5% respectively. Tesla (TSLA), which announced a $7500 year-end incentive on its Model 3 and Y vehicles today, is adding another 6.5% drop to its recent woes. Avis (CAR) which has a huge inventory of now-declining rental cars in its fleet, is also down 5% today.[i] 

Quite frankly, I don’t recall ever paying much attention to used car prices until recently. They came into focus as a key driver of inflation, so those of us who pay attention to macroeconomic trends were forced to consider them in ways we never had before. It ultimately became one of many sectors whose supply/demand calculus was dramatically distorted by the pandemic and our responses to it. If we were still in “bad news is good news” mode, traders might have been able to rationalize a rally based on improving inflationary pressures. But for today at least, unhelpful earnings news is keeping a Santa Claus rally on hold.

[i] Disclosure: The author owns TSLA and CAR puts and is short TSLA stock

More By This Author:

So, Good News Can Be Good News Again
Fire To Ice: Construction Activity Drops Below Pre-Pandemic Levels
The “Widowmaker” Pays Off As The Last Central Bank Domino Falls

[i] Disclosure: The author owns TSLA and CAR puts and is short TSLA stock

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