War On Wall Street
Instead of focusing on fundamentals last week, investors were caught in a war between retail investors of GameStop (GME) and hedge funds who had taken considerable shorts on the stock. As the battle ensued, retail investors pushed the stock higher, forcing a short squeeze for the hedge funds. These same hedge funds were forced to deliver the stock, pushing GME higher and selling other long positions to cover their shorts. This caused a higher degree of volatility for the markets as a whole. The drama bled over into other stocks, such as AMC and American Airlines. The battle does not appear to be over and could cause even more volatility this week. On top of that, the market is expecting another round of stimulus, but Congress is instead playing out their own drama rather than deliver as promised. This is adding more fuel to the volatility fire.
Meanwhile, the economic fundamentals were positive overall last week and corporate earnings have surprised to the upside. So far, 37% of S&P 500 companies have reported Q4 earnings and 82% have beaten earnings estimates, while 76% have exceeded revenue estimates. Nearly every economic release meet expectations or surprised to the upside last week, with the exception of Durable Goods and Pending Home Sales. Weekly Jobless claims came in lower than expected and dropped below the 900k mark for the first time in 3 weeks. The weekly decline totaled 67,000 fewer claims. Chicago manufacturing activity improved considerably month-over-month. Consumer Spending, while still down, improved last month and Personal Income improved dramatically in December. The National Financial Conditions Index continues to show a stable economic environment.
There's continued good news on the Virus front. The positive rate for new COVID cases has declined from a peak of 13.7% three weeks ago to 8.2% as of yesterday. The 7-day average for daily cases has dropped 40% since the January 11th peak. Hospitalizations have declined 26% since the January 6th peak. The 7-day average for daily cases is rising in only 1 U.S. state. While these trends look very good, more positive news on the vaccines is also encouraging. So far, nearly 50 million doses of Pfizer & Moderna vaccines have been delivered, with 25.2 million doses administered and 5.7 million people having been fully vaccinated. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been shown to be 72% effective, greater than the FDA's 50% threshold, and that vaccine will likely go before the FDA this week for approval. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine requires only 1 shot, which will dramatically increase the number of those getting vaccinated. Lastly, another vaccine developed by Novavax has been shown to have an efficacy rate of 89% and could go before the FDA for approval in the coming weeks. The CDC estimates that herd immunity from COVID can be achieved when 70% of the population has the antibodies (either through previous infection or vaccination). We are currently approaching 40%.
If we can get through the current battle on Wall Street, corporate earnings, economic data, and the march toward herd immunity should provide a strong backdrop toward better returns going forward. See this week's Market Recap below.