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Wall Street faces a litany of fears right now, including whether this is a Nasdaq Y2K plunge rerun


Traders in the NYSE Floor, May 13th 2022.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Sometimes, trauma and anxiety sufferers may be asked to identify the top five fears that cause distress in order to manage their symptoms.

Wall Street’s anxious state is reflected in a number of worries that are currently threatening the stock market. They include Thursday’s near-20% plunge and Friday’s likely strong, if not yet overdue, 2.4% jump.

Nasdaq Y2K Crash Rerun?

Real-world factors such as inflation, consumer malaise, tightening financial conditions, are all key indicators of whether there will be a recession.

Investors are concerned about the potential damage done to index performance and paper wealth. The top fear for investors is the possibility that the Nasdaq will continue its downward spiral from 2000-2002, which was the peak bear market.

Although I have not foretold what would happen in the coming months, it is clear that there are enough parallels. There has been years of market dominance by tech stocks, heavy concentration of investors among digital-economy winners, and stars fund managers who were able to embody “new age” thinking without ignoring traditional valuation techniques.

The cadence is the latest NasdaqThe sell-off is somewhat similar to the aftermath of the March 2000 bubble peak, which saw a quick 30% plunge over the course of a few months. The 2000-2002 rules will determine if a 25 percent plunge in Nasdaq is a good buying opportunity or just the beginning of the pain.

Bespoke Investment Group reviewed all Nasdaq drops of 25% and 20% over 30 trading day. These conditions are applicable to the current Nasdaq slide. All of the declines, except those that began in 2000, led to significant gains the following year. The instances starting in 2000 – when the first 30% Nasdaq drop over a couple of months led to another 68% meltdown over more than two years – were a vicious trap for buyers.

And back then there were two classes of tech plays – the upstart speculative “story stocks,” hundreds of which came public in 1999 alone, many with minimal or no revenue – and the anointed winners of the computing and networking age, which were profitable but quite highly valued. The divide today between “disruptors”, which peaked over a year ago, and megaliths such as the Nasdaq is somewhat similar.

The flimsy and low-quality stocks collapsed, then finally the winners of high quality stock markets succumbed. Microsoft — then as now one of the two largest companies in the market — fell more than 60% in the 2000-’02 bear market. Cisco crashed 90% while Hewlett-Packard, a reliable company, lost over 80%.

Here are some examples of how the vast differences between today and 20 years ago can help to alleviate the most feared fears.

At its peak in March 2000, there was a lot more air than the Nasdaq composite. The Nasdaq Composite had increased more than 500% in the past five years, as opposed to 200% during the five years preceding the latest Nasdaq record. This was six months before the current Nasdaq record. It was so explosive that early 2000 saw the Nasdaq surge to 55% over its 200-day moving median. At last November’s peak, this was just 12%.

The gulf between valuations today and then is illustrated by Microsoft’s 2000 peak trading for 60-times its forecast earnings. This would drop to 22-times at the tech-sector low in 2002. This cycle, its multiple peaked at 35. It is now down close to 24.

In reality, the Nasdaq in the late-’90s consisted of more young, less volatile and frostier stocks that today. Its five largest companies were also among the five most valuable U.S. stock exchanges.

This is the Nasdaq 2000 version. ARK Innovation fund (ARKK)This is a riskier, higher-octane segment of the market. Chris Verrone, of Strategas Research, has been following the prices. They have matched the Nasdaq bust quite well. ARK is actually ahead of Nasdaq’s collapse so it could be that the majority of the reckoning in speculative technology may have ended.

Hot Powell Summer

Six months have passed since the Federal Reserve abrupt shift to a more hawkish view for raising interest rates and reducing its balance sheet.

However, the primary concern for investors is still Chair Jerome Powell’s determination to communicate his inflation-fighting plans and implied acknowledgement of an “economic soft land” as more aspirational than expected.

Expectations of half-percentage-point rate hikes each in June and July and perhaps September are now reflected in the economic consensus and, largely, in bond prices. Powell made comments last week in an interviewHe never meant this month to exclude the possibility of a 0.75% increase, but it didn’t appear to alarm bond traders. This indicates that there is general agreement on the policy course through summer.

Investors are left with the impression that risks assets are limited (and perhaps even severely handicapped) because of this trend. This is despite inflation data starting to fall faster. The Fed intends to tighten financial conditions.

The psychological and financial overhang is combined with the awareness that summer has been choppy through mid-term elections and concerns that earnings projections for corporates could be cut.

Low expectations can be a good starting point for the markets. Last week, the sentiment started to rise to pessimistic extremes. This can have positive implications on equity performance over time.

Still, the phrase “Don’t fight the Fed’ became a cliché for a reason, so bounces and feints in the indexes should be expected.

Accident Patrol

There are many reasons to be concerned about financial disasters, including cryptocurrency’s freefall and the collapse of synthetic stablecoins.

The “What-if” is almost always a loosely floating question. This is a “What if?” factor that causes market confusion during corrections. It may be exacerbated by the belief that it will take a lot for the Fed and their asset owners to save them in case of an emergency.

The capital market has not been woken up to any real concerns. Although the spread over Treasuries is increasing, it is not causing panic. However, the direction of travel is unfavorable. Credit conditions still remain at the top in the hierarchy, so there is nothing to fear.

They will likely retain the power of causing panic in an uncertain market. In the short term though, corrections seem to be the dominant strategy in stock markets: Oversold readings and short-covering, rally attempts, etc. This requires close examination of the stocks market to determine their longevity.

This week, this column detailed a confluence of downside S&P 500 targetsBased on many technical, historical and fundamental approaches, the range is between 3800-3900 This zone was quickly tested, with Thursday’s lowest value coming in at just over 3850.

From oversold levels, the bounce is there S&P 500Just shy of the threshold at minus-20%, and the Nasdaq 100 having shed almost exactly half of its post-March 2020 rally was intuitive, welcome and relatively impressive – both satisfied bears and wishful bulls concluding the tape had suffered enough for now.

The worst stocks did rebound the hardest. However, Goldman Sachs’ non-profitable technology-company basket was up 12% on Friday, but still below 50% for the year. Although short covering was prevalent, it is always from the depth of correction. 90% of NYSE volume was on the upside which gives it some credibility.

The S&P was pulled so taut that handicappers were willing to grant that it could rise, say, another 7% from here without even threatening the entrenched downtrend. The rally will be able to excite more fear and run so far in spite of growing fears, which won’t disappear soon but can now be managed.