Halfway through 2019, tech leads on Wall Street

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Technology stocks are Wall Street's top performers as 2019 hits half-way, with investors betting on lower interest rates, although Apple AAPL.O and chipmakers face turbulence related to the U.S.-China trade war.

The S&P 500 information technology index has surged 9% in June, its strongest month in three years. That rally, and the S&P 500's .SPX record high on June 21, reflect investors' increased appetite for risk as they become more confident the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates to support a slowing economy.

It also shows that Wall Street is mostly confident that U.S. President Donald Trump, who has shown a dislike for stock market downswings, will ultimately resolve his trade conflict with China.

Investors were looking for signs of progress from the G20 meeting in Japan, where the United States and China agreed on Saturday to restart trade talks after Trump offered concessions, including no new tariffs and an easing of restrictions on tech company Huawei [HWT.UL], in order to reduce tensions with Beijing.

After meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka, Trump called his talks with Xi “excellent.”

“The risk to the downside is the greatest. If trade talks break down then we could head lower, probably a lot further, and the tech sector could be a leader to the downside,” said Randy Frederick, Vice President of Trading & Derivatives at Charles Schwab.

Other investors say their optimism about the tech stocks is grounded in expectations that the sector’s earnings growth will outperform the rest of the economy over the next several years.

David Carter, chief investment officer at Lenox Wealth Advisors in New York, had said going into the meeting that their expectations for genuine progress on tariffs at the G20 were low. “Tech is less of a short-term tactical play, and more a belief in the long-term growth potential of the space. Certainly, it’s affected by tariffs and regulation, but the growth story is still there.”

Although just short of its April record high, the technology index is up 26% so far in 2019, leading other sectors by far and easily beating the S&P 500's 17% return. Among June's strong performing technology stocks are Nvidia NVDA.O, Apple AAPL.O, Xerox XRX.N, each up over 13%.

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Facebook FB.O, Amazon AMZN.O and Netflix NFLX.O all rose more than 7% in June, slightly outperforming the S&P 500's increase of just under 7% as investors increased bets on high-growth, volatile stocks.

Uncertainty related to the trade conflict and Washington's blacklisting of China's Huawei have pushed the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index .SOX down 8% from its record high in April, but it is still up 27% for the year, buoyed by expectations that a slump in global sales is near its bottom and that demand is set to recover.

The benchmark chip index has surged over 5% since Tuesday, when Micron Technologies MU.O said it resumed some sales to Huawei and forecast a recovery in memory chip demand in the second half of the year.

Underpinning not just tech, but most of Wall Street’s recent strength, is the recently increased confidence that the Fed will cut interest rates as soon as July, with interest rate futures pointing to three rate cuts this year to support already dwindling economic growth.

The recent strong performance of technology stocks comes even as analysts predict a drop in quarterly earnings for the sector, in part due to uncertainty around the trade war. Many U.S. semiconductor companies rely on China for over half of their revenue.

(GRAPHIC: Tech earnings expectations -

Analysts on average expect the S&P 500 IT sector’s earnings per share to sink 8% in the second quarter, compared to a 0.3% increase predicted for the S&P 500, according to Refinitiv’s IBES data.

S&P 500 semiconductor companies are seen posting a much deeper 28% slump in second-quarter earnings, and a 20% drop for all of 2019. Analysts on average expect Advanced Micro Devices AMD.O and rival Nvidia to post declines of over 40% in earnings per share for the quarter.

A resolution of the trade conflict would lead analysts to increase their earnings estimates for the technology sector to reflect improved global economic conditions, Frederick said.

“The economy really hasn’t slowed down that much. That says we’re still in a cyclical market and there’s still some upside potential, and tech tends to be one of the leaders when you’re in a cyclical market,” he said.

Reporting by Noel Randewich; editing by Alden Bentleym, Chizu Nomiyama and Sandra Maler