U.S. technology and growth stocks have taken the market's reins in recent weeks, pausing a rotation into value shares as investors assess the trajectory of bond yields and upcoming earnings reports.
Technology (.SPLRCT) has been the top-performing S&P 500 (.SPX) sector in April, rising 8% versus a 5% rise for the benchmark index. Big tech-related growth stocks in other S&P 500 sectors such as Amazon Inc (AMZN.O), Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and Google-parent Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) have also charged higher.
The gains have followed a months-long rotation in which tech stocks were outpaced by shares of banks, energy companies and other economically-sensitive names that have surged since breakthroughs in COVID-19 vaccines late last year.
The increases in many of these so-called value stocks have slowed lately, while U.S. Treasury prices have come galloping back in April after a sharp first-quarter sell-off. This suggests that some investors may have already priced in a rapid growth spurt that is showing up in economic data.
"Tech and growth has started to pick up a little bit because people are getting a little more cautious," said Lindsey Bell, chief investment strategist at Ally Invest. "Investors are in this wait-and-see mode ... at least until earnings get underway."
One of the key drivers of the move in tech has been the Treasury market, with the benchmark 10-year note yield falling about 15 basis points in April to about 1.6% on Friday.
Higher bond yields are particularly challenging for the performance of tech and other shares with high valuations and high expected future profits, as rising yields reduce the stocks' values in many standard models. The 10-year yield rose about 83 basis points in the first quarter.
"People are probably taking a little bit of a deep breath and saying, 'OK, maybe rates aren't going to go straight to (2.50%),'" said Chris Galipeau, senior market strategist at Putnam Investments.
Shares of tech and other companies with strong "stay-at-home" businesses could also strengthen if there are snags in the countrywide vaccination drive or other problems with the recovery, investors said.
For example, a call by U.S. health agencies this week to pause use of Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ.N) coronavirus vaccine spurred a move into some stay-at-home stocks and out of travel names tied to the economic reopening. read more
Investors also pointed to the impending influx of quarterly reports as key to determining market leadership, with Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) and Intel Corp (INTC.O) among the major tech and growth company earnings due next week.
Many investors think the recent market shift is just a pause, with value and cyclical stocks due to regain command after years of lagging, as investors seize on shares expected to benefit most from what the Federal Reserve expects will be the strongest economic growth in nearly 40 years. read more
"My guess is we will see more of this internal rotation where growth takes a break and then it comes on and then value takes a break and then it comes on," Galipeau said. "It won't surprise me if that continues for a couple of years."
Others have become more wary of the equity market in general. Strategists at BofA Global Research recently issued a report listing five reasons for caution on stocks, including high valuations and outsized returns over the past year. The bank kept its year-end S&P 500 target at 3,800, some 9% below current levels. The index has risen 11% this year.
"Amid increasingly euphoric sentiment, lofty valuations, and peak stimulus, we continue to believe the market has overly priced in the good news," BofA's strategists wrote.
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