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  • All major US indices dropped on Wednesday, with underperformance being seen in the Nasdaq 100.
  • Further poor hard data for the month of February may have weighed on market sentiment.

US equity markets traded on the back foot for the majority of Wednesday’s session, with all three of the major bourses erasing premarket gains to close in the red. The Nasdaq 100 was the worst-performing of the bunch, dropping 1.7% amid underperformance in Big Tech names including Apple (-1.5%), Facebook (-2.4%) and Amazon (-1.2%), with Tesla also dropping 4.3%. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 closed 0.5% and slipped back below the 3900 level, coming within a whisker of last Friday’s 3887 low. The Dow did better but still finished the session 0.1% lower, while small-caps were hit hard, with the Russell 2K down 2.0%. The CBOE Volatility Index rose 0.68 to close just under 21.00.

There was some indication of a return of the economic “reopening” trade, where the S&P 500 value index (flat) outperformed the S&P 500 growth index (-1.1%). In terms of GICS sector performance, the S&P 500 industrial, financial and energy sectors all gained, the latter boosted by an aggressive recovery in crude oil prices (WTI rose over 5.0% to rally all the way back to close to $61.00). The information technology (-1.2%) and consumer discretionary (-1.5%) sectors were underperformers.

Driving the day

Selling pressure on Wednesday took US equity markets broadly back to fresh weekly lows and there were a few reasons to be downbeat; Durable Goods Orders data for the month of February was poor and follows bad Industrial Production and Retail Sales data for the same month. So at this stage, all the hard data for the month of February released so far has underwhelmed expectations.

Sure, bad Retail Sales can be discounted nothing more than a pullback from January’s incredible stimulus cheque fuelled surge, a surge which is expected to be repeated in March, and the survey data for February was strong. But the survey data was distorted (i.e. made artificially strong) by supply chain issues and shortages. Well, these problems are now showing up in the hard data as unequivocally negative and could continue to weigh on the US industrial sector’s recovery over the coming months (whilst also potentially feeding into inflation concerns).

Elsewhere, the preliminary US Markit PMI survey for the month of March was very strong (as expected), but is not as widely followed as the Institute of Supply Management’s (ISM) version of the PMI which will be released at the start of April. Also, as noted above, PMI data is being skewed higher by supply chain issues at the moment.

Meanwhile, Fed Chair Jerome Powell and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen were both on the wires in their second day of testimony before the House Financial Services Committee; neither added anything new to their remarks from the day before, with both remaining confident that the economic recovery is on a shore footing although there remains a long way to go.

Finally, in terms of the influence, that other asset classes had on stocks; the safe-haven US dollar climbed to fresh yearly highs on Wednesday, in fitting with the defensive feel to US equity market trade. But US bond yields saw another sharp drop aided by a decent 5-year note auction, with the 10-year yield falling all the way back to just above 1.60%, more than 15bps down from last week’s highs – one factor weighing on yields was US journalist chatter about “big investors” expecting the Fed to go down the path of yield curve control. Either way, it is strange that duration-sensitive Big Tech and growth stocks underperformed in an environment of falling long-term interest rates.