Tech sell-off not a warning sign, say analysts after Nasdaq plunge

The technology sell-off was speculative excess coming off a hot market, rather than the beginning of a broader pullback. That’s the consensus view of investors and strategists after Thursday’s 5.2 per cent plunge in the Nasdaq 100 Index, the worst since March.

With the pandemic continuing to rage and a vaccine likely months away, bulls say there are plenty of good reasons why technology shares can be supported at current levels, despite lofty valuations.

Jobs and a holiday

“Yes, today was a bad day. Ripe for profit-taking, but even with the 3 per cent to 5 per cent drop, are still at impressive levels,” said Larry Peruzzi, director of international trading at Mischler Financial. The monthly jobs report — a key data point amid Covid times — comes out Friday morning US time and that “could restart the rally” if it’s much better than expected, he said.

Volumes and engagement might be lower ahead of the Labor Day holiday in the US, which will keep closed on Monday, he noted.

Options are all right

“Many market narratives have focused on the low put/call ratios on some key big-cap tech and tech index levels as a sign of complacency,” said Michael Purves, CEO of Tallbacken Capital Advisors. “But while these put-call ratios reflect a bullish frenzy, Apple and Tesla being key examples, they don’t necessarily have to portend some enormous market vulnerability.”

“Under-protected trending assets can have widespread implications that can bleed over into all assets — the financial crisis of 2008 being an extreme example of this condition,” he said. “But the data suggests that put buying has been robust, just not as robust as the call buying has been.”

Pivotal valuation point

Stifel Nicolaus & Co.’s head of institutional equity strategy, Barry Bannister, offers a case for further gains in valuations — though he warned the path is fraught.

“The current market level is pivotal: the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings multiple of the S&P 500 is knocking at the doorstep of the same point at which CAPE broke out in the last two years of the most powerful bull of the past century, the late 1920s and late 1990s,” he said.

“If CAPE does break out, the building (and inevitable bursting) of a bubble could make the market a ‘greater fool game’ challenge in the near-term and a modest return vehicle longer term,” he added. “The mega-bull case: Combinations of equity risk premium and 10-year TIPS produce much higher S&P 500 fair values.”

No tech wreck

“When it comes to the tech sector and the other online giants that have gained so much in the last few months, there could be profit taking as we head toward the US presidential election in November,” said JPMorgan Asset Management strategist Kerry Craig. “Negative headlines on potential regulatory and tax changes are likely to add to investor unease in a market with elevated valuations.”

“However, this is unlikely to be a repeat of the tech wreck of the 1990s, given how much the market and sector have changed,” he added.