This month the so-called Faang stocks — Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google, which have led the market’s rally — faced a sudden downdraft, which many market watchers called a warning of turbulent times to come.
On June 14, the Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates for the second time this year, a move that was widely expected and barely caused a market ripple. But more ominously for stock investors, the Fed also said it would reduce its $4.2 trillion balance sheet and taper its purchases of longer-term government bonds (though it didn’t say how fast), bringing to an end the quantitative easing it undertook after the financial crisis.
And then there’s Mr. Trump himself, whose unpredictability and erratic behavior still have the potential to rattle markets.
So I asked some prominent investors and market analysts whether they were pulling back from stocks, and how they viewed these latest developments.
A Crack in the Faang Stocks
After some of the Faang stocks plunged over 3 percent on June 9, Goldman Sachs compared them to the leading stocks of the tech bubble. But by the end of the month they’d recovered and were again approaching all-time highs.
There’s no question that these market darlings, which together have accounted for a disproportionate percentage of the market’s gains, are expensive, and getting more so. Price-to-earnings ratios range from 39 (Facebook) to 187 (Amazon). Their market caps are so huge they dominate the indexes. They show up not only in so-called growth funds, but also in value and low-volatility funds. Should they embark on a sustained plunge, a bear market could quickly follow.
The tremor in June was “a warning shot across the bow,” said Bill Smead, the founder of Smead Capital Management in Seattle. The Faang stocks “are showing all the classic signs of being overcooked,” he added. “What magazine hasn’t had Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg on the cover? There’s no question this can end very badly. But the market can stay irrational for a very long time. My sense is that there’s one big blowout rally left in these stocks.”
Mr. Stack noted that the Faang stocks had brief sell-offs last June and October, only to rebound. Still, he said, “the Faang stocks will be among the hardest hit in the next bear market due to the amount of money that flowed into them and the high expectations that have driven them higher.”
But like Mr. Smead, he doesn’t expect that to be imminent. “We’re not buying them, but we’re not necessarily saying sell,” Mr. Stack said. He urged investors to rebalance portfolios that have become too heavily weighted in these stocks.
A Tightening Federal Reserve
Everyone I interviewed agreed that the Fed is the most likely catalyst for the next bear market, but that may still be years away.
“Historically it’s difficult to find a bear market that wasn’t triggered to some extent by the Fed,” Mr. Smead said. “But I don’t think unwinding the long bond position as gradually as they’re going to will have a significant impact. What would have an impact is if the Fed is forced to raise rates faster than everyone anticipates. The Fed has prepared investors for one more rate hike this year. That’s where the potential surprise could come. If we see two or three by year’s end, we’re going to see definite headwinds and maybe a market top of some significance.”
Mr. Kelly said the Fed had plenty of room to maneuver before stocks start to be affected. “We just had a once-in-70-year crisis that left very long scars. Businesses basically didn’t invest for eight years. In tightening, the Fed is acknowledging that a monetary policy built on a very fragile economic backdrop is no longer appropriate. But we’re just getting to the point now where people are crawling out of their shells and we’re seeing more normal economic activity.”
Mr. Kelly said bull markets typically last another three to four years after such a point in the economic cycle, and can even go another eight or nine. “Bull markets die from excess, not old age,” he said.
Mr. Smead agreed. “There’s no question we’re getting closer to normal rates,” he said. “That will be difficult for the stock market when it happens. People will be less willing to be adventurous. But that’s still years away.”
Over at InvesTech Research, “we’re still quite bullish,” Mr. Stack said. “We’re not increasing cash reserves. We are rebalancing towards more defensive and out-of-favor sectors, like consumer staples and health care.”
‘I Wouldn’t Call It a Trump Rally’
“The risks don’t lie with potential charges of obstruction of justice or even impeachment,” Mr. Stack said. “For political mayhem to upset the economic apple cart, it has to irreparably damage confidence at the consumer and business level. So far we don’t see that happening. Consumer confidence and consumer sentiment measures are at 16-year highs, and C.E.O. confidence in April was the highest since 2004.”
Nor have investors given up hope that a Republican Congress will still deliver business-friendly corporate tax reform and a pro-growth overhaul of the tax code, despite the president’s troubles.
At the same time, “Trump shouldn’t be looking to the market for vindication,” Mr. Smead said. “I wouldn’t call it a Trump rally. He’s basically riding on the Obama years. “
His bottom line: “We don’t pay much attention to politics, and that’s been a good thing.”
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