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April 28, 2020, 9:50 a.m. EDT

These two signals will soon tell us if investors are fighting a ‘losing game’ with stocks, says top strategist

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By Barbara Kollmeyer, MarketWatch


Getty Images
A lot is riding on the restart.

Oil is wobbling again and we’re in the thick of earnings season where no one expects great news. But that is not stopping stocks — juiced by hopes for economic-reopenings and support from the Federal Reserve, whose two-day meeting wraps on Wednesday.

Faith in central banks has played a big role in keeping investors in stocks throughout pandemic turmoil, Jim Bianco, president of Bianco Research, tells MarketWatch. He notes how individual investors using free-trading app Robinhood didn’t stop buying even amid a slump last month, via this tweet:

“As far as stocks go, I worry you’re fighting a losing game. The greed of the market continuing up is giving way to fear the market may retest lows and make a lower low,” Bianco says in our call of the day . “What if it [the S&P 500] goes to 2000, goes down another 25% and I lose another quarter of my money?”

Bianco, who turned bearish this year and is urging investors to put money in cash and gold, thinks markets could get started in the next couple of weeks on a retest that sends the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -1.34%  back to 2,200.

The signals that tell him that retest is coming are tied to the economy. He’ll be monitoring restaurant online reservations system OpenTable to see how well restarts are taking, and Apple Mobility for indications that people are using transit again and getting back on the road.

He is also watching to see how many Americans, of the 26 million that have filed for unemployment insurance, get back to work. He’s watching for continuing claims numbers coming out in the next few weeks to see how many of those millions stay on jobless benefits. To be sure, if 20 million are still not working by mid-summer and fall, that will be a “drag on everything.”

What many investors don’t realize is that a lot is riding on the economy getting back to 100%. He points out that the financial crisis saw the economy at 96% of peak activity even in the worst moments and 90% still had a job. An economy that is only back to 75% of activity would match up with the Great Depression.

“You need to be at 98%, back to close to replicating complete activity pre-virus. That is why for mobility and restaurant data, if we don’t see that stuff get close to 100% across the board, in lots of things, those are signs we’ll have real problems with the economy,” he says.

The market

/zigman2/quotes/211629951/delayed CL.1 65.64, +1.81, +2.84%

Oil /zigman2/quotes/211629951/delayed CL.1 +2.84%  is hovering at $12 a barrel after Monday’s 25% rout. The Dow /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -1.11%  , S&P /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -1.34% and Nasdaq /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP -2.11%  are higher, alongside European stocks /zigman2/quotes/210599654/delayed XX:SXXP +0.14% .

The chart

Sam Madani of Tanker Trackers shows us in the below chart where all the big oil tankers — full and partially full — are idling right now. Too much supply and nowhere to store it has been a big drag.

He tells MarketWatch that on March 13, the global flotilla of very large crude carriers (VLCC) was 39.44%, but six weeks later, that number is up to 53.98%. He says that normally that percentage is around 40%-45%.


Sam Madani/Tanker Trackers

The buzz

Earnings are out from heavy machinery maker Caterpillar /zigman2/quotes/203434128/composite CAT -1.00% , industrial conglomerate 3M /zigman2/quotes/205029460/composite MMM -0.24% , food company PepsiCo /zigman2/quotes/208744353/composite PEP +0.56% and Southwest Airlines /zigman2/quotes/201071949/composite LUV -3.01% . After the close, automobile maker Ford /zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite F -1.97% , coffeehouse Starbucks /zigman2/quotes/207508890/composite SBUX -1.25%  and Google parent Alphabet /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL +1.12%  will report.

Top China researchers say the coronavirus will be with us for years and a rare illness in children may have a coronavirus link.

Data ahead includes advance trade in goods, Case-Shiller home prices and consumer confidence. See this economic preview.

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/zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime
US : S&P US
3,768.47
-51.25 -1.34%
Volume: 3.44B
March 4, 2021 5:08p
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/zigman2/quotes/211629951/delayed
US : U.S.: Nymex
$ 65.64
+1.81 +2.84%
Volume: 228,584
March 5, 2021 9:17a
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime
US : Dow Jones Global
30,924.14
-345.95 -1.11%
Volume: 551.23M
March 4, 2021 5:08p
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime
US : S&P US
3,768.47
-51.25 -1.34%
Volume: 3.44B
March 4, 2021 5:08p
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
12,723.47
-274.28 -2.11%
Volume: 6.68M
March 4, 2021 5:16p
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/210599654/delayed
XX : STOXX
412.48
+0.57 +0.14%
Volume: 0.00
March 5, 2021 3:12p
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/203434128/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 212.77
-2.14 -1.00%
Volume: 3.57M
March 4, 2021 7:00p
P/E Ratio
38.94
Dividend Yield
1.94%
Market Cap
$116.02 billion
Rev. per Employee
$429,044
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/205029460/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 177.63
-0.43 -0.24%
Volume: 3.54M
March 4, 2021 7:00p
P/E Ratio
19.21
Dividend Yield
3.33%
Market Cap
$102.87 billion
Rev. per Employee
$338,825
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/208744353/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 128.83
+0.71 +0.56%
Volume: 9.10M
March 4, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
25.17
Dividend Yield
3.17%
Market Cap
$177.73 billion
Rev. per Employee
$241,828
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/201071949/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 56.08
-1.74 -3.01%
Volume: 12.85M
March 4, 2021 7:00p
P/E Ratio
N/A
Dividend Yield
0.00%
Market Cap
$33.13 billion
Rev. per Employee
$160,142
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 11.93
-0.24 -1.97%
Volume: 88.34M
March 4, 2021 7:00p
P/E Ratio
N/A
Dividend Yield
0.00%
Market Cap
$47.47 billion
Rev. per Employee
$683,570
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/207508890/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 104.89
-1.33 -1.25%
Volume: 7.21M
March 4, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
188.48
Dividend Yield
1.72%
Market Cap
$123.49 billion
Rev. per Employee
$67,371
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 2,033.93
+22.52 +1.12%
Volume: 2.46M
March 4, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
35.67
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$1376.11 billion
Rev. per Employee
$1.35M
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Barbara Kollmeyer is an editor for MarketWatch in Madrid. Follow her on Twitter @bkollmeyer.

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