4 signs a stock-market selloff in February may be brewing

U.S. stocks on Monday descended significantly for the first time in the Donald Trump postelection era that delivered a multimonth shot in the arm to equity investors.

There are signs that stocks, which have risen on hope that the new president would unfurl a slate of policies favorable to Wall Street, may see a healthy downturn from recent records.

On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.14% S&P 500 index SPX, +0.03% and Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, +0.50% all registered their worst daily drops in weeks and Monday’s decline could be a harbinger of more weakness ahead, according to Jonathan Krinsky, chief market technician at MKM Partners. On Tuesday, the S&P 500 and the Dow renewed their drive into negative territory, settling lower.

Doubts about Trump’s legislative focus and policies, which have tended to garner more jeers than cheers, are starting to significantly erode momentum from a record-setting climb. The major indexes had been hovering around all-time highs as recently as Thursday, highlighted by a push to the psychologically significant level of 20,000 for the blue-chip gauge.

Krinsky, however, makes the case that Monday’s action may not be an aberration. He points to a few technical factors that support the notion of a downturn that could see the S&P 500 index shed about 5% of its value, bringing it to a range of about 2,180 to 2,190, marking the broad-market gauge’s lowest levels since around November.

Most notably, February tends to be a seasonally weak month for stocks over the past four decades. That trend is magnified in postelection periods, with the S&P falling 1.85% on average in the years following a presidential election, Krinsky said in a note dated Sunday (see chart below):

Days without a 1% pullback
There have been 75 sessions (including Monday) without a 1% drop in the S&P, which marks the longest such streak in about 11 years, according to Krinsky. A period of sideways trading tends to suggest that the market has pent up momentum. And if history is any gauge, momentum may be leaning toward a downturn, given the market’s tendencies in February.

Fear is a factor again
A measure of Wall Street fear has been hovering around its lowest levels since about 2014, but then on Monday it had its biggest percentage jump in three months.

Readings for the CBOE Volatility Index VIX, -1.50% of around 12 tend to imply complacency in the market, while those of 20 indicate that the market is betting on a swing in prices to occur sooner than later. Monday’s sharp move pushed the “fear” gauge to 11.88—still very low by historical standards.

Bearish bets
MarketWatch’s Joseph Adinolfi reported in mid-January that options bets that the market would tumble in February were on the rise. Those bets imply that many investors are bracing for a big selloff in February.

Rising political uncertainty also has been increasingly cited as one of the biggest concerns for markets and that may be hard to price in the era of Trump.

All that said, Krinsky still sees a downturn as a buying opportunity for investors. So, he’s expecting that any sizable retreat will be met with a rally that could take the market higher before these 2017 gyrations end.

Investor takeaway: To be sure, the equity market could power through February with nary a blip lower, especially given all the “animal spirits” that have been at work in markets lately. Moreover, stocks have climbed since the Nov. 8 election. Even with Monday’s pullback, the Dow has gained 8.9% since Election Day, the S&P 500 has risen 6.6%, and the Nasdaq Composite has climbed 8.1%.

Still, it can be worth knowing how some market participants are positioning themselves.

AFP/Getty Images

5 Growth Stocks to Buy in February

We Fools are firm believers that the best way to generate wealth is to buy great growth stocks and hold them for long periods of time. To help you identify a few great businesses, we asked a team of Fools to highlight their top growth stock at the moment. Read to see why they picked Illumina (NASDAQ:ILMN), Paycom Software (NYSE:PAYC), NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) Nike (NYSE:NKE), and Universal Display (NASDAQ:OLED) .

Profit from personalized medicine
Todd Campbell (Illumina): A tremendous amount of research is under way to develop medicine that targets specific genetic mutations, and finding and exploiting genetic quirks will depend significantly on lessons learned because of gene sequencing.

Soon, Illumina will launch two next-generation gene sequencing systems that could significantly transform genetic research. The NovaSeq 5000 and 6000 allow researchers to use ultra-deep sequencing to gain a greater understanding of the relationship between genetics and disease. Importantly, these machines offer this insight faster, and cheaper, than in the past.

Management believes these systems can eventually drive the cost of gene sequencing down to as little as $100 from $1,000 or more today.

If so, the NovaSeq series could unleash a wave of research that has been avoided heretofore because of its complexity and cost. Historically, advances in gene sequencing that have lowered its cost have resulted in massive sales and profit growth for Illumina, and I think that could happen this time too. If so, then this company's growth, and its share price, could be about to spike higher, and that could make it smart to buy shares now.

Pricey, but worth it
Brian Feroldi (Paycom Software): I've become a firm believer that all fast-growing companies that generate recurring revenue are worthy of a closer look. Thus, when I first came across Paycom Software I had to do a double-take because this business offers up so many of the characteristics that I find attractive. It's founder-led, profitable, and growing quickly, and it sports a clean balance sheet. If all of that wasn't attractive enough, 98% of the company's revenue is recurring. Those attributes have certainly attracted my attention.

So how does Paycom Software make money? As you might have guessed, Paycom is a provider of payroll processing software, but that doesn't tell the whole story. What makes Paycom's software special is that it allows HR teams to perform a number of vital functions from a single platform. Paycom's users can conduct background checks on potential hires, set up training modules, schedule hours, track performance reviews, remain compliant with the Affordable Care Act, and more. All of these functions can be accessed though the company's cloud-based software, which makes it easy for HR departments at small businesses to manage their workload.

Paycom's solution is clearly resonating with customers, as the company boasts a stellar retention rate of 91%. What's more, the company continues to attract new customers to its platform in droves, which is allowing revenue and profit to soar.

The market has caught on to Paycom's story and has since awarded it a premium valuation. Even so, I think this business is so high-quality that investors can still win by buying shares today.

The year of the OLED iPhone
Evan Niu, CFA (Universal Display): Universal Display's stock has put investors on a roller-coaster ride, but shares have finally started to march back toward fresh all-time highs. Longtime UDC watchers have been waiting patiently for broader adoption of OLED displays to gain traction in numerous markets. While OLED displays are found in many high-end flagship smartphones these days, there's still one notable absence: Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL). This is a storyline that's dragged on for what feels like half a decade, and investors appear to finally be on the cusp of an OLED iPhone becoming a reality.

Getting Apple's stamp of approval would both translate into a significant uplift in UDC's material sales as well as new licensing deals. Furthermore, it would be an important validation for the technology, as Apple has long been critical of OLED displays. But the Mac maker has seemingly addressed those weaknesses in the years since. Evidence continues to mount that Apple's transition to OLED may finally happen to some extent this year. Foxconn recently acquired Sharp, and there are numerous reports that Apple and Foxconn/Sharp are preparing to invest heavily in OLED production capacity, while Apple has also reportedly inked a supply deal with Samsung, which is already one of the most prominent advocates of OLED -- as well as the largest current manufacturers.

Heading into 2017, there are many potential catalysts that will likely boost investor confidence, and we could see Apple unveil its first OLED iPhone by year's end. Even if Apple only incorporates OLED into one of several models, it would just be the beginning. After years of waiting, investors' patience may finally pay off this year.

This winner will keep on winning
Steve Symington (NVIDIA): Shares of NVIDIA Corporation have nearly quadrupled over the past year as of this writing, helped by its stunningly better-than-expected fiscal third-quarter report in November. But I think the fast-growing graphics chip specialist is only just getting started.

Revenue in NVIDIA's most recent quarter climbed 54% year over year, to $2 billion, while adjusted earnings per share more than doubled, to $0.94. Both figures crushed expectations, which had called for revenue and earnings of $1.69 billion and $0.69 per share, respectively. And the reasons behind that beat are most compelling; NVIDIA enjoyed broad-based revenue growth across not only its core gaming segment (up 63%, to $1.2 billion), but also in data centers (up 193%, to $240 million), automotive (up 61%, to $127 million), and professional visualization (up a modest 9%, to $207 million).

It was hardly surprising, then, that even after its initial post-earnings pop, NVIDIA stock continued to climb in December as analysts voiced optimism for its momentum to continue. Goldman Sachs, for example, added NVIDIA to its "conviction buy list," citing its belief the company should be able to continue outgrowing its peers given positive secular trends in gaming, virtual reality, AI/machine learning, and its central position in the burgeoning automotive chip market.

In the end, I remain convinced NVIDIA is a winner that will keep on winning, and the stock is poised to continue delivering market-beating returns going forward.

Step up to this growth stock
Sean Williams (Nike): Following a roughly 20% tumble since late 2015, global footwear and apparel giant Nike would be my suggestion for where growth investors ought to turn their attention.

Nike has been hit by a confluence of factors in recent quarters. Domestically, the U.S. has trudged through a weak retail environment, while China's GDP growth has slowed. Nike is counting on its expansion in China to be a major growth driver in the years that lie ahead, and thus a slowdown in growth for China has some investors concerned. However, both concerns could be misplaced since they ignore the loyalty of consumers to the Nike brand.

According to a survey released this past summer by MBLM, Nike was the top dog in terms of inciting brand intimacy with consumers. Brand loyalty is very difficult to measure, but it's also invaluable since it has the potential to create high-margin repeat customers for life. Nike's brand visibility and loyalty can also help in its bid to expand into faster-growing emerging markets and China.

But Nike is about more than just brand loyalty. It's the way Nike is courting its potential audience that's really exciting. Nike is investing a lot of money in its direct-to-consumer platform in an effort to improve the shopping experience for consumers, as well as reach Generation Z and millennials, which are its future and core customers.

On top of relying on e-commerce, Nike is betting big on the future of women's apparel and accessories. Nike's plan to get to $50 billion in revenue by 2020 relies on a doubling in women's apparel revenue from $5.5 billion to $11 billion. Aside from targeted marketing toward women, Nike hopes its innovation and partnerships in digital wearable technologies will strike a chord with the female consumer.

Considering Nike has double-digit annual EPS growth potential through 2020, its recent share price decline looks like the perfect opportunity to gobble up this growth stock.

February could be rough for stocks

Investors beware: February, already known as a blah month for the stock market, has an even more dreary performance record when a new president is in his first term.

Since 1928, February has been the third-worst month of performance for the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index, with an average loss of 0.05%, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch data. But February morphs into the worst month of the year and the losses mushroom to nearly 4% when freshly elected presidents like Donald Trump are early in their first term at the White House. The large-company S&P 500 has finished lower more than 75% of the time in February during presidents' first terms.

Wall Street is typically hit with a plethora of new policy proposals from an incoming president's new administration that creates uncertainty, lots of change and many unanswered questions on issues related to the economy, trade, jobs, taxes and financial markets.

This year is no different. The early Wall Street euphoria and resulting stock rally since Election Day powered by Trump's proposals to boost U.S. businesses by slashing corporate taxes and reducing red tape has given way this week to an emerging investor caution and concern over President Trump's protectionist and isolationist tendencies. The rise of policy risk under Trump has gained credence following his temporary immigration ban on a handful of Muslim-dominated countries and his fight with Mexico over who will pay for a wall along the USA's southern border.

"February is historically a tough month where we typically see selloffs," says Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Asset Management. "The market weakness tends to coincide with the reality of the new president getting down to governing versus all the good feelings prior."

Wall Street's retrenchment so far this week, with two straight 100-point-plus losses for the Dow illustrates how investors can reassess the potential impact that a president's policy decisions can have on the outlook for the economy and stocks.

Trump's controversial decision to ban refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, for example, has raised fears that some of his policies will actually hurt the economy by taking his focus off moves like lowering the corporate tax rate, rolling back regulations and pushing through fiscal spending that are viewed as more market friendly.

"Could Trump's 'ready, fire, aim' management style and ... his contentious policy directives endanger the U.S. economy?" Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at The Economic Outlook Group, wondered in a report to clients.

The stock market's recent struggles come at a time when it is expensive relative to history and, therefore, prone to falling if Trump is unable to fast-track his market-friendly moves. The market has gone 75 days without a 1% daily drop, its fifth-longest streak since 1980, according to Choice Investment Management, which says a 5%-plus market drop is possible.

The market could also be vulnerable due to investor complacency since the so-called "Trump Rally" began more than two months ago, adds Stephen Suttmeier, a technical research analyst at BofA Merrill Lynch.
Still, while seasonal forces suggest there's a possibility of a "February dip," according to Suttmeier, the stock market might also be setting up for a "rip" higher during what has historically been a very bullish March-through-July period. Gains in that span during a president's first term have averaged more than 11% going back to 1928, BofA data show.

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