A look at the details surrounding Monday's ugly tech selloff, and more broadly the selling that has happened over the past two trading days, suggests there was some measure of capitulation going on.
While almost no tech stocks were spared as the Nasdaq dropped 3% on Monday, it's notable that software firms accounted (by my counting) for 15 of the 22 tech names to drop by a double-digit percentage. And that with the exception of Nvidia (NVDA) , which continued selling off hard in response to the January quarter guidance it issued on Thursday afternoon, all of the others were Internet services firms.
The double-digit decliners included U.S. software and Internet services names that had blasted off this year -- companies such as Twilio (TWLO) , MongoDB (MDB) , Splunk (SPLK) and Square (SQ) . They also included a slew of 2018 tech IPOs, such as Pluralsight (PS) , Smartsheet (SMAR) , Zscaler (ZS) and Domo (DOMO) .
This is notable, given that:
- Many of the most richly-valued tech names this year have been U.S. software or Internet services firms. A lot of "hot money" had clearly flooded into this space as the Nasdaq surged to 8,000.
- Unlike chip companies and Chinese tech firms, this group has largely been immune to China/trade worries. There has also been a high level of confidence that U.S. software and Internet services firms, thanks to their business models and secular growth drivers, would see their businesses hold up relatively well during any economic downturn.
- By and large, this group didn't do badly during earnings season.
The fact that such companies were collectively the biggest decliners amid a tech rout that led the Nasdaq to make its lowest close since April is telling. If chip stocks or Chinese stocks that have already been hammered had led the way, one could more easily declare the selloff to be business as usual. However, when a group of stocks that not long ago had been viewed by many as bulletproof post the biggest losses, that suggests some tech investors and traders are throwing in the towel.
Also suggesting there's a measure of capitulation happening: Sentiment has turned markedly negative about many of the large-cap tech stocks that had been poster boys for the recent tech rally. In addition to Nvidia, the list includes Amazon.com (AMZN) (hurt by its light Q4 sales guidance), Apple (AAPL) (hurt by light guidance/iPhone XR sales concerns) and Netflix (NFLX) (hurt by debt/interest rate worries).
When sentiment swings so hard against a slew of marquee tech companies -- companies that undoubtedly still have quite a lot going for them -- that until recently were seen as unable to do much wrong, that, too, tends to suggest there's a fair amount of surrendering going on among formerly bullish investors.
One other possible sign of capitulation -- even if it happens to cover a different asset class -- is the recent plunge seen in bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.
After having fallen by about 70% from its Dec. 2017 peak -- a peak made possible by a crypto mania that had all the hallmarks of a speculative frenzy -- to its late-June lows, Bitcoin remained in a fairly narrow trading range over the next few months. And though the Nasdaq saw quite a lot of turbulence in October, Bitcoin barely budged during this time.
However, all of that has changed over the past few days: Bitcoin has dropped over 20% since Nov. 14th, trading below $5,000 for the first time since Oct. 2017, and many other cryptos have nosedived as well. Considering the nature of the 2017 crypto frenzy, it's hard not to think that there's some correlation between the sudden and aggressive selloff just witnessed by cryptos and a tech rout in which many of this year's biggest gainers were especially hard-hit.
Calling a bottom in a market environment such as this one is a risky game, and not one that I'm eager to play. That said, the most recent tech selloff does feel different than the ones seen in October, given that it arguably packs a type of panic and capitulation that one tends to see before a bottom is put in.