Strategists Dismiss Nasdaq, Nikkei Wobbles

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Wobbles in the Nasdaq this year are not a "canary in the coalmine" for a broader pullback in markets, strategists say, pointing to the concentrated nature of weakness in tech and biotech stocks.

Instead, many are using the uncertain backdrop and market dips as a buying opportunity. The Nasdaq is off around 1% this year but has had two falls of more than 5% from which it has rebounded.

TIAA-CREF Global Investment Strategist Dan Morris views index wobbles as technically driven rather than due to expensive valuations or weak fundamentals. "A lot of hedge funds were betting on momentum trades and moved en masse to unwind them. As they move out, people follow the trade," he said in a phone interview. The manager has bought on dips in the biotech sector this year. Stocks such as Gilead Sciences (GILD) have shown sharp volatility, rising around 12% to mid-February only to shed its gains for flat overall returns this year. 

Morris said economic data, valuations and sentiment were all supportive for further market gains, with unknown geopolitical shocks likely to be temporary in nature.

Political instability and the risk of further military action in Ukraine has shaken equities, though strategists say the Ukraine situation alone is unlikely to have serious ramifications unless Russia acts to stem energy supplies.

Nomura global equity strategist Michael Kurtz points to the Nasdaq's rebound last week as evidence of the counterforce of better U.S. economic data. He noted that the biotech and Internet stocks at the center of the pullback this year are a smaller portion of the Nasdaq -- less than 25% -- than during the Tech Bubble, when they comprised more than 75% of that index.

"US equity sector correlations have remained reassuringly low at less than 70%, rather than spiking back toward GFC highs of roughly 90%," Kurtz told clients, suggesting weakness in so-called "new growth" stocks would be contained.

Nomura strategists see the March pullback in sectors such as biotech as a healthy correction. "As the US and global recovery broadens, growth-focused investors would enjoy a wider opportunity set -- and portfolio funds may be less channeled toward a narrow array of stocks," they said. Globally, the bank is positive on the outlook for financials, consumer discretionary, industrials and technology.

More broadly, many strategists are optimistic on the outlook for Japanese equities, even as questions linger over the effectiveness of structural reform in that economy. The Nikkei has shed around 10.7% this year after notching more than 52% last year, fueled by monetary and fiscal stimulus. Morris echoed the wide expectation that the Bank of Japan will act to further stimulate the domestic economy this year, but to a far lesser extent than in 2012/2013. This, combined with still-attractive valuations in Japanese equities and the possibility of some structural reforms achieving their aim, spelt solid upside for that market, he said. "We expect the U.S. market to return high single digits and the Japan to do better in local currency terms," Morris said.

Nomura strategists are also upbeat. "We continue to highlight Japanese stocks as likely beneficiaries of a better tone in US data as a firmer USD/JPY could offer a critical lift for the Nikkei," they said. "Japanese equities in recent weeks have not so much suffered a Japan problem as a US problem, that may now be falling by the wayside."

-- By Jane Searle in New York.

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