Trading Desk: The Strongest Sector Is No Surprise (But The Weakest Is)

Most of Wall Street is currently stuck in a post-earnings trading band . . . not enough good news to push past long-term resistance but not enough dread to plunge immediately back to the summer low. As always, there are pockets of relative strength as well as relative weakness.

Strength is obvious. Energy stocks are still riding high on oil prices, which are down 20% from their June peak but still close to 60% above where they were a year ago. They’re unlikely to provide any year-over-year relief for another 6-7 months.

And as a result, Big Oil is going to drive growth for the market as a whole for months to come. The energy sector (XLE) has clear technical support below it and zero hard resistance holding it down . . . the only ceiling is historical, reflecting what investors have been willing to pay for these stocks in the recent past.

With that in mind, XLE can rally at least 10% more from here under the right conditions. Along the way, we might have to tolerate about 10% of downside before support comes in. I don’t see stocks like XOM and CVX dropping much lower than that, which means the risk-return profile is pretty good here.

On the other end of the market, the communications group (XLC) is a technical disaster, barely holding the long-term floor from day to day. If that key statistical line breaks, there’s no cushion in place between investors and the COVID crash bottom.

That’s right. These stocks are now trading within sight of where they were back in 2020, when the pandemic brought the market mood to the brink of apocalypse. Two years of progress have been erased. And there’s no guarantee the selling has stopped.

Part of the problem is that the giants in the sector have taken a strong turn for the worst. META and GOOG are falling knives right now, and because they account for 40% of the sector, that knife is extremely heavy.

NFLX and DIS aren’t doing as badly. At worst, the charts look roughly like the market as a whole. But they’re relatively small stocks. My suggestion: if you like the streaming media story, buy streaming stocks.

Avoid the online ad networks. That’s the real pain point for the sector right now.