The current sell-off may end up emboldening the bulls, if the last tech bubble is a guide


The bubble isn’t burst yet.


Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Traders at the moment seem to have as much patience with tech stocks as Kansas City Chiefs fans do for a moment of unity.

Thursday was the fourth ugly finish in five sessions, with the Nasdaq Composite
COMP,
-1.99%

skidding 2%, and the other major indexes backtracking as well.

Andrea Cicione, head of strategy at independent investment research firm TS Lombard, said excessive leverage in the market really began in earnest in July. Cicione added that was occurring in U.S. stocks wasn’t happening anywhere else in the world.

And while he’s seeing signs of a bubble, he thinks if the selling doesn’t intensify, the bubble may reflate soon.

“The leverage accumulation so far may not be enough to burst the bubble just yet,” he writes. “If the recent selloff does not intensify further, the whole episode may end up simply emboldening the bulls to buy the dip and take even more risk.”

Between 1997 and 1998, the Nasdaq experienced three sell-offs of at least 17%, only to emerge stronger and rise four-fold to the 2000 peak. “Leverage is a key characteristic of all bubbles, and almost invariably it is the mechanism that leads to their collapse. But there may not have been enough leverage for the dot-com 2.0 bubble to burst just yet,” he says.

The reason leverage is important in bursting bubbles is because it uniquely can lead to forced unwinding. “When faced with margin calls they cannot meet, investors may have to liquidate positions against their will. The resulting fall in prices can instil doubts in the mind of others, persuading them to sell,” he said.

The buzz

Consumer price data for August is due at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

The quarterly services survey and August budget deficit are also due for release. The Congressional Budget Office, which typically gets the budget picture pretty close to the mark, estimated the August deficit was $198 billion, and said the September-ending fiscal year gap will be the highest relative to the economy since 1945.

Database software giant Oracle
ORCL,
+0.66%

topped earnings and revenue expectations, helped by revenue from key client Zoom Video Communications
ZM,
-1.32%
.
Oracle also declined to discuss whether it will buy the U.S. operations of social-media company TikTok, as U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday there will be no extension of the Sept. 15 deadline for it to be sold to a U.S. company or shut.

Peloton Interactive
PTON,
-3.75%
,
the exercise bicycle company, reported stronger-than-forecast fiscal fourth-quarter earnings and revenue, with its current year outlook also well ahead of estimates.

Jean-Sébastien Jacques, the chief executive of mining giant Rio Tinto
RIO,
-1.67%
,
announced he will resign in March following the controversy over the firm blowing up ancient caves while excavating for iron ore.

Thursday marked the first day since spring when new coronavirus cases in the European Union and the U.K. exceeded the United States.

The market

U.S. stock futures
ES00,
+0.65%

NQ00,
+0.64%

were stronger.

Gold futures
GCZ20,
-0.46%

fell while oil futures
CL.1,
+0.21%

edged higher.

The British pound
GBPUSD,
+0.18%

continues to reel from its more combative stance taken against the European Union in trade negotiations.

The chart

This incredible UBS illustration of Tesla
TSLA,
+1.38%

shows how shares have performed compared to other tech giants since joining the $100 billion market cap club. It took Apple
AAPL,
-3.26%
,
Alphabet
GOOGL,
-1.36%

and Facebook
FB,
-2.05%

between 4 to 11 years to achieve what Tesla did in three quarters. UBS increased its Tesla price target to $325 from $160 ahead of the company’s battery day presentation.

Random reads

Here’s the 2010 memo from a venture capital firm on an investment which valued retail software maker Shopify at $25 million. Shopify
SHOP,
-1.59%

is now worth $114 billion.

China said its U.K. ambassador’s Twitter account was hacked — after a steamy post was liked.

An experimental treatment kept mice strong in space, one that could have uses back on Earth.

Need to Know starts early and is updated until the opening bell, but sign up here to get it delivered once to your email box. The emailed version will be sent out at about 7:30 a.m. Eastern.



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A reminder as schools reopen — federal law now gives some parents paid time off to help their kids with remote learning


Last month, a recently-reopened school district near Atlanta, Ga. told more than 1,000 students and staffers they had to quarantine after a coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier this month, approximately 450 students and employees in a central Florida school system needed to isolate after positive COVID-19 cases. Almost 2,000 miles away, around 100 teenagers and staff in a Denver-area school had to do the same because of cases in their school.

Rocky school reopenings are already upending educators’ plans this fall — and they’re likely doing the same thing to the work schedules of many parents who, if they aren’t already working from home, may suddenly need to be there with their quarantined student.

The good news is there’s a range of employee leave laws that could conceivably kick in to protect parents in this situation, separate and apart from an employer’s own paid time off policies. The tricky part, however, is that there’s a complicated mix of rules. And the worrying note, some say, is that the laws don’t do enough to help parents who are trying to make it all work right now.

New federal laws temporarily expanded paid family leave

During the early days of the pandemic, federal lawmakers passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Though America is the only highly industrialized country without a federal paid family leave law, the FFCRA temporarily enabled paid leave for families pulled from work to quarantine, care for others with COVID-19, or care for children who are at home because of closed day cares and schools.

The FFCRA has two important parts: one portion addressing emergency paid sick leave and another portion for expanded family and medical leave.

When it comes to school and child care, the U.S. Department of Labor says covered workers can access up to two weeks (80 hours) of emergency paid sick leave at two-thirds pay. The cap on pay in this time period is $200 daily and $2,000 total, according to the Center for WorkLife Law within the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

A covered worker (they have to have been on the payroll for at least 30 days) can also tap the law’s expanded family and medical leave for an additional 10 weeks of pay at two-thirds their compensation. In that 10-week period, an employer pays a maximum of $200 a day and up to $10,000 total, the Center for WorkLife Law. Employers ultimately receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit that covers them for paying the leave.

The law applies to employers with fewer than 500 workers. A small business with fewer than 50 workers can apply for an exemption if it can show the absence of employees would jeopardize its operations and bottom line.

The paid leave provisions are in effect from April 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020.

If a school closes for half a day, parents can get paid time off

The Labor Department weighed in late last month on how the FFCRA fit in with the fall school year.


If a student attends school some days but has distance learning on other days, parents can receive paid leave on the days their child is home.

If a student physically attends school some days, but has distance learning on other days, the department said a parent can get paid leave on the days their child is home. That’s because the school is essentially “closed” to the student for the day in eyes of the law. (If a child is home under a quarantine order, that can justify the parent’s paid leave.)

On the other hand, if a parent chooses all remote learning instead of in-person instruction, they cannot access paid leave under the federal law. The school is not “closed” in that context, the Labor Department said.

If school administrators start the year remotely and say they’ll make a reopening decision at a later date, the school is still closed and the paid leave is still available.

Likewise, a school might be open, albeit for a half day. The FFCRA allows workers to apply for paid leave in bite-sized pieces, like from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“You may take intermittent leave in any increment, provided that you and your employer agree,” a Labor Department questionnaire said. “The Department encourages employers and employees to collaborate to achieve flexibility and meet mutual needs.”

State and local laws can support working parents too

Now consider the fact that FFCRA isn’t the only paid leave law out there.

As the pandemic continued, various states and cities have expanded their paid leave laws to incorporate things like school closures. Is it possible to stack the time off, so that a parent could pull paid leave from one law and then turn around and pull from another?

“It depends what law you talking about and what the context is,” said Liz Morris, deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law. “The bottom line is, it’s extremely complicated the way these laws all interact.”

The center launched a helpline in April to assist workers navigating all the rules out there. “Anybody who has COVID-19 caregiving issue in workplace can call,” Morris said.

The center’s helpline is (415) 851-3308 and its email is: covid19helpline@worklifelaw.org.

Morris’ team has talked to people trying to figure out the leave laws, pregnant women and new mothers who are concerned about being at work and others with health conditions who are worried about returning to work.

There’s a range of federal and state laws, but Morris said they may not be good enough for everyone — especially if they’ve already used up their paid leave under the FFCRA.


‘We’re trying to rely on this patchwork… What we really need is a single comprehensive law that protects everyone.’


— Liz Morris, deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California, Hastings College of the Law

“We’re trying to rely on this patchwork of laws to bring together a set of legal rights for people so that they just have a job to return to when this is all over and need income … What we really need is a single comprehensive law that protects everyone.”

Paid time off is important for parents juggling work and school right now, but it’s not everything, said Rich Fuerstenberg, senior partner in the Life, Absence and Disability practice at Mercer, a human resources consulting firm.

For one thing, leave under the FFCRA “is a one-shot deal. Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he noted.

Going into the fall, Fuerstenberg said the companies he’s been working with have been thinking hard about their work schedule flexibility policies, how they can assist with child care costs and also looking at how much paid time off they are giving staff.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of companies said they were allowing parents to change their work schedules so employees could manage their child’s new school routine this fall, according to a July-August Mercer survey of more than 800 employers.



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JP Morgan enters green bond push with $1 billion debut debt deal


The San Francisco skyline is obscured in orange haze Wednesday.


AFP/Getty Images

JP Morgan Chase & Co. entered the green-bond world on Wednesday, offloading the bank’s first set of bonds specifically to fund projects with a sustainability bent.

While the banking giant has arranged debt with an environmental or social-good purpose for its clients and other companies, this was JP Morgan’s first $1 billion foray into issuing such bonds on its own behalf.

Many investors welcomed the move, not only because of the weight JP Morgan
JPM,
+0.95%

carries in the market as the nation’s biggest U.S. bank by assets, but also because of a growing acceptance within the U.S. that a climate crisis threatens both environmental and financial instability.

Read: CFTC’s groundbreaking climate-change report sounds a bipartisan alarm on costly risks for U.S. financial system

JP Morgan’s bond deal hit as wildfires raged along the West Coast, with smoke from fires shrouding the San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday in an eerie orange haze and underscoring how climate change threatens to make extreme fire events, power outages and forced evacuations the norm.

“The more the larger players come along, the larger the scale to move things along faster,” said Steve Liberatore, Nuveen’s lead portfolio manager for environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria and impact investments.

But Liberatore also stressed that a key part of tackling the unfolding “climate disaster” is to mitigate it in an “economically beneficial way for the average person.”

That can mean achieving a lower cost of capital for renewable energy projects than what’s available for funding fossil fuels.

To that end, JP Morgan was able to pull in pricing Wednesday amid high investor demand, clearing the bonds at a spread of 48 basis points over Treasurys BX:TMUBMUSD10Y, after they initially were floated in the range of 65 basis points.

A bond spread is the level of compensation investors get paid above a risk-free benchmark to act as a creditor, with lower spreads often indicating high demand or a lower expectation of default.

“Generally, green bonds yield less, meaning the cost of financing is lower,” said Pri de Silva, senior corporate credit analysts at Aware Asset Management, adding that JP Morgan priced similar bonds in May that were trading on Wednesday closer to 58 basis points over Treasurys.

“From a funding perspective, I’d say there was a 10-basis-point advantage,” de Silva said, even though he noted the “sunk costs” involved in setting up the new green issuance platform, including providing the “belts and suspenders” to ensure there’s a process in place to track that only eligible projects are funded.

To that end, JP Morgan said proceeds from the debut green bond would finance a range of projects from green buildings to renewable energy, in a public filing.

Notably, the bank also listed areas that will be excluded from the funding from bond proceeds, including coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy projects, as well as activities that involve modern slavery, child labor and human rights exploitation.

Amid an overall corporate debt boom, the second quarter also saw a record $99.9 billion of “sustainability bonds” issued globally, according to Moody’s Investors Service, a category that encompasses green, social and sustainable bonds.

JP Morgan’s debut follows on the heels of Citigroup
C,
+0.70%

and Bank of America
BAC,
+0.11%
,
which issued green and social-good bonds earlier this year.

See: Bank of America sold a first-of-a-kind Covid-19 bond

“Banks are in a unique position to issue green bonds as they are interrelated with the broader economy,” said Brian Ellis, portfolio manager, Calvert Green Bond Fund.

“From an investor’s perspective, growth in green bond issuance provides increased opportunities for portfolio and project diversification, but also the ability to be more selective because there’s a larger group to choose from.”

JP Morgan declined to comment.



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Lyft says ride-hailing service continued to recover in August


Lyft on Tuesday released updated ride-hailing numbers that show an uptick in demand for rides.


Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Lyft Inc. said Tuesday that the ride-hailing recovery is progressing after a steep drop in demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lyft
LYFT,
+3.90%

said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that rides rose 7.3% in August from July (although August rides were down 53% year over year), and that in the week ended Sept. 6, it saw the highest number of rides since April. That brings its decline in rides to less than 50% year over year, the company said. In addition, Lyft said its Canadian business — its only operations outside the nation — was rebounding more quickly than its U.S. business, with weekly rides in Vancouver reaching a record high in the week ended Sept. 6.

The company also said it spent less on driver incentives in August as more drivers returned to its ride-hailing app.

Those numbers prompted the San Francisco-based company to say it now expects that its year-over-year change in revenue will outperform the change in rides in the third quarter that ends Sept. 30. Lyft also said its adjusted Ebitda loss for the third quarter will be less than $265 million, compared with an adjusted loss of $128.1 million in the same period a year ago.

See: Lyft revenue and riders fall by more than half, and California could soon be cut off

In its filing, Lyft also said it put an additional $17.5 million into the Proposition 22 campaign, the California ballot measure that aims to avoid complying with a new law that would mean classifying its drivers as employees. Instead, Lyft and larger rival Uber Technologies Inc.
UBER,
+3.24%
,
as well as other companies that rely on independent contractors, are proposing to exempt gig workers from the law.

See: The different routes Uber and Lyft could take as they fight California law

Amid another broad decline for tech stocks Tuesday, with the Nasdaq Composite Index
COMP,
-4.11%

falling 4.1%, Lyft shares rose 3.9% to $30.10, while Uber shares rose 3.3% to $34.32. Both stocks fell roughly 2% in after-hours trading following the filing.



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2020 is the year of the SPAC — yet traditional IPOs offer better returns, report finds


After a record 82 initial public offerings of special purpose acquisition corporations — known by the acronym SPAC — 2020 seems to have upended the traditional IPO market, yet most offer lower returns on average than conventional deals, according to a report.

Of 223 SPAC IPOs conducted from the start of 2015 through July, 89 have completed mergers and taken a company public, offering the chance to examine their performance, according to the report from Renaissance Capital, a provider of IPO ETFs and institutional research. Of those 89, the common shares have delivered an average loss of 18.8% and a median return of minus 36.1%. That compares with the average after-market return from traditional IPOs of 37.2% since 2015.

As of July 24, only 26 of the SPACs in that group had positive returns, the study found.

SPACs, also known as blank-check companies, have been around since the 1980s, but have become a juggernaut this year amid high levels of liquidity and a strong appetite for new growth companies.

Don’t miss: The CEO who made one of Silicon Valley’s worst acquisitions wants a $400 million blank check

SPACs raise money in an IPO, and then place it in a trust while the sponsor searches for a business or businesses to acquire, usually within a two-year period. The companies then complete a merger and the target becomes a listed stock. Recent examples include sports-betting operator DraftKings Inc.
DKNG,
-3.31%
,
electric truck maker Nikola Corp.
NKLA,
-1.60%

and space travel company Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc.
SPCE,
-3.69%
.

“It’s a back door to going public and avoiding scrutiny,” said Kathleen Smith, Principal at Renaissance. “You hear about the moonshots, like DraftKings and Virgin Galactica, which have done well, but the average return is negative. You can’t just blindly go in and make money.”

See also: A new breed of tech IPOs may give the stock market reason to party like it’s 1999

DraftKings went public via a merger with SPAC Diamond Eagle Acquisition Corp. and a gambling tech business, SBTech Global Ltd., earlier this year. The renamed DraftKings has been on a tear, gaining 258% in the year to date, even as major sports events were canceled during the pandemic.

Nikola merged with VectolQ Acquisition in June and immediately benefited from the cult status enjoyed by fellow electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc.
TSLA,
+2.78%

, which has propelled that stock to record levels this year. Nikola has gained 232% in the year to date.

See:Former House Speaker Paul Ryan to chair $300 million blank-check company: report

Virgin Galactic’s route to public markets came through a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia last October. The stock is up 35% in 2020, outperforming the S&P 500 ‘s
SPX,
-0.81%

5% gain and the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s
DJIA,
-0.56%

2% loss.

The recent crop of SPAC mergers have performed better than the broader group, the report found. The common shares of the 21 SPAC mergers completed in the period from Jan. 1 to July are averaging a return of 13.1% from their offer price, but that’s mostly due to the two highest performers — DraftKings and Nikola. Without those two, the SPACs produced better returns than in the period going back to 2015, but are still a negative 10.5%. That compares with the 2020 IPO market’s average aftermarket positive return of 6.5%.

The trend isn’t expected to end anytime soon. SPACs have raised a record $31 billion in 2020 to date, and new announcements are coming every day as investors seem to be racing to join the club. The year also brought the biggest-ever SPAC, when billionaire hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman took one public in July with more than $4 billion in its kitty to spend.

At the time, Ackman said he was “long-term bullish” on America and the stock market, although he was bearish on highly indebted companies.

James Gellert, chief executive of Rapid Ratings, a data and analytics company that assesses the financial health of private and public companies, said SPACs are a bull market phenomenon that gain in popularity when markets are doing well, as the stock market was until the recent selloff.

See: The ‘death of valuation’ and what it could mean for investors going forward

“There’s a lot of liquidity looking for nuanced asset classes and SPACs as a sub-category of equity is an interesting one to take a flier on,” he said. “If you have a diverse portfolio, a SPAC that is executed well is like a liquid private-equity investment.”

Many of the companies that are merged into SPACs come from private-equity portfolios, which usually means they are more mature businesses and in better financial health. For investors, they are really betting on the management team of the SPAC finding a good target business.

The broader initial public offering market is expected to be busy through the end of the year, with 45 companies in the current pipeline aiming to raise about $8 billion, according to Smith from Renaissance Capital.

See:Fisker is going public: Five things to know about the electric-car maker ahead of its IPO

Another 65 companies have filed confidentially with the aim of raising $28 billion, boosting the total to a potential 110 deals raising $36 billion.

So far this year, there have been 111 U.S. IPOs, raising $37 billion. The last year to see proceeds of more than that was 2014, when there were 275 deals that raised $85 billion.

“Even if we don’t get to that backlog of confidential filers, we’ll still probably exceed any year going back to 2014,” she said.

That was the year Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
BABA,
-0.39%

went public, raising $25 billion in the biggest deal ever. That deal is expected to be eclipsed by the flotation of Ant Group, the payments company that was set up to serve Alibaba in 2004 and was spun off in 2011. Ant is expected to list on the Hong Kong and Shanghai exchanges later this year in a deal expected to raise up to $30 billion.

Smith said the pullback in stocks at the end of this week was a positive for the IPO market, “as it puts a bit more fear in the market. Fear gets better pricing, because multiples drop as peers drop and pricing falls,” she said.

Among the deals on tap are Palantir Technologies, the data-mining company backed by tech billionaire Peter Thiel; cloud data-warehouse company Snowflake Computing; videogame technology company Unity Software; Asana, a software provider started by Facebook; construction software company Bentley Systems; telehealth companies Amwell and GoodRx; packaging company Pactiv Evergreen Inc.; and Chinese online internet finance marketplace Lufax, among others.

The Renaissance IPO ETF
IPO,
-1.60%

has gained 49% in 2020 to date.



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