The Sectors Now On Shaky Ground [Vanguard REIT Index Fund, SPDR Dow Jones REIT ETF]

wall-street-etfBond yields surged last week, putting some dividend-rich stocks (utilities, REITs) in a very vulnerable position. Could this be the end of their rally?

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Equities rose last week as the U.S. played a bit of catch-up with international markets. A particularly strong U.S. jobs report confirmed the economy continues to improve, but also demonstrated that some areas of the stock market, such as utilities and real estate investment trusts (REITs), are much more vulnerable to an increase in interest rates. Bonds sold off throughout the week, and a rise in yields could put an end to the rally in dividend-yielding stocks. Read more about that in my weekly commentary.

M&A Helps, But Headwinds Persist. Increased mergers-and-acquisitions activity helped support the stock rally despite the fact that the U.S. earnings season continues to be a bit of a disappointment. Although earnings per share (EPS) growth through January 30 is tracking a bit better than forecast, EPS estimates for the first and second quarters have declined from December projections.

The impact of a stronger dollar is likely to remain a hurdle for earnings, but U.S. equities are also contending with high relative valuations and a likely increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve (Fed) in the second half of this year. As a result, U.S. stocks are still trailing both international developed and emerging markets year-to-date.

In particular, European stocks performed strongly, which was partly fueled by the European Central Bank’s recently announced quantitative easing program, but we are seeing signs of improved economic growth as well.

Beware the Bond Market Proxies. U.S. bonds have been rallying for several months, but that came to an abrupt end last week as the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond rose to 1.95% while two-year yields surged from 0.49% to nearly 0.65%. As bond yields surged on Friday, high-yielding segments of the equity market such as utilities and REITs came under the most pressure, which shows that it won’t take much of a rise in yields to derail their rally.

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