Weakness in the Semiconductor sector today feels panicky. The sub-sector in tech had been a relative out-performer for most of the year, with the Philadelphia Semi Index (SOX) up almost 25% in mid September, trading at new 10 year highs. Since Sept 19th, the SOX is down almost 15%, and 6% today on the heels of a warning from semi maker Microchip Technology (down 13% today).
Semiconductor sales are probably the most cyclical component in the PC/Smartphone supply chain, and with the maturation of some growth sectors, and the cannibalization of others, coupled with the timing of product cycles, these companies are susceptible to quick dramatic turns.
It is likely a bit too soon call the top in large cap tech, but regular readers of the site know that we think most low growth, large cap tech stocks with large buybacks masking little-to-no revenue growth are a fairly crowded trade.
Additionally, I think today’s price action in parts of tech is anything but orderly, with weakness spreading quickly to telecom equipment stocks, software and internet. I believe this weakness is significant and will see follow through as we get into the heart of Q3 earnings season.
We have been laying out shorts on rallies, but today’s price action feels like the sort to press on a down day. Without getting into to much detail, it is my sense that MSFT shares have benefited from the sort of honeymoon period asigned to new CEO Satya Nadella, and some misperceptions of positive shifts to cloud-based products. It is my sense that a broad tech sell off will not spare MSFT shares.
Implied vol is still relatively inexpensive given what looks like a precarious technical setup with the stock sitting right on its 50 day moving average:
A break below the 50 day (purple) could yield a break to the 200 day (yellow) down below $42 in the coming weeks.
TRADE: MSFT ($45.60) Bought to Open Nov22nd 45 Put for 1.25
Break-Even on Nov22nd Expiration:
Profits: below $43.50
Losses: up to 1.50 btwn $43.50 and $45, max loss of 1.50 above $45
Rationale: We will look to spread this put and turn it into a put spread if MSFT declines below $44 in the short-term. We decided to buy an outright put instead of a put spread to start because implied volatility remains in the low-20’s, which is not much above the broader Nasdaq index implied volatility as traders reach for protection. Our thought is that the next decline in MSFT will likely cause a spike in implied volatility, into which we will look to sell some premium on the downside and turn the trade into a spread.