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by Russ Koesterich, Portfolio Manager, Blackrock

Russ discusses why many technology stocks have tumbled recently, without any obvious reason.

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On the surface things appear calm. The S&P 500 remains within 1% of its all-time high and volatility is still barely half the long-term average. However, under the surface things may be starting to churn.

Since last Friday tech stocks have been sold hard, with few obvious catalysts. For example, at the lows on Monday Netflix (NFLX) was down over 10% and Apple (AAPL) off 8%. What is going on?

1. An abrupt reversal of this year’s momentum trade.

In a throwback to the late 1990s, tech has once again become a momentum play. The reversal in tech is part of a broader reversal in momentum stocks, a style in which tech features prominently. Using the MSCI USA Momentum Index as a reference point, it is instructive that Microsoft (MSFT) is the biggest name, with a 5% weight. At the industry level, semiconductors, software and computers represent three of the top four industries.

2. Multiples are much higher.

Bulls can rightly point out that tech valuations pale in comparison to the surreal levels of the late ’90s. Still, multiples have been rising fast. The trailing price-to-earnings (P/E) for the S&P 500 tech sector is up over 35% from last year’s low. At nearly 25x trailing earnings, the sector is the most expensive it has been since the aftermath of the financial crisis, when earnings were depressed. On a price-to-book (P/B) basis, valuations are even more extended. Large cap U.S. technology companies are trading at the highest level since late 2007.

3. The surge in growth has made the entire style expensive.

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