The S&P 500 is on its best bull run in 87 years. Here’s why

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Happy Friday, Bull Sheeters. Solid U.S. labor data couldn’t save the Dow and S&P 500 from finishing in the red yesterday. But the benchmark S&P 500 is still up more than 50% since its March lows as it nears a new all-time high. Alas, U.S. futures point to a flat open today.

Let’s check in on the action.

Markets update

Asia

  • The major indexes are mostly higher, with the Shanghai Composite leading the way, up 1.2% in afternoon trade.
  • China’s industrial output continues to crank into high gear, rising 4.8% YOY in July. Elsewhere, China’s retail sales were flat.
  • There are just 48 total active coronavirus cases, but New Zealand isn’t taking any chances. It’s extending a lockdown in Auckland as a 102-day streak of being COVID-free was snapped a few days ago.

Europe

  • The European bourses were down at the open with travel and energy stocks leading the way lower. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 dropped 1.6% two hours into the trading session.
  • Daimler shares fell 1.4% in mid-morning trade after the company agreed to pay more than $2 billion to settle with U.S. regulators a diesel emissions case. That leaves Fiat Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. still under investigation for suspected similar polluting behavior.
  • It’s being hailed as the biggest diplomatic development in the Middle East in a generation (and not only by President Trump)—In a U.S. brokered deal, Israel has agreed to halt annexation in the West Bank, and Israel and United Arab Emirates have agreed to begin normalizing relations.

U.S.

  • U.S. futures are mixed with the Nasdaq looking to extend yesterday’s gains. Of the three major exchanges, only the tech-heavy Nasdaq could finish in positive territory yesterday. That’s despite better-than-expected news in the U.S. labor market.
  • There will be no CARES Act II this month. The Senate is now in recess until Sept. 8, dashing the markets’ hopes for an expedited new fiscal stimulus package.
  • Apple, at the start of the year, was sitting on a $207 billion cash hoard, and yet it too can’t resist tapping the bond market. It’s a sign of just how cheap borrowing costs are these days. The iPhone maker issued $5.5 billion in bonds with a 40-year maturity.

Elsewhere

  • Gold is down nearly 1% as trade in the shiny yellow stuff grows more volatile.
  • The dollar is up slightly.
  • Crude is down 1%, with Brent trading below $45/barrel.

By the Numbers

<1 million. Woohoo! For the first time since March, the weekly jobless claims number came in below 1 million yesterday—to a better-than-expected 963,000. That’s still well above the pre-pandemic level of 695,000, but we’re definitely happy to see some much needed improvement in an otherwise brutal labor market. The markets cheered the news, and, for a brief moment, all three indexes turned positive on the news. But there’s still plenty of reason for concern. “We’ve not yet seen the light at the end of the tunnel for millions of workers,” Glassdoor Senior Economist Daniel Zhao said in a note shared with Fortune. “With no sign yet of a new relief package, the question is whether sheer momentum can keep pushing the economic recovery forward in this historically deep crisis.”

~18%. Tesla bulls have driven up shares in the e-vehicle maker by 247 points in the past two trading sessions. That’s since the company announced it would be executing a five-for-one stock split. That represents nearly an 18% jump. And it’s a few fractions of a percentage from hitting a fresh all-time high.

51. The S&P 500 has been flirting with closing at a fresh all-time high all week. It actually hit a new peak on Wednesday, but then quickly faded. Still, the benchmark index is less than 1% from achieving that milestone. It may not be today, but with these markets, it’s a matter of days. The Wall Street Journal had an interesting take on the historic S&P bull run, saying, “It has been only 123 trading days since the S&P 500 set its last high. A new record would be the fastest recovery from a bear market in history. Moreover, in the 100 trading days since the March 23 low, the index is up 51%—its best 100-day spurt since 1933.” 87 years ago.

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Postscript

As I warned the other day, this post is a sort of shaggy dog story.

Around dawn on a raw, grey morning in November a few years back, I met with a couple of local characters at a bar in downtown Amandola. The plan had been set up days earlier: Alberto and Marcello would take me truffle hunting for an article I’d later write.

When I mentioned The Guardian, they agreed to show me one of their favorite spots. Amandola is one of those few places on earth where the prized white truffle, the tuber magnatum pico, grows in the wild. The taste often invades my dreams. 

After a round of coffees and cornetti, we jumped in our cars. I followed them up a familiar windy road out of town. We climbed up a hill, down another, up a third. After about 10 minutes, we arrived at our destination. “Here!?,” I exclaimed. “Right here?” I was convinced they were pulling a let’s-mess-with-the-new-guy gag.

“That’s my house,” I pointed. We were parked almost in my driveway.

They had a good laugh, and insisted it was no prank. In the woods across the street, Marcello explained, he had recently come across his biggest find in years. Actually, he corrected, it was Dora who sniffed them out. And at that, he introduced me to Dora, a docile, shaggy pooch that he patted affectionately. She featured prominently in the article I wrote that day.

I’d never seen a dog like Dora before. With her solid, angular build, she looked like a bad-ass poodle. She had a prominent nose and a mop head of curls that nearly covered her eyes. Dora, Marcello explained, was a Lagotto Romagnolo. 

The Lagotto is one of Italy’s oldest dog breeds. They became popular with duck hunters in the marshy Po Valley region centuries ago. The Renaissance master Andrea Mategna even painted a Lagotto into one of his most famous paintings, L’incontro

In recent years, the Lagotto has become a favored breed among truffle hunters. They have a powerful olfactory sense. They’re smart as a whip, and skilled diggers. And, they show great restraint when they hit upon an underground cache of white truffles. This is key. A large specimen, unblemished by dog or man, can fetch huge sums on the open market. 

So when the conversation in our house turned to getting a dog, I thought about the lovable, sporty Dora, and suggested a Lagotto. Immediately, my wife and kids called me out.

“You want a truffle dog!,” they insisted. “You want a dog to take into the woods, and dig in the mud for stinky truffles.”

Busted. Truth is I’ve long harbored the fantasy of getting my truffle hunters license. That certificate, a spear-like spade and a truffle dog are all I need to make it a reality, I’ve thought more than once. If you have to survive the winter months in lockdown, it’s best to do so with a pungent stash of truffles—and a decent wine collection. (I have the latter.) In good times, truffle-hunting is a hobby that could earn decent returns. Do you know what truffle brokers pay for these warty, mushroom-like organisms

(Dear reader, don’t overpay for your Italian truffles. Truth is they lose their scent and flavor rapidly. By the time they get shipped from Italy, make it through customs, and land on your plate in Vegas or Macau or midtown Manhattan, they’ve all but lost their magic.) 

I’d all but given up on my pipe dream of becoming a tartufaio (a “truffle-hunter,” in Italian) when my wife last month spotted online an ad featuring the picture of a little white ball of curls. It was a Lagotto puppy. The owner bought her from a breeder with the intention of embarking on his own truffle trade. When my girls saw the photo, they were sold. I said nothing. 

On our trip home from Sicily, we made a pitstop, to a town in the mountains south of Rome. As we pulled up to the house, I reminded everybody of the plan: we were here just to give the Lagotto pup a look. “Let’s not get attached,” I said. “This is merely research. We’re not buying a dog today. We’re not even thinking about buying a dog today.” 

Nobody listened.

When the puppy heard the girls, she came bounding around the bend, tail wagging in overdrive. They swooned in unison. I was about to remind them not to fall in love-at-first-sight when the little Lagotto headed straight to me. She plopped herself down at my feet, and looked up through her moppy curls.

“What are we going to do?,” my wife asked. 

“How can we not get this dog,” I responded.

Pathetic. I had broken all the rules I had laid down just moments earlier. It’s a puppy; that’s usually what happens.

And that’s the story of Scilla—named by T.—and the Lagotto Romagnolo.

She’s still getting accustomed to this new world in casa Warner. My father-in-law calls every night to enquire if she’s sniffed out any truffles yet. When I tell him no, he impatiently grumbles that I’m off to a bad start. Not the first time he’s said that to me.

But otherwise, everyone’s content. She loves the mountains and the water (she dove into a river and paddled around for a bit before catching cold), and, alá Mategna, she’s become the star of our camera roll. Here’s a shot of Scilla in the Sibillini mountains above our house in Amandola.

Scilla in Monti Sibillini National Park. Original photo: Bernhard Warner.

Have a nice weekend, everyone. I’ll see you here on Monday.

Bernhard Warner
@BernhardWarner
[email protected]

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