Store shelves are filling again, just not car lots

A growing concern among economists and investors is that retailers have been rebuilding inventories rapidly recently, potentially turning what had been partly empty shelves into excess supply. And indeed, the data on inventories held by various categories of US retailers, while lagged, shows evidence of rapidly normalizing (or even excessive) inventories in many areas except for those selling cars and related products. While this might relieve some of the inflation pressure facing consumers and the Fed, it would also imply lower earnings and economic growth, at least for a while.

Online shopping trends remain a key driver of equity returns

The growth of online shopping has been well-established for years now, but the pandemic has prompted an acceleration in that trend, which continues to be felt in relative stock returns.

The chart below shows the year-on-year growth rates of total US retail sales and online retail sales (non-store retailers) over the last five years (based on monthly retail sales reports from the US Census Bureau). We can see that online sales have been growing significantly faster than total sales the entire time, and most notably, are now near their highest growth rate (20%+) even as total retail sales dropped sharply earlier this year and are currently roughly unchanged from year-ago levels (indicating that non-online sales are down from a year ago).

The S&P 500 is top-heavy, but so are fundamentals

There has been much discussion about the increasing concentration of the market cap weighted indices in the US, with the S&P 500 now showing some of the highest levels of concentration among the largest constituents in history. The top 20 S&P 500 stocks (4% of the constituents) currently comprise 38.6% of the index weight, while the top five companies alone make up 23.8% of the weight.