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Wall Street Week Ahead for the trading week beginning June 1st, 2020
Here is everything you need to know to get you ready for the trading week beginning June 1st, 2020.
Expect more shocking economic data in the week ahead with the unemployment rate set to near 20% - (Source)
The big rotation into unloved stocks, like banks, small caps and airlines, took a break Friday, but it could be a theme that dominates trading again in the week ahead.
Investors will be assessing the progress of economic reopenings against some new headwinds for the market.
The stock market has been mostly discounting unprecedented weakness in economic data, but the May employment report will still be of major interest Friday. Economists expect it to show another shocking loss of jobs, this time roughly 8.5 million after the 20.5 million lost in April. The unemployment rate is expected to jump to a staggering 19.8% from 14.7% in April, according to Refinitiv.
Increasingly frayed relations between the U.S. and China reared up at the end of the week as a negative force for markets, and analysts expect that stress to continue to be a concern. The U.S. joined with other nations to condemn China’s new security rules for Hong Kong, which Beijing sees as an attempt to quell protesters.
President Donald Trump on Friday said the U.S. would end its preferential relationship with Hong Kong and also exit agreements with the World Health Organization, which he said failed with China to protect the world from the spread of coronavirus. The stock market moved higher after Trump’s afternoon announcement on relief there were no new trade actions against China.
“Hovering over this is geopolitical tensions. Over the weekend, what do we see out of Hong Kong? What do we see next week? This will be a major test for the west and specifically Washington,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial.
Krosby said the market will continue the tug of war as investors dip into value names versus some of the growth names in tech, and the stocks that had benefited from the stay-at-home trade.
“We saw this early as the market came off the March lows. You had a very clear barbell,” she said. “The market tried to say what do we need now, what do we need when this is over and health care and pharma started to get a very strong bid. What you have now is ... perhaps intermittent, the value names, the ones that were really beaten up, broadening out the market, including financials.”
Julian Emanuel, head of equity and derivatives strategy at BTIG, said the social media and tech firms face dual headwinds, and that could hold back the overall market as well since they had been leaders in the move off of the March low. Trump on Thursday issued an executive order aimed at limiting legal protections of social media companies, after he got into a disagreement with Twitter.
“There’s a ratcheting up of pressure on technology firms and social media firms, a lot of overlap in big tech in terms of China exposure,” he said. “There’s a lot of headwinds facing Nasdaq names - shelter in place names and China-exposed technology names.”
Big tech stocks have lagged lately, but they are still a top leader quarter to date, with a 20% gain. In the past week, they were up about a half percent, compared to a 6% gain in financials and 5% rise in industrials. As tech lagged, so did the Nasdaq, gaining only a third as much as the Dow in the past week.
“This cyclical rally has longer to run, but what we’ve seen this week tells you the index cannot continue to rise solely with the cyclical outperformance. Tuesday and Wednesday the financials outperformed Nasdaq by 9.3%,” he said. Emanuel said the market usually does better when financials do better but this type of outperformance is rare and it doesn’t always signal positives.
“On average, the market is weaker in the medium term when you had that kind of massive outperformance. The message is both financials and technology tend to be weaker in the medium term. Longer term, you go back to the idea the rotation into financials is a positive,” he said.
Emanuel said the S&P 500 may be hitting the top of a near-term range, after it broke through the 3,000 level, a key psychological point. It also broke through its its 200-day moving average, a widely watched technical level. Some investors see a buy signal when the S&P is above that momentum indicator, which is literally based on the average closing level of the index over the last 200 days.
But Emanuel does not see that to be the case this time. “When we look at the frantic activity in the rotation, it leads us to believe the market is likely to fall back into the range in the coming weeks,” he said.
The stocks that have outperformed recently are the most sensitive to the economic reopenings leading to a pickup in normal activity. There is a question of how much air traffic or hotel stays can pick up until there is real medical progress against the virus.
“These stocks will be a matter of intense debate for months. I don’t think we’ll know the answer until we see if the fall brings a ratcheting higher of the virus, based on reopenings and a change in the weather, or if there’s a change in progress on a vaccine,” he said.
President Trump’s executive order seeking to limit the federal law that provides broad legal protection for social media and other online platforms is one headwind for that sector. Trump issued the order Thursday after Twitter put a fact-check label one of his tweets criticizing mail-in election ballots. The president accused Twitter of political activism.
Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet all protested the move, which hit Twitter’s stock hardest.
Emanuel said technology’ is at risk in China since companies like Apple have large revenue exposure in addition to supply chain issues.
In addition to the jobs report, there is important ISM manufacturing data Monday and auto sales for the month of May.
This past week saw the following moves in the S&P:
Major Indices for this past week:
Major Futures Markets as of Friday's close:
Economic Calendar for the Week Ahead:
Percentage Changes for the Major Indices, WTD, MTD, QTD, YTD as of Friday's close:
S&P Sectors for the Past Week:
Major Indices Pullback/Correction Levels as of Friday's close:
Major Indices Rally Levels as of Friday's close:
Most Anticipated Earnings Releases for this week:
Here are the upcoming IPO's for this week:
Friday's Stock Analyst Upgrades & Downgrades:
Weekly Market Performance – May 29, 2020: Equities Continue Run During A Shortened Week.
EquitiesUS equities delivered positive returns during this abbreviated trading week. All three indexes were higher, with the best performer being the Dow, while the Nasdaq lagged. The S&P 500 finished the week above the 3,000 level for the first time since early March. The small cap Russell 2000 along with the mid-cap S&P 400 Index enjoyed positive weeks, with both indexes returning over 2%.
The story of the week was a sharp rotation in the beaten up value sectors early on, as financials gained more than 6%, closely followed by real estate and industrials. Energy was the worst performing sector as oil price gains stalled, while communication services was the only other sector to lose ground on the week.
Looking at style, large cap value stocks beat out large cap growth by over 2% for the week.
Amid ongoing COVID-19 disruptions, labor and foreign policy challenges, along with risks associated with reopening the economy, US equities maintained their strength. Several timely indicators have pointed to a pickup in economic activity, such as an increase in new home sales along with an unexpected increase in consumer confidence. Our research suggests that second quarter gross domestic product (GDP) could contract as much as 30% annualized, but global progress in reopening economies combined with massive stimulus measures point to a potentially strong rebound in the third and fourth quarters.
International StocksThe MSCI EAFE and the MSCI Emerging Markets Indexes continued its upward quest from the previous week, with the developed markets outperforming emerging markets by over 3%. Given the news out of Hong Kong last week as well as the Hang Seng’s struggles last Friday, its market rebounded modestly to finish up only a fraction this week. With the new changes in Hong Kong’s security laws, many are pondering the future of the nation/state as a global financial hub.
The action by China in Hong Kong concerning its sovereignty caused Washington to move toward placing actions against Beijing. Moreover, White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow added that the US may pay for companies to bring its supply chains from China and Hong Kong to the U.S.
European markets were higher this week, with the STOXX Europe 600 Index up over 3%. As in the United States, investors are concerned with COVID-19 and the subsequent reopening of the European economy, but European stocks have held steady, as the pandemic has been slowing and countries are opening back up. Fiscal stimulus is in the air overseas, as the European Commission is reportedly set to propose a 750 billion euro recovery package, while Japan is finishing a $1.1 trillion stimulus package.
Fixed Income and CommoditiesFixed income prices were little changed on the week, with the 10-year Treasury yield remaining under 0.70%. Credit spreads tightened modestly as investors appear optimistic about the prospects of reopening the US economy as well as a potential pickup in economic activity.
Investment grade corporate debt issuance set a new record this week, with total new issues surpassing $1 trillion in just 149 days. This is a milestone typically reached in the second half of the year, as the Federal Reserve programs have suppressed yields, allowing corporations easier access to funding.
Last month showed a record drop in consumer spending of over 13%, however personal savings enjoyed its largest surge ever at 33%. Once the economy reopens, we should expect these trends to reverse, which would thus help the economic landscape.
Oil prices contracted modestly with July contracts for WTI crude posting a decline of about 2% for the week. Gold finished up a fraction, consolidating following an impressive rally of nearly 15% year to date.
Looking AheadEconomic data for next week begins with the Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index data along with the ISM Manufacturing survey and construction spending on Monday. Contractions are expected in both given the present climate. Wednesday is all about the autos, as we get total number of cars and trucks sold in May. The consensus, according to Factset, is that 11 million total vehicles were sold last month.
On Thursday, we receive new unemployment claims with optimism that the recent lower trend of claims continues. Also, we will get data on labor productivity along with the trade balance. To end the shortened week, Friday’s reports will include non-farm payrolls along with the unemployment rate.
Strong Breadth Surge
On Wednesday, the S&P 500 Index closed above its 200-day moving average for the first time since March 4. While that move marks an important milestone for an index that has rebounded more than 35% from its March 23 low, we believe market internals may paint an even more promising picture for future stock returns.
Technology and growth stocks were undoubtedly the leaders during the market drop, and many of these stocks have recovered to the point of having positive year-to-date returns. Year-to-date numbers for financials and industrials have been less impressive, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been left behind in the recovery. All 11 sectors have gained more than 20% from the March lows, and every sector, except for the defensive consumer staples sector, is up at least 30%, with energy’s 59% advance leading the way. This has led to strong breadth, or market participation readings. Through Thursday’s close, 96% of the components in the S&P 500 were trading above their respective 50-day moving averages, the most since 1991.
Perhaps more importantly, as shown in the LPL Chart of the Day, these momentum surges historically have been followed by above-average forward returns. February 2019 was the last time more than 90% of the stocks in the S&P 500 traded above their 50-day moving averages, and the S&P 500 went on to post a 29% gain for the year.
DJIA Up Seven Straight on June’s First Trading Day
According to the Stock Trader’s Almanac 2020 (page 88), the first trading day of June is the third worst first trading day of all twelve months with DJIA gaining just cumulative 304.59 points since 1998 (July is best with 1175.74 DJIA points gained). Over the past 25 years, DJIA’s first trading day of June has produced gains 72.0% of the time with an average gain of 0.04%. Sizable losses in 2002, 2011 and 2012 limit overall performance. S&P 500 has advanced 64.0% of the time. NASDAQ has been slightly weaker at 56.0%. Russell 2000 has advanced 64.0% with the strongest average performance of 0.17%. Following three straight losses from 2010 to 2012, DJIA has advanced seven straight years on the first trading day of June.
Typical June Trading: Early Gains Tend to Fade After Mid-Month
Over the last twenty-one years, the month of June has been a rather lackluster month for the market. DJIA, S&P 500 and Russell 1000 have all recorded average losses in the month. NASDAQ and Russell 2000 have faired better with modest average gains. Historically the month has opened respectably, advancing on the first and second trading days. From there the market then drifted sideways and lower into or near negative territory depending upon index just ahead of mid-month. Here the market rallied to create a nice mid-month bulge that quickly evaporated and turned into losses. The brisk, post, mid-month drop is typically followed by a month end rally lead by technology and small-cap.
May's Top Performing Stocks
After an absolutely amazing April, traders were in no mood to sell this May. Within the Russell 1000, which tracks the 1,000 largest US stocks by market cap, the index's components rallied an average of 5.3% with just over 70% of the index's components trading up during the month. In the table below, we highlight some of the biggest winners. Some of these names may sound familiar, but there are bound to be a few that you've never heard of.
This month, three stocks in the Russell 1000 gained more than 50%. The best of those three was Twilio (TWLO). After closing out April at a price of $112.3, the stock rallied 73% to just shy of $200 per share. So far in 2020, TWLO has almost doubled. Not familiar with TWLO? The company creates a number of APIs that enable voice, video, and messaging capabilities to their platforms. So when you get a text from UBER telling you that your car is on its way, that message is likely powered by TWLO's software.
Looking through the list of this month's winners, like TWLO, a large share of the stocks listed come from the Technology sector. Of the 34 names on the list, 14 are form the Tech sector, and the next closest sector - Consumer Discretionary - has just seven stocks on the list. The top-performing stock from the Consumer Discretionary sector has been Wayfair (W), which has gained nearly 38%. Apparently, after being stuck at home for the last several weeks, many Americans have decided they need some new furniture.
In total, eight of the eleven GICS sectors are represented on the list. The only sectors not making the cut? Financials, Real Estate, and Utilities. Maybe next month.
Most Stocks Above Their 50-DMAs Since 1991
As we noted in yesterday's Sector Snapshot, if you were to pick out any one stock in the S&P 500, odds are it would be above its 50-DMA. Currently, 96.24% of S&P 500 stocks are above their 50-DMAs. On a sector basis, Consumer Discretionary, Energy, Industrials, and Materials all have 100% of their stocks above their 50-DMAs. That is a huge share of the index sitting above their 50-DMAs at once. As shown in the chart below, times in which there have been this many stocks above their 50-DMAs have been few and far between. Of all days since the start of 1990, there have only been four other days with a reading as high or higher than the current 96.24%. The most recent of these was March 5th, 1991 when 96.59% of the index was above its 50-DMA. Other than that, only February 11th through 13th of that same year saw these types of readings (97.4%, 96.6%, and 97.8%, respectively).
Fund Flows Still Show Little Equities Enthusiasm
The table below gives a summary of mutual and exchange-traded fund flows as compiled by the Investment Company Institute for the week ending May 20th.
Equity fund flows remain negative. While there’s been lots of anecdotal evidence of retail enthusiasm in the equity market, fund flows are a very different story. This week was relatively modest, with equity fund outflows in the bottom 6% of all readings across mutual funds and ETFs. That totals $13.7bn of AUM out the door, with the worst hits coming for global funds which saw flows in the bottom 3% of all readings. The last 3 months and year have been the worst on record for aggregate equity fund flows across mutual funds and ETFs, and the worst three months on record for world equity funds. ETFs tracking equities have not seen large inflows but they are also not suffering the same kind of outflows as mutual funds.
Commodity funds and bond funds are a totally different story. The last three months have been the best on record for commodity fund inflows, while bond funds have seen readings in the top 3% of all periods for the last week and month; recent commodity fund flows are slightly cooler than their record pace of the last three months but are very, very strong nonetheless.
Monday 6.1.20 Before Market Open:
Monday 6.1.20 After Market Close:
Tuesday 6.2.20 Before Market Open:
Tuesday 6.2.20 After Market Close:
Wednesday 6.3.20 Before Market Open:
Wednesday 6.3.20 After Market Close:
Thursday 6.4.20 Before Market Open:
Thursday 6.4.20 After Market Close:
Friday 6.5.20 Before Market Open:
Friday 6.5.20 After Market Close:
([CLICK HERE FOR FRIDAY'S AFTER-MARKET EARNINGS TIME & ESTIMATES!]())NONE.
Zoom Video Communications, Inc. $179.48
Zoom Video Communications, Inc. (ZM) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 4:20 PM ET on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $0.09 per share on revenue of $203.02 million and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $0.10 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 69% expecting an earnings beat The company's guidance was for earnings of approximately $0.10 per share on revenue of $199.00 million to $201.00 million. Consensus estiamtes are for year-over-year revenue growth of 66.43%. The stock has drifted higher by 62.8% from its open following the earnings release to be 83.7% above its 200 day moving average of $97.72. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. The stock has averaged a 10.8% move on earnings in recent quarters.
CrowdStrike, Inc. $87.81
CrowdStrike, Inc. (CRWD) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 4:05 PM ET on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The consensus estimate is for a loss of $0.06 per share on revenue of $165.77 million and the Earnings Whisper ® number is ($0.02) per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 71% expecting an earnings beat The company's guidance was for a loss of $0.07 to $0.06 per share on revenue of $164.00 million to $168.00 million. Consensus estimates are for year-over-year earnings growth of 89.09% with revenue increasing by 72.54%. Short interest has increased by 12.3% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 75.8% from its open following the earnings release to be 43.3% above its 200 day moving average of $61.29. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. The stock has averaged a 12.2% move on earnings in recent quarters.
DICK'S Sporting Goods, Inc. $36.06
DICK'S Sporting Goods, Inc. (DKS) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 7:30 AM ET on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The consensus estimate is for a loss of $0.41 per share on revenue of $1.55 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is ($0.46) per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 18% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for earnings to decline year-over-year by 166.13% with revenue decreasing by 19.30%. Short interest has increased by 14.6% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted lower by 5.5% from its open following the earnings release to be 2.4% below its 200 day moving average of $36.95. Overall earnings estimates have been revised lower since the company's last earnings release. On Friday, May 22, 2020 there was some notable buying of 4,191 contracts of the $21.00 put expiring on Friday, June 19, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 11.2% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 7.6% move in recent quarters.
DocuSign (DOCU) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 4:05 PM ET on Thursday, June 4, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $0.10 per share on revenue of $284.00 million and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $0.17 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 82% expecting an earnings beat The company's guidance was for revenue of $280.00 million to $284.00 million. Consensus estimates are for earnings to decline year-over-year by 0.00% with revenue increasing by 32.73%. Short interest has increased by 18.8% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 86.3% from its open following the earnings release to be 79.4% above its 200 day moving average of $77.91. Overall earnings estimates have been revised lower since the company's last earnings release. On Tuesday, May 19, 2020 there was some notable buying of 2,550 contracts of the $120.00 put expiring on Friday, January 21, 2022. Option traders are pricing in a 12.2% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 10.7% move in recent quarters.
Slack Technologies, Inc. $35.05
Slack Technologies, Inc. (WORK) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 4:15 PM ET on Thursday, June 4, 2020. The consensus estimate is for a loss of $0.06 per share on revenue of $186.54 million and the Earnings Whisper ® number is ($0.04) per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 81% expecting an earnings beat The company's guidance was for a loss of $0.07 to $0.06 per share on revenue of $185.00 million to $188.00 million. Short interest has decreased by 23.6% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 66.7% from its open following the earnings release to be 40.4% above its 200 day moving average of $24.97. Overall earnings estimates have been revised lower since the company's last earnings release. The stock has averaged a 5.6% move on earnings in recent quarters.
Campbell Soup Co. $50.98
Campbell Soup Co. (CPB) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 7:30 AM ET on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $0.76 per share on revenue of $2.24 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $0.78 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 72% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for year-over-year earnings growth of 35.71% with revenue increasing by 2.85%. Short interest has decreased by 12.5% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 2.2% from its open following the earnings release to be 6.4% above its 200 day moving average of $47.91. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. On Friday, May 29, 2020 there was some notable buying of 1,519 contracts of the $55.00 call expiring on Friday, June 19, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 7.6% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 6.9% move in recent quarters.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. $107.13
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. (CBRL) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 8:00 AM ET on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $2.15 per share on revenue of $607.31 million and the Earnings Whisper ® number is ($0.83) per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 10% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for year-over-year earnings growth of 2.87% with revenue decreasing by 17.89%. Short interest has decreased by 35.8% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted lower by 37.0% from its open following the earnings release to be 22.5% below its 200 day moving average of $138.18. Overall earnings estimates have been revised lower since the company's last earnings release. On Tuesday, May 26, 2020 there was some notable buying of 1,518 contracts of the $185.00 call expiring on Friday, September 18, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 7.5% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 3.5% move in recent quarters.
Broadcom Limited $291.27
Broadcom Limited (AVGO) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 4:15 PM ET on Thursday, June 4, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $5.14 per share on revenue of $5.70 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $5.21 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 64% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for earnings to decline year-over-year by 9.82% with revenue increasing by 3.32%. Short interest has increased by 27.4% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 29.2% from its open following the earnings release to be 2.6% above its 200 day moving average of $284.01. Overall earnings estimates have been revised lower since the company's last earnings release. On Wednesday, May 13, 2020 there was some notable buying of 1,209 contracts of the $170.00 put expiring on Friday, January 15, 2021. Option traders are pricing in a 7.0% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 4.8% move in recent quarters.
Cloudera, Inc. $10.25
Cloudera, Inc. (CLDR) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 4:10 PM ET on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. The consenus estimate is for breakeven results on revenue of $204.11 million and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $0.03 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 69% expecting an earnings beat The company's guidance was for results to range from a loss of $0.01 per share to earnings of $0.01 per share on revenue of $202.00 million to $207.00 million. Consensus estimates are for year-over-year earnings growth of 100.00% with revenue increasing by 8.88%. Short interest has increased by 6.6% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 23.8% from its open following the earnings release to be 13.0% above its 200 day moving average of $9.07. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. On Thursday, May 21, 2020 there was some notable buying of 4,137 contracts of the $10.00 call expiring on Friday, July 17, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 21.0% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 16.2% move in recent quarters.
J.M. Smucker Co. $113.93
J.M. Smucker Co. (SJM) is confirmed to report earnings at approximately 7:00 AM ET on Thursday, June 4, 2020. The consensus earnings estimate is $2.23 per share on revenue of $2.03 billion and the Earnings Whisper ® number is $2.31 per share. Investor sentiment going into the company's earnings release has 54% expecting an earnings beat. Consensus estimates are for year-over-year earnings growth of 7.21% with revenue increasing by 6.72%. Short interest has decreased by 29.5% since the company's last earnings release while the stock has drifted higher by 5.5% from its open following the earnings release to be 5.5% above its 200 day moving average of $108.03. Overall earnings estimates have been revised higher since the company's last earnings release. On Wednesday, May 27, 2020 there was some notable buying of 565 contracts of the $120.00 call expiring on Friday, July 17, 2020. Option traders are pricing in a 6.4% move on earnings and the stock has averaged a 4.7% move in recent quarters.
DISCUSS!What are you all watching for in this upcoming trading week?
Pimax 8K X - The MRTV Preview - Worth It For VR Enthusiasts? Comparison with Valve Index
I have thoroughly tested the Pimax 8K X. The result is this, admittedly long preview. If you want to find out more about the device, you will like this article. Enjoy.
Pimax 8K X Preview (MRTV)
The Pimax 8K X is the new Pimax flagship model, the most advanced headset that the company is offering. Its unique selling proposition clearly are the dual 4k displays that can be run at their native resolution, something that no other consumer VR headset can match.
Coming in at $1299 for the headset only or $1828 for the complete bundle including base stations and controllers the 8K X is around double the price of the Valve Index and therefore clearly targeted at the VR enthusiast that is looking for the very cutting edge of the technology and that is willing to pay up for it.
In this preview you will find out how it fares against the Valve Index and why for some of you this might be the headset you have been waiting for but for most of us the additional $1000 on top of the Valve Index complete package won’t be worth the additional expense.
Disclaimer: For this preview I was able to check out a preproduction version of the 8K X that did not come with the final audio solution and therefore I cannot give a final judgement on audio. The optics are final though and therefore this preview is as close to a review as it can get.
At $1299 (or $1399 for the version with a more advanced audio solution) the headset offers two 4k displays that can either be driven at their native resolution of 3840*2160 per eye or upscaled from 2560*1440p per eye if the GPU is not quite up to speed rendering the dual native 4k resolution. The LC-Displays offer a maximum refresh rate of 75hz in native mode and 90hz when upscaled.
Just as we come to expect from a Pimax headset the FOV is way bigger than that of the competition and offers 200° as compared to the standard 110° or the 135° of the Valve Index. More is not always better though and the higher the FOV, the more distortions will be visible in the peripheral area that some consumers might find distracting. Anyways, the customer can always lower visible FOV in the headset's settings and therefore also reduce the visible distortions.
Just as all the other Pimax headsets the 8K X uses the SteamVR Lighthouse tracking technology. Therefore, to be able to use the headset, customers will need the Lighthouse base stations and compatible controllers like the Vive Wands or the Valve Index Controllers.
Should customers still own base stations from their previous Lighthouse headsets those can be used. Otherwise customers can opt for a full bundle including two base stations (v2.0) and the Valve Index controllers. Such a bundle is priced at $1828 (* all prices excluding tax and custom duties!) for the version with the standard headphone solution and $1928 for the so called Deluxe Headphone Version.
Build Quality, Comfort and Features
The Pimax 8K X is part of the new Vision Series of Pimax headsets. These come with a way superior housing quality as compared to the previous Pimax models. The shape of the Vision Series headsets is still the same as before but the material used has been upgraded. According to the Pimax website the new material comes with a "special damage resistant coating". This coating has a rubbery feel to it and from my first impressions does deliver a quality standard that is definitely better than what we have seen from Pimax before. In direct comparison to the build quality of Valve Index the 8K X can still hardly compete though and it is quite interesting to see how Valve was able to manufacture such a quality product at a $499 asking price.
The Pimax 8K X finally comes with a rigid head strap that the company calls "Modular Audio Strap" (MAS). The long awaited upgrade to the elastic strap makes all the difference when it comes to comfort. It closely resembles the rigid head strap of the Vive Pro and it is safe to say that the head strap of the competitor inspired Pimax for its own offering. That is not a bad thing though because the design simply works. It offers a counter weight for the headset and therefore manages to balance the headset really well. The 8K X therefore can be worn for hours without it feeling front heavy. Getting into the headset and adjusting it to the right size is also very straight forward and so much more convenient as compared to the elastic strap solution. Just like on most other competing headsets the user simply can turn an adjustment wheel at the back of the headstrap.
The Modular Audio Strap even has some advantages as compared to its competitors. Each of the soft textile paddings are velcroed onto the device and can be exchanged. So once the paddings are worn out they can simply be replaced by new ones. That is an advantage that even the Valve Index cannot offer.
The 8K X also comes in with the upgraded "Comfort Kit", an improved facial interface that features a much broader area for the forehead to rest on. The material used here is a soft fabric that feels very comfortable and that is definitely also an upgrade as compared to previous face pads. These face pads are also interchangeable and Pimax also offers PU leather versions that some consumers might prefer for hygiene reasons.
The Modular Audio Strap comes in two versions. The Standard version and the Deluxe version. The difference here is the "Audio" part of the strap. The Standard version adopts an "open ear" approach similar to Oculus Rift S / Quest where small speakers simply emit sound in proximity to the ear. The $100 more expensive Deluxe version comes with on ear headphones. The preproduction model that this preview is based on came with the Standard MAS. Unfortunately though the speakers of that model are not the final ones and Pimax told me that they will replace them with much better ones for the final production units. Therefore I will need to wait for final judgement on this audio solution. The ones built into this preproduction model sounded "sub-par" at best and absolutely need replacement.
The headset itself comes with all the same features that we know from the previous headsets. There is an IPD adjustment wheel, on/off button, volume rockers and 2 USB-C connectors for future upgrades like the eye tracking or the hand tracking module. The headset now sports two 3.5mm audio jacks on both sides, an upgrade from the single jack of previous models.
There are also some changes with the cable. Instead of having to power the device with an external power adapter, it now simply uses an additional USB plug to do so. Overall the cable now has 3 plugs: 1 Display Port and 2 USB plugs.
The cable length is 5m which makes it long enough to use in most play spaces.
Display, Lenses & FOV
For many of you this section of the preview might as well be the most exciting one, let's discuss the picture quality. Is the picture quality truly as amazing as you might expect from dual native 4k displays? The answer is a resounding YES. Beyond any doubt the picture quality here is truly amazing and better than that of the Valve Index. Also when directly compared to the HP Reverb I would prefer the 8K X display. If you really want to run the 8K X at its native resolution though you will need a high-end computer and we will find out more about that in the "Benchmark" section of this preview.
Watch through the lense footage in my preview video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1D_FbBJZ04&feature=youtu.be
The displays both feature a resolution of 3840*2160p per eye (4k). The LCD panels that are being used here offer a full RGB stripe matrix, meaning each pixel is being represented by 3 subpixels and therefore we have an extremely high fill factor. Screen Door Effect (SDE) is truly a problem of the past here.
Unfortunately, in order to achieve this kind of resolution over a single Display Port connection, sacrifices had to be made. When using the 8K X in its native 4k mode, the maximum refresh rate is only 75hz. Not many applications will be optimized enough to be able to render dual native 4k in 75fps on current machines anyways but some, like for example Half-Life: Alyx actually can do so. Therefore the 75hz maximum refresh rate of the native 4k mode is indeed a limitation that does matter now and will even matter more once GPUs are on the market that could easily provide rendering of dual 4k frames at a faster render rate than 75 per second.
For me personally, for the longest time I thought I could not tell the difference between different refresh rates. If I played a game in 90hz or 120hz, I did not really see a big difference. But now, when A/B comparing a game that will truly give me 120 fps like Half-Life: Alyx and then playing the same game with 75 fps on the Pimax 8K X in 4k native mode, the difference is painfully obvious. I feel way more immersion on headsets like the Index or the Artisan that run at 120hz, even though the resolution is not as high as with the 8K X. That also has to do with more visible distortions on the 8K X that are especially obvious in games with lots of head movements like Half-Life: Alyx and we will get to that in a moment.
For games that are not as highly optimized as HL: Alyx, you must be extremely aware of the fact that the amount of frames per second that your GPU can render might not make for an enjoyable experience. Again, more about that in the "Benchmark" section.
If the device is used in upscale mode, meaning a lower input resolution of 2560*1440p is upscaled to 4k, a higher refresh rate of 90hz can be achieved(*). Once in that mode, it closely resembles the Pimax 8K Plus model that is $300 cheaper than the 8K X.
The 8K X uses exactly the same Fresnel lenses that had been used in all the other recent Pimax wide FOV headsets. They do a fairly good job at projecting the wide FOV picture into the user's eyes. Like all Fresnel lenses there is still some glare in high contrast scenes. These "god rays" are not as bad though as in the Valve Index and I do not think that they would actually cause problems for anyone.
Pimax headsets are known for their wide Field Of View (FOV). The 8K X is no exception here and it offers 4 different options: Large, Normal, Small and Potato. The "Large" FOV boasts a 200° (diagonal) FOV which is quite a big difference to the 135° of the Valve Index and the the 110° of the other competing consumer VR headsets at the moment. The higher FOV does make a big difference and will simply allow for a deeper immersion into Virtual Worlds. If you are not affected by the added distortions that are introduced by the larger FOVs and that is quite a big "if".
Distortions and warping around the edges of the visible area had been a big topic and reason of concern since the introduction of the wide FOV headsets. Offering such a huge FOV does come with some drawbacks and compromises that the customer has to live with. Some might not be affected at all and barely see them, for others they might be a show stopper.
Watch actual footage of the distortion in my preview video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1D_FbBJZ04&feature=youtu.be
It is quite interesting to see how different people may have totally different perceptions of the distortions introduced by Pimax headsets. I had shown the device to quite a number of people at the MRTV Headquarter and for some the distortions were not a problem at all while others dismissed the headsets after just a few moments. Therefore, each individual needs to try out the wide FOV headsets for themselves to really be able to make an educated decision. And that is probably why companies like Valve went for the smaller 135° FOV instead of trying to introduce an ultrawide FOV headset. For the Valve Index and those headsets with smaller FOV, you can be sure there is absolutely no distortion at all and you do not need to worry about that problem. Wearing these headsets for hours is possible without eye strain.
To be able to get an idea about the distortion of the 8K X, I will give you my personal assessment now. First of all, the larger the FOV, the bigger the distortions. So that's why I always had been using the "Normal" option on prior Pimax headsets. And comparing the distortion on "Normal" of the 8K X to the distortions of the Pimax 5K Plus that I had been using before as my go to Pimax headset, I can say that I perceive a bit less of distortions with the new model but they are still noticeable for me. I have reached out to Pimax to find out why I would see less distortions as compared to the 5K Plus and the answer was that the new Comfort Kit facial padding would put the user's eyes at just the right distance and angle to the lenses which would minimize distortions.
Unfortunately the distortions are still very visible when using the "Large" option and even at "Normal" you might first need some hours to have your brain get used to them.
It also depends on the type of game you play. If there are lots of head movements like for example in a game like HL: Alyx those distortions would become more apparent and might be distracting. If you play a cockpit game though, where you have very few head movements, you might not be distracted by the distortions at all.
In direct comparison to the entry level "Artisan" headset, I perceived more distortions when using the 8K X, even when comparing the displays at similar FOV settings. Also, I had less eye strain after using the entry level Pimax headset for longer periods of time. The reason for that most probably is the higher 120hz refresh rate of the Artisan in conjunction with the more eye friendly distortion profile. I had already argued in my Artisan preview that Pimax might have found a great compromise between FOV and comfort by not trying to maximize the FOV as they do with their other headsets. I had reached out to Pimax to find out why I would see less distortions on the Artisan and the company replied they had already finalized the distortion profile on the Artisan while they are still tuning it for the 8K X.
Colours and black levels of the 8K X are on a similar level as the LCD panels of the previous Pimax headsets. They don’t stand out as either positive or negative and you can still adjust contrast and brightness in the Pitool yourself. However, in direct comparison to the colors and black levels of the Valve Index, the 8K X is clearly inferior.
Overall the picture quality is what you expect from a true native 4k headset and if distortions of prior Pimax devices were not a problem for you, you also won’t have problems here and you will without a doubt love the picture quality that the 8K X delivers.
(*) On the Pimax website 90hz are mentioned, the company told me that they have also achieved 120hz already but that they still need more testing.
Pimax offers their Modular Audio Strap in two different versions. The standard one, that adopts an "open ear" approach like Oculus Quest and Rift S and the Deluxe version, that comes with on ear headphones. The preproduction model that this preview is based on came with a standard version, however it was not the final one yet and that is why I cannot give a final judgement as far as audio is concerned. What I can say though is that the speaker is quite far away from the ear for the standard MAS and should there be any kind of other noises around the play area, that surely could affect immersion. But since there are two audio jacks the user could always just use their own headphones. Once I get to try out the final versions of the Modular Audio Straps, I will surely review them.
According to Pimax the recommended GPU for running the 8K X in native mode is an RTX 2080 (or better) and for upscale mode customers should at least own an RTX 2060 (or better). I was surprised that I could actually use the native mode at all with my GTX 1080ti. In really well optimized games I would even get the full 75fps in native mode.
For very demanding games like DCS or XPlane 11 I would absolutely recommend the fastest and best GPU available though to truly be able to enjoy the ultra-high resolution at acceptable frame rates. Running the 8K X with the top of the line GPU of the next generation should be pretty amazing and I am looking forward to that.
Anyone with an RTX 2080ti should be able to enjoy the headset also for these more demanding titles now already but for sure the investment into the 8K X will really pay off once the 3080ti arrives.
Just for being able to compare the 8K X with the Artisan and the Index in terms of performance, I am using the OpenVR Benchmark test again. On the same system that the Index reached 44fps and the Artisan could render 33 fps, the 8K X could do 20fps at an already scaled down 3188 * 2732px resolution. In upscaled mode at 90hz the Benchmark could produce 25 fps at 3852*1824p.
Again, for all those who are not familiar with the Open VR Benchmark, it is an app that would render exactly the same extremely demanding scene on the headset, so that headset/GPU combinations could be compared to each other in terms of fps. For this test, values below 90 fps are the norm and not the exception.
Tracking & Controllers
For my tests I used the Valve Index controllers and they performed as good as expected. Valve Lighthouse tracking simply is the best and most reliable tracking solution available to consumers. The company offers full bundles that include Valve Lighthouse base stations and Valve Index controllers and customers will be well advised to choose these controller bundles if they not already own the Index controllers and base stations.
Software Compatibility / Ease Of Setup
Just like all the Pimax headsets the 8K X is compatible with all StreamVR applications out of the box. Setting up the device is way easier than people may have heard and just as I mentioned in my Artisan preview, the "Pitool" software that is being used for set up and configuration has come a long way since its inception. Setting up the device is a matter of minutes.
Oculus Rift games can also be played and they simply have to be imported into Pitool and work well without the need to install any additional software.
Users can also configure brightness, colors and switch between native 4k or upscaled mode within the software and could get more involved into the nitty gritty if they choose to do so. For all others, the standard settings mostly work fine.
In my time with the 8K X I did run into some problems though. More than with other Pimax headsets, I experienced games crashing at startup and during the game. Especially the demanding titles like XPlane 11 and DCS, needed quite a few attempts before I could get them running on my system (i7 8700k, GTX1080ti, 32GB RAM). I have reached out to Pimax to find out why that would be the case and the company responded that CPU heavy games like XPlane need very stable CPU/RAM configurations and minor misconfigurations may easily cause these kind of crashes, especially on high resolutions. Now that could very well be the case, just I do not experience such crashes on the other headsets, probably because of the lower resolutions involved. Therefore again, this headset will absolutely boost hardware sales and especially those who like to invest in the latest and greatest will enjoy having a headset that truly makes use of the hardware like no other headset.
The Pimax 8K X is an impressive VR headset. The picture quality in native 4k mode is truly outstanding and better than any other consumer VR headset at this moment in time. Also the ultrawide FOV is something that only the Pimax headsets can offer.
Watch 8K X Through The Lens footage in my preview video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1D_FbBJZ04&feature=youtu.be
Unfortunately this does come with quite a few compromises and caveats though, most notably the low 75hz maximum refresh rate that is especially perceivable when A/B comparing games running at 120hz in headsets like the Pimax Artisan or the Valve Index. Moreover, the distortion problem is still not perfectly solved here and for people who are very susceptible to even the slightest optical flaws, these distortions will be a problem.
Taking into consideration that the 8K X is more than double as expensive as the Valve Index, which offers a way higher refresh rate, a completely undistorted picture that everyone will be able to enjoy, better colors, better build-quality, more intricate optical settings (eye relieve) and a better sound (as compared to the Standard MAS**), the 8K X is a tough sell for the big majority of consumers. Those who simply want an amazing headset to play the latest games at a great audiovisual quality and high refresh rates on their current generation machines should better go for the Valve Index.
Those who are looking for a better value proposition than the 8K X but still want a bigger FOV than the above average Index FOV and that do not like the glare of the Index lenses should take a closer look at the Pimax Artisan.
Who should buy the 8K X then?
That said, the 8K X will be a fantastic headset for all those VR enthusiasts that are simply looking for the VR headset that can offer the best picture quality on the market right now. The 8K X will be just the right headset for simmers, those who need that extra clarity to perfectly read all the gauges in flight sims and those who need that extra resolution to see competing cars in racing sims further down the track. If you are the kind of enthusiast that will buy the upcoming RTX3080ti on day one, no matter the cost, and if you already owned a Pimax headset without being bothered by distortions, you belong to the group of people that will love and truly enjoy what the Pimax 8K X has to offer.