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Baker’s Dozen Portfolio for 4th Quarter 2020 Launched

October 20, 2020:  The 4th Quarter 2020 Baker’s Dozen UIT Portfolio (FALEPX) was launched by First Trust Portfolios on October 20, 2020. This portfolio, like all Baker's Dozen portfolios, comprises 13 top-ranked stocks from a cross-section of market caps and industries based on our GARP approach, i.e., growth at a reasonable price. Sabrient believes each of these stocks is positioned to perform well for the next 15 months. The portfolio will terminate on January 20, 2022. For more information and a fact sheet please visit First Trust Portfolios.

New Dividend UIT Portfolio Launched

September 28, 2020: A new Sabrient Dividend UIT Portfolio (Ticker: FRNHTX) – 33rd in the series -- was launched by First Trust Portfolios on September 28, 2020. This UIT seeks companies with above-average total return through a combination of capital appreciation and dividend income. The stocks are selected through an investment strategy process developed by Sabrient. The portfolio will terminate on September 28, 2022. For more information, a prospectus, or a fact sheet, please visit First Trust Portfolios

Ian Striplin  by Ian Striplin
  Equity Analyst, Gradient Analytics LLC (a Sabrient Systems company)

Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) are publicly traded companies formed with the sole purpose of raising capital to acquire one or more unspecified businesses – which is why they are often called “blank-check” companies. They will often (but not always) have an espoused target market or desired exposure for which they are pursuing target companies, but little else in the way of visibility to indicate what an investor ultimately will own. The management team that forms the SPAC (the “sponsor”) funds the offering expenses in exchange for founders shares in the entity.

SPAC preference has been increasing in recent years as a way to get a private firm into public markets more expeditiously. We believe the change in preference likely tracks well to abundant liquidity, ultra-low interest rates, and lofty valuations in many equity markets. Therefore, we view the rash of SPAC deals announced this year as a cautionary signal that markets may have become overly speculative. The SPAC process can be instrumental in unlocking private “unicorn-style” valuations, and its rise in popularity is contemporaneous to growth in private equity demand. Furthermore, many of the headline-generating deals are principally based on a long growth runway into questionable TAM (total addressable market) estimations. However, the growing reliance on non-GAAP earnings and consistently unprofitable public companies illustrates that investors’ willingness to wait for a return appears greater than ever.

In this article, I highlight several considerations for evaluating SPAC investments both in the pre-target phase and following the release of audited financials. I discuss several recent adaptations of the SPAC model, branding and potential outcomes from the blank-check boom, and use South Mountain Merger Corp (SMMC) and its reverse merger with Billtrust as an example of how investors might recognize “creative accounting” tactics with limited financial disclosures. As Elon Musk recently tweeted, “Caution strongly advised with SPACs.”  Read on...

Rachel Bradley  by Rachel Annis
  Equity Analyst, Gradient Analytics LLC (a Sabrient Systems company)

 “Only time can heal what reason cannot.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

In response to the pandemic-driven economic downturn, both Congress and the Federal Reserve have intervened with fiscal and monetary support in the form of direct subsidies, loans, bailouts, tax rebates, supplemental unemployment benefits, ultra-low interest rates, support of capital markets, reduced regulatory constraints, and quantitative easing (QE). The Fed expanded its purchase program beyond Treasury bonds to also include municipal bonds, corporate bonds of both investment and speculative grade, as well as ETFs for the first time. While these policies can raise aggregate demand, employment, and investment in the short run, excess liquidity also supports inefficient firms that otherwise might not survive. The increased prevalence of these firms, as well as the valuation metrics at which their stocks trade can muddy the waters for analysts and thus contribute to a misallocation of capital. These firms also weigh on productivity growth going forward.

Because the downturn was spurred by the pandemic rather than the typical overheated economy and inflation, it has yielded several surprises for investors. For instance, despite unemployment reaching record levels, consumers spent more than expected on home repairs and remodeling which boosted sales at stores like Home Depot (HD) and Lowe’s Companies (LOW). Likewise, residential home sales have surged despite escalating unemployment. An intuitive expectation of an inverse relationship between the two would be incorrect, at least thus far. Outperformance of online retailers, like Amazon.com (AMZN), over some traditional recessionary picks, like Procter & Gamble (PG), has also been unexpected. Moreover, this was the first recession that drove people to spend more time outdoors, giving a boost to firms like sports vehicle maker Polaris (PII). However, the question to ask is:  Is this burst of COVID-driven growth anomalous and short-lived, or is it sustainable?

Another aspect to highlight is the conjectural nature of forward estimates and current valuations. The wild swings in near-term consensus estimates between earnings cycles seem to be highly speculative and largely based on the latest news headlines rather than analysis of underlying firms’ fundamental metrics. Similarly, it appears that some previously struggling firms are getting an unsustainable boost by pivoting to create products that help customers deal with COVID-19 impacts. In this article, I explore examples of two firms for which analysts anticipate rising near-term growth rates specifically driven by COVID-19 related tailwinds that we do not believe are sustainable longer-term. Read on....

Scott Martindale  by Scott Martindale
  President & CEO, Sabrient Systems LLC

Well, the election is finally upon us, and most folks on either side of the aisle seem to think that the stakes couldn’t be higher. That might be true. But for the stock market, I think removing the uncertainty will send stocks higher in a “relief rally” no matter who wins, as additional COVID stimulus, an infrastructure spending bill, and better corporate planning visibility are just a few of the slam-dunk catalysts. Either way, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is here, as both sides seem to agree that the only way to prevent a COVID-induced depression in a highly indebted economy is to print even more money and become even more leveraged and indebted. Now investors can only anxiously pray for a clean, uncontested election, followed soon by a reopening of schools and businesses. Stocks surely would soar.

Of course, certain industries might be favored over others depending upon the party in power, but in general I expect greater market breadth and higher prices into year-end and into the New Year. However, last week, given the absence of a COVID vaccine and additional fiscal stimulus plus the resurgence of COVID-19 in the US and Europe, not to mention worries of a contested election that ends up in the courts, stocks fell as investors took chips off the table and raised cash to ride out the volatility and prepare for the next buying opportunity. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) even spiked above 41 last week and closed Friday at 38, which is in panic territory (although far below the all-time high of 85.47 in March).

Nevertheless, even as the market indices fell (primarily due to profit-taking among the bigger growth names that had run so high), many of the neglected value stocks have held up pretty well. And lest you forget, global liquidity is abundant and continuing to rise (no matter who wins the election) – and searching for higher returns than ultra-low (or even negative) government and sovereign debt obligations are yielding.

All in all, this year has been a bit deceiving. While the growth-oriented, cap-weighted indexes have been in a strong bull market thanks to a handful of mega-cap Tech names, the broader market essentially has been in a downtrend since mid-2018, making it very difficult for any valuation-oriented portfolio or equal-weight index to keep up. However, since mid-July (and especially since the September lows) we have seen signs of a nascent rotation into value/cyclicals/small caps, which is a bullish sign of a healthy market. Institutional buyers are back, and they are buying the higher-quality stocks, encouraged by solid Q3 earnings reports.

Going forward, our expectation is that the historic imbalances in Value/Growth and Small/Large performance ratios will continue to gradually revert and market leadership will broaden such that strategic beta ETFs, active selection, and equal weighting will thrive once again. This should be favorable for value, quality, and growth at a reasonable price (GARP) strategies like Sabrient’s, although not to the exclusion of the unstoppable secular growth industries. In other words, investors should be positioned for both cyclical and secular growth.

Notably, Sabrient has enhanced its GARP strategy by adding our new Growth Quality Rank (GQR), which rewards companies with more consistent and reliable earnings growth, putting secular-growth stocks on more competitive footing in the rankings with cyclical growth (even though their forward valuations are often higher than our GARP model previously rewarded). As a result, our newer Baker’s Dozen portfolios launched since December 2019 reflect better balance between secular growth and cyclical/value stocks and across large/mid/small market caps. And those portfolios have shown markedly improved performance relative to the benchmark, even with this year’s continued bifurcation. Names like Adobe (ADBE), Autodesk (ADSK), Digital Turbine (APPS), Amazon (AMZN), Charter Communications (CHTR), NVIDIA (NVDA), and SolarEdge Technologies (SEDG) became eligible with the addition of GQR, and they have been top performers. But at the same time, our portfolios are also well-positioned for a broadening or rotation to value, cyclicals, and small caps. In addition, our three Small Cap Growth portfolios that have launched during 2020 using the same enhanced selection process are all nicely outperforming their benchmark. So, IMHO, this provides solid justification for an investor to take a fresh look at Sabrient’s portfolios today.

In this periodic update, I provide a comprehensive market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, I expect stocks to move higher once the election results are finalized – but with plenty of volatility along the way until the economy is fully unleashed from its COVID shackles. In addition, our sector rankings reflect a moderately bullish bias (as the corporate outlook is starting to clear up), the technical picture looks ready for at least a modest bullish bounce from last week’s profit-taking, and our sector rotation model retains its neutral posture. As a reminder, you can go to http://bakersdozen.sabrient.com/bakers-dozen-marketing-materials to find my latest Baker’s Dozen slide deck and commentary on terminating portfolios. Read on....

  by Bradley Cipriano, CPA
  Equity Analyst, Gradient Analytics LLC (a Sabrient Systems company)

The software industry is rapidly adopting a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) subscription model, which tends to drive higher lifetime customer values, and lower volatility in revenue and earnings growth compared to the traditional software licensing model. SaaS companies, which provide their software on a subscription basis via the cloud, have grown at a rapid pace in recent years. Moreover, they are poised to continue their strong growth trajectory as more enterprises adopt cloud-based services. And yet according to Synergy Research Group, SaaS revenue accounted for only about 23% of the total software market in 2019 despite growing 39% YOY and eclipsing $100 billion in annual sales, as shown below in Chart 1.

Chart 1. Enterprise SaaS Market Growth

The relatively low penetration rate of SaaS models implies that there is plenty of runway left for increased adoption. Unfortunately, when companies migrate toward a subscription billing model, financial transparency diminishes as the financial statements are impacted by the change. For example, sales growth tends to decelerate and cashflows tend to decline. These trends can be misconstrued as a sign of a financial distress when instead the company is rapidly growing while transitioning its billing model. However, sometimes the distress is real.

Given the benefits and the relatively low penetration rate of SaaS models, we believe that software providers will increasingly migrate towards a subscription model going forward. Therefore, we likely will continue to observe software companies reporting decelerating growth and deteriorating cashflows during the migration. However, we also must be on the lookout for companies that are under fundamental pressure and are using the SaaS migration explanation to disguise growth and cashflow headwinds.

In this article, I attempt to discern between these two possibilities. First, I describe how transitioning from a licensing sales model to a subscription billing model can impact a software company’s financial statements. Then, I examine two different companies that have undergone a SaaS billing model transition – Adobe Inc. (ADBE) and MicroStrategy Inc. (MSTR) – and point out key differences between them that can help investors differentiate between an apparent slowdown in sales caused by a successful SaaS transition and an actual slowdown caused by fundamental headwinds. In my view, ADBE is an example of a successful SaaS transition, while MSTR is an example of a company that was struggling to grow sales all along but temporarily disguised these issues as a “normal” transition. I conclude by applying the same analysis to Splunk (SPLK), which is in the midst of its own transition to a SaaS billing model.  Read on...

Scott Martindale  by Scott Martindale
  President & CEO, Sabrient Systems LLC

The April-August 5-month stretch was the best 5-month period for the S&P 500 (+35%) since 1938. The index was +6.3% higher than its pre-COVID high on 2/19/20 and +56.2% higher than its COVID selloff low on 3/23/20. But any market technician would tell you that the further the market rises without a pause, the more severe the inevitable pullback. And indeed, along came the traditionally challenging month of September and a nasty bout of profit-taking mixed with capital preservation – and exacerbated by the standoff on new fiscal stimulus, an uptick in COVID cases hindering global economic reopening, and the potential for a SCOTUS nomination firestorm. Many of the investor darlings from among the disruptive, secular-growth Technology companies that had been surging so strongly have suddenly fallen hard, with the S&P 500 (SPY) pulling back -10.3% from its 9/2/20 intraday high to its 9/21/20 intraday low and the tech-laden Nasdaq 100 (QQQ) falling -14.3%.

After giving back all of August’s strong gains, perhaps Monday was the capitulation day from which the market can recover anew. Q3 earnings reporting season starts in a couple of weeks, so it will be important to get a read on the trajectory of earnings recovery and forward guidance.

I have written often about the stark market bifurcation that has developed over the past few years, beginning with the unwinding of the “Trump Bump” reflation trade in light of the emerging trade wars. It led to historic extremes in Growth over Value and Large over Small caps, with the broad-market, cap-weighted indexes hitting new highs as investment capital has favored mega-cap, secular-growth Tech and passive, market-cap-weighted ETFs. But today, although I think it is unlikely that investors are giving up on Technology names, their high relative valuations as the economy enters what I see as an early-stage expansionary cycle appear to be opening the door for greater market breadth and some capital rotation into value, cyclicals, and smaller caps.

My expectation is that, as the historic imbalances in Value/Growth and Small/Large performance ratios gradually revert and market leadership broadens, strategic beta ETFs, active selection, and equal weighting should thrive once again. This should be favorable for value, growth-at-a-reasonable-price (GARP), and quality-oriented strategies like Sabrient’s, although not to the exclusion of secular growth industries. In other words, an investor should be positioned for both cyclical and secular growth.

This is why, rather than continuing to wait around for the value/growth performance gap to converge, we chose to introduce new enhancements to our GARP stock selection process to better balance value-oriented cyclical growers with consistent secular growers while also reducing relative volatility versus the benchmark. Moreover, we have leveraged our full suite of 7 core quantitative models to create 11 new strategic-beta, passive indexes. You will be hearing more about these in the near future.

In this periodic update, I provide a comprehensive market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, while I still have a favorable long-term view on stocks, there will be plenty of volatility ahead. In addition, our sector rankings have a moderately defensive bias (given that the near-term outlook in our fundamentals-based model is muddled and the Outlook scores are tightly bunched), the technical picture looks might be setting up for a bullish reversal, and our sector rotation model sits in a neutral posture. As a reminder, you can find my latest Baker’s Dozen slide deck and commentary on terminating portfolios at http://bakersdozen.sabrient.com/bakers-dozen-marketing-materials.

Read on....

Scott Martindale  by Scott Martindale
  President & CEO, Sabrient Systems LLC

Quick assessment:  We have an historic pandemic wreaking havoc upon the global economy, with many US states reversing their reopenings. We just got the worst ever quarterly GDP growth number, and jobless claims are resurging. The Federal Reserve is frantically printing money at breakneck pace to keep our government solvent, with M3 money supply growth having gone parabolic. We have a highly contentious presidential election that many consider to be the most consequential of our lifetimes. There is unyielding and unappeasable social unrest, with nightly rioting in the streets in many of our major cities. Tensions with China are again on the rise, with a new Cold War seemingly at hand. Hurricanes are threatening severe damage in states that are already reeling from a surge in COVID hospitalizations. And yet the Nasdaq 100 (QQQ) has burst out to new highs while the S&P 500 (SPY) is within 3% of its all-time high (although, quite notably, both of these cap-weighted indexes are dominated by a handful of mega-cap, disruptive juggernauts).

Of course, stocks have been bolstered by unprecedented congressional fiscal programs and Fed monetary support, including zero interest rate policy (ZIRP), open-ended quantitative easing (QE), de facto yield curve control (YCC), and the buying of corporate bonds (including junk bonds and fixed-income ETFs – and perhaps will include equity ETFs at some point). This de facto “Fed put” has induced a speculative fervor, FOMO (“fear of missing out”), and a TINA (“There is No Alternative!”) mindset for risk assets – particularly given infinitesimal bond yields and a falling dollar. Furthermore, while COVID cases have risen with the economy’s attempt at reopening, the death rate is down 75% since its peak in April, as the people being infected this time around are generally younger and less vulnerable and hospitals are better prepared.

However, we have witnessed extreme bifurcation in this market, with certain secular growth segments performing extremely well and hitting new all-time highs, while other segments are quite literally in a depression. And although the pandemic has exacerbated this situation, it has been developing for a while. As I have often discussed, when the trade war with China escalated in mid-2018, the market became highly bifurcated to seek the perceived safety of the dominant mega caps over smaller caps, growth over value, and secular growth Technology over the neglected cyclical growth sectors like Financials, Industrials, Materials, and Energy. It rotated defensive and risk-off even given the positive economic outlook. This is also when the price of gold began to ascend. Yes, gold has become much more than just a hedge; it now has its own secular growth story (as discussed below), which is why Sabrient’s new Baker’s Dozen for Q3 2020 includes a gold miner.

So, while Sabrient’s flagship Baker’s Dozen portfolios over the past two years have been dominated by smaller caps, the value factor, and cyclical sectors – to their detriment in this highly bifurcated market – you can see that our newer portfolios since the enhancements were implemented have been much more balanced among large, mid, and small caps, with a slight growth bias over value, and a balance between secular growth and cyclical growth companies.

In this periodic update, I provide a market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500, and review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, while our sector rankings look neutral (as you might expect given the poor visibility for earnings), the technical picture is bullish, and our sector rotation model remains bullish.

As a reminder, Sabrient has introduced process enhancements to our forward-looking and valuation-oriented stock selection strategy to improve all-weather performance and reduce relative volatility versus the benchmark S&P 500, as well as to put secular-growth companies (which often display higher valuations) on more equal footing with cyclical-growth companies (which tend to display lower valuations). You can find my latest Baker’s Dozen slide deck and commentary on terminating portfolios at http://bakersdozen.sabrient.com/bakers-dozen-marketing-materials. To read on, click here....

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