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

The S&P 500 officially entered a bear market by falling more than -20% from its all-time high in January, with a max peak-to-trough drawdown of nearly -25% (as of 6/17). The Nasdaq Composite was down as much as -35% from its November all-time high. During the selloff, there was no place to hide as all asset classes floundered – even formerly uncorrelated cryptocurrencies went into a death spiral (primarily due to forced unwinding of excessive leverage). But then stocks staged an impressive bounce last week, although it was mostly driven by short covering.

Earlier this year when stocks began their initial descent, laggards and more speculative names sold-off first, but later, as the selling accelerated, the proverbial baby was thrown out with the bathwater as investors either were forced to deleverage (i.e., margin calls) or elected to protect profits (and their principal). Even the high-flying Energy sector sold off on this latest down leg, falling over -25% intraday in just 10 days, as the algorithmic momentum trading programs reversed from leveraged buying of Energy to leveraged selling/shorting.

These are common signs of capitulation. So is historically low consumer and investor sentiment, which I discuss in detail later in this post. But despite the negative headlines and ugly numbers, it mostly has been an orderly selloff, with few signs of panic. The VIX has not reached 40, and in fact it hasn’t eclipsed that level since April 2020 during the pandemic selloff. Moreover, equity valuations have shrunk considerably, with the S&P 500 and S&P 600 small caps falling to forward P/Es of 15.6x and 10.8x, respectively, at the depths of the selloff (6/17). This at least partially reflects an expectation that slowing growth (and the ultra-strong dollar) will lead to lower corporate earnings than the analyst community is currently forecasting. Although street estimates have been gradually falling, consensus still predicts S&P 500 earnings will grow +10.4% in aggregate for CY2022, according to FactSet. Meanwhile, Energy stocks are back on the upswing, and the impressive outperformance this year of the Energy sector has made its proportion of the S&P 500 rise from approximately 2% to 5%...and yet the P/Es of the major Energy ETFs are still in the single digits.

A mild recession is becoming more likely, and in fact it has become desirable to many as a way to hasten a reduction in inflationary pressures. Although volatility will likely persist for the foreseeable future, I think inflation and the 10-year Treasury yield are already in topping patterns. In addition, supply chains and labor markets continue their gradual recovery, the US dollar remains strong, and the Fed is reducing monetary accommodation, leading to demand destruction and slower growth, which would reduce the excess demand that is causing inflation.

Bullish catalysts for equity investors would be a ceasefire or settlement of the Russian/Ukraine conflict and/or China abandoning its zero-tolerance COVID lockdowns, which would be expected to help supply chains and further spur a meaningful decline in inflation – potentially leading to a Fed pivot to dovish (or at least neutral)…and perhaps a melt-up in stocks. Until then, a market surge like we saw last week, rather than the start of a V-shaped recovery, is more likely just a bear market short-covering rally – and an opportunity to raise cash to buy the next drawdown.

Nevertheless, we suggest staying net long but hedged, with a heightened emphasis on quality and a balance between value/cyclicals and high-quality secular growers and dividend payers. Moreover, rather than investing in the major cap-weighted index ETFs, stocks outside of the mega-caps may offer better opportunities due to lower valuations and higher growth rates. Regardless, Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen, Dividend, and Small Cap Growth portfolios leverage our enhanced model-driven selection approach (which combines Quality, Value, and Growth factors) to provide exposure to both the longer-term secular growth trends and the shorter-term cyclical growth and value-based opportunities. In particular, our Dividend Portfolio – which seeks quality companies selling at a reasonable price with a solid growth forecast, a history of raising dividends, a good coverage ratio, and an aggregate dividend yield approaching 4% or more to target both capital appreciation and steady income – has been holding up well this year. So has our Armageddon Portfolio, which is available as a passive index for ETF licensing.

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 quant rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. To summarize, our SectorCast rankings reflect a bullish bias, with 5 of the top 6 scorers being cyclical sectors. In addition, the near-term technical picture looks neutral-to-bearish after last week’s impressive bounce, and our sector rotation model remains in a defensive posture.  Read on...

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

Needless to say, investors have been piling out of stocks and bonds and into cash. So much for the 60/40 portfolio approach that expects bonds to hold up when stocks sell off. In fact, few assets have escaped unscathed, leaving the US dollar as the undisputed safe haven in uncertain times like these, along with hard assets like real estate, oil, and commodities. Gold was looking great in early-March but has returned to the flatline YTD. Even cryptocurrencies have tumbled, showing that they are still too early in adoption to serve as an effective “store of value”; instead, they are still leveraged, speculative risk assets that have become highly correlated with aggressive growth stocks.

From its record high in early January to Thursday’s intraday low, the S&P 500 (SPY) was down -19.9% (representing more than $7.5 trillion in value). At its lows on Thursday, the Nasdaq 100 (QQQ) was down as much as -29.2% from its November high. Both SPY and QQQ are now struggling to regain critical “round-number” support at 400 and 300, respectively. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) further illustrates the bearishness. After hitting 36.6 on May 2, which is two standard deviations above the low-run average of 20 (i.e., Z-score of 2.0), VIX stayed in the 30’s all last week, which reflects a level of panic. This broad retreat from all asset classes has been driven by fear of loss, capital preservation, deleveraging/margin calls among institutional traders, and the appeal of a strong dollar (which hit a 20-year high last week). The move to cash caused bond yields to soar and P/E ratios to crater. Also, there has been a striking preference for dividend-paying stocks over bonds.

It appears I underestimated the potential for market carnage, having expected that the March lows would hold as support and the “taper tantrum” surge in bond yields would soon top out once the 10-year yield rose much above 2%, due to a combination of US dollar strength as the global safe haven, lower comparable rates in most developed markets, moderating inflation, leverage and “financialization” of the global economy, and regulatory or investor mandates for holding “cash or cash equivalents.” There are some signs that surging yields and the stock/bond correlation may be petering out, as last week was characterized by stock/bond divergence. After spiking as high as 3.16% last Monday, the 10-year yield fell back to close Thursday at 2.82% (i.e., bonds attracted capital) while stocks continued to sell off, and then Friday was the opposite, as capital rolled out of bonds into stocks.

Although nominal yields may be finally ready to recede a bit, real yields (net of inflation) are still solidly negative. Although inflation may be peaking, the moderation I have expected has not commenced – at least not yet – as supply chains have been slow to mend given new challenges from escalation in Russian’s war on Ukraine, China’s growth slowdown and prolonged zero-tolerance COVID lockdowns in important manufacturing cities, and various other hindrances. Indeed, the risks to my expectations that I outlined in earlier blog posts and in my Baker’s Dozen slide deck have largely come to pass, as I discuss in this post.

Nevertheless, I still expect a sequence of events over the coming months as follows: more hawkish Fed rhetoric and some tightening actions, modest demand destruction, a temporary economic slowdown, and more stock market volatility … followed by mending supply chains, some catch-up of supply to slowing demand, moderating inflationary pressures, bonds continuing to find buyers (and yields falling), and a dovish turn from the Fed – plus (if necessary) a return of the “Fed put” to support markets. Time will tell. Too bad the Fed can’t turn its printing press into a 3D printer and start printing supply chain parts, semiconductors, oil, commodities, fertilizers, and all the other goods in short supply – that would be far more helpful than the limited tools they have at hand.

Although both consumer and investor sentiment are quite weak (as I discuss below), and there has been no sustained dip-buying since March, history tells us bear markets do not start when everyone is already bearish, so perhaps Friday’s strong rally is the start of something better. Perhaps the near -20% decline in the S&P 500 is all it took to wring out the excesses, with Thursday closing at a forward P/E of 16.8x ahead of Friday’s rally, which is the lowest since April 2020. So, the S&P 500 is trading at a steep 22% discount compared to 21.7x at the start of the year, a 5-year average of 18.6x, and a 20-year post-Internet-bubble average of 15.5x (according to FactSet), Moreover, the Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight (RSP) is at 15.0x compared to 17.7x at the beginning of the year, and the S&P 600 small cap forward P/E fell to just 11.6x (versus 15.2x at start of the year).

But from an equity risk premium standpoint, which measures the spread between equity earnings yields and long-term bond yields, stock valuations have actually worsened relative to bonds. So, although this may well be a great buying opportunity, especially given the solid earnings growth outlook, the big wildcards for stocks are whether current estimates are too optimistic and whether bond yields continue to recede (or at least hold steady).

Recall Christmas Eve of 2018, when the market capitulated to peak-to-trough selloff of -19.7% – again, just shy of the 20% bear market threshold – before recovering in dazzling fashion. The drivers today are not the same, so it’s not necessarily and indicator of what comes next. Regardless, you should be prepared for continued volatility ahead.

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 quant rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. To summarize, our SectorCast rankings reflect a bullish bias, with 5 of the top 6 scorers being cyclical sectors, Energy, Basic Materials, Financials, Industrials, and Technology. In addition, the near-term technical picture looks bullish for at least a solid bounce, if not more (although the mid-to-long-term is still murky, subject to news developments), but our sector rotation model switched to a defensive posture last month when technical conditions weakened.

Regardless, Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen, Dividend, and Small Cap Growth portfolios leverage our enhanced Growth at a Reasonable Price (GARP) selection approach (which combines Quality, Value, and Growth factors) to provide exposure to both the longer-term secular growth trends and the shorter-term cyclical growth and value-based opportunities – without sacrificing strong performance potential. Sabrient’s latest Q2 2022 Baker’s Dozen launched on 4/20/2022 and is off to a good start versus the benchmark, led by three Energy firms, with a diverse mix across market caps and industries. In addition, the live Dividend and Small Cap Growth portfolios have performed quite well relative to their benchmarks. Read on....

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

As the economy has emerged from the pandemic and some sense of normalcy has returned around the world, investors had returned to wrestling with the potential impacts of unwinding 13 years of unprecedented monetary stimulus (QE and ZIRP). But then new uncertainties piled on with the onset of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s impressive resistance, and the resulting refugee crisis, not to mention new COVID mutations and some renewed lockdowns – all of which has led to historic inflationary pressures on energy, commodities, and food prices, as well as elevated market volatility.

After a solid post-FOMC rally, the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) fell from a panicky high near 37 – which is more than two sigma above its long-term average of 20 – to close last week at 20.81. At their lows, the S&P 500 had corrected by -13.1% and the Nasdaq Comp by -21.7% (from their all-time high closing prices last November to their lowest close on Monday 3/14/22). But the price action in the SPDR S&P 500 and Tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 over the past few weeks looks very much like a bottoming process going into the FOMC meeting, culminating in a bullish “W” technical formation that broke out strongly to the upside, with recoveries of +9.2% for the S&P 500 and +12.9% for Nasdaq through last Friday. The rally has seen a resurgence in the more speculative growth stocks that had become severely oversold, as illustrated by the ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK), which has risen nearly 25%.

Except for some gyrations in the immediate aftermath of the FOMC announcement, price essentially went straight up. I believe the rocket fuel came from a combination of the Fed providing greater clarity (and not hiking by 50 bps), China’s soothing words (including assurances to global investors and distancing itself from Russia’s aggression), as well as a general fear of missing out (FOMO) among investors on an oversold rally.

Notably, commodities and crude oil have been strong from the start of the year, with oil at one point (March 7) touching $130/bbl after starting the year at $75 (that’s a 73% spike!). For now, oil seems to have stabilized in a trading range, although the future is uncertain and summer driving season is on the horizon. It seems that President Putin finally acting out his goal of restoring historical Russian lands (similar to the jihadist dream of redrawing an Islamic caliphate) may be shaking up our leftists’ utopian vision of a Great Reset and “stakeholder capitalism” and into realizing (at least for the moment) the pitfalls of rapid decarbonization, denuclearization, the embracing of green/renewable energy before the technologies are ready for the role of primary energy source, and the outsourcing of critical energy supplies (the very lifeblood of a modern economy) to mercurial/adversarial dictators. I talk at length about oil production and supply dynamics in today’s post.

So, have we seen the lows for the year in stocks? Is this merely an oversold bounce and end-of-quarter “window dressing” for mutual funds that will soon reverse, or is it a sustainable recovery? Well, my view is that we may have indeed seen the lows, depending upon how the war develops from here, how aggressive the Fed’s actions (not just its language) actually turn out, and how economic growth and corporate earnings are impacted. But I also think there is too much uncertainty – including a possible recessionary dip for one quarter – for there to be new highs in the broad indexes anytime soon. Instead, I think we are in a trader’s market. Although I think stocks will end the year in positive territory, they are unlikely to reach new highs given the vast new disruptions to supply chains and the less-speculative nature of current investor sentiment – meaning that valuations will depend more on earnings growth rather than multiple expansion. In any case, I believe there are many high-quality stocks to be found outside of the mega-cap Tech darlings offering better opportunities.

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 quant rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. To summarize, our SectorCast rankings reflect a bullish bias, with 4 of the top 5 scorers being cyclical sectors, Energy, Basic Materials, Financials, and Technology. In addition, the near-term technical picture looks weak, but the mid-to-long-term looks like a bottom is in, and our sector rotation model is back in a bullish posture.

Regardless, Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen, Dividend, and Small Cap Growth portfolios leverage our enhanced Growth at a Reasonable Price (GARP) selection approach (which combines quality, value, and growth factors) to provide exposure to both the longer-term secular growth trends and the shorter-term cyclical growth and value-based opportunities – without sacrificing strong performance potential. Sabrient’s latest Q1 2022 Baker’s Dozen launched on 1/20/2022 and is off to a good start versus the benchmark, led by an oil & gas firm. In addition, the live Dividend and Small Cap Growth portfolios are performing quite well relative to their benchmarks.  Read on....

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

I mentioned early last month that it had been quite a long stretch since the market had seen even a -5% correction, but we finally got it, with the S&P 500 falling -6% (intraday). Although many commentators (including myself) felt we needed even more of a correction in the major market indexes to really wring out some excesses and the “weak” holders, the underlying internals tell a different story of a much harsher “stealth” correction. Alpine Macro reported that 90% of the stocks in the S&P 500 have fallen at least -10% from their recent highs, with an average decline of -17% … and -38% in the Nasdaq Composite! A casual observer might not have noticed this since these individual stock corrections didn’t occur all at once, but rather in more of a rolling fashion as various industries fell in and out of favor at different times. The masking by the major indexes of these underlying corrections is the magic of passive index investing, as the diversification limits downside (albeit upside as well, of course).

Moreover, while the cap-weighted indexes have surged to new highs as recently as early September, the equal-weight and small-cap indexes have been trading sideways since March. Regardless, investors took the September correction as a buyable dip. Last Thursday-Friday provided two bullish breakout gaps, and in fact Thursday was the strongest day for the S&P 500 since March. Looking ahead, the question is whether the rapid 2-day surge is sustainable, or if there is some technical consolidation (aka “backing & filling”) to be done – or perhaps something much worse, as several prominent Wall Street veterans have predicted.

No doubt, economic challenges abound. Energy prices are surging. COVID persists in much of the world, especially emerging markets, which is at least partly responsible for the persistent supply chain issues and labor shortages in the manufacturing and transportation segments that are proving slow to resolve. Retail and restaurant industries continue to have difficulty filling jobs (and they are seeing a high rate of “quits”). And now we are seeing fiscal and monetary tightening in China – likely leading to lower GDP growth (if not a “hard landing”) – due to long-festering financial leverage and “shadow banking” finally coming to roost (witness the Evergrande property development debacle, and now it appears developer Modern Land is next). Indeed, we see many similarities with Q4 2018 (including the S&P 500 price chart), when the market endured a nasty selloff. Investors should be mindful of these risks. So, although TINA-minded (“there is no alternative”) equity investors continue to pour money into stocks, and an exuberant FOMO (“fear of missing out”) melt-up is possible going into year-end, there likely will be elevated volatility.

I write in greater depth about oil prices and China’s troubles in this article.

Q3 earnings reporting season is now underway, and I expect the number and magnitude of upside surprises and forward guidance will determine the next directional trend. In any case, we continue to like the Energy sector, even after its recent run (in fact, you will find a couple of oil exploration & production firms in the new Baker’s Dozen coming out this week). Wall Street estimates in the sector still appear to be too low based on projected prices, and the dividend yields are attractive. Sabrient’s SectorCast ETF rankings continue to show Energy at or near the top. Actually, from a broader perspective, the “deep cyclical” sectors (especially Energy, Materials, and Industrials), with their more volatile revenue streams but relatively fixed (albeit high) cost structure (and high earnings leverage), remain well positioned to show strong sales growth and, by extension, upside earnings surprises.

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 quant rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. To summarize, our SectorCast rankings reflect a solidly bullish bias; the technical picture is somewhat mixed; and our sector rotation model has regained its bullish posture (pending technical confirmation early this week).

By the way, Sabrient’s new Q4 2021 Baker’s Dozen launches on Wednesday, 10/20/21. As a reminder, our newer portfolios – including Baker’s Dozen, Small Cap Growth, Dividend, and Forward Looking Value – all reflect the process enhancements we implemented in December 2019 in response to the unprecedented market distortions that created historic Value/Growth and Small/Large performance divergences. Our enhanced growth-at-a-reasonable-price (aka GARP) approach combines value, growth, and quality factors while seeking a balance between secular growth and cyclical/value stocks and across market caps.  Read on....

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

As earnings season gets going, I believe we will see impressive reports reflecting stunning YOY growth in both top and bottom lines. According to Bloomberg, sell-side analysts' consensus YOY EPS growth estimate for the S&P 500 is north of 63% for Q2, 36% for full-year 2021, and 12% for 2022. But I still consider this to be somewhat conservative, with plenty of upside surprises likely. However, the market’s reaction to each earnings release will be more predicated on forward guidance, as investors are always forward-looking. To me, this is the bigger risk, but I am optimistic. Today’s lofty valuations are pricing in the expectation of both current “beats” and raised guidance, so as the speculative phase of the recovery moves into a more rational expansionary phase, I expect some multiple contraction such that further share price appreciation will depend upon companies “growing into” their valuations rather than through further multiple expansion, i.e., the earnings growth rate (through revenue growth, cost reduction, and rising productivity) will need to outpace the share price growth rate.

Despite the lofty valuations, investors seem to be betting on another blow-out quarter for earnings reports, along with increased forward guidance. On a technical basis, the market seems to be extended, with unfilled “gaps” on the chart. But while small caps, value stocks, cyclical sectors, and equal-weight indexes have pulled back significantly and consolidated gains since early June, the major indexes like S&P 500 and Nasdaq that are dominated by the mega caps haven’t wanted to correct very much. This appears to reinforce the notion that investors today see these juggernaut companies as defensive “safe havens.” So, while “reflation trade” market segments and the broader market in general have taken a 6-week risk-off breather from their torrid run and pulled back, Treasuries have caught a bid and the cap-weighted indexes have hit new highs as the big secular-growth mega-caps have been treated as a place to park money for relatively safe returns.

It also should be noted that the stock market has gone quite a long time without a significant correction, and I think such a correction could be in the cards at some point soon, perhaps to as low as 4,000 on the S&P 500, where there are some unfilled bullish gaps (at 4,020 and 3,973). However, if it happens, I would look at it as a long-term buying opportunity – and perhaps mark official transition to a stock-picker’s market.

The past several years created historic divergences in Value/Growth and Small/Large performance ratios with narrow market leadership. But after a COVID-selloff recovery rally, fueled by a $13.5 trillion increase in US household wealth in 2020 (compared to an $8.0 trillion decrease in 2008 during the Financial Crisis), that pushed abundant cheap capital into speculative market segments, SPACs, altcoins, NFTs, meme stocks, and other high-risk investments (or “mal-investments”), it appears that the divergences are converging, leadership is broadening, and Quality is ready for a comeback. A scary correction might be just the catalyst for the Quality factor to reassert itself. It also should allow for active selection, strategic beta, and equal weighting to thrive once again over the passive, cap-weighted indexes, which also would favor the cyclical sectors (Financial, Industrial, Materials, Energy) and high-quality dividend payers (e.g., “Dividend Aristocrats”). But I wouldn’t dismiss secular-growth Technology names that still sport relatively attractive valuations (Note: the new Q3 2021 Baker’s Dozen includes four such names).

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 quant rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. To summarize, our sector rankings reflect a solidly bullish bias; the technicals picture has been strong for the cap-weighted major indexes but is looking like it is setting up for a significant (but buyable) correction; and our sector rotation model retains its bullish posture.

As a reminder, Sabrient’s newer portfolios – including Small Cap Growth, Dividend, Forward Looking Value (launched on 7/7/21), and the upcoming Q3 2021 Baker’s Dozen (launches on 7/20/21) – all reflect the process enhancements that we implemented in December 2019 in response to the unprecedented market distortions that created historic Value/Growth and Small/Large performance divergences. With a better balance between cyclical and secular growth and across market caps, most of our newer portfolios once again have shown solid performance relative to the benchmark (with some substantially outperforming) during quite a range of evolving market conditions. (Note: we post my latest presentation slide deck and Baker’s Dozen commentary on our public website.)  Read on….