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

Stocks continued their bullish charge from the pandemic selloff low on 3/23/20 into early-June, finally stumbling over the past several days due to a combination of overbought technicals, a jump in COVID cases as the economy tries to reopen, and the Fed giving grim commentary on the pace of recovery. But then of course Fed chair Jerome Powell (aka Superman) swooped in this week to save the day, this time to shore up credit markets with additional liquidity by expanding bond purchases into individual corporate bonds rather than just through bond ETFs. But despite unprecedented monetary and fiscal policies, there are many prominent commentators who consider this record-setting recovery rally to be an unwarranted and unsustainable “blow-off top” to a liquidity-driven speculative bubble that is destined for another harsh selloff. They think stocks are pricing in a better economy in the near-term than we enjoyed before the pandemic hit, when instead normalization is likely years away.

Certainly, the daily news and current fundamentals suggest that investors should stay defensive. But stocks always price a future vision 6-12 months in advance, and investors are betting on better times ahead. Momentum, technicals, fear of missing out (FOMO), and timely actions from our Federal Reserve have engendered a broad-based bullish foundation to this market that appears much healthier than anything displayed over the past five years, which was marked by cautious sentiment due to populist upheaval, political polarization, Brexit, trade wars, an attempt to “normalize” interest rates following several years of zero interest-rate policy (ZIRP), and the narrow leadership of the five famed mega-cap “FAAAM” Tech stocks – namely Microsoft (MSFT), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOG), and Facebook (FB).

Equal-weight indexes solidly outperformed the cap-weighted versions during the recovery rally from the selloff low on 3/23/20 through the peak on 6/8/20. For example, while the S&P 500 cap-weighted index returned an impressive +45%, the equal weight version returned +58%. Likewise, expanded market breadth is good for Sabrient, as our Baker’s Dozen portfolios ranged from +62% to +83% (and an average of +74%) during that same timeframe, led by the neglected small-mid caps and cyclical sectors. Our Forward Looking Value, Small Cap Growth, and Dividend portfolios also substantially outperformed – and all of them employ versions of our growth at a reasonable price (GARP) selection approach.

Although the past week since 6/8/20 has seen a pullback and technical consolidation, there remains a strong bid under this market, which some attribute to a surge in speculative fervor among retail investors. There is also persistently elevated volatility, as the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) has remained solidly above the 20 fear threshold since 2/24/20, and in fact has spent most of its time in the 30s and 40s (or higher) even during the exuberant recovery rally. And until earnings normalize, the market is likely to remain both speculative and volatile.

Regardless, so long as there is strong market breadth and not sole dependence on the FAAAM stocks (as we witnessed for much of the past five years), the rally can continue. There are just too many forces supporting capital flow into equities for the bears to overcome. I have been predicting that the elevated forward P/E on the S&P 500 might be in store for further expansion (to perhaps 23-25x) before earnings begin to catch up, as investors position for a post-lockdown recovery. Indeed, the forward P/E hit 22.5x on 6/8/20. But I’d like to offer an addendum to this to say that the forward P/E may stay above 20x even when earnings normalize, so long as the economy stays in growth mode – as I expect it will for the next few years or longer as we embark upon a new post-recession expansionary phase. In fact, I believe that rising valuation multiples today, and the notion that the market actually has become undervalued, are a direct result of: 1) massive global liquidity, 2) ultra-low interest rates, and 3) the ever-growing dominance of secular-growth Technology on both our work processes and the broad-market indexes – all conspiring to create a TINA (“There is No Alternative”) climate for US equities.

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 moved to a bullish posture in late May.

As a reminder, Sabrient has enhanced its 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 firms (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-materialsRead on....

  by Scott Martindale
  President & CEO, Sabrient Systems LLC

  As the New Year gets underway, stocks have continued their impressive march higher. Comparing the start of this year to the start of 2019 reveals some big contrasts. Last January, the market had just started to recover from a nasty 4Q18 selloff of about 20% (a 3-month bear market?), but this time stocks have essentially gone straight up since early October. Last January, we were still in the midst of nasty trade wars with rising tariffs, but now we have a “Phase 1” deal signed with China and the USMCA deal with Mexico and Canada has passed both houses of Congress. At the beginning of last year, the Fed had just softened its hawkish rhetoric on raising rates to being "patient and flexible" and nixing the “autopilot” unwinding of its balance sheet (and in fact we saw three rate cuts), while today the Fed has settled into a neutral stance on rates for the foreseeable future and is expanding its balance sheet once again (to shore up the repo market and finance federal deficit spending (but don’t call it QE, they say!). Last year began in the midst of the longest government shutdown in US history (35 days, 12/22/18–1/25/19), but this year’s budget easily breezed through Congress. And finally, last year began with clear signs of a global slowdown (particularly in manufacturing), ultimately leading to three straight quarters of YOY US earnings contraction (and likely Q4, as well), but today the expectation is that the slowdown has bottomed and there is no recession in sight.

As a result, 2019 started with the S&P 500 displaying a forward P/E ratio of 14.5x, while this year began with a forward P/E of 18.5x – which also happens to be what it was at the start of 2018, when optimism reigned following passage of the tax cuts but before the China trade war got nasty. So, while 2018 endured largely unwarranted P/E contraction that was more reflective of rising interest rates and an impending recession, 2019 enjoyed P/E expansion that essentially accounted for the index’s entire performance (+31% total return). Today, the forward P/E for the S&P 500 is about one full standard deviation above its long-term average, but the price/free cash flow ratio actually is right at its long-term average. Moreover, I think the elevated forward P/E is largely justified in the context of even pricier bond valuations, low interest rates, favorable fiscal policies, the appeal of the US over foreign markets, and supply/demand (given the abundance of global liquidity and the shrinking float of public companies due to buybacks and M&A).

However, I don’t think stocks will be driven much higher by multiple expansion, as investors will want to see rising earnings once again, which will depend upon a revival in corporate capital spending. The analyst consensus according to FactSet is for just under 10% EPS growth this year for the S&P 500, so that might be about all we get in index return without widespread earnings beats and increased guidance, although of course well-selected individual stocks could do much better. Last year was thought to be a great setup for small caps, but alas the trade wars held them back from much of the year, so perhaps this will be the year for small caps. While the S&P 500 forward P/E has already risen to 19.0x as of 1/17, the Russell 2000 small cap index is 17.2x and the S&P 600 is only 16.8x.

Of course, there are still plenty of potential risks out there – such as a China debt meltdown, a US dollar meltdown (due to massive liquidity infusions for the dysfunctional repo market and government deficit spending), a US vote for democratic-socialism and MMT, a military confrontation with Iran, or a reescalation in trade wars – but all seem to be at bay for now.

In this periodic update, I provide a detailed market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, our sector rankings look neutral, while the technical picture also is quite bullish (although grossly overbought and desperately in need of a pullback or consolidation period), and our sector rotation model retains its bullish posture. Notably, the rally has been quite broad-based and there is a lot of idle cash ready to buy any significant dip.

As a reminder, Sabrient now publishes a new Baker’s Dozen on a quarterly basis, and the Q1 2020 portfolio just launched on January 17. You can find my latest slide deck and Baker’s Dozen commentary at http://bakersdozen.sabrient.com/bakers-dozen-marketing-materials, which provide discussion and graphics on process, performance, and market conditions, as well as the introduction of two new process enhancements to our long-standing GARP (growth at a reasonable price) strategy, including: 1) our new Growth Quality Rank (GQR) as an alpha factor, which our testing suggests will reduce volatility and provide better all-weather performance, and 2) “guardrails” against extreme sector tilts away from the benchmark’s allocations to reduce relative volatility. Read on....

Scott MartindaleSmall caps, mid-caps, Financials, Telecom, and Consumer Discretionary were among the market segments that hit new highs this week, even as bearish sentiment and short interest have risen, and there is still plenty of idle cash on the sidelines looking for a home.

smartindale / Tag: sectors, ETF, iShares, SPY, VIX, IWM, EES, CACI, HRS, PB, C, SNTS, GNW, PCBK, IYH, IYF, iyw, IYK, IYC, IYE, IYM, IDU, IYZ, IYJ, BAC, IBM, SNDK / 0 Comments

Scott MartindaleFor most of 2013 thus far, the market has been on a steady rise without volatility within a narrow channel. Bulls have been looking to recruit reinforcements for their assault on the all-time highs on the S&P 500 large caps and Dow Jones blue chips, after already taking out the all-time highs on the Russell 2000 small caps and S&P 400 mid caps.

smartindale / Tag: sectors, ETF, iShares, SPY, VIX, iyw, IYF, IYH, IYK, IYJ, IYE, IYC, IYM, IDU, IYZ, SWI, BRKB, PCLN, BAC, KRE / 0 Comments

Scott MartindaleFive years ago this month, the S&P 500 hit all-time high of 1576. It closed Wednesday at 1461. Can the market make a run at that all-time high? Well, the biggest threat at the moment to bullish sentiment is the Fiscal Cliff, but both presidential candidates have a plan for dealing with it, and Congress is unlikely to want to take the fall for defying the new President and sending the country back into recession.

smartindale / Tag: ETF, sectors, iShares, VIX, SPY, qqq, iyw, IYF, IYH, IYK, IYE, IYC, IYJ, IYM, IYZ, IDU, AAPL, GOOG, TRV, MA, QCOM, CVX, AA, YUM, WMT, BAC, C, JPM, INTC, IBM / 0 Comments

After last week’s technical breakout on elevated volume, stocks have flattened and trading volume has waned as investors seem to be waiting to see whether there will be a pullback to test new support levels and the bulls’ conviction. I think the bulls are plenty convicted—not conflicted.

smartindale / Tag: AAPL, BAC, DUSA, ETF, HALO, IDU, IYC, IYE, IYH, IYI, IYJ, IYK, IYM, iyw, IYZ, JPM, linkedin, sectors, SPY, TIBX, USB, VIX, VMW, WFC / 0 Comments

Uncertainties Cloud Market's Progress

We still don’t know what the market wants or what it will get. The market continued inching ahead, up about +0.40% over the last 5 days, but it was down sharply this morning for a loss today.

david / Tag: BAC, BRLI, C, GTAT, TEO, WDC / 0 Comments

david trainerFor U.S. equities, ETFs offer a higher percentage (10%) of attractive investment options than mutual funds (1%) at a lower cost. The radically higher number of US equity mutual funds (4,700+) versus ETFs (380+) is not indicative of better stock selection from active management. On the contrary, the vast majority of actively-managed funds do not justify the higher fees they charge.

dtrainer / Tag: AIG, ALV, AVB, BAC, C, CME, COF, COP, CPB, CVX, DELL, DISH, Do, DVN, EP, EQR, FCX, FRX, GE, GILD, GIS, GPS, INTC, JPM, LLY, LRCX, MSFT, NEM, NLY, PXD, T, TXN, UNH, VNO, WFC, WMT, XOM / 0 Comments

david trainerAs one financial scandal follows another, it seems the good guys are having a tougher time catching the bad guys. Recent revelations about MF Global’s ponzi scheme are another reminder of how our regulatory and oversight systems seem to let whales pass through their nets.

dtrainer / Tag: AIG, AVB, BAC, C, CME, COF, COP, CVX, DVN, EP, EQR, GE, JPM, NLY, PXD, T, VNO, WFC, XOM / 0 Comments

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