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

“Every man hears only what he understands.” – Goethe

Often, details in the financial statements hold the key to understanding a company. Here at Gradient Analytics, we specialize in forensic accounting research and consulting, and our analysts stay up-to-date on changes in the regulatory landscape, including crucial updates to disclosure requirements. Normally, we focus research on areas that might tempt companies to “manage” or overstate earnings, either by pulling forward future revenues or pushing out current expenses. Layer on more complexity from changing reporting requirements and it becomes clearer how a vital piece to the puzzle might slip through the cracks.

Below, I cover three broad topics. First, effective January 1, 2020, the governing accounting boards updated the very definition of a business. This new definition has multiple implications for reporting, but my focus in this article is the impact on M&A transactions. Moreover, this year both the Financial Accounting Standards board (FASB) and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) changed required disclosures for U.S. and international companies. Among other things, there is a new method for determining appropriate loan loss reserves, and there will soon be a requirement for companies to stop using Inter-Bank Offered Rates (IBOR) as reference rates, instead switching to Alternative Reference Rates (ARR). I describe these updates with four real-life examples of how they shape financial statements, with the potential to mislead investors. Read 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....

Volatility continues to increase in the stock market and many of the leaders are breaking down. In particular, semiconductors took a rather big hit when one of the bellwethers warned of weakening global demand. Nevertheless, despite the significant headwinds, I do not think this spells the end of the bull market. But the technical damage to the charts is severe, particularly to the small caps, which are in full-blown correction mode. The large caps must show leadership and rally immediately -- or it will put at risk the critical and widely-anticipated year-end rally.

Last week’s market performance was nasty again, especially for the Small-cap Growth style/cap, down 4%.  Large-caps faired the best, losing only 2.7%.  That’s ugly and today’s market seemed likely to be uglier today with escalating tensions over the weekend in Ukraine. 

david / Tag: SWKS, JAZZ, EMES, C / 0 Comments

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 MartindaleMarket timing is tough duty. Even as stocks have risen inexorably and we all knew it couldn’t go up in a straight line, still picking tops is hard. You can be wrong for a long time, and either lose your shirt shorting the market, or miss out on big gains by staying out.

smartindale / Tag: sectors, ETF, iShares, SPY, VIX, IYH, IYF, iyw, IYJ, IYE, IYK, IYC, IYZ, IDU, IYM, RE, C, VCLK, CREE / 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

The coming week should reduce uncertainty, at least slightly, since we get a bevy of new economic data and 15% of the S&P 500 reports.  And maybe Spain will decide whether or not it needs help.  Furthermore, we will have the next-to-last Presidential debate tomorrow night. 

david / Tag: C, AXP, SLM, GOOG, MCD / 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

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