I haven’t written in a few weeks. That can be a lot of time for the latest news to impact the character and direction of the market, right? So, what has changed since my last article? Well, not much, really. It seems the market isn’t quite so news-driven these days; instead it has been focusing on fundamentals and the overall improvement in prospects for the economy and corporate earnings. And these things are driving it ever higher.

The market has provided a nerve-wracking amusement park ride for those with the stomach to hang in there. Of course, the Brexit vote caused a nasty selloff due to the uncertainty of what comes next and the long-term ramifications, but the ensuing recovery was just as swift. At the end of it all, stocks are right back where they have been, mired in the same long-standing trading range but apparently (in my opinion) more inclined to find some sort of upside catalyst.

After a nice little rally from mid-February until early June, investors started taking chips off the table, ostensibly in anticipation of Thursday’s Brexit vote. But Monday brought a fresh hint of optimism that Britain will vote to remain in the union, and the market responded with a healthy, broad-based rally. On balance, there appear to be good tailwinds for U.S. equities over the near term.

The stock market rally off the February lows initially was led by the usual combination of short-covering, oversold bottom-feeding, and speculation (on “junk"). But then market action started showing signs of improving market breadth and a rotation back into higher quality companies -- the types of companies with characteristics Sabrient typically seeks in our GARP (growth at a reasonable price) selection process. It is notable that price action for the S&P 500 was very similar during 2015 to what occurred in 2011.

March Madness is in its full glory with some of the most epic displays of competition, controversy, surprises, and visuals we have ever seen. Oh, and the NCAA basketball tournament is pretty incredible, too, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the U.S. presidential election. And it has produced some crazy headlines, news clips, and sound bites.

Stocks got a vote of confidence last week, plus some short-covering support (and perhaps some panic buying (for fear of missing out), and now the S&P 500 as of Friday is down only -2.2% YTD, and up +8% since its close on February 12. The Russell 2000 small caps are up +12% over the same timeframe. At the same time, when priced in constant US dollar, we see that Chinese stocks are down -19% YTD, Italy -14%, Germany -8%, Japan -5% (and -10% in yen), while Brazil is up +20%, Colombia +13%, Russia +9%, and Canada +5%.

The Wall of Worry just keeps adding more bricks. Although there has been much talk about the impact of low oil prices on the U.S. high yield debt market and by extension the U.S. banks that did the lending, the bigger worry now is the stability of the European banking system. It is like 2011 all over again. Also, there continue to be signs of an insidious corporate “earnings recession.” Such headlines add to the steady stream of “worry bricks” that have so confounded disciplined fundamental investors for at least the past seven months or so.

Headlines continue to dominate the trading landscape, perpetuating a news-driven trader’s market rather than allowing a healthier valuation-driven investor’s market to return to favor. After all, that’s what stock market investing is supposed to be about. Narrow market breadth and daily stock price gyrations have been driven primarily by three headline generators -- oil price, the Fed’s monetary policy, and China growth. Sure, there were many other important news items, notably the sinister course of Islamic terrorism.

Investors find themselves paralyzed by uncertainty given mixed messages from prominent market experts and talking heads, some professing the sorry and deteriorating state of the global economy, and others cheerleading the continued improvement in the fundamentals, particularly here in the U.S. Indeed, the nearly identical chart of the S&P 500 in 2015 compared to 2011 gave hope to a similarly solid start to 2016 as we saw in 2012, but instead we have seen the worst start to a New Year in history.

The S&P 500 large caps closed 2015 essentially flat on a total return basis, while the NASDAQ 100 showed a little better performance at +8.3% and the Russell 2000 small caps fell -5.9%. Overall, stocks disappointed even in the face of modest expectations, especially the small caps as market leadership was mostly limited to a handful of large and mega-cap darlings. Notably, the full year chart for the S&P 500 looks very much like 2011.

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