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

I have been expecting elevated volatility, and it has surely arrived. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) briefly spiked above 35 on 12/3 before settling back down below 20 last week as stocks resurged. Given lofty valuations (S&P 500 at 21.4x forward P/E) that appear to be pricing in continued economic recovery and strong corporate earnings further exceeding expectations, any hint of new obstacles – like onerous new COVID variants, renewed lockdowns, persistent supply chain disruptions, anemic jobs report, or relentless inflationary pressures – naturally sends fidgety investors to the sell button on their keyboards, at least momentarily. And now we learn that the Fed might have joined the legions of dour pundits by removing the word “transitory” from its inflation description while hastening its timetable for QE tapering (but don’t call it QE!) and interest rate hikes. Nevertheless, despite the near-term challenges that likely will lead to more spikes in volatility, investors are buying the dip, and I believe the path of least resistance is still higher for stocks over the medium term, but with a greater focus on quality rather than speculation.

However, investors are going to have to muster up stronger bullish conviction for the market to achieve a sustainable upside breakout. Perhaps Santa will arrive on queue to help. But with this new and unfamiliar uncertainty around Fed monetary policy, and with FOMC meeting and announcement later this week combined with an overbought technical picture (as I discuss in today’s post below), I think stocks may pull back into the FOMC meeting – at which time we should get a bit more clarity on its intentions regarding tapering of its bond buying and plan for interest rate hikes. Keep in mind, the Fed still insists that “tapering is not tightening,” i.e., they remain accommodative.

The new hawkish noises from the Fed came out of left field to most observers, and many growth stocks took quite a hit. Witness the shocking 42% single-day haircut on 12/3 for a prominent company like DocuSign (DOCU), for example. And similar things have happened to other such high-potential but speculative/low-quality names, many of which are held by the ARK family of ETFs. In fact, of the 1,086 ETFs scored by Sabrient’s fundamentals based SectorCast rankings this week, most of Cathie Woods’ ARK funds are ranked at or near the bottom.

Although I do not necessarily see DOCU and its ilk as the proverbial canary in the coal mine for the broader market, it does serve to reinforce that investors are displaying a greater focus on quality as the economy has moved past the speculative recovery phase, which is a healthy development in my view. In response, we have created the Sabrient Quality Index Series comprising 5 broad-market and 5 sector-specific, rules-based, strategic beta and thematic indexes for ETF licensing, which we are pitching to various ETF issuers. Moreover, we continue to suggest staying long but hedged, with a balance between 1) value/cyclicals and 2) high-quality secular growers & dividend payers. Hedges might come from inverse ETFs, out-of-the-money put options, gold, and cryptocurrencies (I personally hold all of them).

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 highly bullish bias, with the top two scorers being deep-cyclical sectors, Basic Materials and Energy, which are seeing surging forward EPS estimates and ultra-low forward PEG ratios (forward P/E divided by projected EPS growth rate) under 0.50. In addition, the technical picture is somewhat mixed and suggestive of a near-term pullback, although our sector rotation model maintains its bullish posture.

By the way, Sabrient’s latest Q4 2021 Baker’s Dozen model portfolio is already displaying solid performance despite having a small-cap bias and equal weighted position sizes that would typically suggest underperformance during periods of elevated market volatility. It is up +5.3% since its 10/20/2021 launch through 12/10/2021 versus +4.1% for the cap-weighted S&P 500, +1.2% for the equal-weight S&P 500, and -3.3% for the Russell 2000. Also, last year’s Q4 2020 Baker’s Dozen model portfolio, which terminates next month on 1/20/2022, is looking good after 14 months of life with a gross return of +43%. As a reminder, our various portfolios – including Baker’s Dozen, Small Cap Growth, and Dividend – all employ our enhanced growth-at-a-reasonable-price (aka GARP) approach that 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

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

Investors have endured some unnerving gyrations in the stock market the past couple of weeks. Although the S&P 500 has fully recovered to achieve a new record high on Thursday at 3,960, the formerly high-flying Nasdaq is still 5% below its recent high. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) has managed to remain below the 30 handle throughout the turbulence, where it has held since the end-of-January pullback. I have been saying regularly that I am bullish on equities but also expect to see occasional bouts of volatility, and this latest bout was driven by a sudden spike in Treasury yields (to above 1.6% on the 10-year!) due to tepid investor interest in the Treasury auctions and new inflation worries. However, Wednesday’s 10-year auction went just fine, boosting investor comfort. Obviously, a rapid rise in interest rates would wreak havoc on a heavily leveraged US economy, and it would hurt equity valuations versus bonds – especially long-duration growth stocks, which is why the high-flying Tech stocks have borne the brunt of the damage.

Nevertheless, optimism reigns given the explosive combination of rapid vaccine rollout, falling infection rates, new therapeutics (like monoclonal antibodies bamlanivimab and etesevimab), accelerated reopening of the economy, and the massive new fiscal stimulus package, coupled with the Fed’s promise not to tighten – in fact, the Fed may implement yield curve control (YCC) to balance its desire for rising inflation with limits on debt service costs. I see the recent pullback (or “correction” for the Nasdaq Composite) as exactly the sort of healthy wringing-out of speculative fervor that investors wish for (as a new buying opportunity) – but then often are afraid to act upon.

The “reflation trade” (in anticipation of higher real interest rates and inflation during an expansionary economic phase) would suggest overweighting cyclical sectors (Materials, Energy, Industrials, and Financials), small caps, commodities, emerging markets, and TIPS, as well as some attractively valued Technology and Healthcare stocks that offer disruptive technologies and strong growth trends. But investors must be more selective among the high-fliers that sport high P/E multiples as they likely will need to “grow into” their current valuations through old-fashioned earnings growth rather than through further multiple expansion, which may limit their upside. In addition, I think it is prudent to hedge against negative real interest rates and dollar devaluation by holding gold, gold miners, and cryptocurrencies. I elaborate on this below.

Regardless, with Sabrient’s enhanced stock selection process, we believe our portfolios – including the current Q1 2021 Baker’s Dozen that launched on 1/20/21, Small Cap Growth portfolio that launches on 3/15/21, Sabrient Dividend portfolio that launches on 3/19/21, and the Q2 2021 Baker’s Dozen that will launch next month on 4/20/21 – are better positioned for either: (a) continued broadening and rotation into value, cyclicals, and small/mid-caps, or (b) a return to the narrow leadership from secular growth that has been so prevalent for so long.

As a reminder, you can go to http://bakersdozen.sabrient.com/bakers-dozen-marketing-materials to find my latest presentation slide deck and market commentary (which includes an update on the Q1 2020 Baker’s Dozen portfolio that terminates next month), as well as a “talking points” sheet that describes each of the 13 stocks in the newest Q1 2021 portfolio.

I am particularly excited about our new portfolios because, whereas last year we were hopeful based on our testing that our enhanced portfolio selection process would provide better “all-weather” performance, this year we have seen solid evidence (over quite a range of market conditions!) that a better balance between secular and cyclical growth companies and across market caps – combined with a few stellar individual performers – has indeed provided significantly improved performance relative to the benchmark (as I discussed in my January article).

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 outlook is bullish (but with occasional bouts of volatility, as we have been experiencing), our sector rankings reflect a solidly bullish bias, the technical picture is mixed (neutral to bullish near-term and long-term, but bearish mid-term), and our sector rotation model retains its bullish posture. 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....