Scott Martindale  by Scott Martindale
  President, Sabrient Systems LLC

The major cap-weighted market indexes continue to achieve new highs on a combination of expectations of interest rate cuts and optimism about an imminent trade deal with China. Bulls have been reluctant to take profits off the table in an apparent fear of missing out (aka FOMO) on a sudden market melt-up (perhaps due to coordinated global central bank intervention, including the US Federal Reserve). But investors can be forgiven for feeling some déjà vu given that leadership during most of the past 13 months did not come from the risk-on sectors that typically lead bull markets, but rather from defensive sectors like Utilities, Staples, and REITs, which was very much like last summer’s rally – and we all know how that ended (hint: with a harsh Q4 selloff). In fact, while the formerly high-flying “FAANG” group of Tech stocks has underperformed the S&P 500 since June 2018, Barron’s recently observed that a conservative group of Consumer sector stalwarts has been on fire (“WPPCK”) – Walmart (WMT), Procter & Gamble (PG), PepsiCo (PEP), Costco (COST), and Coca-Cola (KO).

This is not what I would call long-term sustainable leadership for a continuation of the bull market. Rather, it is what you might expect in a recessionary environment. When I observed similar behavior last summer, with a risk-off rotation even as the market hit new highs, I cautioned that defensive stocks would not be able to continue to carry the market to new highs (with their low earnings growth and sky-high P/E ratios), but rather a risk-on rotation into cyclical sectors and small-mid caps would be necessary to sustain the uptrend. Instead, the mega-cap Tech names faltered and the market went into a downward spiral. Many analysts and pundits have been forecasting the same for this year.

But when I hear such widespread pessimism, the contrarian voice in my head speaks up. And indeed, the FAANG names – along with powerhouse Microsoft (MSFT) and cyclicals like Semiconductors, Homebuilders, and Industrials – have been showing leadership again so far this year, especially after that historic market upswing in June. Rather than an impending recession, it seems to me that the US economy is on solid footing and “de-coupling” from other developed markets, as First Trust’s Brian Wesbury has opined.

The US economic expansion just became the longest in history, the latest jobs report was outstanding, unemployment remains historically low, business and consumer confidence are strong, institutional accumulation is solid, and the Federal Reserve is a lock to lower interest rates at least once, and more if necessary (the proverbial “Fed Put”). Indeed, the old adages “Don’t fight the Fed!” (as lower rates support both economic growth and higher equity valuations) and “The trend is your friend!” (as the market hits new highs) are stoking optimism and a critical risk-on rotation, leading the S&P 500 this week to touch the magic 3,000 mark and the Dow to eclipse 27,000. If this risk-on rotation continues, it bodes well for Sabrient’s cyclicals-oriented portfolios.

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 to me (i.e., neither bullish nor defensive), while the sector rotation model retains a bullish posture. Read on…

Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

In my prior commentary in early May, I wrote that investors were aggressively bidding up stocks and appeared to have “stopped looking over their shoulders with fear and anxiety and are instead focused on the opportunities ahead.” The S&P 500 was retrenching after a breakout to new highs in preparation for a major upside move driven by a risk-on rotation – which I expected would bode quite well for Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen portfolios that have been predominantly composed of stocks from growth-oriented cyclical sectors and small-mid caps. After all, recession fears had subsided, US and Chinese economic data were improving, Q1 corporate profits were coming in better than expected, the Fed had professed that it had our backs, and of course, a resolution to the US/China trade impasse was imminent. Or so it seemed. Instead, the month of May gave stocks a wild ride.

It was exactly one year ago that President Trump escalated the trade war with China from simple threats of tariffs to actual numbers and dates, which ignited a risk-off rotation and a starkly bifurcated market, as the S&P 500 large-cap index continued to rise on the backs of defensive sectors and mega-caps while risk-on cyclical sectors and small-mid caps sold off. The big oversold risk-on recovery following Christmas Eve began to peter out in late-April as the S&P 500 challenged its all-time high, but then the breakdown in negotiations in last month created another risk-off market reaction reminiscent of last summer. In other words, stocks and investor sentiment have been jerked around by Trump’s tweetstorms.

I talk a lot more about China and the trade war in today’s commentary, but the upshot is that this problem has been festering for a long time, and to his credit, President Trump decided he wasn’t going to continue the practice of kicking the can down the road to a future administration. China clearly (and dangerously) is intent on challenging the US for global dominance – economically, technologically, and militarily – with its powerful brand of state-sponsored capitalism. I support the cause against China’s unfair practices, given the enormous importance for our nation’s future – even though the resulting lengthy period of risk-off sentiment (essentially 9 of the past 12 months) has been challenging for Sabrient’s growth-and-valuation-driven portfolios (which are dominated by the neglected cyclical sectors and smaller caps), as the negative news stream creates a disconnect between analyst consensus earnings estimates and investor preferences. Fund flows instead suggest strong demand for low-volatility and momentum strategies as well as fixed income (tilted to shorter maturities and higher credit quality), and the 10-year TIPS breakeven inflation rate has fallen to 1.73% (as worries of deflation have set in).

In response to the recession fears and rampant defensive sentiment, the FOMC felt compelled last week to issue a highly accommodative statement that essentially said, we got your back, which turned around the fading stock market. Fed chairman Jay Powell asserted that the trade war is on the list of the committee’s concerns and that the central bank would “act as appropriate to sustain the expansion,” i.e., cut interest rates if necessary. This explicitly reestablished the proverbial “Fed put” as a market backstop, and investors liked it. We already are seeing a somewhat weaker dollar, which could be a further boost to US equities (especially those that sell internationally).

My view is that the May pullback was another buy-the-dip opportunity, particularly in risk-on market segments, as the pervasive worries about imminent global recession and a bear market caused by escalating trade wars have little basis in reality. The latest defensive rotation, including shunning of cyclical sectors, relative weakness in small caps, and global capital flight into Treasuries causing plunging yields (and a 3-mo/10-yr yield curve inversion), has been driven by uncertainty rather than hard data. Every piece of worsening economic data can be offset with encouraging data, in my view. Yes, the economic expansion (consecutive positive GDP prints) has been going on for a longer-than-average period of time, but there is no time limit on expansions, i.e., they don’t die of old age but rather from excesses and inflation that must be reined in (but there is nary of whiff of inflation anywhere in the developed world). I still expect that a resolution to the trade war will send stocks in general, and risk-on market segments in particular, into orbit … but until then, it is hard to predict when investor sentiment will again align with the still-solid fundamentals.

In this periodic update, I provide a 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 have turned neutral, while the sector rotation model retains its bullish posture. Read on…

Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite indexes both hit new all-time highs this week on strong breadth, and all the major indexes appear to be consolidating recent gains before attempting an upside breakout. P/E multiples are expanding, particularly among large caps, as stocks rise despite a temporary slowdown in earnings growth. Why are investors bidding up stocks so aggressively? They have stopped looking over their shoulders with fear and anxiety and are instead focused on the opportunities ahead. And on that horizon, recession fears are falling, optimism regarding a US-China trade resolution is rising, US and Chinese economic data are improving, corporate profits are better than expected, and the Fed has agreed to step out of the way. All of this reduces uncertainty that typically holds back business investment. Stocks valuations are forward looking and a leading economic indicator, so they already seem to be pricing in expectations for stronger economic growth in the Q3, Q4, and 2020.

I said in my commentary last month that I thought we may see upside surprises in Q1 and Q2 earnings announcements, given the low bar that had been reset, and indeed we are seeing higher-than-average earnings beats – including big names like Apple (AAPL) and Facebook (FB), among many others – as half of the S&P 500 companies have reported. Moreover, the recent legal settlement between Apple and Qualcomm (QCOM) was a big positive news story that should now free up both companies to focus on 5G products, including step-function upgrades to smartphones, tablets, and computers, as the critical race with China for 5G dominance kicks into high gear.

Looking ahead, there are plenty of mixed signals for the economy and stocks – and no doubt the pessimists could fill a dossier with plenty of doom and gloom. But I think the pessimism has been a positive in keeping stocks from surging too exuberantly, given all the positive data that the optimists can cite. And on balance, the path of least resistance for both the economy and stocks appears to be upward. I think bond yields will continue to gradually firm up as capital rotates from bonds to equities in an improving growth and inflation environment, stabilizing the dollar (from advancing much further), while reducing the odds of a Fed rate cut in 2019. A healthy economy helps corporate earnings, while a dovish Fed keeps rates low and supports equity valuations. And as the trade war with China comes to resolution, I expect corporations will ramp up capital spending and guidance, enticing idle cash into the market and further fueling bullish conviction. Rather than an impending recession, we may be returning to the type of growth and inflation we enjoyed just prior to the tax reform bill, which would provide a predictable environment for corporate planning and steady (but not exuberant or inflationary) corporate earnings growth.

This should bode well not only for Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen portfolios, but also for our other growth and dividend-oriented portfolios, like Sabrient Dividend and Dividend Opportunity, each of which comprises 50 growth-at-a-reasonable-price (aka GARP) stocks paying an aggregate yield in excess of 4% in what is essentially a growth-and-income strategy, and perhaps our 50-stock Small Cap Growth portfolios. As a reminder, I am always happy to make time for conversations with advisors about market conditions and our portfolios. We are known for our model-driven growth-at-a-reasonable-price (GARP) approach, and our model is directing us to smaller caps, as many of the high-quality large caps that are expected to generate solid earnings growth already have been “bid up” relative to small caps.

In this periodic update, I provide a 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 remain bullish, while the sector rotation model also maintains a bullish posture. Read on…

by Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

The S&P 500 finished 2017 by completing an unusual feat. Not only was the index up +22% (total return), but every single month of the year saw positive performance on a total return basis, and in fact, the index is on a 14-month winning streak (Note: the previous record of 15 straight was set back in 1959!). So, as you might expect, volatility was historically low all year, with the VIX displaying an average daily closing value of 11 (versus a “fear threshold” of 15 and a “panic threshold” of 20). But some of 2017’s strength was due to expansion in valuation multiples in anticipation of tax reform and lower effective tax rates boosting existing earnings, not to mention incentives for repatriating overseas cash balances, expansion, and capex.

Sector correlations also remained low all year, while performance dispersion remained high, both of which are indications of a healthy market, as investors focus on fundamentals and pick their spots for investing – rather than just trade risk-on/risk-off based on the daily news headlines and focus on a narrow group of mega-cap technology firms (like 2015), or stay defensive (like 1H2016). And Sabrient’s fundamentals-based portfolios have thrived in this environment.

Now that the biggest tax overhaul in over 30 years is a reality, investors may do some waiting-and-watching regarding business behavior under the new rules and the impact on earnings, and there may be some normalization in valuation multiples. In other words, we may not see 20% gains in the S&P 500 during 2018, but I still expect a solidly positive year, albeit with some elevated volatility.

In this periodic update, I provide a market outlook, conduct a technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and offer up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, our sector rankings still look bullish, while the sector rotation model also maintains its bullish bias. Read on....

Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

Stocks are rocketing to new highs almost every day. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com (AMZN) saw his net worth exceed $100 billion. Bonds are still strong (and interest rates low). Real estate pricing is robust. DaVinci painting sells for $450 million. Bitcoin – having no intrinsic value other than a frenzy of speculative demand – trades above $11,000 (up from $1,000 on January 1), with surprising enthusiasm brewing among institutional investors, including some of the wealthiest and most successful, and with futures and derivatives on cryptocurrencies in the pipeline. (By the way, if you are afraid of a global internet crash disrupting your holdings, fear not, as there is a bitcoin satellite accessible by dish.)

Investors are desperately seeking the next hot area before it gets bid up. (Maybe marijuana stocks are next, in anticipation of broader legalization.) Indeed, central bank monetary policies have created significant asset inflation, with cheap money from around the globe burning a hole in investors’ pockets. So now it’s high time to invite to the party some of the huddled masses (who don’t have direct access to the Fed’s largesse) – through fiscal stimulus. We are already getting some of that in the form of regulatory reform, which the Administration has largely done on its own. But the eagerly anticipated big-hitter is tax reform, which requires the cooperation of Congress. And despite the Republicans’ inability to come to consensus on anything else, investors are already bidding up equities in anticipation of the House and Senate reconciling a tax bill that becomes law – so expect to see a big correction if it fails.

The promise of regulatory and tax reform have kept me positive all year on mid and small caps as the primary beneficiaries, and I remain so now more than ever. In addition, they offer a way to better leverage continued economic expansion and rising equity prices, particularly those that supply (or that seek to take away a small piece of a growing pie from) the dominant mega caps. Moreover, as the valuations for the mega-cap Technology names in particular grow ever more elevated, we are starting to see a passing of the baton to smaller players and other market segments that display more attractive forward valuation multiples.

In this periodic update, I give my view of the current market environment, offer a technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and offer up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, our sector rankings still look bullish, while the sector rotation model also maintains its bullish bias. A steady and improving global growth outlook and a persistently low interest rate environment continues to foster low volatility and an appetite for risk assets. Read on....

Scott MartindaleBy Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

Investors continue to be sanguine about the economy and are reluctant to lighten up on stocks, even as we enter the New Year on the heels of a big post-election run-up, perhaps for fear of missing out on continued upside. Rather than fearing the uncertainty of a new (and maverick) administration, they instead have an expectation of a more business-friendly environment, fiscal stimulus, and a desirably higher level of inflation under Trump and a Republican-controlled congress. Stimulus likely would include lower corporate and personal taxes, immediate expensing of capital investment (rather than depreciating over time), incentives to repatriate offshore-held cash, reduced regulatory burdens, and infrastructure spending programs. Longer term, we also might see more favorable international trade deals and a freer market for healthcare coverage. Even the Fed is finally admitting that monetary stimulus alone can’t do the trick.

As the New Year gets underway, the technical picture remains strong, as the Dow is gathering strength to challenge ominous psychological round-number resistance at 20,000 and market breadth is impressive, led by small caps and value stocks. I believe we have a favorable environment for US equities going forward – especially fundamentals-based portfolios, like Sabrient’s annual Baker’s Dozen.

In this periodic update, I give my view of the current market environment, offer a technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review Sabrient’s weekly fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten U.S. business sectors, and then offer up some actionable ETF trading ideas. Overall, our sector rankings still look bullish, and the sector rotation model continues to suggest a bullish stance. Read on....

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.

Q2 is well underway for the economy, while Q1 corporate earnings reporting season kicks into high gear this week. Although investors have pretty much written off the quarter as a stinker, they are eagerly anticipating forward guidance for the back half of the year. With the major indexes and underlying valuations sitting at lofty heights, investors are evidently pricing in improving fundamentals ahead, particularly here at home in the U.S.

Q1 turned out to be one for the ages, and after some extreme moves and bouts of volatility, stocks settled down and closed out the quarter with a flourish. After falling more than -10% from the start of the year until February 11, the S&P 500 was up +6.6% in March, up +13% since February 11, and finished Q1 slightly positive at +0.8% -- and it is up +206% since the depths of March 9, 2009.

For those investors who thought there might be a quick V-bottom recovery in the markets like we saw last October, they have been sorely disappointed. Last week, the Dow Industrials fell -3.2%, the S&P 500 large caps fell -3.4%, the Nasdaq was down -3.0%, and the Russell 2000 small caps dropped -2.3%.From a technical standpoint, most chartists agree that much damage has been done to the charts and the market seems quite vulnerable and likely to retest lows. Market breadth is poor. And from a fundamental standpoint, the list of concerns is long.

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