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 Martindaleby Scott Martindale
  President, Sabrient Systems LLC

The early weeks of September were looking so promising as a brief but impressive surge gave hope of a revival in the long-neglected market segments. This sustained risk-on rotation seemed to be marking a bullish change of market character from the risk-off defensive sentiment that I have been writing about extensively for the past 18 months (ever since the China trade war escalated in June of last year), specifically the massive divergence favoring the low-volatility, growth, and momentum factors, defensive sectors, and large caps over the value and high-beta factors, cyclical sectors, and small-mid caps. But then, for the next few weeks, those risk-on market segments were once again lagging, as fickle investors keep returning to stocks displaying stronger balance sheets, high dividend yields, and/or secular growth stories – in spite of high valuations – rather than the more speculative cyclical growth stocks selling at attractive valuations that typically lead an upside breakout. It appeared that the fledging bullish rotation was caput – or perhaps not. Suddenly, there have been positive developments in the trade negotiations and in the Brexit saga, and the past several days have brought back renewed signs of a pent-up desire to take stocks higher. Signs of a better than expected Q3 earnings season may be the final catalyst.

Of course, although YTD returns in US stocks are impressive, if you look back over the past year to when the major indexes peaked in 3Q2018, stocks really have made very little headway. As of the close on Tuesday, the S&P 500 is +21.3% YTD but only +1.7% since its 2018 high on 9/20/18, while the more speculative Russell 2000 small cap index is still more than -12% below its all-time high from over a year ago – way back on 8/31/18. The biggest difference this year versus the 9/20/18 high for the S&P 500 is that Treasury yields have fallen (from 3.1% to about 1.8% on the 10-year), which has allowed for P/E multiple expansion (from 16.8x last year to 17.2x today) despite the earnings recession of the past three quarters.

I suppose one can hardly blame investors for their trepidation at this moment in time, given the overabundance of extremely negative news, which only expanded during Q3. We have an intractable trade war with the world’s second largest economy, intensifying protectionist rhetoric, North Korean missiles, rising tensions with Iran, a brewing war in northern Syria, drone attacks in Saudi Arabia, riots in Hong Kong, China’s feud with the NBA (and the animated TV show South Park!), a slowing global economy, a US corporate earnings recession, flattish yield curve, surging US dollar, low-yield/high-volatility Treasury bonds, falling consumer sentiment, Business Roundtable’s CEO Economic Outlook Index down six consecutive quarters (as hiring is strong but capital investment and sales expectations lag), the steepest contraction in the manufacturing sector since June 2009, UAW strike against General Motors (GM), looming Hard Brexit, top-polling Democratic candidates espousing MMT and business-unfriendly socialist policies, and yet another desperate attempt to impeach the President before the next election. Need I go on?

But somehow the US economy has maintained positive traction while stocks have held their ground given a persistent economic expansion, supported by dovish central banks around the world and a rock-solid US consumer. Indeed, the very fact that stocks have held up amid such a negative macro environment suggests to me that investors are just itching for a reason to rotate cash and pricey bonds into stocks – perhaps in a big way. And from a technical standpoint, such a long sideways consolidation over the past several months suggests that an upside breakout may be imminent – and likely led by those risk-on market segments. Notably, every such bullish rotation has helped Sabrient’s various growth-at-a-reasonable-price (GARP) portfolios gain ground against the SPY benchmark, so a sustained rotation would be quite welcome!

And some good news this week is offering some hope, with strong Q3 earnings reports from JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and UnitedHealth (UNH), a resumption in trade talks, progress in the GM strike, and a possible breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations. Moreover, the highly cyclical semiconductor and homebuilding industries are on fire, with iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF (SOXX) setting a new high, and Treasury yields are creeping up.

By the way, our Sabrient Select SMA portfolio (separately managed account wrapper) is available to financial advisors as an alternative investment opportunity. The portfolio actively manages 25-35 stocks based on our “quantamental” GARP strategy. Let me know if you’d like more information.

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 now look neutral to me, while the technical picture remains bullish, and our sector rotation model retains a solidly bullish posture. Read on…

Scott MartindaleBy Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

Another day, another new high in stocks. Some observers understandably think this is a sign of excessive complacency and a bad omen of an imminent major correction, as valuations continue to escalate without the normal pullbacks that keep the momentum traders under control and “shake out the weak holders,” as they say. But markets don’t necessarily need to sell off to correct such inefficiencies. Often, leadership just needs to rotate into other neglected segments, and that is precisely what has been happening since the mid-August pullback. Witness the recent leadership in small caps, transports, retailers, airlines, homebuilders, and value stocks, as opposed to the mega-cap technology-sector growth stocks that have been driving the market most of the year.

Yes, the cap-weighted Dow Industrials and S&P 500 have both notched their eighth straight positive quarter, and the Nasdaq achieved its fifth straight, and all of them are dominated by mega-cap stocks. And the new highs have just kept coming during the first week of October. But it’s the stunning strength in small caps that is most encouraging, as this indicates a healthy broadening of the market, in which investors “pick their spots” rather than just blindly ride the mega caps. Rising global GDP, strong economic reports, solid corporate earnings reports, and the real possibility of tax reform have all helped goose bullish sentiment.

Those of you who have read my articles or attended my live presentations on the road know that I have been positive on small caps and that the momentum trade so far this year and high valuations among the mega cap Tech stocks likely would become self-limiting, leading to a passing of the baton to other market segments that still display attractive multiples, particularly those that would benefit the most from any sort of new fiscal stimulus (including tax and regulatory reform), like small caps. Moreover, I believe that with a still-accommodative Federal Reserve moving cautiously on interest rates, and with strong global demand for US Treasuries and corporate bonds, the low-yield environment is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.

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 U.S. business sectors, and then 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, and the overall climate continues to look favorable for risk assets like equities. Although October historically has been a month that can bring a shock to the market, it also is on average one of the strongest months for stocks, and of course Q4 is seasonally a bullish period. Read on...

In a year in which stock prices mostly have been driven by news rather than fundamentals, three things stood out last week. First, terrorism has taken on an unsettling new face -- the stay-at-home mom down the street or your long-time co-worker at the plant -- as the dark side of the exponential growth in social media rears its ugly head (with something much more sinister than porn sites or online bullying). Second, with the strong jobs report on Friday, the Federal Reserve seems to have all their ducks in a row to justify the first fed funds rate hike in nine years.

Bulls showed renewed backbone last week and drew a line in the sand for the bears, buying with gusto into weakness as I suggested they would. After all, this was the buying opportunity they had been waiting for. As if on cue, the start of the World Series launched the rapid market reversal and recovery. However, there is little chance that the rally will go straight up. Volatility is back, and I would look for prices to consolidate at this level before making an attempt to go higher. I still question whether the S&P 500 will ultimately achieve a new high before year end.

Wall Street continues to make summer investors smile as new highs in the major indices were touched on throughout the week. The benchmark S&P 500 Index (SPX) recorded a gain of 0.7% on the week, which puts it in the black for the year to the tune of 18.6%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) posted a small but solid 0.5%, while the Nasdaq (COMP) ended in positive territory by a slight 0.3%.

The past week’s gains may be slightly due to inertia, because it’s not exactly like there has been a plethora of positive economic news to support the record highs. It’s more like a dearth of bad news that has been the prime reason the equity market continues on the same merry uptrend that it’s been riding throughout most of 2013.

daniel / Tag: DJIA, COMP, SPX, JPM, FXI, EWH, MCHI, GXC, HAO, PGJ, China, Shanghai Composite Index, G20 / 0 Comments

So far, July is looking pretty sweet for those investors who have decided to swap the pleasures of the beach for an extended Wall Street voyage through the summer.

For the moment at least, the market seems to be righting its ship after a fair amount of buffeting following Ben Bernanke’s comments regarding the Fed’s intention of tapering off its ambitious bond purchase program.

Apparently, investors have been comforted last week by his new and improved comments, the ones offering reassurance that the tapering isn’t quite as imminent as he first indicated, and that he is really, really advocating for continuing the money stimulus along its current trajectory.

daniel / Tag: DJIA, COMP, SPX, JPM, FXI, EWH, MCHI, GXC, HAO, PGJ, FED, China, BERNANKE, Shanghai Composite Index / 0 Comments

OK, it’s earnings season again, though the first round of reports this week won’t reveal a whole lot, at least not until Friday, when J.P. Morgan (JPM) announces its Q2 results. Then, things could get interesting, as investors will decide if bottom-line fundamentals are enough to supersede the recent Fed hullaballoo that centered on the question of when, not if, the central bank would begin to taper its massive bond purchasing.

daniel / Tag: DJIA, COMP, SPX, JPM, FXI, EWH, MCHI, GXC, HAO, PGJ, FED, China, earnings season / 0 Comments

The week started out well as insured depositors were spared in Cyprus, and that resonated well with investors.  Furthermore, last week’s domestic economic data was quite positive especially for housing.  The Philadelphia Fed Survey was much better than expected; Initial Jobless Claims remained in the low 300K area; and LEI were as expected.

david / Tag: AAPL, JPM, LYB, KR, AMGN / 0 Comments

Earnings reports on Wednesday from big banks like Goldman Sachs (Scott MartindaleGS) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) were encouraging. And Apple (AAPL) got a much-needed boost from the top tech analysts. However, Goldman’s analysts tried to throw a wet blanket on the markets earlier this week with their expectation that earnings reports overall this year would be “uninspiring” and that equity returns this year likely will be only in the single digits.

smartindale / Tag: iShares, sectors, ETF, IYH, iyw, IYK, IYM, IYJ, IYE, IYF, IYZ, IDU, IYC, AAPL, GS, JPM, DVA, COO, CTSH, IT, SPY, VIX, DEF, NFO, KNOW, CSCO, FCX / 0 Comments

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