Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

After an “investor’s paradise” year in 2017 – buoyed by ultra-low levels of volatility, inflation, and interest rates, and fueled even more by the promise of fiscal stimulus (which came to fruition by year end) – 2018 was quite different. First, it endured a long overdue correction in February that reminded investors that volatility is not dead, and the market wasn’t quite the same thereafter, as investors’ attention focused on escalating trade wars and central bank monetary tightening, leading to a defensive risk-off rotation mid-year and ultimately to new lows, a “technical bear market” (in the Nasdaq and Russell 2000), and the worst year for stocks since the 2008 financial crisis. Then, it was confronted with the Brexit negotiations falling apart, Italy on the verge of public debt default, violent “yellow vest” protests in France, key economies like China and Germany reporting contractionary economic data, and bellwether companies like FedEx (FDX) and Apple (AAPL) giving gloomy sales forecasts that reflect poorly on the state of the global economy. The list of obstacles seems endless.

Moreover, US stocks weren’t the only asset class to take a beating last year. International equities fared even worse. Bonds, oil and commodities, most systematic strategies, and even cryptocurrencies all took a hit. A perfect scenario for gold to flourish, right? Wrong, gold did poorly, too. There was simply nowhere to hide. Deutsche Bank noted that 93% of global financial markets had negative returns in 2018, the worst such performance in the 117-year history of its data set. It was a bad year for market beta, as diversification didn’t offer any help.

Not surprisingly, all of this has weighed heavily upon investor sentiment, even though the US economy, corporate earnings, and consumer sentiment have remained quite strong, with no recession in sight and given low inflation and interest rates. So, despite the generally positive fundamental outlook, investors in aggregate chose to take a defensive risk-off posture, ultimately leading to a massive selloff – accentuated by the rise of passive investing and the dominance of algorithmic trading – that did huge technical damage to the chart and crushed investor sentiment.

But fear not. There may be a silver lining to all of this, as it has created a superb buying opportunity, and it may finally spell a return to a more selective stock-picker’s market, with lower correlations and higher performance dispersion. Moreover, my expectation for 2019 is for a de-escalation in the trade war with China, a more accommodative Fed, and for higher stock prices ahead. Forward valuations overall have become exceedingly attractive, especially in the cyclical sectors that typically flourish in a growing economy.

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 remains in a defensive posture. Read on…

Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

Last week was the market’s worst since March. After Q3 had zero trading days with more than 1% move (up or down), our cup runeth over in Q4 with the stock rollercoaster so far offering up 22 days that saw a 1% move. Volatility seems rampant, but the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) has not even eclipsed the 30 level during Q4 (whereas it hit 50 back in February). Even after Friday’s miserable day, the VIX closed at 23.23. Of course, the turbulence has been driven primarily by two big uncertainties: the trade dispute with China and the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy, both of which have the potential to create substantial impacts on the global economy. As a result, investor psychology and the technical picture have negatively diverged from a still solid fundamental outlook.

For about a minute there, it seemed that both situations had been somewhat diffused, with Presidents Trump and Xi agreeing at the G20 summit to a temporary truce on further escalation in tariffs, while Fed chairman Powell made some comments about the fed funds rate being “just below” the elusive neutral rate. But investors’ cheers soon switched back to fears (soon to be tears?) with the latest round of news headlines (e.g., Huawei CFO arrest, Trump’s “Tariff Man” comment, Mueller indictments, and the imminent federal debt ceiling showdown). The uncertainty and fear-mongering led to a buyers’ strike that emboldened the short sellers, which in turn triggered forced selling in passive ETFs and automated liquidation in quant hedge funds, high-frequency trading (HFT) accounts, and leveraged institutional portfolios, which removed liquidity from the system (i.e., no bids), culminating in a retail investor panic. As it stands today, the charts look woefully weak and investor psychology has turned bearish, with selling into rallies rather than buying of dips.

Ever since June 11, when the trade war with China escalated from rhetoric to reality, stocks have seen a dramatic risk-off defensive rotation, with Healthcare, Utilities, Consumer Staples, and Telecom the only sectors in positive territory and the only ones outperforming the broad S&P 500 Index. It’s as if investors see the strong GDP prints, the +20% corporate earnings growth (of which about half is organic and half attributable to the tax cut), record profitability, and record levels of consumer confidence and small business optimism as being “as good as it gets,” i.e., just a fleeting final gasp in a late-stage economy, rather than the start of a long-awaited boom cycle fueled by unprecedented fiscal stimulus and a still-supportive (albeit not dovish) Federal Reserve. As a result, forward P/E on the S&P 500 is down a whopping -19% this year, which is huge – especially considering this year’s stellar earnings reports and solid forward guidance.

But has anything really changed substantially with regard to expectations for corporate earnings and interest rates (the two most important factors) to so severely impact valuations? Not that I can see. And Sabrient’s quantitative rankings imply that the economy and forward guidance remain quite strong, such that the market is simply responding to the proverbial Wall of Worry by offering up a nice buying opportunity, particularly in beaten down cyclical sectors and in solid dividend payers – although there might be some more pain first. Over the past 10 years of rising stock prices since the Financial Crisis, there have been eight corrections of roughly -10% (including nearly -20% in 2011), and this year’s correction has led to the fourth major drawdown for Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen annual top picks list (1Q2009, mid-2011, 2H2015, and now). But selling at each of those previous times would have been the wrong thing to do, and this time seems no different.

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 remains in a defensive posture due to the persistent market weakness. Read on...

Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

The escalating trade standoff with China, an increasingly hawkish Federal Reserve, and the impending mid-term elections finally took a toll on investor psyche, creating a rush to the exits in October as concern rises about the sustainability of the ultra-strong corporate earnings given China’s key role in global supply chains. Even some sell-side analysts have seen fit to slightly trim Q4’s strong earnings estimates. Nonetheless, the month ended with an encouraging rally from deeply oversold technical conditions. Overall, Sabrient’s model continues to suggest that little has changed with the positive fundamental outlook characterized by solid global economic growth, strong US corporate earnings, modest inflation, low real interest rates (despite incremental rate hikes), a stable global banking system, and historic fiscal stimulus in the US (especially corporate tax cuts and deregulation) that is only starting to have an impact on all-important capital spending. Also worth mentioning are the Consumer Confidence Index, which rose to its highest level in 18 years, and the Small Business Optimism Index, which continues with the longest streak of sustained optimism in its 45-year history.

Although the S&P 500 managed to plod its way upward during the summer and hit new highs well into September, a dramatic risk-off defensive rotation commenced in mid-June reflecting cautious investor sentiment, which disproportionately impacted Sabrient’s cyclicals-heavy portfolios. But this was not a healthy rotation. In fact, I wrote during the summer that the market wouldn’t be able to move much higher without renewed breadth and leadership from cyclicals. But instead of a risk-on rotation to recharge bullish conviction, we got a big market sell-off in October. Notably, such a pullback is normal in mid-term election years, but what is also normal is a strongly positive market move over the course of the 12 months following the mid-terms.

Last week’s fledgling recovery rally from severely oversold technical conditions showed promising risk-on action – and some relative performance catch-up in Sabrient’s portfolios. Thus, while the aggregate earnings outlooks for companies in the cyclical sectors and smaller caps have held steady or in many cases improved, shares prices have fallen dramatically, making the forward P/Es in these market segments much more attractive, while forward P/Es in the defensive sectors have become quite pricey.

Getting the uncertainty of the mid-term elections behind us should be good for investor sentiment. So, I think the correction lows are in – barring a massive “blue wave” in which Democrats take over both houses of Congress or a total breakdown in the China trade talks. Also, companies are coming out of their reporting-season blackout windows so that they can resume their massive share buybacks, further goosing stock prices. All told, I anticipate a risk-on rotation spurring a year-end rally that should treat our portfolios well.

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 has been forced into a defensive posture due to the recent correction. Read on...

by Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

Volatility suddenly returned with a vengeance last week – to both stocks and bonds. In fact, on Wednesday, while the -3.1% single-day selloff in the S&P 500 didn’t quite equal the -4.1% fall on February 3, the normal “flight to safety” into US Treasuries when stocks sell off didn’t occur, which was quite distressing to market participants and pundits alike. But on Thursday, bonds caught a bid while equities continued their fall. Suddenly, talk has become more serious about the potential for slower global growth due to rising interest rates and escalating trade wars.

But has anything really changed from a fundamental standpoint? I would say, absolutely not. Although the risk-off rotation since June 11 continues to hold back Sabrient’s cyclicals-oriented portfolios, our quantitative model still suggests that little has changed with the fundamentally strong outlook characterized by global economic growth, impressive US corporate earnings, modest inflation, low real interest rates, a stable global banking system, and historic fiscal stimulus in the US (including both tax relief and deregulation). Moreover, it appears to me that equities are severely oversold, and now is a good time to be accumulating high-quality stocks with attractive forward valuations from the cyclical sectors and small caps.

When a similar correction happened in February, the main culprits were inflation worries and hawkish rhetoric from the Federal Reserve regarding interest rates. After all, the so-called “Fed Put” has long supported the stock market. But then the Fed commentary became less hawkish and more data-driven, which was helpful given modest inflation data, but the start of the trade war rhetoric kept the market from bouncing back with as much gusto as it had been displaying.

So, what caused the correction this time? Well, to an extent, bipartisan support for heightened regulation and consumer privacy protections hit some of the mega-cap InfoTech stocks that had been leading the market. But in my view, the sudden spikes in fear (and the VIX) and in Treasury yields and the resulting rush to the exit in stocks was due to a combination of the Federal Reserve chairman’s suddenly hawkish rhetoric about interest rates and China’s extreme measures to offset damage from its trade war with the US.

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 has switched to a neutral posture due to the recent correction. Read on....

Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

Some investors transitioned from a “fear of missing out” (aka FOMO) at the beginning of the year to a worry that things are now “as good as it gets” – meaning that the market is in its last bullish move before the inevitable downturn kicks in. And now, escalating trade wars and a flattening yield curve have added to those fears. However, it appears to me that little has changed with the fundamentally strong outlook characterized by global economic growth, strong US corporate earnings, modest inflation, low real interest rates, a stable global banking system, and historic fiscal stimulus in the US (including both corporate tax cuts and deregulation). Moreover, the Fed may be sending signals of a slowing of rate hikes, while great strides have been made in reworking trade deals.

Many followers of Sabrient are wondering why our Baker’s Dozen portfolios – most of which had been performing quite well until mid-June – suddenly saw performance go south even though the broad market averages have managed to achieve new highs. Their concerns are understandable. However, if you look under the hood of the S&P 500, leadership over the past three months has not come from where you would expect in a robust economy. An escalation in trade wars (moving from posturing to reality) led industrial metals prices to collapse while investors suddenly shunned cyclical sectors in favor of defensive sectors in a “risk-off” rotation, along with some of the mega-cap momentum Tech names. This was not healthy behavior reflecting the fundamentally-strong economy and reasonable equity valuations.

But consensus forward estimates from the analyst community for most of the stocks in these cyclical sectors have not dropped, and in fact, guidance has generally improved as prices have fallen, making forward valuations much more attractive. Sabrient’s fundamentals-based GARP (growth at a reasonable price) model, which analyzes the forward estimates of the analyst community, still suggests solid tailwinds and an overweight in cyclical sectors. Thus, we expect that investor sentiment will eventually fall in line and we will see a “risk-on” rotation back into cyclicals as the market once again rewards stronger GARP qualities rather than just the momentum or defensive names. In other words, we think that now is the wrong time to exit our cyclicals-heavy Baker’s Dozen portfolios. I talk a lot more about this in today’s commentary.

Of course, risks abound. One involves divergent central bank monetary policies, with some continuing to ease while others (including the US and China) begin a gradual tightening process, and the enormous impact on currency exchange rates. Moreover, the gradual withdrawal of massive liquidity from the global economy is an unprecedented challenge rife with uncertainty. Another is the high levels of global debt (especially China) and escalating trade wars (most importantly with China). Because China is mentioned in every one of these major risk areas, I talk a lot more about China in today’s commentary.

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 now look even more strongly bullish, while the sector rotation model retains its bullish posture. Read on....

Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

Stocks have pushed to new highs yet again, given more positive signs of rising global GDP, strong economic reports here at home, another quarter of solid corporate earnings reports (especially those amazing mega-cap Tech companies), and an ever-improving outlook for passage of a tax reform bill. Likewise, inflows into U.S.-listed exchange-traded funds continued to reach heights never before seen, with the total AUM in the three primary S&P 500 ETFs offered by the three biggest issuers BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street (IVV, VOO, SPY) having pushed above $750 billion. On the other hand, discussion on Monday of a potential “phase-in” period for lowering tax rates has had some adverse impact on small caps this week, given that they would stand to benefit the most.

Nevertheless, I still see a healthy broadening of the market in process, with expectation of some rotation out of the mega-cap Tech leaders (despite their incredible surge last Friday) and into attractively-valued mid and small caps. But that dynamic has suddenly taken a backseat (once again) to those amazingly disruptive Tech juggernauts, who simply refuse to give up the limelight. Turns out, elevated valuations, unsustainable momentum, and the “law of large numbers” (hindering their extraordinary growth rates) don’t seem to apply to these companies, at least not quite yet. Their ability to disrupt, innovate, take existing market share, and create new demand seems to know no bounds, with infinite possibilities ahead for the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, Big Data, virtual reality, cloud computing, ecommerce, mobile apps, 5G wireless, smart cars, smart homes, driverless transportation, and so on….

Still, the awe-inspiring performance and possibilities of these mega-cap Techs notwithstanding, longer term I remain positive on mid and small caps. Keep in mind, in many cases the growth opportunities of these up-and-comers are largely tied to supplying the voracious appetites of the mega-caps. So, it is a way to leverage the continued good fortunes of the big guys, who eventually will have to pass the baton to 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 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. A steady and improving global growth outlook continues to foster low volatility and an appetite for risk assets, while low interest rates should persist. Notably, BlackRock recently posted a market outlook with the view that the US economic growth cycle may continue for years to come, and I agree – so long as the worldwide credit bubble doesn’t suddenly spring a leak and upset the global economic applecart. Read on....

By Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

Stocks continue to hold up well, encouraged by improving global fundamentals and a solid Q1 corporate earnings season. However, at the moment most of the major US market indices are struggling at key psychological levels of technical resistance that have held before, including Dow at 21,000, S&P 500 at 2,400, and Russell 2000 at 1,400. Only the Tech-heavy NASDAQ seems utterly undeterred by the 6,100 level, after having no problem blasting through the 6,000 level with ease last month and setting record highs almost daily. Perhaps the supreme strength in Tech will be able to lead the broader market through this tough resistance level. Every time it appears stocks are on the verge of a major correction, they catch a bid at an important technical support level. In other words, cautious optimism remains the MO of investors – despite weighty geopolitical risks and, here at home, furious political fighting at a level of viciousness I didn’t think possible in the U.S.

There is simply no denying the building momentum in broad global economic expansion, and any success in implementing domestic fiscal stimulus will just add even more fuel to this burgeoning fire. That’s not to say that we won’t see a nasty selloff at some point this year, but I think such an occurrence would have a news-driven (or Black Swan) trigger, and likely would ultimately serve as a broad-based buying opportunity.

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, while the sector rotation model has returned to a bullish bias even though stocks now struggle at strong psychological resistance levels.  Read more....

Volatility reigned in January on elevated volume as stock investors shifted their focus from global events to U.S. earnings reports, which have ranged from amazing (e.g., Apple) to crushing (e.g., Microsoft). Although the earnings reports have brought plenty of surprises, the volatility is no surprise, as I and many other market commentators predicted for the New Year.

Investors in U.S. equities seem to have embraced a new market paradigm in which upside spikes come more swiftly than the downside selloffs. Remember when it used to be the other way around? When fear was stronger than greed? The market is consolidating its gains off the early-October V-bottom reversal, and no one seems to be in any hurry to unload shares this time around, with the holidays rapidly approaching and all.

Today’s market opened up a tad on positive action from Asian and European markets; however, the pangs of last week’s painful performance took hold and the S&P 500 fell as much as 0.7%.  Earnings and revenues for Caterpillar (CAT) were below estimates causing investors to recall flat to poor results from General Electric (GE), International Business Machines (IBM) and McDonalds (MCD) on Friday.  Then, shortly into today’s session, Existing Home Sales o

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