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

Stocks are once again challenging all-time highs as the forward earnings estimates are being raised at an historically high rate in the wake of another impressive earnings season that blew away all consensus expectations. YTD through May, index total returns were strong across the board, including +12.7% for S&P 500, +6.6% for Nasdaq 100 (as mega-cap growth endured the brunt of the Value rotation), and +15.2% for Russell 2000 small caps. The strong earnings reports have given rise to further upgrades to forward sales and earnings from a highly cautious analyst community, many of whom are still concerned about COVID variants, supply chains, inflation, and Fed tapering, among many other worries.

Nevertheless, share prices have not gone up as fast as earnings, so valuations have receded a bit, with the S&P 500 falling from a forward P/E of 21.8x at the start of the year to 21.2x at the end of May (i.e., -2.8% versus a total return of +12.7%). Cyclicals in particular have seen this same trend, since they were largely bid up on speculation. For example, Energy (XLE) is up +39.2% YTD, but its forward P/E has fallen from 29.2x to 17.2x (-28.4%). With plenty of cash on the sidelines, many investors likely are holding back and hoping for a solid pullback rather than deploy cash at what may still appear to be elevated valuations and stretched technicals, as they move past a speculative investing mindset and into a more fundamentals and quality-oriented stage. While more speculative asset classes like SPACs and cryptocurrencies already have endured a pretty severe correction (driven by negative press or tweets from influential personalities), stocks really haven’t yet seen a healthy cleansing.

When the April YOY CPI reading came out on 5/12 at a surprisingly high +4.2%, stocks were expected to selloff hard, led by mega-cap growth stocks. But instead, they quickly gathered conviction and resumed their march higher. Small-cap value (which is dominated by cyclical sectors like Financial, Industrial, Materials, and Consumer Discretionary) in particular remains quite strong this year as the Value rotation continues in the face of an expansionary/recovery economic phase, unabated government support and largesse, and a continued productivity boom. And with GDP growth accelerating, particularly as the economy fully reopens and hobbled global supply chains are mended or rerouted, it is likely that the Street’s forward earnings estimates (even after the recent upgrades) are still too low, which means stocks should have more room to run without relying upon multiple expansion, in my view.

So, two questions seem to linger on everyone’s mind: 1) how might inflationary pressures impact economic growth and the stock market, and 2) are stock valuations overdone and at risk of a major correction? I tackle these questions in today’s post. In short, I believe earnings momentum should win out over overblown inflation worries and multiple contraction as we embark upon a multi-year boom (a “Roaring ‘20s” redux?) – but not without bouts of volatility.

With no clear path for runaway inflation and given the recent rotation out of the Growth factor, investors now seem to be adding exposure to both secular and cyclical growth – which is what my regular readers know I have been suggesting and what Sabrient’s GARP portfolios reflect (including our flagship Baker’s Dozen). 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 Q2 2020 Baker’s Dozen portfolio and an overview of the latest Q2 2021 Baker’s Dozen).

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 sector rankings reflect a solidly bullish bias, the technical picture is still long-term bullish (although in need of further near-term consolidation), and our sector rotation model retains its bullish posture. Read on….

  Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
  President, Sabrient Systems LLC

The market this year has been oscillating between fear and optimism, risk-off and risk-on. Until 8/27/19, risk-off defensive sentiment was winning, but since that date a risk-on sentiment has taken hold, and the historic divergence favoring secular growth, low-volatility and momentum factors, defensive sectors, and large caps (i.e., late-stage economic cycle behavior) over cyclical growth, value and high-beta factors, cyclical sectors, and small-mid caps (i.e., expansionary cycle behavior) continues to reverse, as fickle investors have become optimistic about at least a partial resolution to the trade war (including the lifting of tariffs), an improving outlook for 2020-21 corporate earnings, and resurgent capital investment. Investors have moved from displaying tepid and fleeting signs of risk-on rotation to full-blown bullish enthusiasm and reluctance to sell in a fear of missing out (FOMO), even though the short-term technical picture has become overbought.

The late-August risk-on rotation came in the nick of time. Last year at that same time of the year, the S&P 500 was marching higher until peaking on 9/20/18, but it was doing so on the backs of defensive sectors along with secular-growth Tech mega-caps, and I was opining at the time that the rally would fizzle if there wasn’t some rotation into the risk-on cyclicals and small-mid caps – which as you know didn’t happen, leading to the Q4 selloff. But, happily, this year has played out quite differently.

Nevertheless, a lot of successful fundamentals-based strategies (including powerhouse quant firm AQR Capital, discussed below) really took it on the chin for the roughly 14-18 months preceding 8/27, ostensibly due to fear that a “late-cycle” economy was on the verge of recession. And indeed it was becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy, as the dominos seemed to be falling one by one:  escalating trade wars creating uncertainty leading to a global manufacturing slowdown, a hold-off in corporate capital spending, and negative interest rates overseas, which pushed global capital into US debt, which temporarily inverted the yield curve, which brought out the doomsaying pundits – all of which was beginning to negatively impact the previously-bulletproof consumer sentiment that had been carrying US GDP growth.

But it was all based on false pretenses, in my view, and investors now seem to be convinced that the bottom is in for the industrial cycle and the corporate earnings recession, and particularly for prices of value/cyclical stocks with solid fundamentals. Results haven’t been as bad as feared, and some of the macro clouds are parting. Ultimately, stock prices are driven by earnings expectations and interest rates (for discounted cash flow valuation), and as the external obstacles hindering the free market are lessened or removed, the outlook brightens. And when investors focus on the fundamentals rather than the latest tweet, CNN headline, or single economic number taken out of context, it bodes well for Sabrient’s value-tilted GARP (growth at a reasonable price) portfolios, which of course includes our flagship Baker’s Dozen.

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

After showing weakness last week and creating some bearish-looking technical formations, stocks took a turn for the better on Monday. Perhaps it was renowned value investor Warren Buffett breaking from his usual aversion to tech companies and investing $1 billion in Apple (AAPL) that gave bulls a much-needed shot of confidence. But then things went south again on Tuesday, and some commentators are surmising that the strength in some of the economic data makes investors think the Fed is more likely to raise rates, i.e., we may be back to a good-news-is-bad-news reactionary environment.