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

The S&P 500 officially entered a bear market by falling more than -20% from its all-time high in January, with a max peak-to-trough drawdown of nearly -25% (as of 6/17). The Nasdaq Composite was down as much as -35% from its November all-time high. During the selloff, there was no place to hide as all asset classes floundered – even formerly uncorrelated cryptocurrencies went into a death spiral (primarily due to forced unwinding of excessive leverage). But then stocks staged an impressive bounce last week, although it was mostly driven by short covering.

Earlier this year when stocks began their initial descent, laggards and more speculative names sold-off first, but later, as the selling accelerated, the proverbial baby was thrown out with the bathwater as investors either were forced to deleverage (i.e., margin calls) or elected to protect profits (and their principal). Even the high-flying Energy sector sold off on this latest down leg, falling over -25% intraday in just 10 days, as the algorithmic momentum trading programs reversed from leveraged buying of Energy to leveraged selling/shorting.

These are common signs of capitulation. So is historically low consumer and investor sentiment, which I discuss in detail later in this post. But despite the negative headlines and ugly numbers, it mostly has been an orderly selloff, with few signs of panic. The VIX has not reached 40, and in fact it hasn’t eclipsed that level since April 2020 during the pandemic selloff. Moreover, equity valuations have shrunk considerably, with the S&P 500 and S&P 600 small caps falling to forward P/Es of 15.6x and 10.8x, respectively, at the depths of the selloff (6/17). This at least partially reflects an expectation that slowing growth (and the ultra-strong dollar) will lead to lower corporate earnings than the analyst community is currently forecasting. Although street estimates have been gradually falling, consensus still predicts S&P 500 earnings will grow +10.4% in aggregate for CY2022, according to FactSet. Meanwhile, Energy stocks are back on the upswing, and the impressive outperformance this year of the Energy sector has made its proportion of the S&P 500 rise from approximately 2% to 5%...and yet the P/Es of the major Energy ETFs are still in the single digits.

A mild recession is becoming more likely, and in fact it has become desirable to many as a way to hasten a reduction in inflationary pressures. Although volatility will likely persist for the foreseeable future, I think inflation and the 10-year Treasury yield are already in topping patterns. In addition, supply chains and labor markets continue their gradual recovery, the US dollar remains strong, and the Fed is reducing monetary accommodation, leading to demand destruction and slower growth, which would reduce the excess demand that is causing inflation.

Bullish catalysts for equity investors would be a ceasefire or settlement of the Russian/Ukraine conflict and/or China abandoning its zero-tolerance COVID lockdowns, which would be expected to help supply chains and further spur a meaningful decline in inflation – potentially leading to a Fed pivot to dovish (or at least neutral)…and perhaps a melt-up in stocks. Until then, a market surge like we saw last week, rather than the start of a V-shaped recovery, is more likely just a bear market short-covering rally – and an opportunity to raise cash to buy the next drawdown.

Nevertheless, we suggest staying net long but hedged, with a heightened emphasis on quality and a balance between value/cyclicals and high-quality secular growers and dividend payers. Moreover, rather than investing in the major cap-weighted index ETFs, stocks outside of the mega-caps may offer better opportunities due to lower valuations and higher growth rates. Regardless, Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen, Dividend, and Small Cap Growth portfolios leverage our enhanced model-driven selection approach (which combines Quality, Value, and Growth factors) to provide exposure to both the longer-term secular growth trends and the shorter-term cyclical growth and value-based opportunities. In particular, our Dividend Portfolio – which seeks quality companies selling at a reasonable price with a solid growth forecast, a history of raising dividends, a good coverage ratio, and an aggregate dividend yield approaching 4% or more to target both capital appreciation and steady income – has been holding up well this year. So has our Armageddon Portfolio, which is available as a passive index for ETF licensing.

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 bullish bias, with 5 of the top 6 scorers being cyclical sectors. In addition, the near-term technical picture looks neutral-to-bearish after last week’s impressive bounce, and our sector rotation model remains in a defensive posture.  Read on...

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

I have been warning that the longer the market goes up without a significant pullback, the worse the ultimate correction is likely to be. So, with that in mind, we might not have seen the lows for the year quite yet, as I discuss in the chart analysis later in this post. January saw a maximum intraday peak-to-trough drawdown on the S&P 500 of -12.3% and the worst monthly performance (-5.3%) for the S&P 500 since March 2020 (-12.4%). It was the worst performance for the month of January since 2009 (during the final capitulation phase of the financial crisis) and one of the five worst performances for any January since 1980. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), aka “fear gauge,” briefly spiked to nearly 39 before settling back down to the low-20s.

It primarily was driven by persistently high inflation readings – and a suddenly hawkish-sounding Federal Reserve – as the CPI for the 12 months ending in December came in at 7.0% YoY, which was the largest increase for any calendar year since 1981. Then on Feb 10, the BLS released a 7.5% CPI for January, the highest YoY monthly reading since 1982. Of course, stocks fell hard, and the 10-year T-note briefly spiked above 2% for the first time since August 2019.

Looking under the hood is even worse. Twelve months ago, new 52-week highs were vastly outpacing new 52-week lows. But this year, even though new highs on the broad indexes were achieved during January, we see that 2/3 of the 3,650 stocks in the Nasdaq Composite have fallen at least 20% at some point over the past 12 months – and over half the stocks in the index continue to trade at prices 40% or more below their peaks, including prominent names like DocuSign (DOCU), Peloton Interactive (PTON), and of course, Meta Platforms, nee Facebook (FB). Likewise, speculative funds have fallen, including the popular ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK), which has been down as much as -60% from its high exactly one year ago (and which continues to score near the bottom of Sabrient’s fundamentals based SectorCast ETF rankings).

Pundits are saying that the “Buy the Dip” mentality has suddenly turned into “Sell the Rip” (i.e., rallies) in the belief that the fuel for rising asset prices (i.e., unlimited money supply and zero interest rates) soon will be taken away. To be sure, the inflation numbers are scary and unfamiliar. In fact, only a minority of the population likely can even remember what those days of high inflation were like; most of the population only has experienced decades of falling CPI. But comparing the latest CPI prints to those from 40 years ago has little relevance, in my view, as I discuss in the commentary below. I continue to believe inflation has been driven by the snapback in demand coupled with slow recovery in hobbled supply chains – largely due to “Nanny State” restrictions – and that inflationary pressures are peaking and likely to fall as the year progresses.

In response, the Federal Reserve has been talking down animal spirits and talking up interest rates without actually doing much of anything yet other than tapering its bond buying and releasing some thoughts and guidance. The Fed’s challenge will be to raise rates enough to dampen inflation without overshooting and causing a recession, i.e., the classic policy mistake. My prediction is there will be three rate hikes over the course of the year, plus some modest unwinding of its $9 trillion balance sheet by letting some maturing bonds roll off. Note that Monday’s emergency FOMC meeting did not result in a rate hike due to broad global uncertainties.

Longer term, I do not believe the Fed will be able to “normalize” interest rates over the next decade, much less the next couple of years, without causing severe pain in the economy and in the stock and bond markets. Our economy is simply too levered and “financialized” to absorb a “normalized” level of interest rates. But if governments around the world (starting with the US and Canada!) can stand aside and let the economy work without heavy-handed societal restrictions and fearmongering, we might see the high supply-driven excess-demand gap close much more quickly.

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 bullish bias, with the top three scorers being deep-cyclical sectors, Energy, Basic Materials, and Financials. In addition, the near-term technical picture remains weak, and our sector rotation model moved from a neutral to a defensive posture this week as the market has pulled back.

Overall, I expect a continuation of the nascent rotation from aggressive growth and many “malinvestments” that were popular during the speculative recovery phase into the value and quality factors as the Fed tries to rein in the speculation-inducing liquidity bubble. And although I don’t foresee a major selloff in the high-valuation-multiple mega-cap Tech names, I think investors can find better opportunities this year among high-quality stocks outside of the Big Tech favorites – particularly among small and mid-caps – due to lower valuations and/or higher growth rates, plus some of the high-quality secular growth names that were essentially the proverbial “baby thrown out with the bathwater.” But that’s not say we aren’t in for further downside in this market over the near term. In fact, I think we will see continued volatility and technical weakness over the next few months – until the Fed’s policy moves become clearer – before the market turns sustainably higher later in the year.

Regardless, Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen, Dividend, and Small Cap Growth portfolios leverage our enhanced Growth at a Reasonable Price (GARP) selection approach (which combines quality, value, and growth factors) to provide exposure to both the longer-term secular growth trends and the shorter-term cyclical growth and value-based opportunities – without sacrificing strong performance potential. Sabrient’s new Q1 2022 Baker’s Dozen launched on 1/20/2022 and is already off to a good start versus the benchmark. In addition, our Dividend and Small Cap Growth portfolios have been performing well versus their benchmarks. In fact, all 7 of the Small Cap Growth portfolios launched since the March 2020 COVID selloff have outperformed the S&P 600 SmallCap Growth ETF (SLYG), and 7 of the 8 Dividend portfolios have outperformed the S&P 500 (SPY). In particular, the Energy sector still seems like a good bet, as indicated by its low valuation and high score in our SectorCast ETF rankings.

Furthermore, 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. Please ask your favorite ETF wholesaler to mention it to their product team!
Read on....

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....