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 Martindale  by Scott Martindale
  President & CEO, Sabrient Systems LLC

Stocks continued their bullish charge from the pandemic selloff low on 3/23/20 into early-June, finally stumbling over the past several days due to a combination of overbought technicals, a jump in COVID cases as the economy tries to reopen, and the Fed giving grim commentary on the pace of recovery. But then of course Fed chair Jerome Powell (aka Superman) swooped in this week to save the day, this time to shore up credit markets with additional liquidity by expanding bond purchases into individual corporate bonds rather than just through bond ETFs. But despite unprecedented monetary and fiscal policies, there are many prominent commentators who consider this record-setting recovery rally to be an unwarranted and unsustainable “blow-off top” to a liquidity-driven speculative bubble that is destined for another harsh selloff. They think stocks are pricing in a better economy in the near-term than we enjoyed before the pandemic hit, when instead normalization is likely years away.

Certainly, the daily news and current fundamentals suggest that investors should stay defensive. But stocks always price a future vision 6-12 months in advance, and investors are betting on better times ahead. Momentum, technicals, fear of missing out (FOMO), and timely actions from our Federal Reserve have engendered a broad-based bullish foundation to this market that appears much healthier than anything displayed over the past five years, which was marked by cautious sentiment due to populist upheaval, political polarization, Brexit, trade wars, an attempt to “normalize” interest rates following several years of zero interest-rate policy (ZIRP), and the narrow leadership of the five famed mega-cap “FAAAM” Tech stocks – namely Microsoft (MSFT), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOG), and Facebook (FB).

Equal-weight indexes solidly outperformed the cap-weighted versions during the recovery rally from the selloff low on 3/23/20 through the peak on 6/8/20. For example, while the S&P 500 cap-weighted index returned an impressive +45%, the equal weight version returned +58%. Likewise, expanded market breadth is good for Sabrient, as our Baker’s Dozen portfolios ranged from +62% to +83% (and an average of +74%) during that same timeframe, led by the neglected small-mid caps and cyclical sectors. Our Forward Looking Value, Small Cap Growth, and Dividend portfolios also substantially outperformed – and all of them employ versions of our growth at a reasonable price (GARP) selection approach.

Although the past week since 6/8/20 has seen a pullback and technical consolidation, there remains a strong bid under this market, which some attribute to a surge in speculative fervor among retail investors. There is also persistently elevated volatility, as the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) has remained solidly above the 20 fear threshold since 2/24/20, and in fact has spent most of its time in the 30s and 40s (or higher) even during the exuberant recovery rally. And until earnings normalize, the market is likely to remain both speculative and volatile.

Regardless, so long as there is strong market breadth and not sole dependence on the FAAAM stocks (as we witnessed for much of the past five years), the rally can continue. There are just too many forces supporting capital flow into equities for the bears to overcome. I have been predicting that the elevated forward P/E on the S&P 500 might be in store for further expansion (to perhaps 23-25x) before earnings begin to catch up, as investors position for a post-lockdown recovery. Indeed, the forward P/E hit 22.5x on 6/8/20. But I’d like to offer an addendum to this to say that the forward P/E may stay above 20x even when earnings normalize, so long as the economy stays in growth mode – as I expect it will for the next few years or longer as we embark upon a new post-recession expansionary phase. In fact, I believe that rising valuation multiples today, and the notion that the market actually has become undervalued, are a direct result of: 1) massive global liquidity, 2) ultra-low interest rates, and 3) the ever-growing dominance of secular-growth Technology on both our work processes and the broad-market indexes – all conspiring to create a TINA (“There is No Alternative”) climate for US equities.

In this periodic update, I provide a market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500, and review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, while our sector rankings look neutral (as you might expect given the poor visibility for earnings), the technical picture is bullish, and our sector rotation model moved to a bullish posture in late May.

As a reminder, Sabrient has enhanced its forward-looking and valuation-oriented stock selection strategy to improve all-weather performance and reduce relative volatility versus the benchmark S&P 500, as well as to put secular-growth companies (which often display higher valuations) on more equal footing with cyclical-growth firms (which tend to display lower valuations). You can find my latest Baker’s Dozen slide deck and commentary on terminating portfolios at http://bakersdozen.sabrient.com/bakers-dozen-marketing-materialsRead on....