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

Needless to say, investors have been piling out of stocks and bonds and into cash. So much for the 60/40 portfolio approach that expects bonds to hold up when stocks sell off. In fact, few assets have escaped unscathed, leaving the US dollar as the undisputed safe haven in uncertain times like these, along with hard assets like real estate, oil, and commodities. Gold was looking great in early-March but has returned to the flatline YTD. Even cryptocurrencies have tumbled, showing that they are still too early in adoption to serve as an effective “store of value”; instead, they are still leveraged, speculative risk assets that have become highly correlated with aggressive growth stocks.

From its record high in early January to Thursday’s intraday low, the S&P 500 (SPY) was down -19.9% (representing more than $7.5 trillion in value). At its lows on Thursday, the Nasdaq 100 (QQQ) was down as much as -29.2% from its November high. Both SPY and QQQ are now struggling to regain critical “round-number” support at 400 and 300, respectively. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) further illustrates the bearishness. After hitting 36.6 on May 2, which is two standard deviations above the low-run average of 20 (i.e., Z-score of 2.0), VIX stayed in the 30’s all last week, which reflects a level of panic. This broad retreat from all asset classes has been driven by fear of loss, capital preservation, deleveraging/margin calls among institutional traders, and the appeal of a strong dollar (which hit a 20-year high last week). The move to cash caused bond yields to soar and P/E ratios to crater. Also, there has been a striking preference for dividend-paying stocks over bonds.

It appears I underestimated the potential for market carnage, having expected that the March lows would hold as support and the “taper tantrum” surge in bond yields would soon top out once the 10-year yield rose much above 2%, due to a combination of US dollar strength as the global safe haven, lower comparable rates in most developed markets, moderating inflation, leverage and “financialization” of the global economy, and regulatory or investor mandates for holding “cash or cash equivalents.” There are some signs that surging yields and the stock/bond correlation may be petering out, as last week was characterized by stock/bond divergence. After spiking as high as 3.16% last Monday, the 10-year yield fell back to close Thursday at 2.82% (i.e., bonds attracted capital) while stocks continued to sell off, and then Friday was the opposite, as capital rolled out of bonds into stocks.

Although nominal yields may be finally ready to recede a bit, real yields (net of inflation) are still solidly negative. Although inflation may be peaking, the moderation I have expected has not commenced – at least not yet – as supply chains have been slow to mend given new challenges from escalation in Russian’s war on Ukraine, China’s growth slowdown and prolonged zero-tolerance COVID lockdowns in important manufacturing cities, and various other hindrances. Indeed, the risks to my expectations that I outlined in earlier blog posts and in my Baker’s Dozen slide deck have largely come to pass, as I discuss in this post.

Nevertheless, I still expect a sequence of events over the coming months as follows: more hawkish Fed rhetoric and some tightening actions, modest demand destruction, a temporary economic slowdown, and more stock market volatility … followed by mending supply chains, some catch-up of supply to slowing demand, moderating inflationary pressures, bonds continuing to find buyers (and yields falling), and a dovish turn from the Fed – plus (if necessary) a return of the “Fed put” to support markets. Time will tell. Too bad the Fed can’t turn its printing press into a 3D printer and start printing supply chain parts, semiconductors, oil, commodities, fertilizers, and all the other goods in short supply – that would be far more helpful than the limited tools they have at hand.

Although both consumer and investor sentiment are quite weak (as I discuss below), and there has been no sustained dip-buying since March, history tells us bear markets do not start when everyone is already bearish, so perhaps Friday’s strong rally is the start of something better. Perhaps the near -20% decline in the S&P 500 is all it took to wring out the excesses, with Thursday closing at a forward P/E of 16.8x ahead of Friday’s rally, which is the lowest since April 2020. So, the S&P 500 is trading at a steep 22% discount compared to 21.7x at the start of the year, a 5-year average of 18.6x, and a 20-year post-Internet-bubble average of 15.5x (according to FactSet), Moreover, the Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight (RSP) is at 15.0x compared to 17.7x at the beginning of the year, and the S&P 600 small cap forward P/E fell to just 11.6x (versus 15.2x at start of the year).

But from an equity risk premium standpoint, which measures the spread between equity earnings yields and long-term bond yields, stock valuations have actually worsened relative to bonds. So, although this may well be a great buying opportunity, especially given the solid earnings growth outlook, the big wildcards for stocks are whether current estimates are too optimistic and whether bond yields continue to recede (or at least hold steady).

Recall Christmas Eve of 2018, when the market capitulated to peak-to-trough selloff of -19.7% – again, just shy of the 20% bear market threshold – before recovering in dazzling fashion. The drivers today are not the same, so it’s not necessarily and indicator of what comes next. Regardless, you should be prepared for continued volatility ahead.

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, Energy, Basic Materials, Financials, Industrials, and Technology. In addition, the near-term technical picture looks bullish for at least a solid bounce, if not more (although the mid-to-long-term is still murky, subject to news developments), but our sector rotation model switched to a defensive posture last month when technical conditions weakened.

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 latest Q2 2022 Baker’s Dozen launched on 4/20/2022 and is off to a good start versus the benchmark, led by three Energy firms, with a diverse mix across market caps and industries. In addition, the live Dividend and Small Cap Growth portfolios have performed quite well relative to their benchmarks. Read on....

Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite indexes both hit new all-time highs this week on strong breadth, and all the major indexes appear to be consolidating recent gains before attempting an upside breakout. P/E multiples are expanding, particularly among large caps, as stocks rise despite a temporary slowdown in earnings growth. Why are investors bidding up stocks so aggressively? They have stopped looking over their shoulders with fear and anxiety and are instead focused on the opportunities ahead. And on that horizon, recession fears are falling, optimism regarding a US-China trade resolution is rising, US and Chinese economic data are improving, corporate profits are better than expected, and the Fed has agreed to step out of the way. All of this reduces uncertainty that typically holds back business investment. Stocks valuations are forward looking and a leading economic indicator, so they already seem to be pricing in expectations for stronger economic growth in the Q3, Q4, and 2020.

I said in my commentary last month that I thought we may see upside surprises in Q1 and Q2 earnings announcements, given the low bar that had been reset, and indeed we are seeing higher-than-average earnings beats – including big names like Apple (AAPL) and Facebook (FB), among many others – as half of the S&P 500 companies have reported. Moreover, the recent legal settlement between Apple and Qualcomm (QCOM) was a big positive news story that should now free up both companies to focus on 5G products, including step-function upgrades to smartphones, tablets, and computers, as the critical race with China for 5G dominance kicks into high gear.

Looking ahead, there are plenty of mixed signals for the economy and stocks – and no doubt the pessimists could fill a dossier with plenty of doom and gloom. But I think the pessimism has been a positive in keeping stocks from surging too exuberantly, given all the positive data that the optimists can cite. And on balance, the path of least resistance for both the economy and stocks appears to be upward. I think bond yields will continue to gradually firm up as capital rotates from bonds to equities in an improving growth and inflation environment, stabilizing the dollar (from advancing much further), while reducing the odds of a Fed rate cut in 2019. A healthy economy helps corporate earnings, while a dovish Fed keeps rates low and supports equity valuations. And as the trade war with China comes to resolution, I expect corporations will ramp up capital spending and guidance, enticing idle cash into the market and further fueling bullish conviction. Rather than an impending recession, we may be returning to the type of growth and inflation we enjoyed just prior to the tax reform bill, which would provide a predictable environment for corporate planning and steady (but not exuberant or inflationary) corporate earnings growth.

This should bode well not only for Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen portfolios, but also for our other growth and dividend-oriented portfolios, like Sabrient Dividend and Dividend Opportunity, each of which comprises 50 growth-at-a-reasonable-price (aka GARP) stocks paying an aggregate yield in excess of 4% in what is essentially a growth-and-income strategy, and perhaps our 50-stock Small Cap Growth portfolios. As a reminder, I am always happy to make time for conversations with advisors about market conditions and our portfolios. We are known for our model-driven growth-at-a-reasonable-price (GARP) approach, and our model is directing us to smaller caps, as many of the high-quality large caps that are expected to generate solid earnings growth already have been “bid up” relative to small caps.

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 also maintains a bullish posture. 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 MartindaleMore unnerving conflicts around the globe have flared up, but as usual, U.S. equity investors have given it nary a yawn as they seem to have become pretty much numb to the steady stream of unwelcome news, particularly out of the Middle East. Now we enter the summer version of earnings season.