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

Market conditions remain strong for equities, in my view, with stocks being held back only by the (likely transient) trade war uncertainty. The US economy appears to be hitting on all cylinders, with the new fiscal stimulus (tax reform, deregulation) providing the long-missing ingredient for a real economic “boom cycle” to finally get some traction. For too long, the US economy had to rely solely on Federal Reserve monetary stimulus (ZIRP and QE), which served mainly to create asset inflation to support the economy (aka “Ponzi financing”), while the bulk of our working population had to endure de facto recessions in corporate profits, capital investment, and hiring. But with fiscal stimulus, corporate earnings growth is on fire, underpinned by solid revenue growth and record levels of profitability.

So far, 2Q18 earnings reporting season has come in even better than expected, with year-over-year EPS growth for S&P 500 companies approaching 24%. Even when taking out the favorable impact of lower tax rates, organic earnings growth for full-year 2018 still looks as though it will come in around the low to mid-teens.

Cautious investors are seeing the fledgling trade war as a game of brinksmanship, with positions becoming ever more entrenched. But I actually see President Trump as a free-trade advocate who is only using tariffs to force our trading partners to the bargaining table, which they have long avoided doing (and given the advantages they enjoy, why wouldn’t they avoid it?). China is the biggest bogeyman in this game, and given the challenges it faces in deleveraging its enormous debt without upsetting growth targets, not to mention shoring up its bear market in stocks, its leaders are loath to address their rampant use of state ownership, subsidy, overcapacity, tariffs, forced technology transfer, and outright theft of intellectual property to give their own businesses an unfair advantage in the global marketplace. But a trade war couldn’t come at a worse time for China.

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 still look moderately bullish, while the sector rotation model retains its bullish posture. Read on....

Scott MartindaleBy Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

The major US stock indexes continue to hold near their highs, awaiting the next upside catalyst, supported by persistently low interest rates, record share buybacks, net solid economic reports, and continued organic growth in corporate earnings – in spite of disappointments in the fiscal policy front. The S&P 500 has held solidly above 2,400, the Dow has stayed above 21,000, the Russell 2000 has held 1,400, the Tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite has held 6,000 despite a severe pullback in the market-leading large-cap Tech stocks, and oil has held above the critical $40 mark despite being in a general downtrend since the start of the year.

Recent momentum resides in Transportation, Financial, and small caps, which is a bullish development. In fact, the Dow Jones Transportation Average is setting new highs and is in full-on breakout mode.

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. In summary, our sector rankings still look slightly bullish, while the sector rotation model maintains its bullish bias and the climate overall still seems favorable for risk assets like equities – particularly dividend payers, small caps, and GARP stocks (i.e., growth companies among all caps selling at attractive forward PEG ratios). Moreover, July is typically a solid month for stocks, a strong first half typically bodes well for the second half, and the technical picture still looks favorable. Read on...

Much ado was made of China’s surprise 3% devaluation of their currency last week. But keep in mind, the yuan is pegged to the dollar, and with the dollar so strong, every major floating currency and commodity is down a lot more than that. Deflation is now a real threat. Then, there is the suddenly resolved issue of Greece’s debt (along with the worry of a domino-like fall of the entire Eurozone).

As a rather uninspiring earnings season starts to wind down, bullish investors eager for a significant catalyst from company reports instead have been left a bit flat-footed and disheartened. With consumer sentiment and retail sales flagging in key overseas markets like Europe and China, global capital continues to flow into the safety of U.S. Treasuries, driving down bond yields despite a supposedly imminent fed funds rate hike.

Well, it didn’t take long for the bulls to jump on their buying opportunity, with a little help from the bulls’ friend in the Fed. In fact, despite huge daily swings in the market averages driven by daily news regarding timing of interest rate hikes, the strength in the dollar, and oil prices, trading actually has been quite rational, honoring technical formations and support levels and dutifully selling overbought conditions and buying when oversold. Yes, the tried and true investing clichés continue to work -- “Don’t fight the Fed,” and “The trend is your friend.”

When I’m in my sales role, I view every prospective client as falling into one of two broad baskets: those looking for a reason to say yes, and those looking for a reason to say no. I always try to focus on the former and spend little time on the latter. Likewise, last week’s market was dominated by those looking for a reason to sell. And so they did. Good news in the jobs and unemployment reports spooked investors on Friday, and stocks fell hard. So, for the moment we are back to a Fed-driven good-news-is-bad-news story line, or so it would seem.

Scott MartindaleAnother solid year for U.S. equities came to a close. But it’s not like everyone is jumping up and down with enthusiasm, which is a good thing. With plenty of bogeymen in the closet and under the bed, there is little in the way of irrational exuberance.

As everyone knows, stocks do not go up in a straight line, not even during the holidays. So although the future looks bright for U.S. equities as the major indexes continue to hit or challenge new highs, the market has been gasping for a breather to gather bullish conviction. My fear has been that we might not see it until January, which likely would have resulted in a more severe correction at that time. But falling oil prices and a weak Energy sector seems to have introduced a reason to sell this week.

With warmer weather arriving to melt the early snowfall across much of the country, investors seem to be catching a severe case of holiday fever and positioning themselves for the seasonally bullish time of the year. And to give an added boost, both Europe and Asia provided more fuel for the bull’s fire last week with stimulus announcements, particularly China’s interest rate cut. Yes, all systems are go for U.S. equities as there really is no other game in town.

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