Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

You might not have realized it given the technical consolidation in March, but Q1 2019 ended up giving the S&P 500 its best Q1 performance of the new millennium, and the best quarterly performance (of any quarter) since Q3 2009. Investors could be forgiven for thinking the powerful rally from Christmas Eve through February was nothing more than a proverbial “dead cat bounce,” given all the negative news about a global economic slowdown, the still-unresolved trade skirmish with China, a worsening Brexit, reductions to US corporate earnings estimates, and the Fed’s sudden about-face on rate hikes. But instead, stocks finished Q1 with a flourish and now appear to be poised to take another run at all-time highs. The S&P 500, for example, entered Q2 less than 4% below its all-time high.

Overall, we still enjoy low unemployment, rising wages, and strong consumer sentiment, as well as a supportive Fed (“Don’t fight the Fed!”) keeping rates “lower for longer” (and by extension, debt servicing expenses and discount rates for equity valuation) and maintaining $1.5 trillion in excess reserves in the financial system. Likewise, the ECB extended its pledge to keep rates at record lows, and China has returned to fiscal and monetary stimulus to revive its flagging growth stemming from the trade war. Meanwhile, Corporate America has been quietly posting record levels of dividends and share buybacks, as well as boosting its capital expenditures – which is likely to accelerate once a trade deal with China is signed (which just became more likely with the apparently-benign findings of the Mueller investigation). In addition, the bellwether semiconductor industry is presenting a more upbeat tone and an upturn from a cyclical bottom (due to temporary oversupply), while crude oil has broken out above overhead resistance at $60.

On the other hand, there is some understandable concern that US corporate earnings forecasts have been revised downward to flat or negative for the first couple of quarters of 2019. Of course, it would be preferable to see a continuation of the solid earnings growth and profitability of last year, but the good news is that revenue growth is projected to remain solid (at least 4.5% for all quarters), and then earnings is expected to return to a growth track in 2H2019. Moreover, the concurrent reduction in the discount rate (due to lower interest rates) is an offsetting factor for stock valuations.

All of this leads me to believe that economic conditions remain generally favorable for stocks. In addition, I think we may see upside surprises in Q1 and Q2 earnings announcements, especially given the low bar that has been reset. But it also may mean that investors will become more selective, with some stocks doing quite well even if the broad market indexes show only modest growth this year.

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 and the technical picture suggests an imminent upside breakout, while the sector rotation model maintains its a bullish posture. Read on…

Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

After an “investor’s paradise” year in 2017 – buoyed by ultra-low levels of volatility, inflation, and interest rates, and fueled even more by the promise of fiscal stimulus (which came to fruition by year end) – 2018 was quite different. First, it endured a long overdue correction in February that reminded investors that volatility is not dead, and the market wasn’t quite the same thereafter, as investors’ attention focused on escalating trade wars and central bank monetary tightening, leading to a defensive risk-off rotation mid-year and ultimately to new lows, a “technical bear market” (in the Nasdaq and Russell 2000), and the worst year for stocks since the 2008 financial crisis. Then, it was confronted with the Brexit negotiations falling apart, Italy on the verge of public debt default, violent “yellow vest” protests in France, key economies like China and Germany reporting contractionary economic data, and bellwether companies like FedEx (FDX) and Apple (AAPL) giving gloomy sales forecasts that reflect poorly on the state of the global economy. The list of obstacles seems endless.

Moreover, US stocks weren’t the only asset class to take a beating last year. International equities fared even worse. Bonds, oil and commodities, most systematic strategies, and even cryptocurrencies all took a hit. A perfect scenario for gold to flourish, right? Wrong, gold did poorly, too. There was simply nowhere to hide. Deutsche Bank noted that 93% of global financial markets had negative returns in 2018, the worst such performance in the 117-year history of its data set. It was a bad year for market beta, as diversification didn’t offer any help.

Not surprisingly, all of this has weighed heavily upon investor sentiment, even though the US economy, corporate earnings, and consumer sentiment have remained quite strong, with no recession in sight and given low inflation and interest rates. So, despite the generally positive fundamental outlook, investors in aggregate chose to take a defensive risk-off posture, ultimately leading to a massive selloff – accentuated by the rise of passive investing and the dominance of algorithmic trading – that did huge technical damage to the chart and crushed investor sentiment.

But fear not. There may be a silver lining to all of this, as it has created a superb buying opportunity, and it may finally spell a return to a more selective stock-picker’s market, with lower correlations and higher performance dispersion. Moreover, my expectation for 2019 is for a de-escalation in the trade war with China, a more accommodative Fed, and for higher stock prices ahead. Forward valuations overall have become exceedingly attractive, especially in the cyclical sectors that typically flourish in a growing economy.

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. Read on…