By Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

Overall, it appears that the stock market continues to focus more on improving fundamentals than on the daily news. We continue to see improved market breadth, low volatility, lower sector correlations, and capital flows into higher quality companies with solid fundamentals, attractive valuations, good earnings quality, and strong market position. Small and mid-caps have been leading market segments, especially those from the Energy sector. Among large caps, Technology and Financial sectors have been strong during Q3, while defensive sectors Utilities and Telecom have pulled back across all market caps after showing inordinate strength for much of the year (although they still remain strong YTD).

All of this is bullish – and is illustrative of the healthy broadening of the market. Although some traders appear to be taking some chips off the table in deference to September’s notoriety as the worst performing month of the year, I think the path of least resistance for stocks is to the upside.

In this periodic update, I give my view of the current market environment, offer a technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review our weekly fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten U.S. business sectors, and then offer up some actionable ETF trading ideas. Read more about Sector Detector: Healthcare struggles under election campaign attacks, while Tech, Financial, and Small Caps lead an overall bullish market

The market broke out to the upside, as I predicted it would -- although the breakout came a good bit sooner than I anticipated. My expectation was that stocks would remain within their long-standing trading range until a clear upside catalyst emerged, such as improving Q2 earnings reports and forward guidance. But investors aren’t waiting around. Clearly, they are positioning in advance of the emergence of such catalysts. For now, fear of missing liftoff is stronger than fear of getting caught in a selloff. Read more about Sector Detector: Stocks break out as investors place their bets on endless monetary stimulus

After showing weakness last week and creating some bearish-looking technical formations, stocks took a turn for the better on Monday. Perhaps it was renowned value investor Warren Buffett breaking from his usual aversion to tech companies and investing $1 billion in Apple (AAPL) that gave bulls a much-needed shot of confidence. But then things went south again on Tuesday, and some commentators are surmising that the strength in some of the economic data makes investors think the Fed is more likely to raise rates, i.e., we may be back to a good-news-is-bad-news reactionary environment. Read more about Sector Detector: Global uncertainties, mixed economic signals, and summer doldrums conspire to paralyze investors

The stock market rally from the edge-of-the-cliff reversal on February 12 has continued, and an assault on the all-time highs from almost one year ago (on the S&P 500) now seems plausible. If it can hit new highs, the 7-year bull market is back in business. We are about halfway through earnings season, and after several years of record corporate earnings that were at least partly fueled by Fed policies that helped finance M&A and stock buybacks, some fear that profit margins have peaked. Read more about Sector Detector: Bullish sentiment solidifies even in the face of lofty valuations

Q2 is well underway for the economy, while Q1 corporate earnings reporting season kicks into high gear this week. Although investors have pretty much written off the quarter as a stinker, they are eagerly anticipating forward guidance for the back half of the year. With the major indexes and underlying valuations sitting at lofty heights, investors are evidently pricing in improving fundamentals ahead, particularly here at home in the U.S. Read more about Sector Detector: Investors place their bets on improving forward guidance

Q1 turned out to be one for the ages, and after some extreme moves and bouts of volatility, stocks settled down and closed out the quarter with a flourish. After falling more than -10% from the start of the year until February 11, the S&P 500 was up +6.6% in March, up +13% since February 11, and finished Q1 slightly positive at +0.8% -- and it is up +206% since the depths of March 9, 2009. Read more about Sector Detector: U.S. equities continue to attract capital as long-standing uncertainties abate

In a year in which stock prices mostly have been driven by news rather than fundamentals, three things stood out last week. First, terrorism has taken on an unsettling new face -- the stay-at-home mom down the street or your long-time co-worker at the plant -- as the dark side of the exponential growth in social media rears its ugly head (with something much more sinister than porn sites or online bullying). Second, with the strong jobs report on Friday, the Federal Reserve seems to have all their ducks in a row to justify the first fed funds rate hike in nine years. Read more about Sector Detector: Sector rotation model stays bullish, although fundamental rankings are still stuck in neutral

Some weeks when I write this article there is little new to talk about from the prior week. It’s always the Fed, global QE, China growth, election chatter, oil prices, etc. And then there are times like this in which there is so much happening that I don’t know where to start. Of course, the biggest market-moving news came the weekend before last when Paris was put face-to-face with the depths of human depravity and savagery. And yet the stock market responded with its best week of the year. Read more about Sector Detector: Bulls wrest back control of market direction, despite global adversity

After a brief pullback to retest support levels, it appears that bulls may be preparing to take the market higher. Although retail investors are still hesitant, risk-taking among institutions is apparent. Cheap cash from abundant global liquidity is hungry for higher returns. Margin debt is high. Credit spreads are low. Subprime loans are back in vogue. Small caps and the banking sector in particular look ready to resume a leadership role. Read more about Sector Detector: Bulls may be getting ready to push stocks higher

Early last week, stocks broke out, with the S&P 500 setting a new high with blue skies overhead. But then the market basically flat-lined for the rest of the week as bulls just couldn’t gather the fuel and conviction to take prices higher. In fact, the technical picture now has turned a bit defensive, at least for the short term, thus joining what has been a neutral-to-defensive tilt to our fundamentals-based Outlook rankings. Read more about Sector Detector: Stocks provide a tepid breakout as Fed greases the skids. So now what?

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