By Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

As Q3 came to a close, investors continued to show cautious optimism and the S&P 500 posted a gain for the fourth straight quarter. After a lengthy period of time in which markets were buffeted by the daily news about oil prices, jobs reports, Fed rate hike intentions, China growth, Brexit, US economic expansion/contraction, Zika virus, and ISIS inspired attacks, the focus has switched back to improving fundamentals.

In particular, as Q3 earnings reporting season gets started, there remains a broad expectation that the corporate “earnings recession” has bottomed and that companies will start showing better earnings growth (hopefully driven by revenue growth), particularly in the beaten-down market segments like Energy and Materials. I think the only thing holding back stocks right now is investor uncertainty about market reaction to two things: a potential Trump presidential victory and to the next Fed rate hike (expected on December 14). From a technical standpoint, the spring is coiling tightly for big move.

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. Overall, our sector rankings look relatively bullish, although the sector rotation model still suggests a neutral stance. Read more about Sector Detector: Stocks coil as Q3 earnings take the stage and election campaigns heat up

The Fed’s decision to not raise the fed funds rate at this time was ultimately taken by the market as a no-confidence vote on our economic health, which just added to the fear and uncertainty that was already present. Rather than cheering the decision, market participants took the initial euphoric rally as a selling opportunity, and the proverbial wall of worry grew a bit higher. Read more about Sector Detector: No rate hike translates into heightened wall of worry

For those investors who thought there might be a quick V-bottom recovery in the markets like we saw last October, they have been sorely disappointed. Last week, the Dow Industrials fell -3.2%, the S&P 500 large caps fell -3.4%, the Nasdaq was down -3.0%, and the Russell 2000 small caps dropped -2.3%.From a technical standpoint, most chartists agree that much damage has been done to the charts and the market seems quite vulnerable and likely to retest lows. Market breadth is poor. And from a fundamental standpoint, the list of concerns is long. Read more about Sector Detector: Fear and uncertainty hamper a quick turnaround in stocks

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. Read more about Sector Detector: Rankings take a defensive turn as bulls lack a suitable catalyst to sustain a rally

Last week, stocks cycled bullish yet again. In fact, the S&P 500, NYSE Composite, and NASDAQ each closed at record highs as investors positioned for the heart of earnings season in the wake of strong reports from some of the Tech giants. Notably, Utilities stocks got some renewed traction as yield-starved investors returned to the sector. Read more about Sector Detector: Sector rotation model stays bullish, but neutral rankings and technical resistance flash caution

In the ongoing bad-news-is-good-news saga, last week’s surprisingly weak jobs report led to speculation that the Fed would delay hiking interest rates, which is perceived as a positive for equity investors. So, bulls are getting a boost for the moment, although those previously hard-won round-number price levels for the major indexes are now serving as ominous overhead resistance that will likely require a strong new catalyst to break through. Whether stocks are destined for downside or upside from here, Q1 earnings season starts this week and will likely provide the catalyst. Read more about Sector Detector: Stocks grind into neutral, hoping to find a new catalyst in earnings season

Last week, the major indexes fell back below round-number thresholds that had taken a lot of effort to eclipse. There has been an ongoing ebb-and-flow of capital between risk-on and risk-off, including high sector correlations, which is far from ideal. But at the end of it all, the S&P 500 found itself right back on top of long-standing support and poised for a bounce, and Monday’s action proved yet again that bulls are determined to defend their long-standing uptrend line. Read more about Sector Detector: Defensive sectors lead hesitant market, but traders honor long-standing bullish support

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.” Read more about Sector Detector: Bulls retake the wheel, with a little help from their friends at the Fed

Volatility reigned in January on elevated volume as stock investors shifted their focus from global events to U.S. earnings reports, which have ranged from amazing (e.g., Apple) to crushing (e.g., Microsoft). Although the earnings reports have brought plenty of surprises, the volatility is no surprise, as I and many other market commentators predicted for the New Year. Read more about Sector Detector: Volatility continues as earnings reports create excitement and despair

Last week, the S&P 500 put an end to its streak of weekly losses, despite giving back some gains on Friday. Thursday provided the big catalyst, with the ECB’s announcement of its bold new monetary stimulus plan. Investors were cheered and soothed for the moment. And U.S. fundamentals still look strong. Read more about Sector Detector: With the Fed fading into shadows, investors look overseas for new catalysts

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