By Scott Martindale
President, Sabrient Systems LLC

On Wednesday afternoon, the Fed came through to fulfill what was widely expected – no change to the discount rate just yet. But it did pump up its hawkish language a bit. The FOMC never wants to surprise the markets, so given that it had not telegraphed a rate hike, it simply wasn’t going to happen. Looking forward, however, given that the committee sees the balance of economic risks at an equilibrium, a hike in December looks like a slam-dunk unless something changes dramatically. Beyond that, they are essentially telegraphing two rate hikes next year, as well. The upshot is that investors were happy and dutifully responded with a strong rally across many asset classes to finish off the day.

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: Volatility returns as anticipation builds about Fed actions and elections

Stocks got a vote of confidence last week, plus some short-covering support (and perhaps some panic buying (for fear of missing out), and now the S&P 500 as of Friday is down only -2.2% YTD, and up +8% since its close on February 12. The Russell 2000 small caps are up +12% over the same timeframe. At the same time, when priced in constant US dollar, we see that Chinese stocks are down -19% YTD, Italy -14%, Germany -8%, Japan -5% (and -10% in yen), while Brazil is up +20%, Colombia +13%, Russia +9%, and Canada +5%. Read more about Sector Detector: Stocks get vote of confidence, but tough tests lie ahead

The Wall of Worry just keeps adding more bricks. Although there has been much talk about the impact of low oil prices on the U.S. high yield debt market and by extension the U.S. banks that did the lending, the bigger worry now is the stability of the European banking system. It is like 2011 all over again. Also, there continue to be signs of an insidious corporate “earnings recession.” Such headlines add to the steady stream of “worry bricks” that have so confounded disciplined fundamental investors for at least the past seven months or so. Read more about Sector Detector: Stocks rally off long-term support levels while the Wall of Worry rises ever higher

Headlines continue to dominate the trading landscape, perpetuating a news-driven trader’s market rather than allowing a healthier valuation-driven investor’s market to return to favor. After all, that’s what stock market investing is supposed to be about. Narrow market breadth and daily stock price gyrations have been driven primarily by three headline generators -- oil price, the Fed’s monetary policy, and China growth. Sure, there were many other important news items, notably the sinister course of Islamic terrorism. Read more about Sector Detector: Headlines continue to control market direction as valuation models languish

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

November got off to a strong start early last week, and the rally broadened to include financial and retail stocks. But after a torrid six weeks of bullish behavior while ignoring (or perhaps reveling in) concerns about the global economy during, U.S. stocks encountered some strong technical resistance in the middle of last week, and it has continued into Monday. The Dow Jones Transportation Index continues to a drag on the overall market, and this segment will need to gather some enthusiasm if the broader indexes are to resume their advance. Read more about Sector Detector: Bullish conviction kicks into gear, as the stars align for holiday cheer

Stocks closed last week on a strong note, with the S&P 500 notching a new high, despite lackluster economic data and growth. I have been suggesting in previous articles that stocks appeared to be coiling for a significant move but that the ingredients were not yet in place for either a major breakout or a corrective selloff. However, bulls appear to be losing patience awaiting their next definitive catalyst, and the higher-likelihood upside move may now be underway. Yet despite the bullish technical picture, this week’s fundamentals-based Outlook rankings look even more defensive. Read more about Sector Detector: Bullish technical picture appears to trump cautious fundamentals

As we get into the heart of earnings season and anticipate the GDP report for Q1, the investor spotlight has been taken off the Federal Reserve and timing of its first interest rate hike, at least temporarily. Even though Q1 economic growth will undoubtedly look weak, the future remains bright for the U.S economy – even though many multinationals will struggle with top-line growth due to the strong dollar – and any near-term selloff resulting from weak economic or earnings news should be bought yet again in expectation of better results for the balance of the year. Read more about Sector Detector: Earnings and GDP temporarily take investor spotlight off the Fed

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

Volatility continues as the parade of mixed earnings and economic reports marches along amidst a backdrop of global unrest and economic uncertainties. This has led to a neutral near-term outlook for both the technical picture and fundamentals-based sector rankings. Nevertheless, the longer-term trends appear to favor further flattening of the yield curve and continued strength in the dollar, gold, volatility, and equities. Read more about Sector Detector: Neutral indicators and mixed reports, but sector rotation model bullish