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

I haven’t written in a few weeks. That can be a lot of time for the latest news to impact the character and direction of the market, right? So, what has changed since my last article? Well, not much, really. It seems the market isn’t quite so news-driven these days; instead it has been focusing on fundamentals and the overall improvement in prospects for the economy and corporate earnings. And these things are driving it ever higher. Read more about Sector Detector: Stocks methodically march ever higher as breadth continues to improve

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

The S&P 500 large caps closed 2015 essentially flat on a total return basis, while the NASDAQ 100 showed a little better performance at +8.3% and the Russell 2000 small caps fell -5.9%. Overall, stocks disappointed even in the face of modest expectations, especially the small caps as market leadership was mostly limited to a handful of large and mega-cap darlings. Notably, the full year chart for the S&P 500 looks very much like 2011. Read more about Sector Detector: New Year brings new hope after bulls lose traction to close 2015

Is it just me or has 2015 been a particularly crazy year? From extreme weather patterns, to a circus of a Presidential election cycle, to divergent central bank strategies, to the first triple-crown winner since 1978, to terrorist plots emanating from our neighborhoods, to counterintuitive asset class behaviors, to some of the most incredible college football finishes -- just to name a few. Read more about Sector Detector: Fed sticks to the script, but not all investors are comforted

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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