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

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

The market has provided a nerve-wracking amusement park ride for those with the stomach to hang in there. Of course, the Brexit vote caused a nasty selloff due to the uncertainty of what comes next and the long-term ramifications, but the ensuing recovery was just as swift. At the end of it all, stocks are right back where they have been, mired in the same long-standing trading range but apparently (in my opinion) more inclined to find some sort of upside catalyst. Read more about Sector Detector: Stocks remain inside their long-standing trading range, but an upside breakout grows more likely

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

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

Last week, the S&P 500 put up its best week of the year, closing above key psychological levels and breaking through bearish technical resistance, with bulls largely inspired by the dovish FOMC meeting minutes. But this year’s market has been news-driven and quite difficult for traders to read. Even our fundamentals-based and quality-oriented quant models have struggled to perform. Read more about Sector Detector: Bulls rally, but bears lurk

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

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 to increase in the stock market and many of the leaders are breaking down. In particular, semiconductors took a rather big hit when one of the bellwethers warned of weakening global demand. Nevertheless, despite the significant headwinds, I do not think this spells the end of the bull market. But the technical damage to the charts is severe, particularly to the small caps, which are in full-blown correction mode. The large caps must show leadership and rally immediately -- or it will put at risk the critical and widely-anticipated year-end rally. Read more about Sector Detector: Semiconductors get slammed as investors scramble to protect profits

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