Scott Martindaleby Scott Martindale
  President & CEO, Sabrient Systems LLC

To be sure, 2023 was another eventful year (they just keep coming at us, don’t they?), ranging from escalating hot wars to a regional banking crisis, rising interest rates, falling inflation, a dire migration crisis, and an AI-driven frenzy in the so-called “Magnificent Seven” (MAG7) corporate titans— Meta Platforms (META, ne: FB), Apple (AAPL), Nvidia (NVDA), Alphabet (GOOGL), Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon (AMZN), and Tesla (TSLA), aka “FANGMAT,” as I used to call them—which as a group contributed roughly 60% to the S&P 500’s +26.2% gain in 2023. Their hyper-growth means that they now make up roughly 30% of the index. Nvidia (NVDA), whose semiconductors have become essential for AI applications, was the best performer for the full year at +239%.

Small caps finally found some life late in the year, with the Russell 2000 small cap index essentially keeping up with the S&P 500 starting in May and significantly outperforming in December. Bonds also made a big comeback late in the year on Fed-pivot optimism, which allowed the traditional 60/40 stock/bond allocation portfolio to enjoy a healthy return, which I’m sure made a lot of investors and their advisors happy given that 60/40 had been almost left for dead. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) has been below 20 for virtually the entirety of 2023 and as low as 11.81 in December, closing the year at 12.45. Also, as a breadth indicator, the percentage of stocks that finished the year above their 200-day moving average hit 75%, which is bullish.

Nevertheless, the Russell 2000 (+16.8%) and the equal-weight version of the S&P 500 (+13.7%) were up much less for the full year than the cap-weighted S&P 500 (+26.2%) and Nasdaq 100 (+54.9%). In fact, 72% of the stocks in the S&P 500 underperformed the overall index for the full year, illustrating that despite the improvement in breadth during the second half of the year, it could not overcome the huge outperformance of a small cohort of dominant companies. This suggests that either the market is set up for a fall in 2024 (as those dominant companies sell off) …or we’ll get a continued broadening into other high-quality companies, including mid- and small caps. I think it will be the latter—but not without some volatility and a significant pullback. Indeed, despite signaling investor confidence and complacency by remaining low for a long stretch, the VIX appears to be ripe for a spike in volatility. I think we could see a significant market correction during H1 (perhaps to as low as 4,500 on the S&P 500) even if, as I expect, real GDP growth slows but remains positive and disinflationary trends continue, supporting real wage growth and real yields—before seeing an H2 rally into (and hopefully following) the November election. And don’t forget there’s a potential tsunami of cash from the $6 trillion held in money market funds, as interest rates fall, much of it may well find its way into stocks.

Not surprisingly, last year ended with some tax-loss harvesting (selling of big losers), and then the new year began last week with some tax-gain harvesting—i.e., selling of big winners to defer tax liability on capital gains into 2024. There also has been some notable rotation of capital last week into 2023’s worst performers that still display strong earnings growth potential and solid prospects for a rebound this year, such as those in the Healthcare, Utilities, and Consumer Staples sectors. Homebuilders remain near all-time highs and should continue to find a tailwind as a more dovish Fed means lower mortgage rates and a possible housing boom. Energy might be interesting as well, particularly LPG shipping (a big winner last year) due to its growing demand in Europe and Asia.

As I discussed in my December commentary, I also like the prospects for longer-duration bonds, commodities, oil, gold, and uranium miner stocks this year, as well as physical gold, silver, and cryptocurrency as stores of value in an uncertain macro climate. Also, while Chinese stocks are near 4-year lows, many other international markets are near multi-year highs (including Europe and Japan), particularly as central banks take a more accommodative stance. Indeed, Sabrient’s SectorCast ETF rankings show high scores for some international-focused ETFs (as discussed later in this post).

While stocks rallied in 2023 (and bonds made a late-year comeback) mainly due to speculation on a Fed pivot toward lower interest rates (which supports valuations), for 2024 investors will want to see more in the way of actual earnings growth and other positive developments for the economy. I expect something of a “normalization” away from extreme valuation differentials and continued improvement in market breadth, whether it’s outperformance by last year’s laggards or a stagnation/pullback among last year’s biggest winners (especially if there are fewer rate cuts than anticipated)—or perhaps a bit of both. Notably, the S&P 500 historically has risen 20 of the last 24 election years (83%); however, a recent Investopedia poll shows that the November election is the biggest worry among investors right now, so it’s possible all the chaos, wailing and gnashing of teeth about Trump’s candidacy will make this election year unique with respect to stocks.

Regardless, I continue to believe that investors will be better served this year by active strategies that can identify and exploit performance dispersion among stocks across the capitalization spectrum—particularly smaller caps and the underappreciated, high-quality/low-valuation growers. Small caps tend to carry debt and be more sensitive to interest rates, so they have the potential to outperform when interest rates fall, but you should focus on stocks with an all-weather product line, a robust growth forecast, a solid balance sheet, and customer loyalty, which makes them more likely to withstand market volatility—which may well include those must-have, AI-oriented Tech stocks. Much like the impact of the Internet in the 1990s, AI/ML, blockchain/distributed ledger technologies (DLTs), and quantum computing appear to be the “it” technologies of the 2020’s that make productivity and efficiency soar. However, as I discuss in today’s post, the power requirements will be immense and rise exponentially. So, perhaps this will add urgency to what might become the technology of the 2030’s—i.e., nuclear fusion.

On that note, let me remind you that Sabrient’s actively selected portfolios include the Baker’s Dozen (a concentrated 13-stock portfolio offering the potential for significant outperformance), Small Cap Growth (an alpha-seeking alternative to a passive index like the Russell 2000), and Dividend (a growth plus income strategy paying a 4.5% current yield).

By the way, several revealing economic reports were released last week, which I discuss in today’s post. One was the December reading on the underappreciated New York Federal Reserve Global Supply Chain Pressure Index (GSCPI), which has fallen precipitously from it pandemic-era high and now is fluctuating around the zero line. This historically suggests falling inflation readings ahead. As for the persistently inverted yield curve, I continue to believe it has more to do with the unprecedented supply chain shocks coupled with massive fiscal and monetary stimulus to maintain demand and the resulting surge in inflation, which as observed by Alpine Macro, “makes the inversion more reflective of different inflation expectations than a signal for an impending recession.”

Also, although M2 money supply fell -4.6% from its all-time high in July 2022 until its low in April 2023, it has essentially flatlined since then and in fact has been largely offset to a great extent by an increase in the velocity of money supply. Also, we have a robust jobs market that has slowed but is far from faltering. And then there is the yield curve inversion that has been gradually flattening from a low of about -108 bps last July to -35 bps today.

I discuss all of this in greater detail in today’s post, including several illustrative tables and charts. I also discuss Sabrient’s latest fundamentals based SectorCast quantitative rankings of the ten U.S. business sectors (which is topped by Technology), current positioning of our sector rotation model (which turned bullish in early November and remains so), and some actionable ETF trading ideas.

Overall, I expect inflation will resume its decline, even with positive GDP growth, particularly given stagnant money supply growth, mending and diversifying supply chains (encompassing manufacturing, transportation, logistics, energy, and labor), falling or stabilizing home sale prices and new leases, slowing wage inflation, slower consumer spending on both goods and services, and a strong deflationary impulse from China due to its economic malaise and “dumping” of consumer goods to shore up its manufacturing (US imports from China were down 25% in 2023 vs. 2022). This eventually will give the Fed (and indeed, other central banks) license to begin cutting rates—likely by mid-year, both to head off renewed crises in banking and housing and to mitigate growing strains on highly leveraged businesses, consumers, government, and trading partners. Current CBOE fed funds futures suggest a 98% chance of at least 100 bps in rate cuts by year end (target rate of 4.25-4.50%), and 54% chance of at least 150 bps.

Click here to continue reading my full commentary … or if you prefer, here is a link to this post in printable PDF format (as some of my readers have requested). And please feel free to share my full post with your friends, colleagues, and clients! You also can sign up for email delivery of this periodic newsletter at Sabrient.com

Scott Martindale  by Scott Martindale
  President & CEO, Sabrient Systems LLC

First off, I am pleased to announce that Sabrient’s Q1 2021 Baker’s Dozen portfolio launched on January 20th! I am particularly excited because, whereas last year we were hopeful based on our testing that our enhanced portfolio selection process would provide better “all-weather” performance, this year we have seen solid evidence (over quite a range of market conditions!) that a better balance between secular and cyclical growth companies and across market caps has indeed provided significantly improved performance relative to the benchmark. Our secular-growth company selections have been notably strong, particularly during the periods of narrow Tech-driven leadership, and then later the cyclical, value, and smaller cap names carried the load as both investor optimism and market breadth expanded. I discuss the Baker’s Dozen model portfolio long-term performance history in greater detail in today’s post.

As a reminder, you can go to http://bakersdozen.sabrient.com/bakers-dozen-marketing-materials to find our “talking points” sheet that describes each of the 13 stocks in the new portfolio as well as my latest Baker’s Dozen presentation slide deck and commentary on the terminating portfolios (December 2019 and Q1 2020).

No doubt, 2020 was a challenging and often terrifying year. But it wasn’t all bad, especially for those who both stayed healthy and enjoyed the upper leg of the “K-shaped” recovery (in which some market segments like ecommerce/WFH thrived while other segments like travel/leisure were in a depression). In my case, although I dealt with a mild case of COVID-19 last June, I was able to spend way more time with my adult daughters than I previously thought would ever happen again, as they came to live with me and my wife for much of the year while working remotely. There’s always a silver lining.

With President Biden now officially in office, stock investors have not backed off the gas pedal at all.  And why would they when they see virtually unlimited global liquidity, including massive pro-cyclical fiscal and monetary stimulus that is likely to expand even further given Democrat control of the legislative triumvirate (President, House, and Senate) plus a dovish Fed Chair and Treasury nominee? In addition, investors see low interest rates, low inflation, effective vaccines and therapeutics being rolled out globally, pent-up consumer demand for travel and entertainment, huge cash balances on the sidelines (including $5 trillion in money market funds), imminent calming of international trade tensions, an expectation of big government spending programs, enhanced stimulus checks, a postponement in any new taxes or regulations (until the economy is on stronger footing), improving economic reports and corporate earnings outlooks, strong corporate balance sheets, and of course, an unflagging entrepreneurial spirit bringing the innovation, disruption, and productivity gains of rapidly advancing technologies.

Indeed, I continue to believe we are entering an expansionary economic phase that could run for at least the next few years, and investors should be positioned for both cyclical and secular growth. (Guggenheim CIO Scott Minerd said it might be a “golden age of prosperity.”) Moreover, I expect fundamental active selection, strategic beta ETFs, and equal weighting will outperform the cap-weighted passive indexes that have been so hard to beat over the past few years. If things play out as expected, this should be favorable for Sabrient’s enhanced growth-at-a-reasonable-price (aka GARP) approach, which combines value, growth, and quality factors. Although the large-cap, secular-growth stocks are not going away, their prices have already been bid up quite a bit, so the rotation into and outperformance of quality, value, cyclical-growth, and small-mid caps over pure growth, momentum, and minimum volatility factors since mid-May is likely to continue this year, as will a desire for high-quality dividend payers, in my view.

We also believe Healthcare will continue to be a leading sector in 2021 and beyond, given the rapid advancements in biomedical technology, diagnostics, genomics, precision medicine, medical devices, robotic surgery, and pharmaceutical development, much of which are enabled by 5G, AI, and 3D printing, not to mention expanding access, including affordable health plans and telehealth.

In this periodic update, I provide a comprehensive market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals-based SectorCast quant rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. To summarize, our outlook is bullish (although not without some bouts of volatility), the sector rankings reflect a moderately bullish bias, the longer-term technical picture remains strong (although it is near-term extended such that a pullback is likely), and our sector rotation model retains its bullish posture. Read on….

Scott Martindale  by Scott Martindale
  President & CEO, Sabrient Systems LLC

By some measures, the month of November was the best month for global stock markets in over 20 years, and the rally has carried on into December. Here in the US, the S&P 500 (SPY) gained +12.2% since the end of October through Friday’s close, while the SPDR S&P 400 MidCap (MDY) rose +18.1% and the SPDR S&P 600 SmallCap (SLY) +24.3%. In fact, November was the biggest month ever for small caps. Notably, the Dow broke through the magic 30,000 level with conviction and is now testing it as support. But more importantly in my view, we have seen a significant and sustained risk-on market rotation in what some have termed the “reopening trade,” led by small caps, the value factor, and cyclical sectors. Moreover, equal-weight indexes have outperformed over the same timeframe (10/30/20-12/11/20), illustrating improving market breadth. For example, the Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight (RSP) was up +16.9% and the Invesco S&P 600 SmallCap Equal Weight (EWSC) an impressive +29.5%.

As the populace says good riddance to 2020, it is evident that emergency approval of COVID-19 vaccines (which were developed incredibly fast through Operation Warp Speed) and an end to a rancorous election cycle that seems to have resulted in a divided federal government (i.e., gridlocked, which markets historically seem to like) has goosed optimism about the economy and reignited “animal spirits” – as has President-elect Biden’s plan to nominate the ultra-dovish former Federal Reserve Chairperson Janet Yellen for Treasury Secretary. Interestingly, according to the WSJ, the combination of a Democratic president, Republican Senate, and Democratic House has not occurred since 1886 (we will know if it sticks after the Georgia runoff). Nevertheless, if anyone thinks our government might soon come to its collective senses regarding the short-term benefits but long-term damage of ZIRP, QE, and Modern Monetary Theory, they should think again. The only glitch right now is the impasse in Congress about the details inside the next stimulus package. And there is one more significant boost that investors expect from Biden, and that is a reduction in the tariffs and trade conflict with China that wreaked so much havoc on investor sentiment towards small caps, value, and cyclicals. I talk more about that below.

Going forward, absent another exogenous shock, I think the reopening trade is sustainable and the historic imbalances in Value/Growth and Small/Large performance ratios will continue to gradually revert and market leadership broadens, which is good for the long-term health of the market. The reined-in economy with its pent-up demand is ready to bust the gates, bolstered by virtually unlimited global liquidity and massive pro-cyclical fiscal and monetary stimulus here at home (with no end in sight), as well as low interest rates (aided by the Fed’s de facto yield curve control), low tax rates, rising inflation (but likely below central bank targets), and the innovation, disruption, and productivity gains of rapidly advancing technologies. And although the major cap-weighted indexes (led by mega-cap Tech names) have already largely priced this in, there is reason to believe that earnings estimates are on the low side for 2021 and stocks have more room to run to the upside. Moreover, I expect active selection, strategic beta ETFs, and equal weighting will outperform.

On that note, Sabrient has been pitching to some prominent ETF issuers a variety of rules-based, strategic-beta indexes based on various combinations of our seven core quantitative models, along with compelling backtest simulations. If you would like more information, please feel free to send me an email.

As a reminder, we enhanced our growth-at-a-reasonable-price (aka GARP) quantitative model just about 12 months ago (starting with the December 2019 Baker’s Dozen), and so our newer Baker’s Dozen portfolios reflect better balance between secular and cyclical growth and across large/mid/small market caps, with markedly improved performance relative to the benchmark S&P 500, even with this year’s continued market bifurcation between Growth/Value factors and Large/Small caps. But at the same time, they are also positioned for increased market breadth as well as an ongoing rotation to value, cyclicals, and small caps. So, in my humble opinion, this provides solid justification for an investor to take a fresh look at Sabrient’s portfolios today.

In this periodic update, I provide a comprehensive market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals-based SectorCast quant rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. To summarize, our outlook is bullish (although not without bouts of volatility), the sector rankings reflect a moderately bullish bias (as the corporate outlook is gaining visibility), the technical picture looks solid, and our sector rotation model is in a bullish posture. In other words, we believe “the stars are aligned” for additional upside in the US stock market – as well as in emerging markets and alternatives (including hard assets, gold, and cryptocurrencies).

As a reminder, you can go to http://bakersdozen.sabrient.com/bakers-dozen-marketing-materials to find my latest Baker’s Dozen presentation slide deck and commentary on terminating portfolios. Read on….

Scott Martindale  by Scott Martindale
  President & CEO, Sabrient Systems LLC

Well, the election is finally upon us, and most folks on either side of the aisle seem to think that the stakes couldn’t be higher. That might be true. But for the stock market, I think removing the uncertainty will send stocks higher in a “relief rally” no matter who wins, as additional COVID stimulus, an infrastructure spending bill, and better corporate planning visibility are just a few of the slam-dunk catalysts. Either way, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is here, as both sides seem to agree that the only way to prevent a COVID-induced depression in a highly indebted economy is to print even more money and become even more leveraged and indebted. Now investors can only anxiously pray for a clean, uncontested election, followed soon by a reopening of schools and businesses. Stocks surely would soar.

Of course, certain industries might be favored over others depending upon the party in power, but in general I expect greater market breadth and higher prices into year-end and into the New Year. However, last week, given the absence of a COVID vaccine and additional fiscal stimulus plus the resurgence of COVID-19 in the US and Europe, not to mention worries of a contested election that ends up in the courts, stocks fell as investors took chips off the table and raised cash to ride out the volatility and prepare for the next buying opportunity. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) even spiked above 41 last week and closed Friday at 38, which is in panic territory (although far below the all-time high of 85.47 in March).

Nevertheless, even as the market indices fell (primarily due to profit-taking among the bigger growth names that had run so high), many of the neglected value stocks have held up pretty well. And lest you forget, global liquidity is abundant and continuing to rise (no matter who wins the election) – and searching for higher returns than ultra-low (or even negative) government and sovereign debt obligations are yielding.

All in all, this year has been a bit deceiving. While the growth-oriented, cap-weighted indexes have been in a strong bull market thanks to a handful of mega-cap Tech names, the broader market essentially has been in a downtrend since mid-2018, making it very difficult for any valuation-oriented portfolio or equal-weight index to keep up. However, since mid-July (and especially since the September lows) we have seen signs of a nascent rotation into value/cyclicals/small caps, which is a bullish sign of a healthy market. Institutional buyers are back, and they are buying the higher-quality stocks, encouraged by solid Q3 earnings reports.

Going forward, our expectation is that the historic imbalances in Value/Growth and Small/Large performance ratios will continue to gradually revert and market leadership will broaden such that strategic beta ETFs, active selection, and equal weighting will thrive once again. This should be favorable for value, quality, and growth at a reasonable price (GARP) strategies like Sabrient’s, although not to the exclusion of the unstoppable secular growth industries. In other words, investors should be positioned for both cyclical and secular growth.

Notably, Sabrient has enhanced its GARP strategy by adding our new Growth Quality Rank (GQR), which rewards companies with more consistent and reliable earnings growth, putting secular-growth stocks on more competitive footing in the rankings with cyclical growth (even though their forward valuations are often higher than our GARP model previously rewarded). As a result, our newer Baker’s Dozen portfolios launched since December 2019 reflect better balance between secular growth and cyclical/value stocks and across large/mid/small market caps. And those portfolios have shown markedly improved performance relative to the benchmark, even with this year’s continued bifurcation. Names like Adobe (ADBE), Autodesk (ADSK), Digital Turbine (APPS), Amazon (AMZN), Charter Communications (CHTR), NVIDIA (NVDA), and SolarEdge Technologies (SEDG) became eligible with the addition of GQR, and they have been top performers. But at the same time, our portfolios are also well-positioned for a broadening or rotation to value, cyclicals, and small caps. In addition, our three Small Cap Growth portfolios that have launched during 2020 using the same enhanced selection process are all nicely outperforming their benchmark. So, IMHO, this provides solid justification for an investor to take a fresh look at Sabrient’s portfolios today.

In this periodic update, I provide a comprehensive market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, I expect stocks to move higher once the election results are finalized – but with plenty of volatility along the way until the economy is fully unleashed from its COVID shackles. In addition, our sector rankings reflect a moderately bullish bias (as the corporate outlook is starting to clear up), the technical picture looks ready for at least a modest bullish bounce from last week’s profit-taking, and our sector rotation model retains its neutral posture. As a reminder, you can go to http://bakersdozen.sabrient.com/bakers-dozen-marketing-materials to find my latest Baker’s Dozen slide deck and commentary on terminating portfolios. Read on....