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

So far this year, the Federal Reserve has been removing liquidity from the markets via rate hikes and quantitative tightening, hence the 1H22 crash. But stocks have rallied strongly since the mid-June lows on the growing belief that the Fed will make one more rate hike in September and then pause ahead of the midterm elections – and perhaps even start cutting rates in the New Year. However, many others remain adamant that the Fed is committed to keep raising rates until it is clear that inflation is under control.

I remain of the belief that the hyper-financialization of the US and global economies means that rising rates could cripple debt-addicted businesses and governments (including our own federal government!), and the housing market (which is critical for a healthy consumer) depends upon mortgage rates stabilizing soon. And as the dollar further strengthens (it just went above parity with the Euro!) given the relatively higher interest rates paid by the US, some emerging market economies with dollar-denominated debt may be forced to default. In other words, today’s financial system simply can’t handle much higher rates – which suggests the Fed may already be at or near the elusive “neutral rate” and will ultimately choose to live with elevated inflation.

Earnings season has turned out better than expected, even though profit margins have been challenged by inflationary pressures. Still, at an estimate of about 12.4% (down from a record 12.8% in Q1), profit margins remain well above the 5-year average of 10.8%, according to FactSet. After a long period of low and falling inflation, massive monetary and fiscal stimulus combined with extreme supply chain disruptions (including lockdowns in manufacturing centers, labor shortages, logistics bottlenecks, and elevated energy and labor costs) sent inflation soaring. This cut into profit margins (albeit less than many predicted), as did falling US labor force productivity, which has seen its worst drop so far this year since 1948, according to DataTrek.

But now, inflation is showing signs of retreating due to both demand destruction and mending supply chains (including lower energy, commodity, and shipping costs), as well as a strong dollar. U.S. business inventories are up such that the important inventory/sales ratio is back to near pre-pandemic levels, which is disinflationary. Moreover, productivity-enhancing technologies continue to proliferate along with other disinflationary structural trends, which I believe will reverse the troublesome recent trend in labor productivity and help to contain costs and boost profitability – leading to rising corporate earnings and real wages, which together reflect a healthy and sustainable economy and stock market. All of this is of critical importance because the direction of interest rates and stock prices largely depend upon the direction of inflation and the Fed’s reaction to it.

In addition, positive catalysts like an end to Russia’s war on Ukraine or China’s COVID lockdowns, and/or a Republican sweep in November that brings greater support for domestic oil & gas production, all would be expected to hasten improvement in supply chains and have an immediate impact on inflation. In other words, compared to prior inflationary periods in history, it seems to me that there is a lot more potential on the supply side of the equation to alleviate inflation rather relying primarily on Fed policy to depress the demand side.

So, what comes next? I suggested in my late-June post that there were numerous signs of a market capitulation, and indeed the market has roared back. The big questions are whether we have seen the lows for the year and whether we will see new highs; whether this has been simply a strong bear-market rally or the start of a new bull market. I believe the current pullback is simply a normal reaction to the extremely overbought technical conditions after such a strong (nearly monotonic) rally. It simply ran into a brick wall at the convergence of the May highs and the 200-day moving average, mostly due to buyer exhaustion. In fact, some traders have observed that the S&P 500 historically has never fallen to new lows after retracing more than 50% of its bear-market losses, as it has done. I talk more about this in my full post.

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 SectorCast rankings reflect a bullish bias, with 5 of the top 6 scorers being cyclical sectors. In addition, the technical picture looks short-term bearish but longer term bullish, and our sector rotation model has taken on a neutral posture (at least until the S&P 500 retakes its 200-day moving average). I also offer up a political comment that you might want to ponder. Read on…

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

Stocks continued their bullish charge from the pandemic selloff low on 3/23/20 into early-June, finally stumbling over the past several days due to a combination of overbought technicals, a jump in COVID cases as the economy tries to reopen, and the Fed giving grim commentary on the pace of recovery. But then of course Fed chair Jerome Powell (aka Superman) swooped in this week to save the day, this time to shore up credit markets with additional liquidity by expanding bond purchases into individual corporate bonds rather than just through bond ETFs. But despite unprecedented monetary and fiscal policies, there are many prominent commentators who consider this record-setting recovery rally to be an unwarranted and unsustainable “blow-off top” to a liquidity-driven speculative bubble that is destined for another harsh selloff. They think stocks are pricing in a better economy in the near-term than we enjoyed before the pandemic hit, when instead normalization is likely years away.

Certainly, the daily news and current fundamentals suggest that investors should stay defensive. But stocks always price a future vision 6-12 months in advance, and investors are betting on better times ahead. Momentum, technicals, fear of missing out (FOMO), and timely actions from our Federal Reserve have engendered a broad-based bullish foundation to this market that appears much healthier than anything displayed over the past five years, which was marked by cautious sentiment due to populist upheaval, political polarization, Brexit, trade wars, an attempt to “normalize” interest rates following several years of zero interest-rate policy (ZIRP), and the narrow leadership of the five famed mega-cap “FAAAM” Tech stocks – namely Microsoft (MSFT), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOG), and Facebook (FB).

Equal-weight indexes solidly outperformed the cap-weighted versions during the recovery rally from the selloff low on 3/23/20 through the peak on 6/8/20. For example, while the S&P 500 cap-weighted index returned an impressive +45%, the equal weight version returned +58%. Likewise, expanded market breadth is good for Sabrient, as our Baker’s Dozen portfolios ranged from +62% to +83% (and an average of +74%) during that same timeframe, led by the neglected small-mid caps and cyclical sectors. Our Forward Looking Value, Small Cap Growth, and Dividend portfolios also substantially outperformed – and all of them employ versions of our growth at a reasonable price (GARP) selection approach.

Although the past week since 6/8/20 has seen a pullback and technical consolidation, there remains a strong bid under this market, which some attribute to a surge in speculative fervor among retail investors. There is also persistently elevated volatility, as the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) has remained solidly above the 20 fear threshold since 2/24/20, and in fact has spent most of its time in the 30s and 40s (or higher) even during the exuberant recovery rally. And until earnings normalize, the market is likely to remain both speculative and volatile.

Regardless, so long as there is strong market breadth and not sole dependence on the FAAAM stocks (as we witnessed for much of the past five years), the rally can continue. There are just too many forces supporting capital flow into equities for the bears to overcome. I have been predicting that the elevated forward P/E on the S&P 500 might be in store for further expansion (to perhaps 23-25x) before earnings begin to catch up, as investors position for a post-lockdown recovery. Indeed, the forward P/E hit 22.5x on 6/8/20. But I’d like to offer an addendum to this to say that the forward P/E may stay above 20x even when earnings normalize, so long as the economy stays in growth mode – as I expect it will for the next few years or longer as we embark upon a new post-recession expansionary phase. In fact, I believe that rising valuation multiples today, and the notion that the market actually has become undervalued, are a direct result of: 1) massive global liquidity, 2) ultra-low interest rates, and 3) the ever-growing dominance of secular-growth Technology on both our work processes and the broad-market indexes – all conspiring to create a TINA (“There is No Alternative”) climate for US equities.

In this periodic update, I provide a market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500, and review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, while our sector rankings look neutral (as you might expect given the poor visibility for earnings), the technical picture is bullish, and our sector rotation model moved to a bullish posture in late May.

As a reminder, Sabrient has enhanced its forward-looking and valuation-oriented stock selection strategy to improve all-weather performance and reduce relative volatility versus the benchmark S&P 500, as well as to put secular-growth companies (which often display higher valuations) on more equal footing with cyclical-growth firms (which tend to display lower valuations). You can find my latest Baker’s Dozen slide deck and commentary on terminating portfolios at on....