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

The rally to kick off Q4 was most welcome, but it quickly petered out. We must acknowledge that macro conditions are still dicey, and no industry is showing leadership—not even the Energy industry, with oil prices surging and green energy getting a tailwind from the new IRA spending bill. The traditional 60/40 stock/bond portfolio could be in for its worst year ever as interest rates surge while stocks flounder. Only the dollar is strong, as the US dollar index has hit its highest level in 20 years.

On the one hand, some commentators believe that things always look darkest before the dawn, so perhaps a bottom is near, and it is time to begin accumulating good companies. Others say there needs to be one more leg down, to perhaps 3400 on the S&P 500 (and preferably with the VIX touching 40), before the buying opportunity arrives. Either is a near-term bullish perspective, which aligns with my view.

On the other hand, there are those who say that markets don’t clear out such massive distortions quite so quickly. So, after such a long period in which “buy the dip” has always paid off (for many traders, it has been so their entire adult life), things are different now, including no “Fed put” or the shadowy “Plunge Protection Team” to backstop the market. Indeed, they say that given the persistent inflation, central banks can no longer embolden speculators by jumping in quickly to cushion market risk—and so, we should be preparing ourselves for global economic restructuring, broad liquidation, and a long, wealth-destroying bear market. This is not my expectation.

The most important number these days is the CPI, and the September number came in at 8.2%, which was only slightly below August’s 8.3%. Of course, inflation is a lagging indicator, and new Fed monetary policy actions can take several months to show their impact, but the Fed’s hawkish jawboning indicates it has less fear of a “doing too much than too little,” which I disagree with as I discuss in today’s post. Although the Fed’s preferred PCE gauge isn’t released until 10/28, market consensus following the CPI print is now for a 75-bp rate hike on 11/2 followed by another 75-bp hike on 12/14, and then a final 25-50 bps in February before it ultimately pauses with the fed funds rate around 5% or so.

However, because the September CPI print (again, a lagging indicator) shows a flatline with some slowing in inflation, it bolsters my ongoing view that inflation is on the decline, the economy is slowing down fast, and the Fed ultimately will raise less than expected (perhaps even calling for pause to watch and reflect after a 75-bp hike on 11/2) because of the vulnerabilities of a hyper-financialized global economy to rapidly rising rates and an ultra-strong dollar. Even bearish Mike Wilson of Morgan Stanley believes the Fed will need to tone down its hawkish monetary policy as global US dollar liquidity is now in the "danger zone where bad stuff happens.” In effect, a strong dollar creates QT (quantitative tightening) of global monetary policy.

It all hinges on the trajectory of corporate earnings and interest rates, both of which are largely at the mercy of the trajectory of inflation, Fed monetary policy decisions, and the state of the economy (e.g., recession). I believe inflation and bond yields are in volatile topping patterns (including the recent "blow-off top" in the 10-year Treasury yield to over 4.0%). Supply chains are gradually recovering (albeit hindered by Russia’s war) and the Fed is creating demand destruction, recession, and a global investor desire for the safety and income of elevated Treasury yields. Also constraining the Fed’s ability to shrink its balance sheet is a world hungry for dollars (for forex transactions, reserves, and cross-border loans), a massive federal debt load, and the reality that a rising dollar is painful to other currencies by exacerbating inflationary pressures for our trading partners and anyone with dollar-denominated debt service.

The biggest risks of course are catastrophic escalation in the war, or untamed inflation coupled with a rapid withdrawal of liquidity…or the possibility that central banks’ disinflationary tools of yore are no longer effective. But if inflation and nominal yields continue to fall, real yields (nominal minus inflation) should follow, leading to a neutral Fed pivot, improving corporate profitability, rising earnings, and perhaps some multiple expansion on stock valuations (e.g., higher P/Es). I discuss all of this in today’s post.

We continue to suggest staying long but hedged (e.g., with leveraged inverse ETFs and index puts). For long positions, a heightened emphasis on quality is appropriate, with a balance between value/cyclicals/dividend payers and high-quality secular growers. Sabrient’s terminating Q3 2021 Baker’ Dozen shows a +6% active gross total return versus the S&P 500 through 10/14 (even without any Energy exposure), while the latest Q3 2022 Baker’s Dozen that launched on 7/20 already shows a +8% active return of (with 23% Energy exposure). Also, our latest Dividend portfolio is sporting a 5.5% yield.

By the way, if you are a financial advisor who uses a TAMP (like SMArtX or Envestnet, for example) and might be interested in adding one of Sabrient’s new index strategies to your portfolio mix, please reach out to me directly for discussion! We have 17 strategies to consider. I provide more detail below on 3 strategies that might be the most timely today.

Here is a link to a printable version of this 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 the top 5 scorers being economically sensitive sectors. In addition, the technical picture shows the S&P 500 may have successfully tested critical support at its reliable 200-week moving average, although our sector rotation model remains in a defensive posture. Read on…

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

Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell sounded quite hawkish at his brief Jackson Hole speech on Friday, and investors were spooked. But keep in mind, he will be reacting to the inflation data as it comes. And although the CPI hit 40-year high of 9.1% YoY in June, I see plenty of signs that inflation is in retreat. Many commentators have been attempting to predict the future of inflation and the economy by making comparisons with prior periods of high inflation. But what makes today’s situation unique is the impact of artificial supply chain disruption due to forced lockdowns rather than economic forces. Thus, I believe the Fed has been trying to “buy time” to allow supply chains to mend by using hawkish rhetoric and creating as much demand destruction as possible – without overtly crushing the economy into recession (a la Paul Volcker). Here are some of the signs that inflationary pressures are receding:

  1. CPI began to flatten out in July after 16 straight months of increases, coming in at 8.5% YoY (after topping out at 9.1% in June).
     
  2. Business inventories have risen sharply (according to the St. Louis Fed), which implies disinflationary pressure on finished goods, and the important inventory/sales ratio is making its way back to pre-pandemic levels. Wholesale prices and import prices both came in better than predicted, and commodity prices, shipping rates, and home prices are all either stabilizing or falling.
     
  3. The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge – Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Index excluding food and energy – has slowed each month since its February peak, falling from 5.3% to 4.7%.
     
  4. July PPI data fell 0.5%, which was the first decline in producer prices since pre-pandemic. Historically, large moves to negative PPI readings like this have led to significantly lower inflation over subsequent months.
     
  5. The New York Fed’s Global Supply Chain Pressure Index (GSCPI) has been falling rapidly since the start of the year.
     
  6. The St. Louis Fed’s 5-year Breakeven Inflation Rate has fallen to 2.73%, and the 5-year/5-year Forward Inflation Expectation Rate is only 2.41%. Also, the University of Michigan Inflation Expectations survey of consumers, median expected price change, are at 4.8% for the next 1 year and 2.9% for the next 5 years.
     
  7. Gold prices continue to languish due to the ultra-strong dollar and expectations for rising real interest rates (nominal rate minus inflation). Historically, gold thrives when inflation rises and real interest rates fall, leading to a weaker dollar, which makes gold attractive as a store of value. But there has been no rush among investors to hold gold.

Of course, Fed monetary policy can only impact demand; it has no impact on disrupted global supply chains. The Fed can only withdraw stimulus by unwinding QE (i.e., letting bonds on its balance sheet mature and/or selling some into the market) and raising interest rates to the “neutral rate.” In fact, I believe we are close to that elusive neutral rate, given how sensitive the highly leveraged US and global economies (consumers, businesses, and governments) have become to debt financing costs. Moreover, the Fed must ensure sufficient global supply of dollars in a world hungry for them (85% of foreign exchange transactions, 60% of foreign exchange reserves, and 50% of cross-border loans and international debt are in US dollars.) All ears will be on the September FOMC meeting on 9/21, when the Fed may announce a final rate hike followed by language indicating that it will “wait & see” how conditions develop going forward (in spite of the tone of Powell's written speech on Friday). 

smartindale / Tag: inflation, federal reserve, CPI, PPI, GSCPI, FOMC, stocks, neutral rate, interest rates / 0 Comments