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

Investors found optimism and “green shoots” in the latest CPI and PPI prints. As a result, both stocks and bonds have rallied hard and interest rates have fallen on the hope that inflation will continue to subside and the Fed will soon ease up on its monetary tightening. Still, there is a lot of cash on the sidelines, many investors have given up on stocks (and the longstanding 60/40 stock/bond allocation model), and many of those who are the buying the rally fear that they might be getting sucked into another deceptive bear market rally. I discuss in today’s post my view that inflation will continue to recede, stocks and bonds both will gain traction, and what might be causing the breakdown of the classic 60/40 allocation model—and whether stocks and bonds might revert back to more “normal” relative behavior.

Like me, you might be hearing highly compelling and reasoned arguments from both bulls and bears about why stocks are destined to either: 1) surge into a new bull market as inflation falls and the Fed pivots to neutral or dovish…or 2) resume the bearish downtrend as a deep recession sets in and corporate margins and earnings fall. Ultimately, whether this rally is short-lived or the start of a new bull market will depend upon the direction of inflation, interest rates, and corporate earnings growth.

The biggest driver of financial market volatility has been uncertainty about the terminal fed funds rate. DataTrek observed that the latest rally off the October lows closely matches the rally off the 12/24/2018 bottom, which was turbocharged when Fed Chair Jerome Powell backed down from his hawkish stance, which of course has not yet happened this time around. Instead, Powell continues to actively talk up interest rates (until they are “sufficiently restrictive”) while trying to scare businesses, consumers, and investors away from spending, with the goals of: 1) demand destruction to push the economy near or into recession and raise unemployment, and 2) perpetuate the bear market in risk assets (to diminish the “wealth effect” on our collective psyche and spending habits). Powell said following the November FOMC meeting that it is “very premature” to talk about a pause in rate hikes.

Indeed, the Fed has been more aggressive in raising interest rates than I anticipated. And although some FOMC members, like Lael Brainard, have started opining that the pace of rate hikes might need to slow, others—most notably Chair Powell—have stuck unflinchingly with the hawkish inflation-fighting jawboning. However, I think it is possible that Powell has tried to maintain consistency in his narrative for two reasons: 1) to reduce the terminal fed funds rate (so he won’t have to cut as much when the time comes for a pivot), and 2) to not unduly impact the midterm election with a policy change. But now that the election has passed and momentum is growing to slow the pace given the lag effect of monetary policy, his tune might start to change.

As the Fed induces demand destruction and a likely recession, earnings will be challenged. I believe interest rates will continue to pull back but will likely remain elevated (even if hikes are paused or ended) unless we enter a deep recession and/or inflation falls off a cliff. Although the money supply growth will remain low, shrinking the Fed balance sheet may prove challenging due to our massive federal budget deficit and a global economy that is dependent upon the liquidity and availability of US dollars (for forex transactions, reserves, and cross-border loans)—not to mention the reality that a rising dollar exacerbates inflationary pressures for our trading partners and anyone with dollar-denominated debt.

Thus, the most important catalyst for achieving both falling inflation and global economic growth is improving supply chains—which include manufacturing, transportation, logistics, energy, and labor. Indeed, 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 bring supply and demand into better balance and alleviate inflation, rather than relying primarily on Fed policy to depress the demand side (and perhaps induce a recession). The good news is that disrupted supply chains are rapidly mending, and China has announced plans to relax its zero-tolerance COVID restrictions, which will be helpful. Even better news would be an end to Russia’s war on Ukraine, which would have a significant impact on supply chains.

In any case, it appears likely that better opportunities can be found outside of the passive, cap-weighted market indexes like the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100, and the time may be ripe for active strategies that can exploit the performance dispersion among individual stocks. Quality and value are back in vogue (and the value factor has greatly outperformed the growth factor this year), which means active selection is poised to beat passive indexing—a climate in which Sabrient's GARP (growth at a reasonable price) approach tends to thrive. Our latest portfolios—including Q4 2022 Baker’s Dozen, Forward Looking Value 10, Small Cap Growth 36, and Dividend 41 (which sports a 4.8% current yield as of 11/15)—leverages our enhanced model-driven selection approach (which combines Quality, Value, and Growth factors) to provide exposure to both: 1) the longer-term secular growth trends and 2) the shorter-term cyclical growth and value-based opportunities.

By the way, if you like to invest through a TAMP or ETF, you might be interested in learning about Sabrient’s new index strategies. I provide more detail below on some indexes that might be the timeliest for today’s market.

Here is a link to a printable version of this post. In this periodic update, I provide a comprehensive market commentary (including constraints on hawkish Fed actions and causes of—and prognosis for—the breakdown of the classic 60/40 portfolio), discuss the performance of Sabrient’s live portfolios, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals based SectorCast quant rankings of the ten U.S. business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. To summarize, our SectorCast rankings reflect a modestly bullish bias, the technical picture looks short-term overbought but mid-term bullish, and our sector rotation model has moved from a defensive to neutral posture. Read on...

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

The S&P 500 officially entered a bear market by falling more than -20% from its all-time high in January, with a max peak-to-trough drawdown of nearly -25% (as of 6/17). The Nasdaq Composite was down as much as -35% from its November all-time high. During the selloff, there was no place to hide as all asset classes floundered – even formerly uncorrelated cryptocurrencies went into a death spiral (primarily due to forced unwinding of excessive leverage). But then stocks staged an impressive bounce last week, although it was mostly driven by short covering.

Earlier this year when stocks began their initial descent, laggards and more speculative names sold-off first, but later, as the selling accelerated, the proverbial baby was thrown out with the bathwater as investors either were forced to deleverage (i.e., margin calls) or elected to protect profits (and their principal). Even the high-flying Energy sector sold off on this latest down leg, falling over -25% intraday in just 10 days, as the algorithmic momentum trading programs reversed from leveraged buying of Energy to leveraged selling/shorting.

These are common signs of capitulation. So is historically low consumer and investor sentiment, which I discuss in detail later in this post. But despite the negative headlines and ugly numbers, it mostly has been an orderly selloff, with few signs of panic. The VIX has not reached 40, and in fact it hasn’t eclipsed that level since April 2020 during the pandemic selloff. Moreover, equity valuations have shrunk considerably, with the S&P 500 and S&P 600 small caps falling to forward P/Es of 15.6x and 10.8x, respectively, at the depths of the selloff (6/17). This at least partially reflects an expectation that slowing growth (and the ultra-strong dollar) will lead to lower corporate earnings than the analyst community is currently forecasting. Although street estimates have been gradually falling, consensus still predicts S&P 500 earnings will grow +10.4% in aggregate for CY2022, according to FactSet. Meanwhile, Energy stocks are back on the upswing, and the impressive outperformance this year of the Energy sector has made its proportion of the S&P 500 rise from approximately 2% to 5%...and yet the P/Es of the major Energy ETFs are still in the single digits.

A mild recession is becoming more likely, and in fact it has become desirable to many as a way to hasten a reduction in inflationary pressures. Although volatility will likely persist for the foreseeable future, I think inflation and the 10-year Treasury yield are already in topping patterns. In addition, supply chains and labor markets continue their gradual recovery, the US dollar remains strong, and the Fed is reducing monetary accommodation, leading to demand destruction and slower growth, which would reduce the excess demand that is causing inflation.

Bullish catalysts for equity investors would be a ceasefire or settlement of the Russian/Ukraine conflict and/or China abandoning its zero-tolerance COVID lockdowns, which would be expected to help supply chains and further spur a meaningful decline in inflation – potentially leading to a Fed pivot to dovish (or at least neutral)…and perhaps a melt-up in stocks. Until then, a market surge like we saw last week, rather than the start of a V-shaped recovery, is more likely just a bear market short-covering rally – and an opportunity to raise cash to buy the next drawdown.

Nevertheless, we suggest staying net long but hedged, with a heightened emphasis on quality and a balance between value/cyclicals and high-quality secular growers and dividend payers. Moreover, rather than investing in the major cap-weighted index ETFs, stocks outside of the mega-caps may offer better opportunities due to lower valuations and higher growth rates. Regardless, Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen, Dividend, and Small Cap Growth portfolios leverage our enhanced model-driven selection approach (which combines Quality, Value, and Growth factors) to provide exposure to both the longer-term secular growth trends and the shorter-term cyclical growth and value-based opportunities. In particular, our Dividend Portfolio – which seeks quality companies selling at a reasonable price with a solid growth forecast, a history of raising dividends, a good coverage ratio, and an aggregate dividend yield approaching 4% or more to target both capital appreciation and steady income – has been holding up well this year. So has our Armageddon Portfolio, which is available as a passive index for ETF licensing.

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 near-term technical picture looks neutral-to-bearish after last week’s impressive bounce, and our sector rotation model remains in a defensive posture.  Read on...

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

As the economy has emerged from the pandemic and some sense of normalcy has returned around the world, investors had returned to wrestling with the potential impacts of unwinding 13 years of unprecedented monetary stimulus (QE and ZIRP). But then new uncertainties piled on with the onset of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s impressive resistance, and the resulting refugee crisis, not to mention new COVID mutations and some renewed lockdowns – all of which has led to historic inflationary pressures on energy, commodities, and food prices, as well as elevated market volatility.

After a solid post-FOMC rally, the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) fell from a panicky high near 37 – which is more than two sigma above its long-term average of 20 – to close last week at 20.81. At their lows, the S&P 500 had corrected by -13.1% and the Nasdaq Comp by -21.7% (from their all-time high closing prices last November to their lowest close on Monday 3/14/22). But the price action in the SPDR S&P 500 and Tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 over the past few weeks looks very much like a bottoming process going into the FOMC meeting, culminating in a bullish “W” technical formation that broke out strongly to the upside, with recoveries of +9.2% for the S&P 500 and +12.9% for Nasdaq through last Friday. The rally has seen a resurgence in the more speculative growth stocks that had become severely oversold, as illustrated by the ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK), which has risen nearly 25%.

Except for some gyrations in the immediate aftermath of the FOMC announcement, price essentially went straight up. I believe the rocket fuel came from a combination of the Fed providing greater clarity (and not hiking by 50 bps), China’s soothing words (including assurances to global investors and distancing itself from Russia’s aggression), as well as a general fear of missing out (FOMO) among investors on an oversold rally.

Notably, commodities and crude oil have been strong from the start of the year, with oil at one point (March 7) touching $130/bbl after starting the year at $75 (that’s a 73% spike!). For now, oil seems to have stabilized in a trading range, although the future is uncertain and summer driving season is on the horizon. It seems that President Putin finally acting out his goal of restoring historical Russian lands (similar to the jihadist dream of redrawing an Islamic caliphate) may be shaking up our leftists’ utopian vision of a Great Reset and “stakeholder capitalism” and into realizing (at least for the moment) the pitfalls of rapid decarbonization, denuclearization, the embracing of green/renewable energy before the technologies are ready for the role of primary energy source, and the outsourcing of critical energy supplies (the very lifeblood of a modern economy) to mercurial/adversarial dictators. I talk at length about oil production and supply dynamics in today’s post.

So, have we seen the lows for the year in stocks? Is this merely an oversold bounce and end-of-quarter “window dressing” for mutual funds that will soon reverse, or is it a sustainable recovery? Well, my view is that we may have indeed seen the lows, depending upon how the war develops from here, how aggressive the Fed’s actions (not just its language) actually turn out, and how economic growth and corporate earnings are impacted. But I also think there is too much uncertainty – including a possible recessionary dip for one quarter – for there to be new highs in the broad indexes anytime soon. Instead, I think we are in a trader’s market. Although I think stocks will end the year in positive territory, they are unlikely to reach new highs given the vast new disruptions to supply chains and the less-speculative nature of current investor sentiment – meaning that valuations will depend more on earnings growth rather than multiple expansion. In any case, I believe there are many high-quality stocks to be found outside of the mega-cap Tech darlings offering better opportunities.

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 4 of the top 5 scorers being cyclical sectors, Energy, Basic Materials, Financials, and Technology. In addition, the near-term technical picture looks weak, but the mid-to-long-term looks like a bottom is in, and our sector rotation model is back in a bullish posture.

Regardless, Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen, Dividend, and Small Cap Growth portfolios leverage our enhanced Growth at a Reasonable Price (GARP) selection approach (which combines quality, value, and growth factors) to provide exposure to both the longer-term secular growth trends and the shorter-term cyclical growth and value-based opportunities – without sacrificing strong performance potential. Sabrient’s latest Q1 2022 Baker’s Dozen launched on 1/20/2022 and is off to a good start versus the benchmark, led by an oil & gas firm. In addition, the live Dividend and Small Cap Growth portfolios are performing quite well relative to their benchmarks.  Read on....

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

I mentioned early last month that it had been quite a long stretch since the market had seen even a -5% correction, but we finally got it, with the S&P 500 falling -6% (intraday). Although many commentators (including myself) felt we needed even more of a correction in the major market indexes to really wring out some excesses and the “weak” holders, the underlying internals tell a different story of a much harsher “stealth” correction. Alpine Macro reported that 90% of the stocks in the S&P 500 have fallen at least -10% from their recent highs, with an average decline of -17% … and -38% in the Nasdaq Composite! A casual observer might not have noticed this since these individual stock corrections didn’t occur all at once, but rather in more of a rolling fashion as various industries fell in and out of favor at different times. The masking by the major indexes of these underlying corrections is the magic of passive index investing, as the diversification limits downside (albeit upside as well, of course).

Moreover, while the cap-weighted indexes have surged to new highs as recently as early September, the equal-weight and small-cap indexes have been trading sideways since March. Regardless, investors took the September correction as a buyable dip. Last Thursday-Friday provided two bullish breakout gaps, and in fact Thursday was the strongest day for the S&P 500 since March. Looking ahead, the question is whether the rapid 2-day surge is sustainable, or if there is some technical consolidation (aka “backing & filling”) to be done – or perhaps something much worse, as several prominent Wall Street veterans have predicted.

No doubt, economic challenges abound. Energy prices are surging. COVID persists in much of the world, especially emerging markets, which is at least partly responsible for the persistent supply chain issues and labor shortages in the manufacturing and transportation segments that are proving slow to resolve. Retail and restaurant industries continue to have difficulty filling jobs (and they are seeing a high rate of “quits”). And now we are seeing fiscal and monetary tightening in China – likely leading to lower GDP growth (if not a “hard landing”) – due to long-festering financial leverage and “shadow banking” finally coming to roost (witness the Evergrande property development debacle, and now it appears developer Modern Land is next). Indeed, we see many similarities with Q4 2018 (including the S&P 500 price chart), when the market endured a nasty selloff. Investors should be mindful of these risks. So, although TINA-minded (“there is no alternative”) equity investors continue to pour money into stocks, and an exuberant FOMO (“fear of missing out”) melt-up is possible going into year-end, there likely will be elevated volatility.

I write in greater depth about oil prices and China’s troubles in this article.

Q3 earnings reporting season is now underway, and I expect the number and magnitude of upside surprises and forward guidance will determine the next directional trend. In any case, we continue to like the Energy sector, even after its recent run (in fact, you will find a couple of oil exploration & production firms in the new Baker’s Dozen coming out this week). Wall Street estimates in the sector still appear to be too low based on projected prices, and the dividend yields are attractive. Sabrient’s SectorCast ETF rankings continue to show Energy at or near the top. Actually, from a broader perspective, the “deep cyclical” sectors (especially Energy, Materials, and Industrials), with their more volatile revenue streams but relatively fixed (albeit high) cost structure (and high earnings leverage), remain well positioned to show strong sales growth and, by extension, upside earnings surprises.

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 solidly bullish bias; the technical picture is somewhat mixed; and our sector rotation model has regained its bullish posture (pending technical confirmation early this week).

By the way, Sabrient’s new Q4 2021 Baker’s Dozen launches on Wednesday, 10/20/21. As a reminder, our newer portfolios – including Baker’s Dozen, Small Cap Growth, Dividend, and Forward Looking Value – all reflect the process enhancements we implemented in December 2019 in response to the unprecedented market distortions that created historic Value/Growth and Small/Large performance divergences. Our enhanced growth-at-a-reasonable-price (aka GARP) approach combines value, growth, and quality factors while seeking a balance between secular growth and cyclical/value stocks and across market caps.  Read on....

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

As earnings season gets going, I believe we will see impressive reports reflecting stunning YOY growth in both top and bottom lines. According to Bloomberg, sell-side analysts' consensus YOY EPS growth estimate for the S&P 500 is north of 63% for Q2, 36% for full-year 2021, and 12% for 2022. But I still consider this to be somewhat conservative, with plenty of upside surprises likely. However, the market’s reaction to each earnings release will be more predicated on forward guidance, as investors are always forward-looking. To me, this is the bigger risk, but I am optimistic. Today’s lofty valuations are pricing in the expectation of both current “beats” and raised guidance, so as the speculative phase of the recovery moves into a more rational expansionary phase, I expect some multiple contraction such that further share price appreciation will depend upon companies “growing into” their valuations rather than through further multiple expansion, i.e., the earnings growth rate (through revenue growth, cost reduction, and rising productivity) will need to outpace the share price growth rate.

Despite the lofty valuations, investors seem to be betting on another blow-out quarter for earnings reports, along with increased forward guidance. On a technical basis, the market seems to be extended, with unfilled “gaps” on the chart. But while small caps, value stocks, cyclical sectors, and equal-weight indexes have pulled back significantly and consolidated gains since early June, the major indexes like S&P 500 and Nasdaq that are dominated by the mega caps haven’t wanted to correct very much. This appears to reinforce the notion that investors today see these juggernaut companies as defensive “safe havens.” So, while “reflation trade” market segments and the broader market in general have taken a 6-week risk-off breather from their torrid run and pulled back, Treasuries have caught a bid and the cap-weighted indexes have hit new highs as the big secular-growth mega-caps have been treated as a place to park money for relatively safe returns.

It also should be noted that the stock market has gone quite a long time without a significant correction, and I think such a correction could be in the cards at some point soon, perhaps to as low as 4,000 on the S&P 500, where there are some unfilled bullish gaps (at 4,020 and 3,973). However, if it happens, I would look at it as a long-term buying opportunity – and perhaps mark official transition to a stock-picker’s market.

The past several years created historic divergences in Value/Growth and Small/Large performance ratios with narrow market leadership. But after a COVID-selloff recovery rally, fueled by a $13.5 trillion increase in US household wealth in 2020 (compared to an $8.0 trillion decrease in 2008 during the Financial Crisis), that pushed abundant cheap capital into speculative market segments, SPACs, altcoins, NFTs, meme stocks, and other high-risk investments (or “mal-investments”), it appears that the divergences are converging, leadership is broadening, and Quality is ready for a comeback. A scary correction might be just the catalyst for the Quality factor to reassert itself. It also should allow for active selection, strategic beta, and equal weighting to thrive once again over the passive, cap-weighted indexes, which also would favor the cyclical sectors (Financial, Industrial, Materials, Energy) and high-quality dividend payers (e.g., “Dividend Aristocrats”). But I wouldn’t dismiss secular-growth Technology names that still sport relatively attractive valuations (Note: the new Q3 2021 Baker’s Dozen includes four such names).

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 sector rankings reflect a solidly bullish bias; the technicals picture has been strong for the cap-weighted major indexes but is looking like it is setting up for a significant (but buyable) correction; and our sector rotation model retains its bullish posture.

As a reminder, Sabrient’s newer portfolios – including Small Cap Growth, Dividend, Forward Looking Value (launched on 7/7/21), and the upcoming Q3 2021 Baker’s Dozen (launches on 7/20/21) – all reflect the process enhancements that we implemented in December 2019 in response to the unprecedented market distortions that created historic Value/Growth and Small/Large performance divergences. With a better balance between cyclical and secular growth and across market caps, most of our newer portfolios once again have shown solid performance relative to the benchmark (with some substantially outperforming) during quite a range of evolving market conditions. (Note: we post my latest presentation slide deck and Baker’s Dozen commentary on our public website.)  Read on….