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

Federal shutdown averted, at least for another 6 weeks, which may give investors some optimism that cooler heads will prevail in the nasty tug-of-war between the budget hawks and the spendthrifts on the right and left flanks. Nevertheless, I think stocks still may endure some turmoil over the next few weeks before the historically bullish Q4 seasonality kicks in—because, yes, there are still plenty of tailwinds.

From a technical standpoint, at the depths of the September selloff, 85% of stocks were trading below their 50-day moving averages, which is quite rare, and extreme September weakness typically leads to a strong Q4 rally. And from a fundamental standpoint, corporate earnings expectations are looking good for the upcoming Q3 reporting season and beyond, as analysts are calling for earnings growth of 12.2% in 2024 versus 2023, according to FactSet. But that still leaves us with the interest rate problem—for the economy and federal debt, as well as valuation multiples (e.g., P/E) and the equity risk premium—given that my “line in the sand” for the 2-year Treasury yield at the 5% handle has been solidly breached.

But the good news is, we learned last week that the Fed’s preferred inflation metric, core PCE (ex-food & energy), showed its headline year-over-year (YoY) reading fall to 3.9% in August (from 4.3% in July). And more importantly in my view, it showed a month-over-month (MoM) reading of only 0.14%, which is a better indicator of the current trend in consumer prices (rather than comparing to prices 12 months ago), which annualizes to 1.75%—which of course is well below the Fed’s 2% inflation target. Even if we smooth the last 3 MoM reports for core PCE of 0.17% in June, 0.22% in July, and 0.14% in August, the rolling 3-month average annualizes to 2.16%. Either way, it stands in stark contrast to the upward reversal in CPI that previously sent the FOMC and stock and bond investors into a tizzy.

Notably, US home sales have retreated shelter costs have slowed, wage inflation is dropping, and China is unleashing a deflationary impulse by dumping consumer goods and parts on the global market in a fit of desperation to maintain some semblance of GDP growth while its critical real estate market teeters on the verge of implosion.

So, core inflation is in a downtrend while nominal interest rates are rising, which is rapidly driving up real rates, excessively strengthening the dollar, threatening our economy, and contributing to distress among our trading partners and emerging markets—including capital flight, destabilization, and economic migration. Also, First Trust is projecting interest on federal debt to hit 2.5% of GDP by year-end, up sharply from 1.85% last year (which was the highest since 2001 during a steep decline from its 1991 peak of 3.16%).

Therefore, I believe the Fed is going to have to lighten up soon on hawkish rate policy and stagnant/falling money supply. When the Fed decides it’s time to cut rates—both to head off escalating crises in banking and housing and to mitigate growing strains on highly leveraged businesses, consumers, and foreign countries (from an ultra-strong dollar and high interest rates when rolling maturing debt)—it would be expected to ignite a sustained rally in both stocks and bonds.

But even if the AI-leading, Big Tech titans can justify their elevated valuations with extraordinary growth—and according to The Market Ear, they trade at the largest discount to the median stock in the S&P 500 stock in over 6 years on a growth-adjusted basis—investors still may be better served by active strategies that exploit improving market breadth by seeking “under the radar” opportunities poised for explosive growth, rather than the broad passive indexes. So, we believe this is a good time to be invested in Sabrient’s portfolios—including the new Q3 2023 Baker’s Dozen (launched on 7/20), Forward Looking Value 11 (launched on 7/24), Small Cap Growth 39 (launched on 8/7), and Sabrient Dividend 45 (launched on 9/1 and today offers a 5.5% dividend yield).

In today’s post, I discuss inflation, stock-bond relative performance, equity valuations, and Fed monetary policy implications. I also discuss Sabrient’s latest fundamentals based SectorCast quantitative rankings of the ten U.S. business sectors (which continues to be topped by Technology and Energy), current positioning of our sector rotation model (neutral bias), and some actionable ETF trading ideas. Your feedback is always welcome!

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).

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

The future direction of both stocks and bonds hinges on the trajectory of corporate earnings and interest rates, both of which are largely at the mercy of inflation, Fed monetary policy, and the state of the economy (e.g., recession). So far, 2023 is off to an impressive start, with both stocks and bonds surging higher on speculation that inflation will continue to subside, the Fed will soon pause rate hikes, the economy will endure at most a mild recession, China reopens, and corporate earnings will hold up…not to mention, stocks have risen in the year following a midterm election in every one of the past 20 cycles. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) is at a 52-week low.

Moreover, although inflation and interest rates surged much higher than I predicted at the beginning of 2022, my broad storyline around inflation and Fed policy remains intact:  i.e., a softening of its hawkish jawboning, followed by slower rate hikes and some balance sheet runoff (QT), a pause (or neutral pivot) to give the rapid rate hikes a chance to marinate (typically it takes 9-12 months for a rate hike to have its full effect), and then as inflation readings retreat and/or recession sets in, rate cuts commence leading to an extended relief rally and perhaps the start of a new (and lasting) bull market. Investors seem to be trying to get a jump on that rally. Witness the strength in small caps, which tend to outperform during recoveries from bear markets. However, I think it could be a “bull trap” …at least for now.

Although so far consumer spending, corporate earnings, and profitability have held up, I don’t believe we have the climate quite yet for a sustained bull run, which will require an actual Fed pause on rate hikes and more predictable policy (an immediate dovish pivot probably not necessary), better visibility on corporate earnings, and lower market volatility. Until we get greater clarity, I expect more turbulence in the stock market. In my view, the passive, broad-market, mega-cap-dominated indexes that have been so hard for active managers to beat in the past may see further weakness during H1 2023. The S&P 500 might simply gyrate in a trading range, perhaps 3600–4100.

But there is hope for greater clarity as we get closer to H2 2023. If indeed inflation continues to recede, China reopens, the war in Ukraine doesn’t draw in NATO (or turn nuclear), the dollar weakens, and bond yields fall further, then investor interest should broaden beyond value and defensive names to include well-valued growth stocks help to fuel a surge in investor confidence. I believe both stocks and bonds will do well this year, and the classic 60/40 stock/bond allocation model should regain its appeal.

Regardless, even if the major indexes falter, that doesn’t mean all stocks will fall. Indeed, certain sectors (most notably Energy) should continue to thrive, in my view, so long as the global economy doesn’t sink into a deep recession. Quality and value have regained their former luster (and the value factor has greatly outperformed the growth factor over the past year), which means active selection and smart beta strategies that can exploit the performance dispersion among individual stocks seem poised to continue to beat passive indexing in 2023—a climate in which Sabrient’s approach tends to thrive.

For example, our Q4 2021 Baker’s Dozen, which launched on 10/20/21 and terminates on Friday 1/20/23, is outperforming by a wide margin all relevant market benchmarks (including various mid- and small-cap indexes, both cap-weighted and equal-weight) with a gross total return of +9.3% versus -10.2% for the S&P 500 as of 1/13, which implies a +19.5% active return, led by a diverse group encompassing two oil & gas firms, an insurer, a retailer, and a semiconductor equipment company. Later in this post, I show performance for all of Sabrient’s live portfolios—including the Baker’s Dozen, Forward Looking Value, Small Cap Growth, and Dividend (which offers a 4.7% current yield). Each leverages our enhanced model that combines Value, Quality, and Growth factors to provide exposure to both longer-term secular growth trends and shorter-term cyclical growth and value-based opportunities. By the way, the new Q1 2023 Baker’s Dozen launches on 1/20.

Here is a link to a printable version of this post. In this periodic update to start the new year, I provide a comprehensive market commentary, 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 neutral, and our sector rotation model remains in a neutral posture. Energy continues to sit atop our sector rankings, given its still ultra-low (single digit) forward P/E and expectations for strong earnings growth, given likely upside pricing pressure on oil due to the end of Strategic Petroleum Reserve releases (and flip to purchases), continued sanctions on Russia, and China’s reopening…and assuming we see only a mild recession and a second half recovery. Read on…

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

Needless to say, investors have been piling out of stocks and bonds and into cash. So much for the 60/40 portfolio approach that expects bonds to hold up when stocks sell off. In fact, few assets have escaped unscathed, leaving the US dollar as the undisputed safe haven in uncertain times like these, along with hard assets like real estate, oil, and commodities. Gold was looking great in early-March but has returned to the flatline YTD. Even cryptocurrencies have tumbled, showing that they are still too early in adoption to serve as an effective “store of value”; instead, they are still leveraged, speculative risk assets that have become highly correlated with aggressive growth stocks.

From its record high in early January to Thursday’s intraday low, the S&P 500 (SPY) was down -19.9% (representing more than $7.5 trillion in value). At its lows on Thursday, the Nasdaq 100 (QQQ) was down as much as -29.2% from its November high. Both SPY and QQQ are now struggling to regain critical “round-number” support at 400 and 300, respectively. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) further illustrates the bearishness. After hitting 36.6 on May 2, which is two standard deviations above the low-run average of 20 (i.e., Z-score of 2.0), VIX stayed in the 30’s all last week, which reflects a level of panic. This broad retreat from all asset classes has been driven by fear of loss, capital preservation, deleveraging/margin calls among institutional traders, and the appeal of a strong dollar (which hit a 20-year high last week). The move to cash caused bond yields to soar and P/E ratios to crater. Also, there has been a striking preference for dividend-paying stocks over bonds.

It appears I underestimated the potential for market carnage, having expected that the March lows would hold as support and the “taper tantrum” surge in bond yields would soon top out once the 10-year yield rose much above 2%, due to a combination of US dollar strength as the global safe haven, lower comparable rates in most developed markets, moderating inflation, leverage and “financialization” of the global economy, and regulatory or investor mandates for holding “cash or cash equivalents.” There are some signs that surging yields and the stock/bond correlation may be petering out, as last week was characterized by stock/bond divergence. After spiking as high as 3.16% last Monday, the 10-year yield fell back to close Thursday at 2.82% (i.e., bonds attracted capital) while stocks continued to sell off, and then Friday was the opposite, as capital rolled out of bonds into stocks.

Although nominal yields may be finally ready to recede a bit, real yields (net of inflation) are still solidly negative. Although inflation may be peaking, the moderation I have expected has not commenced – at least not yet – as supply chains have been slow to mend given new challenges from escalation in Russian’s war on Ukraine, China’s growth slowdown and prolonged zero-tolerance COVID lockdowns in important manufacturing cities, and various other hindrances. Indeed, the risks to my expectations that I outlined in earlier blog posts and in my Baker’s Dozen slide deck have largely come to pass, as I discuss in this post.

Nevertheless, I still expect a sequence of events over the coming months as follows: more hawkish Fed rhetoric and some tightening actions, modest demand destruction, a temporary economic slowdown, and more stock market volatility … followed by mending supply chains, some catch-up of supply to slowing demand, moderating inflationary pressures, bonds continuing to find buyers (and yields falling), and a dovish turn from the Fed – plus (if necessary) a return of the “Fed put” to support markets. Time will tell. Too bad the Fed can’t turn its printing press into a 3D printer and start printing supply chain parts, semiconductors, oil, commodities, fertilizers, and all the other goods in short supply – that would be far more helpful than the limited tools they have at hand.

Although both consumer and investor sentiment are quite weak (as I discuss below), and there has been no sustained dip-buying since March, history tells us bear markets do not start when everyone is already bearish, so perhaps Friday’s strong rally is the start of something better. Perhaps the near -20% decline in the S&P 500 is all it took to wring out the excesses, with Thursday closing at a forward P/E of 16.8x ahead of Friday’s rally, which is the lowest since April 2020. So, the S&P 500 is trading at a steep 22% discount compared to 21.7x at the start of the year, a 5-year average of 18.6x, and a 20-year post-Internet-bubble average of 15.5x (according to FactSet), Moreover, the Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight (RSP) is at 15.0x compared to 17.7x at the beginning of the year, and the S&P 600 small cap forward P/E fell to just 11.6x (versus 15.2x at start of the year).

But from an equity risk premium standpoint, which measures the spread between equity earnings yields and long-term bond yields, stock valuations have actually worsened relative to bonds. So, although this may well be a great buying opportunity, especially given the solid earnings growth outlook, the big wildcards for stocks are whether current estimates are too optimistic and whether bond yields continue to recede (or at least hold steady).

Recall Christmas Eve of 2018, when the market capitulated to peak-to-trough selloff of -19.7% – again, just shy of the 20% bear market threshold – before recovering in dazzling fashion. The drivers today are not the same, so it’s not necessarily and indicator of what comes next. Regardless, you should be prepared for continued volatility ahead.

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, Energy, Basic Materials, Financials, Industrials, and Technology. In addition, the near-term technical picture looks bullish for at least a solid bounce, if not more (although the mid-to-long-term is still murky, subject to news developments), but our sector rotation model switched to a defensive posture last month when technical conditions weakened.

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 Q2 2022 Baker’s Dozen launched on 4/20/2022 and is off to a good start versus the benchmark, led by three Energy firms, with a diverse mix across market caps and industries. In addition, the live Dividend and Small Cap Growth portfolios have performed quite well relative to their benchmarks. Read on....

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 Martindaleby Scott Martindale
  President & CEO, Sabrient Systems LLC

As yet another decade comes to a close, the US continues to enjoy the longest economic expansion on record. And as if to put a cherry on top, the economic reports last week hardly could have been more encouraging for the New Year, propelling the S&P 500 index into its third major technical breakout since the recovery from the financial crisis began well over 10 years ago. In particular, the jobs report blew away estimates with 266,000 new jobs, the prior month’s report was revised upward, and the unemployment rate fell to a 50-year low of 3.5%. Importantly, those new jobs included 54,000 manufacturing jobs. Indeed, a growing view is that the manufacturing/industrial segment of the economy has bottomed out along with the corporate earnings recession and capital investment, with an economic upswing in the cards, which has been a key driver for the resurgence in value and cyclical stocks with solid fundamentals.

The good news kept coming, with the Consumer Sentiment report jumping back up to 99.2 (and averaging 97.0 over the past three years, which is the highest sustained level since the Clinton administration’s all-time highs), while wages are up 3.1% year-over-year, and household income is up 4.8% (to the highest levels in 20 years). And with capital rotating out of pricey bonds into riskier assets, it all seems to me to be more indicative of a recovery or expansionary phase of the economic cycle – which could go on for a few more years, given a continuation of current monetary and fiscal policies and a continued de-escalation in trade wars.  

To be sure, there have been plenty of major uncertainties hanging over the global economy, including a protracted trade war with China, an unresolved Brexit deal, an unsigned USMCA deal, and so on. And indeed, investors will want to see the December 15 trade deal deadline for new tariffs on China postponed. But suddenly, each of these seems to have a path to resolution, which gave a big boost to stocks today (Thursday). Moreover, a pervasive fear that we are in a “late-cycle” economy on the verge of recession was becoming more of a self-fulfilling prophesy than a fundamental reality, and now there is little doubt that investor sentiment is starting to ignore the fearmongers and move from risk-averse to risk-embracing, which better matches the fundamental outlook for the US economy and stocks, according to Sabrient’s model.

In this periodic update, I provide a detailed market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, our sector rankings have turned bullish, while the longer-term technical picture remains bullish, and our sector rotation model also retains a solidly bullish posture.

By the way, you can find my latest slide deck and Baker’s Dozen commentary at http://bakersdozen.sabrient.com/bakers-dozen-marketing-materials, which provide details and graphics on two key developments:

  1. The bullish risk-on rotation since 8/27/19 is persisting, in which investors have shifted away from their previous defensive risk-off sentiment and back to a more optimistic risk-on preference that better aligns with the solid fundamental expectations of Wall Street analysts and Corporate America.
  1. We have developed and introduced a new Growth Quality Rank (GQR) as an enhancement to our growth-at-a-reasonable-price (aka GARP) model. It is intended to help provide better “all-weather” performance, even when investor sentiment seems “irrational.”  Read on….

Scott Martindale  by Scott Martindale
  President, Sabrient Systems LLC

In case you didn’t notice, the past several days have brought an exciting and promising change in character in the US stock market. Capital has been rotating out of the investor darlings – including the momentum, growth, and low-volatility factors, as well as Treasury bonds and “bond proxy” defensive sectors – and into the neglected market segments like value, small-mid caps, and cyclical sectors favored by Sabrient’s GARP (growth at a reasonable price) model, many of which have languished with low valuations despite solid forward growth expectations. And it came just in the nick of time.

In Q3 of last year, the S&P 500 was hitting new highs and the financial press was claiming that investors were ignoring the trade war, when in fact they weren’t ignoring it at all, as evidenced by narrow leadership coming primarily from the mega-cap secular Technology names and large cap defensive sectors (risk-off). In reality, such market behavior was unhealthy and doomed to failure without a broadening into higher-beta cyclical sectors and small-mid caps, which is what I was opining about at the time. Of course, you know what happened, as Q4 brought about an ugly selloff. And this year, Q3 was looking much the same – at least until this sudden shift in investor preferences.

Last month, as has become expected given its typically low-volume summer trading, August saw increased volatility – and also brought out apocalyptic commentaries similar to what we heard from the talking heads in December. In contrast to the severely overbought technical conditions in July when the S&P 500 managed to make a new high, August saw the opposite, with the major indices becoming severely oversold and either challenging or losing support at their 200-day moving averages or even testing their May lows, as investors grew increasingly concerned about a protracted trade war, intensifying protectionist rhetoric, geopolitical turmoil, Hard Brexit, slowing global economy, and US corporate earnings recession. Utilities and Real Estate led, while Energy trailed. Bonds surged and yields plunged. August was the worst month for value stocks in over 20 years.

But alas, it appears it we may have seen a blow-off top in bonds, and Treasury yields may have put in a bottom. All of a sudden, the major topic of conversation among the talking heads this week has been the dramatic rotation from risk-off market segments to risk-on, which has been a boon for Sabrient’s Baker’s Dozen portfolios, giving them the opportunity to gain a lot of ground versus the S&P 500 benchmark. The Energy sector had been a persistent laggard, but the shorts have been covering as oil prices have firmed up. Financials have caught a bid as US Treasury prices have fallen (and yields have risen). Small cap value has been greatly outperforming large cap growth. It seems investors are suddenly less worried about a 2020 recession, ostensibly due to renewed optimism about trade talks, or perhaps due to the apparent resilience of our economy to weather the storm.

The question, though, is whether this is just a temporary reversion to the mean – aka a “junk rally,” as some have postulated – or if it is the start of a healthy broadening in the market and a rotation from the larger, high-quality but high-priced stocks (which have been bid up by overly cautious sentiment, passive index investing, and algorithmic trading, in my view), into the promising earnings growers, cyclicals, and good-quality mid and small caps that would normally lead a rising market. After all, despite its strong year-to-date performance, the S&P 500 really hasn’t progressed much at all from last September’s high. But a real breakout finally may be in store if this risk-on rotation can continue.

I think the market is at a critical turning point. We may be seeing a tacit acknowledgment among investors that perhaps the economy is likely to hold up despite the trade war. And perhaps mega-caps with a lot of international exposure are no longer the best place to invest. And perhaps those mega-caps, along with the defensive sectors that have been leading the market for so long, are largely bid up and played out at this point such that the more attractive opportunities now lie in the unjustly neglected areas – many of which still trade at single-digit forward P/Es despite solid growth expectations.

September is historically a bad month for stocks. It is the only month in which the Dow Jones Industrials index has averaged negative performance over the past 100 years, showing positive returns about 40% of the time (according to Bespoke Investment Group). But this budding rotation may be setting up a more positive outcome. I was on the verge of publishing this month’s article early last week, but the market’s sudden (and important!) change in character led me to hold off for a few days to see how the action unfolded, and I have taken a new tack on my content.

In this periodic update, I provide a detailed market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, our sector rankings look defensive to me, while the technical picture is short-term overbought but longer-term bullish, and the sector rotation model takes to a solidly bullish posture. Read on…

Scott Martindale  by Scott Martindale
  President, Sabrient Systems LLC

July was yet another solid month for stocks, as the major market indexes eclipsed and held above psychological barriers, like the S&P 500 at 3,000, and the technical consolidation at these levels continued with hardly any give back at all. But of course, the last day of July brought a hint of volatility to come, and indeed August has followed through on that with a vengeance. As the old adage goes, “Stocks take the stairs up but ride the elevator down,” and we just saw a perfect example of it. The technical conditions were severely overbought, with price stretched way above its 20-day simple moving average, and now suddenly the broad indexes (S&P 500, Dow, Nasdaq) are challenging support at the 200-day moving average, while the small cap Russell 2000 index has plummeted well below its 200-day and is now testing its May low.

For the past 18 months (essentially starting with the February 2018 correction), investor caution has been driven by escalating trade wars and tariffs, rising global protectionism, a “race to the bottom” in currency wars, and our highly dysfunctional political climate. However, this cautious sentiment has been coupled with an apparent fear of missing out (aka FOMO) on a major market melt-up that together have kept global capital in US stocks but pushed up valuations in low-volatility and defensive market segments to historically high valuations relative to GARP (growth at a reasonable price), value, and cyclical market segments. Until the past few days, rather than selling their stocks, investor have preferred to simply rotate into defensive names when the news was distressing (which has been most of the time) and then going a little more risk-on when the news was more encouraging (which has been less of the time). I share some new insights on this phenomenon in today’s article.

The market’s gains this year have not been based on excesses (aka “irrational exuberance”) but instead stocks have climbed a proverbial Wall of Worry – largely on the backs of defensive sectors and mega-caps and fueled by persistently low interest rates, and mostly through multiple expansion rather than earnings growth. In addition, the recent BAML Global Fund Manager Survey indicated the largest jump in cash balances since the debt ceiling crisis in 2011 and the lowest allocation ratio of equities to bonds since May 2009, which tells me that deployment of this idle cash and some rotation out of bonds could really juice this market. It just needs that elusive catalyst to ignite a resurgence in business capital spending and manufacturing activity, raised guidance, and upward revisions to estimates from the analyst community, leading to a sustained risk-on rotation.

As a reminder, I am always happy to take time for conversations with financial advisors about market conditions, outlook, and Sabrient’s portfolios.

In this periodic update, I provide a detailed market commentary, offer my technical analysis of the S&P 500, review Sabrient’s latest fundamentals based SectorCast rankings of the ten US business sectors, and serve up some actionable ETF trading ideas. In summary, our sector rankings look neutral to me (i.e., neither bullish nor defensive), while the sector rotation model retains a bullish posture. Read on…

Pages