Bear Market Rally
The S&P 500 came within 4% of its early-2022 high on July 31st, and some technicians insist that such a powerful recovery of bear-market losses has invariably been a bear killer. In both 1957 and 2000, however, bear rallies brought the SPX to within 1% of its prior high; and it’s worth noting, in 1957, the mid-July retest gave way to a recession in just six weeks.
Yesterday the NASDAQ 100 closed up more than 20% from its late-December low, prompting the media to enthuse that it had entered a “new bull market!” Sadly, though, the “NDX” has no company among the broad indexes: During this NASDAQ move, gains in the S&P 500 and Russell 2000 have been just 6.5% and 2.9%, respectively, while the DJIA is down 0.5%. (So much for January’s “breadth thrust!”)
Monetary conditions have worsened, recession evidence is piling up, and some of our Large Cap valuation measures have returned to their tenth historical deciles. However, with the economy near full employment we thought it worth revisiting the past to find examples where the market might have temporarily thrived under similar circumstances.
Stocks are off to a strong start in 2023, and speculative juices are again flowing. In the final week of January, NASDAQ trading volumes were eight times those of the NYSE, a level seen only at the very peak of the meme-stock mania in early 2021. (Pre-COVID, the ratio oscillated between two and three. It’s a brave, new world.)
If there’s a polar opposite to “Goldilocks,” this must be it. Not too hot and not too cold? What about both? Job growth and inflation are hot enough to force the Fed to follow through on its hawkish promises. But the leading indicators continue to warn us of oncoming cold. The odds that the porridge settles at the right temperature, without an intervening recession, look longer by the day.
While our breadth measures do not consider this rally to be thrust-worthy, when based on nothing more than performance, it’s difficult to distinguish between the “first up-leg” in a new bull market and a bear-market rally. The vital signs at present appear to be more in-line with the latter (although making that conclusion based on price action, alone, is hardly better than a coin toss).
Hopefully clients read the late July Interim memos. Truthfully, the move is a tad more than expected. What now? The last calculation of the Major Trend Index produced a still negative but improved reading. A new reading will be available August 7. Just a huge rally or a new bull market? I think it’s the latter, but want confirmation from our Major Trend Index.