It’s difficult to knock a stock market in which Small Caps and major breadth measures are making frequent new highs, however, there are performance anomalies that suggest liquidity is no longer sufficient to “float all boats.” Recent underperformance of the Equal Weighted S&P 500 is a case in point, at the same time, the current dichotomy in market breadth pales in comparison to the 1999-2000 episode.
Yes, bulls and bears now hold their respective positions for the same reason—i.e., the U.S. economy is exceptionally strong. The stock market is accommodating this rare bipartisanship with sufficient reason to support either position.
Last week’s piece challenged the now popular view that new highs for the Russell 2000 are a decisively bullish factor for the stock market in the near term. To our surprise, we found that market returns during periods of well-defined Small Cap leadership are significantly lower than when Smalls are laggards.
So, what happened to the January Barometer—the old analyst’s maxim that a market gain in January portends a gain for the full year?
We revisit our “Red Flag Indicator” of prior bull market tops versus today. Usually most of these internal market measures will deteriorate in advance of the final bull market peak. At the latest S&P high, three of the seven leading measures had raised Red Flags, by not confirming, but two of them (DJ Transports and the NYSE A/D Line), are within just ticks of new bull market highs.
The stock market rally has carried far enough to flip some of our trend-following work bullish, lifting the Major Trend Index to a low-neutral reading. The improvement prompted an increase in asset allocation portfolios’ net equity exposure to 42% (up from 36% previously).
The Wall Street technical crowd remains mostly bullish, in large part because breadth accompanying this year’s new high has been decent. We follow the same figures and can’t dismiss their point. But pundits whose market views are heavily reliant upon the NYSE breadth figures should be aware of a strong upside bias that’s existed in the data since around 2001.
The safest highs to sell in the stock market are “lonely” new highs. Fortunately, the April 24th bull market high in the S&P 500 was anything but, as that index enjoyed a varied swath of Large Cap, Small Cap, and foreign company (although the DJIA was a mysterious no-show).