To paraphrase that great market historian Leo Tolstoy, “each bear market is unhappy in its own way.” Recession, interest rates, valuation bubbles, inflation, war, credit cycles, oil prices, manias & panics: the tipping point that triggers each bear market is always different. However, bearish forces ultimately manifest themselves in just two ways; declining earnings and/or declining valuations. June’s Of Special Interest report detailed how the current bear market has been fueled entirely by collapsing valuations, with the largest P/E compressions occurring in companies with the highest starting valuations.
The 2022 bear market has been driven entirely by a collapse in P/E ratios. Last month, we noted that the other potential driver of market declines—falling earnings—had yet to raise its ugly head. Now we examine past episodes to consider how the stock market might react when the “other shoe” (EPS) drops.
If many of the typical leaders of a new bull market aren’t leading, what is? Technology, obviously—and the bigger, the better.
Investor sentiment seems to be unusually conflicted these days. There are worries aplenty, including numerous political skirmishes of consequence around the world, a slowing global economy, and lofty U.S. equity valuations. On the other hand, fiscal stimulus is high for this stage in an economic cycle and the Fed is easing monetary policy, two policy drivers it rarely pays to bet against.
This issue of Leuthold Quick Takes reviews the conflicted nature of investor sentiment as seen by Doug Ramsey (Chief Investment Officer) and Jim Paulsen (Chief Investment Strategist).
The S&P 500 record median profit margin of 10.3% is now almost a full percentage point above the last cycle’s peak of 9.4% (second quarter of 2007). Trends across S&P sectors are not as uniform as one might expect, though, with only half of the ten sectors last quarter at profitability levels that exceeded their 2001-2007 expansion highs.
Market valuations and investor sentiment are a bit too inflated for our comfort, but the catalyst of the MTI’s drop to Neutral status two weeks ago was simply the action of the stock market itself. Specifically, we haven’t liked the disjointed nature of U.S. market action since about mid-March, where high-yielding and economically-defensive stocks have done the heavy lifting in the Dow and S&P 500 moves to all-time highs. This isn’t so much a change in leadership as an acceleration of an existing trend, and it’s now pronounced enough to weigh down a few of our technical measures.
Following the market rout of recent weeks, we imagine there are many clients sharing our nervous view of the stock market. For those clients, especially those managing long-only equity strategies, we thought it may be helpful to highlight some defensive groups that are scoring well in our group work.