Major Trend Index
U.S. stocks have either begun one of the most underwhelming and economically illogical bull markets in history, or have staged an exceptionally long and deceptive bear market rally. Our bet is on the latter.
We’re very skeptical that the rally from last October’s low represents the first leg of new bull market. But if it is—as many believe—then it has unquestionably inherited the worst set of genes we’ve ever observed in the species.
Our Major Trend Index has four factor categories, and three of them (Valuation, Cyclical, Technical) remain negative. Yes, the bearish “trifecta.” If that sounds like a reprint of one of our Monday MTI memos, bear with us (pun intended). We thought the MTI—with over 125 inputs—was pretty exhaustive. It turns out that it’s lacking entire categories pertinent to stock market action:
In late March, the S&P 500 came close enough (3.5%) to its January high that a second birthday celebration for the bull seemed warranted. Who doesn’t love a party? But, as we noted in a recent Chart of the Week, a milestone like this is a good excuse to haul our pet to the veterinarian for a checkup.
Senator Rand Paul’s annual “Festivus” report on wasteful spending makes for sobering reading to the dwindling few who care about federal finances. The “low light” for 2021 was a $465,000 grant to the National Institute of Health for a study of pigeons playing slot machines.
The MTI’s move to its Negative zone with the October 1st reading was driven by a few trend breakdowns—ones that could well reverse in short order. Recognizing the volatility of these signals (and perhaps having been “conditioned” by the one-way market of the last 18 months), we opted for just a minor asset allocation adjustment.
What if the S&P 500’s September 2nd closing high were to miraculously stand as the cycle’s high-water mark? If it did, the peak was presaged—in retrospect—by two Federal Reserve Bank presidents who rode the liquidity wave all the way to its crest after assuring the floodgates would be left wide open. Both resigned in September.
At the August 5th, S&P 500 bull-market high, seven of our eight bellwethers had failed to make a “confirming” high during the prior month of trading—up from six non-confirmations a month ago. “The dog that didn’t bark” (yet) is the S&P 500 Equal Weighted Index.
We launched a revamped version of our Major Trend Index. The objective of the new methodology is to increase the flexibility, and even the subjectivity of the MTI. This approach recognizes the “subjective reality,” without forcing us into the tedium of re-weighting sub-factors if they become more or less critical as market dynamics evolve.
The coronavirus epidemic/pandemic is getting the bulk of the blame for the sudden collapse in U.S. equities, and certainly qualifies as one of the few “black swans” seen in modern market history. We do not think the ultimate path of the coronavirus contagion can be analyzed at this point, and medical experts foresee possible outcomes ranging from a serious epidemic to a short burst of illness that fades with the summer weather.
The S&P 500 has rallied 9.2% in the 22 trading days since its June 3rd low, but the move hasn’t (yet) been enough to lift the Major Trend Index out of its negative zone.
We’d concede that neither the relative strength of Small Caps nor the divergently strong action of the NYSE Daily Advance/Decline Line fit the pattern of a stock market undergoing a late-cycle period of distribution, however, the relatively low percentage of NYSE issues now trading above their 30-week moving averages (45.5%) suggests the market may not be as internally healthy as popularly portrayed.
After several weeks of muted movements, three MTI categories saw swings of more than 60 points. The Supply/Demand category’s loss was the biggest move, and mostly reflected commercial hedgers’ sudden unwinding of a big net-long position in stock index futures. Such action causes this important “smart money” indicator to be more in line with the DJIA’s Smart Money Flow Index, which continues to act badly.
Performance discontinuities across some of the major indexes are striking. For example, while the NASDAQ Composite is up 12% YTD, the NYSE Composite is down 1%, despite those strong A/D readings for the latter index. Today’s action leaves a similar gap between the Russell 2000 (up 10% YTD) and the DJIA (unchanged).
The decline in the attitudinal work was fairly broad based, with a few indicators even moving back to maximum negative readings.
While we’ve always emphasized the importance of the “weight of the evidence” over the individual MTI factor categories, it’s worth highlighting some key differences between the 2018 correction (which saw a loss in the S&P 500 of 10.2% at the February 8th closing low) and the 2015-2016 S&P 500 correction of 14.2%.