We get irked when TV pundits misrepresent the mood of equity investors as unduly pessimistic based one or two (or zero) data points. Among the dozens of “Attitudinal” indicators we track, an overwhelming majority show professional and retail investors have jumped back into the fray.
The need to sound contrarian has become a borderline obsession among market pundits. Media opportunities for talking heads have exploded in the last decade, forcing those who hold the safest consensus views to falsely portray themselves as lonely and misunderstood market mavericks.
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).
As the market rebound has extended, we’ve noted its striking similarities with the rally of 1999—one that might have been the most speculative in U.S. history.
It’s been one of the worst years on record for diversification, with our hypothetical All Asset No Authority (AANA) portfolio down 7.2% YTD through yesterday. That’s the second-worst year for AANA since 1972, and there’s probably not enough time left for performance to undercut 2008 (-24.9%) for the bottom spot.
Tax cuts, a strong economy, and daily stock market records have lifted measures of investor sentiment to levels not seen in two decades. But sentiment is only a slightly better timing tool than valuations (which is not saying much), and there’s plenty of room for excitement to build before a final top is at hand.
Evidently, being a bull in a bull market is no longer good enough.
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.
This month’s “Of Special Interest” allots eight pages to the (opposition) view that the correction is over, featuring charts we find the most threatening to our bearish stance. Based on its sudden popularity among the press and punditry, the indicator in this chart—highlighting the air-pocket in investor confidence—perhaps should have been part of that feature. Here’s why it wasn’t.
Last year will certainly go down as the bull market year in which investors were finally retrained (as they usually are, late in every bull market) to buy the dips. Most of our Attitudinal measures—ranging from option activity and bear fund assets, to surveys of investor sentiment—show retail investors finally shaking off the worry that gripped them for most of the bull market’s first five years.
Extreme market viewpoints get the headlines, but it’s baked into our disciplines that we will (occasionally) be noncommittal.
The stock market staged a two-day bearish reversal beginning a few hours after the release of the March employment report, a decline that could —based on the bearish status of a single MTI category (Attitudinal)—carry further before it is finished. But with the S&P 500 (and many other U.S. equity indexes) recording a bull market high as recently as April 2, it’s too early to argue the market top is “in.”
We examine Emerging Markets from both the top-down and bottom-up perspectives as we try to identify where to move and what to expect. We check in on two successful EM thematic group ideas as well.