On October 3rd, the S&P 500 briefly traded below the high it made in January 2018 before reversing to close the day higher.
A recent theme in our valuation work is that we no longer need to assume a full-blown “reversion to the mean” to illustrate current U.S. stock market risks: Even a reversion to “old” bull market highs in ratios like S&P 500 Price/Sales, Price/Cash Flow, and Normalized P/E would result in bear-sized losses.
We thought Jerome Powell’s “Christmas Capitulation” would be tough to beat, but he accomplished that two days ago with what could be called his “Spring Surrender.” That, in turn, has rekindled hopes of a stock market melt-up along the lines of 1998-99, which, as old-timers will remember, followed a late-cycle correction that was nearly identical to the one seen last year.
With all the excitement over the Fed’s shift in rhetoric and the excellent subsequent market action, there’s a danger of losing sight of the broader cyclical backdrop for U.S. stocks. Remember, the economy is still operating beyond government estimates of its full-employment potential, and it’s not as if the Fed has actually eased policy—as it did successfully at a similar late-cycle juncture in the fall of 1998 and (ultimately unsuccessfully) in the summer of 2007.
In late January we speculated how long it would take for the S&P 500’s bloated valuations to reach more reasonable levels. The S&P 500 now trades back where it was in January and the seven-month break included some of the best growth rates most have ever seen. We found ourselves asking: Did chubby Mr. Market shed any pounds as he pedaled away on his stationary bike?
A few clients pointed out that the longest-ever recovery from an intermediate correction (Apr. 1994–Feb. 1995) became the base from which the S&P 500 would eventually triple over the next five years. We’re not equipped to address that possibility in an objective fashion, so we’ll let you be the judge.
Tomorrow is the Minnesota season-opener for muskies, but the fanatics who chase them are likely disappointed that it comes a few days after an event that’s known to trigger these beasts: the full moon. The screenshot is from our $9.95 “iSolunar” iPhone app, and shows that Saturday merits only a “three fish” day (out of a possible “four fish”)—based on the moon’s fading illumination.
2018’s S&P 500 setback qualifies as an “intermediate” correction. Historically, the duration of intermediate corrections is brief, and recovery time to move back above prior highs has also been brief. This year’s retracement route is already among the most meandering of all recovery paths since 1950.