The six-week rally that started mid-June featured advances from AAPL (+25%), AMZN (+30%), and TSLA (+39%), which accounted for one-fourth of the S&P 500’s gain. Despite the recent preference for Value, a spike in interest rates, and the bear market, the index’s concentration in the top-five firms is still near it’s all-time high set in August 2020.
We apologize for that terribly misleading teaser of a title, but the bills for the stock-market mania of 2020-2021 are piling up. Inflation is one of them, lately increasing each month as relentlessly as cable TV used to. And for the 10% of households who own 90% of the stocks, market air-pockets such as June’s are like “surprise” medical bills: There’s rarely just one
Just after yesterday’s close, we loaded our precocious bull into an SUV and drove to the local veterinary clinic for a two-year checkup.
Our bovine buddy drew some sympathetic stares while we were waiting in the lobby. Noting our bull’s droopy eyelids and gray facial hair, an assistant informed us, “You know, you didn’t actually need to bring him here. We now have a mobile euthanasia service.” We just smiled, and waited for the veterinarian, who is said to be a specialist in this new super-species of bull.
It’s probably about high time that we check in with our past and present members of the esteemed 4% Club. For those of you not familiar with this vignette: back in the day, achieving a 4% weight in the S&P 500 had been a rare feat, occurring only during periods of extreme enthusiasm for technology, conglomerates or oil. The blessing of membership soon turned into a curse, with most taking just a cup of coffee behind the velvet ropes before being thrown to the curb because of dramatic underperformance to the rest of the Index. Our two most recent inductees seem to be following the proper established Club protocol for not lingering at the party too long. The two other members, however, have been receiving their mail at the Club for quite some time.
Last week we argued that U.S. money growth remains way too high to reasonably expect a peak in consumer price inflation during the next few months. At the peaks of the last five bouts of inflation of 5% or more, real growth in the M2 money supply had turned negative in four cases and had slipped to less than 1% in the other one. Today, real M2 is growing at nearly a 7% rate.
The environment where massively above-trend federal outlays have generated massively above-trend readings in both current and projected S&P 500 EPS, the idea of normalizing EPS over a period as long as five years might seem hopelessly out of touch. But it’s during times of extraordinary conditions—both good and bad—that render this work especially valuable.
Quant researchers widely agree that Value offers a return premium over time (although not recently) and that High Quality also offers excess returns. The Quality angle seems contrary to intuition, in that investors generally prefer Quality companies and are willing to pay up for them, yet Quality regularly outperforms. Value and Quality are both well-respected investment factors, and we were curious to explore the interaction of these two smart beta stalwarts. Is Value enhanced by adding a layer of Quality, thereby avoiding value traps, or are Value investors better off buying junky, unattractive companies that have the most room to rebound from depressed prices?
Fifty years ago this month, Richard Nixon formally suspended the convertibility of U.S. dollars into gold. Editorials commemorating this have tended to have a celebratory tone, and why not? Abandoning the gold standard greatly expanded the arsenals and imaginations of policymakers, both of which have been on historic display over the last 18 months.
The “lower for longer” interest-rate thesis propped up the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index for more than a decade. Rising bond yields have since helped drive this former darling to an 18-year relative-strength low. Yet, assets in the S&P Low Volatility ETF are still five-times larger than its High-Beta counterpart.
Stock market valuations may be considered the ultimate in fundamental measures, but they can just as easily be considered long-wave sentiment indicators. What causes equity investors to pay as little as 10x for S&P 500 Normalized Earnings at one point (March 2009), but pay more than 30x a dozen years later? The Fed printing press was in overdrive at both points; only emotions can account for the difference.
Dividends are a cornerstone of equity investing and over the decades they have produced a significant portion of the stock market’s total return. Previous Leuthold research has identified a strong dividend influence on total returns for small and midcap companies. Looking at S&P 500 constituents, we see that dividend growers outperformed companies that had flat or declining dividends – an expected outcome. However, we also found that companies not paying dividends convincingly outpaced dividend payers. This is contrary to the results in other market segments, but the explanation for this becomes apparent in the course of our research.
Our Very Long Term (VLT) Momentum algorithm has been a very good “confirmatory” market tool over the years, especially at the onset of a new cyclical bull market. But VLT has proven to be of little to no value in navigating this year’s gyrations. VLT’s latest flip-flops reinforce our view that the market leaderboard is set to be rearranged.
Look, quick! Before it reverses! The Top-5 firms in the S&P 500 have underperformed in September! I’m sorry, you’ll have to forgive my sense of urgency, but the astounding speed and consistency in which these firms have outperformed may have burned the notion into my brain that they can only “go up” (or at the very least beat the index).
As we go to press (said no one in the digital age, ever!), the S&P 500 was moving to within a couple percentage points of its February 19th all-time high. Given still-high valuations for the blue chips and increasingly frothy sentiment, we think any break above that high will be underwhelming, if not a potentially historic “trap.”