For valuation work, we’ve traditionally favored the 1,200 company Leuthold Small Cap universe over the S&P SmallCap 600 because we get almost a full additional decade of perspective. But figures for the latter shed extra light on just how significant the revaluation in Small Caps has been.
While the sequence of index peaks traced out YTD is not exactly a textbook one, the market’s internal diffusion is comparable to that seen at many major tops, including 2000 and 2007.
The stock market rally has carried far enough to flip some of our trend-following work bullish, lifting the Major Trend Index to a low-neutral reading. The improvement prompted an increase in asset allocation portfolios’ net equity exposure to 42% (up from 36% previously).
Up front, we need to remind readers that the Major Trend Index is bullish at 1.08, and our tactical funds remain well-exposed to equities with net exposure of 60-61% (versus a range of between 30% minimum up to a maximum of 70%). That being said, we’re focused on the likelihood of a major defensive portfolio move in the near future, which probably comes as no surprise to Green Book readers (...what with us publishing a prepackaged obituary for the bull market just a month ago).
In a cyclical bull market as long and strong as the current one, it’s certainly possible the topping process will be proportionally lengthy and deceptive.
The S&P 500 made a cycle high on December 29th, and in early February mounted another assault on that level. Ignoring valuations, the economy, Europe, etc. (not necessarily our recommendation), the most bullish observations we can make about the stock market are: (1) its peak is still recent; and (2) the S&P 500 had significant company at that peak—including the Transportation stocks, Utilities, Russell 2000, S&P 500 Financials, and even the NYSE Daily Advance/Decline. All in all, this action is broad enough that a final top shouldn’t be imminent.
While stock market action YTD has not been quite as “uniform,” the hallmarks of an imminent bull market top are simply not present. The bullish portents apply to intermediate term results, however, they cannot rule out any short-term setbacks (which can appear with no tip-off from breadth or leadership measures).