Donald Trump is thought to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and the economic circumstances prevailing at his inauguration two years ago might have further perpetuated that view. The U.S. economy had already been in recovery mode for 7 1/2 years, and the bull market in U.S. stocks was about to celebrate its eighth birthday.
We wrote in the January Green Book that the S&P 500 Christmas Eve low did not have the “right look,” in that: (1) there had been no sign of “smart money” accumulation beforehand; and, (2) downside momentum was also at a new low for the entire correction. Smart money buying is measured by the Smart Money Flow Index, which evaluates trends in first half-hour market action (considered to be more emotional and news-driven), and the last hour of trading (viewed to be more informed and institutional in nature).
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?
So, what happened to the January Barometer—the old analyst’s maxim that a market gain in January portends a gain for the full year?
Foreign equities beat the U.S. in the first quarter, but the performance gap that’s opened up since the 2007 market highs remains astounding. While foreign equity valuations (especially within EM) have rebounded from February 2016 lows, the bounce has done little to close the enormous P/E discounts relative to the U.S. market.
While the Russell 2000 loss during the 2015-16 correction was almost double that of the S&P 500, the decline did not fully erase the P/E premium Small Caps have enjoyed since the middle of last decade. The premium might need to be entirely erased before a multi-year Small Cap leadership cycle can begin.