Inside The Stock Market ...trends, cross-currents, and outlook
At some point during the June/July streak of seven-consecutive S&P 500 daily-closing highs, an album from 1980 popped into our heads: Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did—released when John Mellencamp was still known as John Cougar. It brought to mind some “nothin’s” that seem not to matter.
The “Nothin’ Matters” market lifted the S&P 500 to eight all-time highs in the nine trading days through July 7th. It’s been difficult to assail the stock market’s technical merits, but there are suddenly some short-term cracks among the handful of market indexes we consider “bellwethers.”
It’s certain that today’s cyclical bout of inflation will prove “transitory,” if only because the word itself is practically meaningless. Our time on earth will also prove transitory, and so too will the current stock market mania—to the shock of most of the nearly 20 million “investors” on the Robinhood platform.
After the last two months’ violent reversal of the “re-opening” trade, the major indexes for U.S. Large Cap, Small Cap, Growth, and Value all stood with YTD gains in the 14-16% range. Yes, a few nimble portfolio managers might have migrated out of “re-opening” stocks in early April and into the “old” Large Cap Growth leadership but the surest route to superior performance has been to avoid what’s become an almost annual pitfall since the Great Financial Crisis: Foreign stocks. EAFE and MSCI Emerging Markets already trail the S&P 500’s 16.0% YTD gain by about 8% and 12%, respectively.
While not yet set in stone, it is the consensus view that infrastructure spending will be raised to a higher level for the next few years compared to past baseline expenditures. Although the exact numbers are still unknown, we examined the President Biden-endorsed bipartisan plan to provide a picture of the relative scale of the anticipated spending in the context of historical trends. In addition, we identified a group of industries that may be beneficiaries of the proposal.
On May 25th, Fed Chair Jerome Powell promised to pull back emergency support “very gradually over time and with great transparency.”
“Very gradually?” No one doubts that. But “with great transparency?” Not a chance...
The COVID collapse showed the Fed could abandon its clunky forward guidance and make the appropriate “pivot” when the facts changed. Now that facts have changed for the better, the Fed is right back to the rigid and dogmatic approach that characterized Fed-speak for almost all of the last economic expansion.
Our trusted civil servants must have found a list of our old Economic/Interest Rates/Inflation components and began to “discontinue” those once invaluable to us and other Fed watchers. It’s a hindrance, but we still have the one that is most correlated to stock prices and it’s free: The ever-expanding balance sheet.
The refusal of the bond market to acknowledge the worsening inflation readings seems to have strengthened the consensus view that any inflation trouble will be “transitory.” Do bonds still know best when there’s a systematic, price-insensitive buyer hoovering up $120 billion of them per month?
In an echo of last decade, the Fed has come under fire for keeping crisis-based monetary policies in place well after a crisis has subsided. Predictably, the Fed rationalizes its uber-accommodation by citing the slowest-to-recover data series from a set of figures that already suffer from an inherent lag (labor market indicators).
Small Cap median valuations are among the highest in our 40-year database, but they are bottom quintile versus the nose-bleed level of the median Large Cap. If this Small Cap leadership cycle only matches the shortest one on record, it will last another three years. Based on the valuation gap, that guess seems conservative.
For years, we’ve noted the increasing valuation gap between domestic and foreign stocks. And for years, we contended that the most likely catalyst for a narrowing of that gap would be a recession-induced cyclical bear market in stocks. Evidently the 2020 bear market was not big enough to do the job.