Inside The Stock Market ...trends, cross-currents, and outlook
The bull and bear labels can be dangerous to stock market operators, so much so that famed speculator Jesse Livermore is said to have abandoned them in favor of softer terminology: “Lines of least resistance.” We aren’t about to ditch the old labels, or even our collection of bull and bear bookends.
Stocks (and more specifically, U.S. blue chips) did not fully (nor even approximately) discount the economic calamity. The result is that, in just over two months, the “baby bull”—if that’s what it is—has achieved what took his legendary predecessor more than eight years to accomplish: Top 25x on our Normalized P/E.
Our VLT Momentum algorithm was driven into oversold territory for at least a few months in all prior postwar bears. It didn’t happen yet this spring, which implies that the “grieving process” was neither deep enough nor long-lasting enough to set the stage for anything like a repeat of last decade’s bull. Most of our valuation work says exactly the same thing.
Small Caps lagged during the bounce off the March lows before a late-April spurt briefly pulled them ahead of the S&P 500. Still, considering that Russell 2000 losses were so much steeper than the S&P 500’s (-43% versus -33%), we would have expected something better.
If many of the typical leaders of a new bull market aren’t leading, what is? Technology, obviously—and the bigger, the better.
One would think that one of the most explosive market rallies of all time would trip-off all the traditional “breadth thrust” signals, or maybe even invent a few of its own. Sorry, no luck.
How does one value a stock market in which 12-month forward EPS estimates show their widest dispersion in history? A good start might be with methods we use when forward estimates show practically no dispersion (like three months ago). In either case, we place little weight on such estimates; each revision usually has only marginal impact on our 5-Year Normalized EPS.
A composite measure of Mid Caps and Small Caps are at bottom-decile valuations relative to their 26-year histories. From a shorter-term viewpoint, though, we find it scary that valuations are so low just a single month into the recession.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen the “sell-side” investment community get about as cautious as it ever gets, recommending investors to “trim risky holdings on ‘up’ days” and “stay diversified.” However, these cheerleaders’ idea of diversification is usually to hold more equities in different sizes and styles.
There have been long-time divergences between blue chips and other market segments signaling that all is not “in gear” beneath the surface—but this cautionary activity never foretells the “timing.” Recently, Small Caps, the Value Line Arithmetic Composite, and Dow Transports staged pathetic bounces off the January 31st “Coronavirus 1.0” low, while the blue chips had strong momentum into mid-February. Normally, such divergences typically last for at least 3-4 months before they become meaningful.
The massive performance dispersion of the past two years makes it difficult (if not hazardous) to draw a simple conclusion about U.S. stock market valuations. But it’s safe to say that cap-weighted indexes like the S&P 500 and S&P Industrial Index remained significantly overvalued at the low point of the February correction.