Inside The Stock Market ...trends, cross-currents, and outlook
We’ll never forget the first time we read a SELL recommendation for a stock. It was nearly 30 years ago and we were two weeks into our first job with a small equity management firm.
Throughout the spring and summer, the market could alternatively be characterized as “divergent” or “disjointed”—but until very recently it could not be considered “distributive.” Now, Mid and Small Caps have hit a short-term air pocket and breadth figures were exceptionally poor at September’s scattered highs in the DJIA and S&P 500.
Our bearish stance could be tested by the arrival of the seasonally strongest six-month window of the four-year electoral cycle. Since 1926, November of the mid-term year through April of the pre-election year has produced an average un-annualized S&P 500 +16.4% total return.
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?
To summarize (and oversimplify), here are some of the frequent client responses to our prevailing “cautiously bearish” stance:
The S&P 500 is on the verge of reversing its early-2018 losses and, if achieved, it would initially be accompanied by six “Red Flags”—which are based on key market indexes failing to record new highs in the 21 trading days preceding a new S&P 500 high. The last time the tally reached “six” was in May 2015—occurring at the final high before an S&P 500 loss of nearly 15% over the ensuing nine months.
A few clients pointed out that the longest-ever recovery from an intermediate correction (Apr. 1994–Feb. 1995) became the base from which the S&P 500 would eventually triple over the next five years. We’re not equipped to address that possibility in an objective fashion, so we’ll let you be the judge.
We’ve been reticent to draw links between the current bull and that of the late 1990s; we felt the last phase of the earlier episode was so extraordinary it was unlikely we’d see anything similar again in our lifetimes. But statistical parallels are on the rise, including the attempt by the S&P 500 to recoup its 2018 correction losses.
It’s difficult to knock a stock market in which Small Caps and major breadth measures are making frequent new highs, however, there are performance anomalies that suggest liquidity is no longer sufficient to “float all boats.” Recent underperformance of the Equal Weighted S&P 500 is a case in point, at the same time, the current dichotomy in market breadth pales in comparison to the 1999-2000 episode.
The nine-year stock market “party” may not yet be over, but it’s getting pretty late.
Yes, bulls and bears now hold their respective positions for the same reason—i.e., the U.S. economy is exceptionally strong. The stock market is accommodating this rare bipartisanship with sufficient reason to support either position.