Inside The Stock Market ...trends, cross-currents, and outlook
A way to gain perspective on the present is by trying to view it from the future. Ask yourself, “What are the signs of impending decline, now ignored by investors, that will one day be memorialized by the same investors as the most obvious in retrospect?”
The consensus among market pundits is that a U.S. recession will be averted and, as a consequence, domestic stocks remain the best game in town.
The relative domination of Mega Caps might leave the impression that valuation of the “typical” (or median) Large Cap stock is reasonable. It’s not. The fall rally leaves all major valuation ratios for the median S&P 500 stock in the top decile of the 30-year history, and above the levels prevailing at the September 2018 market high.
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.
Three months ago, Large Cap Growth and Momentum were the winning ways to play the market; the long-time resiliency of these entrenched leaders was a cornerstone of the bullish case. Suddenly it’s Value and Deep Cyclicals leading, anything possessing Momentum, of late, has turned toxic. Ironically, this “new” leadership is now the foundation for the bullish reasoning.
Among six major monetary gauges, five are now graded bullish, compared with just three a few months ago, and zero at the end of 2018.
At October’s close, a long-term BUY signal was triggered on the Russell 2000. The fact that some market segments are triggering “oversold BUYS” when blue chips are at record highs speaks volumes about the internal disparities that have developed during the last few years. The Russell BUY signal is not inconsistent with our belief that the action since the January 2018 peak remains part of a lengthy cyclical topping process.
The bull market took out another old record last month when the S&P 500 topped the cumulative total return of the 1949-56 upswing. The total return since March 9, 2009, is now 468%. Since the highs of March 2000, the S&P 500 cumulative total return is actually a few basis points behind U.S. 10-year Treasury bonds.
On October 3rd, the S&P 500 briefly traded below the high it made in January 2018 before reversing to close the day higher.
Small Caps came tantalizingly close to activating a major VLT BUY signal in September, with the Russell 2000 closing less than a half percent below the trigger level. A new bull signal from this indicator wouldn’t “fit” into our market and economic narrative, but we won’t sweep it under the rug if it occurs.
The yield curve’s ten-month moving average inverted in September, hence the yield curve inversion can no longer be dismissed as transitory; the Boom/Bust Indicator remains below its descending 10-month moving average, confirming economic weakness predicted by the yield curve; and, the “Present Situation” component of September’s Consumer Confidence survey slipped below its 10-month moving average for the third time in 2019.
We’ve been expecting weakness in the manufacturing sector to spread to the service economy, but were not prepared for the nearly four-point drop in the latest ISM Non-Manufacturing Composite. We don’t want to overplay a single monthly reading from an historically volatile report, but the Non-Manufacturing Price Index spiked despite the drop in New Orders.
It’s now been more than 19 months since global stocks peaked on January 26th, 2018. Those lucky enough to have been invested solely in the S&P 500 and to have held on for the volatile ride have a 3.7% gain to show for it. Nice going.
We noted that the December 2018 stock market low was the second most expensive in history, second only to that of October 1998. Similarities between 2019 market action and the 1998-99 rebound remain eerie. Something isn’t right, and it’s not bullish.
We always do our own work and draw our own conclusions. Lately, though, we’ve wondered what the late “Monetary Marty” Zweig might say about the stock market’s current liquidity backdrop.
A recent theme in our valuation work is that we no longer need to assume a full-blown “reversion to the mean” to illustrate current U.S. stock market risks: Even a reversion to “old” bull market highs in ratios like S&P 500 Price/Sales, Price/Cash Flow, and Normalized P/E would result in bear-sized losses.
The need to sound contrarian has become a borderline obsession among market pundits. Media opportunities for talking heads have exploded in the last decade, forcing those who hold the safest consensus views to falsely portray themselves as lonely and misunderstood market mavericks.