Inside The Stock Market ...trends, cross-currents, and outlook
The stock market remains “externally” strong, with the S&P 500 and DJIA at new all-time highs on February 2nd. However, the YTD performance gap between the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000 is already 8%—the worst five-week start ever for Small Caps on a relative basis. And, on a trailing 12-month basis, the percentage of S&P 500 stocks outperforming the index, itself, is the lowest on record at just 25.6%. That’s made it a challenging time for active managers and dart-throwers alike.
The soft-landing camp is growing, but the new members are not offering anything original to support their case. Most believe the yield curve is broken, though many argued the same in both 2007 and 2019. They say households are in good shape, but that is only true for the consolidated consumer balance sheet and it’s the behavior of marginal consumers that’s most critical at turning points.
It’s too soon to know if the October low for small caps will stand, but it would have been a better, more buyable low if it had been accompanied by a recession. It’s all about “initial conditions.” Russell 2000 lows associated with recessions bottomed with a normalized P/E multiple nearly five points below that of the median multiple for non-recessionary lows—and subsequently gained an average of 185% versus +75%.
The stock market leader in the first month of the new year has an above-average chance of persisting during the remaining eleven months. Historical results showed this to be true, not only for index results, but at various other levels of granularity, including sectors, themes, and asset classes.
Remember the nickname for retired San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan? “The Big Fundamental.” The stock market itself is a big fundamental—and that’s probably truer now than in past cycles, since market capitalization relative to U.S. GDP is larger today—with the exception being the most extreme phase of the post-COVID mania.
There are reports that 40% with student loans did not make an initial payment when installments resumed in October. Meanwhile, among seniors aged 65-79, the share with a mortgage rose to 41% in 2022, up from 24% in 1989, while the percentage of those aged 80+ with a mortgage increased from 3% to 31% during the same time!
There’s a huge difference between having an awareness of the myriad calendar phenomena impacting the stock market, and actually acting on them.
There’s an old stock market adage that says if the bulls come for Thanksgiving, then the bears will have Christmas. Last month though, Thanksgiving was one of the few days stocks didn’t go up (… but only because the NYSE was closed). No problem. The market found plenty of other November excuses to rally.