Inside The Stock Market ...trends, cross-currents, and outlook
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.
Rather than stocks disconnecting from the economy, as some equity bears contend, we see the blue chips disconnecting from the rest of the market. The underperformance of leading groups, along with multimonth divergences in momentum, bullish sentiment, and credit spreads are all consistent with the deteriorating prospects for earnings and the economy.
The S&P 500 has rallied 9.2% in the 22 trading days since its June 3rd low, but the move hasn’t (yet) been enough to lift the Major Trend Index out of its negative zone.
Over a 12-month horizon, we now believe a U.S. recession is very likely, but aren’t confident enough to make the call when the forecast window is cut in half. Second-half stock returns could be decent if the business-cycle peak is still a year away. Then again, there’s peril in waiting for “too much” confirmation of recession.
The granddaddy of all technical indicators—the NYSE Daily Advance/Decline Line—continues to make new highs alongside the S&P 500, suggesting the market should move to even higher (but perhaps narrower) highs well into the fall. As noted a month ago, we increasingly suspect that granddaddy may be telling a lie.
Major market tops are drawn-out processes that can prove costly, and infuriating, to bulls and bears alike. Younger readers might be surprised to know that was true before Twitter.
The U.S. economy and blue chips have shrugged off the risk of the worst trade war since 1930’s Smoot-Hawley Act, while comparatively few stocks on either the NASDAQ or the NYSE have broken out to 52-week highs. There’s also the troubling talk of the Fed having tamed “the cycle.” Should investors bet on a potentially wild (but narrower) final melt-up over the next 6-12 months? We don’t like the odds.
The Major Trend Index has remained in neutral territory during the last several weeks of upside action, suggesting there remain significant fundamental and technical shortcomings beneath it all. But this precarious MTI stance didn’t preclude us from acting on a new bullish reading for Emerging Market equities at the end of April.
Similarities between 2019’s YTD up-move and the late-2018 recovery are so striking they must make even the most vociferous bear queasy. The trends are identical, but the magnitude of both the absolute and relative performance movements was greater in the earlier experience.