Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Churning (excerpt)

So far so good. In the 2/2 Morning Briefing, I wrote: “[T]he stock market may continue to trade in a volatile range during the first half of this year. The main negative for stocks is that valuation multiples are historically high, while earnings growth estimates are declining in the face of a strong dollar, weakening commodity prices, a flattening yield curve, and slowing global economic growth. The big positives are that bond yields are at historical lows and the plunge in oil prices is boosting consumer confidence and spending. Joe and I are still targeting 2150 for the S&P 500 by the end of this year and 2300 by the middle of next year.”

Yesterday, Kristen Scholer posted a story on the WSJ website titled “Why Record Highs May be Harder to Come By This Year.” She observed: “The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 set 188 fresh all-time highs, or the equivalent of roughly one every five trading sessions, during 2013 and 2014. This year, though, the major indexes have booked only nine historic highs as stocks have moved sideways for much of 2015. … It has been 34 sessions since the S&P 500 last finished at a historic high. That’s the index’s longest streak without an all-time high since the first record of the current bull market in 2013, according to Bespoke Investment Group.”

Why has this been happening? According to the article: “Corporate buybacks, deals and low interest rates have kept equities afloat, while stalled earnings growth, high valuations and slowing economic activity have put a lid on gains.” If that sounds like the same story I’ve been telling, then I should disclose that I was interviewed for the WSJ story and mentioned as follows: “He thinks the tug of war between the bulls and the bears will continue through the summer and into the fall. ‘While some institutional investors might be inclined to sell due to overvaluation, the most significant buyers continue to be corporate managers buying back their shares, and they aren’t nearly as sensitive to valuations,’ he said.”

At the beginning of 2013, in the 1/29 Morning Briefing, which was titled “Nothing to Fear but Nothing to Fear.” I noted: “In recent discussions, some of my professional friends told me they are now worrying that there is nothing to worry about. They note that there may be too many bulls for the good of the bull market.” I also noticed that many of them had “anxiety fatigue.” After the widely feared Fiscal Cliff was averted, investors seemed to be less prone to anxiety attacks. In other words, they were less prone to sell on bearish news, and more likely to hold their stocks and add to their positions on any weakness.

Now they seem to have “bull market fatigue” because valuations are stretched. Nevertheless, they are mostly staying fully invested. Consider the following:

(1) Anxiety fatigue. Since the start of the year, the S&P 500 has been trading between a record high of 2117 on March 2 and a low of 1992 on January 15. There have been lots of panic attacks since 2013, but none that turned into significant corrections. Recent worries that the plunge in the oil price might trigger a rout in the junk bond market haven’t panned out. China’s latest batch of weak economic indicators has been mitigated by the PBOC’s easier monetary policy. The winter/spring economic slowdown in the US increases the odds of a “one-and-done” or “none-and-done” rate hike by the Fed this year.

(2) Moving averages. The S&P 500 has remained above its still-rising 200-day moving average after briefly retesting it in early October last year. The S&P 500 Transportation index is currently back to its 200-dma. That’s a bit of a concern from a Dow Theory perspective, especially since the index’s 50-day moving average has turned down since it peaked on January 22.

(3) Melt-up worries. Interestingly, in recent conversations with our accounts, I am finding that more of them are worrying about missing a melt-up in stock prices than about dodging a correction or a meltdown. What might trigger a melt-up? The obvious answer is a significant postponement of monetary normalization by the Fed. A more likely scenario is that the initial lift-off in interest rates might cause corporations to stampede into the bond market to raise funds for more buy backs and M&A.

Today's Morning Briefing: Paths of Least Resistance. (1) Going nowhere fast. (2) Tug of war. (3) From “anxiety fatigue” to “bull market fatigue.” (4) Still too many bulls. (5) Home on the range. (6) Sector-neutral strategy beating many active managers. (7) Melt-up anxiety. (8) Hard to find anything bullish in crude oil’s demand/supply balance. (9) Maybe it’s geopolitical. (10) Saudis playing for keeps. (11) Focus on market-weight-rated S&P 500 Energy. (More for subscribers.)

No comments: