“Individuals who cannot master their emotions are ill-suited to
profit from the investment process.” – Benjamin Graham
Remember when stock prices used to change each day?
OK, I’m exaggerating…but not by much. Bespoke Investment Group notes that the average daily spread between the high and the low on the Dow Jones is at a 26-year low. Stocks simply ain’t moving around very much these days.
While the stock market got off to a great start this year, since late January it’s nearly slowed down to a complete halt, particularly the intra-day swings. The Volatility Index (NYSEARCA:VIX) is near a six-year low. Fortunately, the little volatility there has been has been positive, so the broad market indexes have continued to rise, albeit very slowly. On Thursday, the S&P 500 closed at its highest level since Halloween 2007.
One theme that’s been dominating Wall Street lately is the idea of a Great Rotation, meaning money will massively swarm out of bonds and into stocks. I do think some of that will happen — in fact, it’s currently happenin — but I don’t foresee sky-high bond yields anytime soon. The 10-year T-bond is right at 2%, which is pretty darn low. Instead, what we’re seeing is investors gradually becoming bolder and taking on more risk. That’s very good for our style of investing.
Investors Need to Focus on High-Quality Stocks
One important development is that economically cyclical stocks are again leading the market. If you recall, the cyclicals began a massive rally last summer right around the time when Mario Draghi promised to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. The cyclicals were given another boost a few weeks after that when the Fed announced its QE-Infinity program.
Consider this: If the S&P 500 had kept pace with cyclicals, it would be at about 1,750 today instead of 1,521. Cyclical leadership finally petered out in late January but has come back with a vengeance. The Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index (NYSEARCA:CYC) has outpaced the S&P 500 for five days in a row. The ratio of the Cyclical Index to the S&P 500 is now close to an 18-month high.
I think there are two reasons for this trend. One is simply that many cyclical stocks got very cheap. I think our own Ford Motor (NYSE:F) is a perfect example of that. Harris (NYSE:HRS) and Moog (NYSE:MOG.A) are other good examples. But another reason is that economy is probably better than many analysts realize. The negative GDP report for Q4 understandably upset a lot of folks, but the recent trade numbers will probably cause that negative 0.1% to be revised upward to somewhere around +1.0%.
Earnings for Q4 have been pretty. According to data from Bloomberg, 73% of the 288 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported Q4 earnings have topped estimates; 67% have beaten sales estimates. As I’ve discussed before, the major concern is that corporate profit margins have been stretched about as far as they can go. I’m concerned that Wall Street’s earnings forecasts are too optimistic, and we’re going to see a spate of earnings as the year goes on.
One of the interesting aspects of the recent rally is that the large mega-caps haven’t really joined in. Since the beginning of October, the S&P 100, which is the biggest stocks in the S&P 500, has consistently lagged the S&P 500. That’s not necessarily bad news, but it means that the little guys are getting most of the gains. One possible worry is that the gains are largely going to low-quality names. That’s often a sign of a market peak. Our Buy List, for example, started trailing the overall market in 2007. But when the plunge came, we didn’t fall nearly as much as rest of the market.
Until this sleepy market eventually wakes up, I urge investors to focus on top-quality. Please pay close attention to my Buy Below prices on the Buy List. We don’t want to go chasing after stocks. Let the good stocks come to you. Speaking of which, my favorite satellite TV stock just reported great earnings, and the stock is lower than where it was five months ago.