If you thought the sell-off was over

Flush with new money, the S&P 500 broke resistance at 3030 this week to set a new high. Declining Money Flow,  however, warns of selling pressure. Expect retracement to test the new support level at 3000. Breach would signal another test of support at the recent lows of 2830 to 2860.

S&P 500

Selling pressure on blue chips is a lot stronger, with Money Flow on Dow Jones Industrial Average dipping below zero. Reversal below 26800 would warn of a correction.

DJ Industrial Average

The investment outlook remains Risk-Off, with last week’s ETF investment flows heavily weighted towards bonds.

ETF Flows W/E 25 October 2019

Year-to-date flows reflect a similar picture, with fixed income inflows outweighing the much larger equity ETF market.

ETF Flows YTD 25 October 2019

Supply & Demand

We normally gauge whether stocks are under- or over-priced by comparing earnings to market capitalization, whether in the form of P/E or Robert Shiller’s inflation-adjusted CAPE. But the Fed has shown that stock prices are really a function of supply and demand.

Investment demand skyrocketed in the last decade, with QE driving down bond yields and forcing a large flow of investment funds into equities, searching for yield. The chart below shows estimated market value of publicly-held equity of U.S. domestic (financial and non-financial) corporations and the market value of closely-held equity.

Stock Market Capitalization

Supply of equities in the same period experienced limited growth because of three related factors. First, GDP growth slowed (partly because of QE). Corporate profit growth then slowed as a result. That left management little option. With limited investment opportunities, they returned capital to investors by way of stock buybacks. That restricted the supply of new equities for investment while demand was soaring.

The result was an inevitable surge in prices relative to earnings.

The chart below compares market cap (above) to corporate profits before tax. I have circled 1987 for comparison.

Market Cap/Corporate Profits Before Tax

We remain cautious. Stocks are highly-priced compared to earnings.

Weekly Investment Commentary from Bob Doll | Nuveen

From Bob Doll:

Equities may struggle until corporate earnings improve.
For the past 18 months, equities have been able to make modest gains despite declining corporate profits. This has largely been due to highly accommodative monetary policy and central banks’ willingness to engage in new easing measures. Additionally, investors have been willing to look past the earnings recession since we have not seen a corresponding economic recession. Looking ahead, we believe earnings must advance for equity markets to make meaningful gains. It is early in the third quarter reporting season, but so far the news hasn’t been favorable.

It may take another quarter before corporate earnings accelerate.
At present, consensus expectations are that earnings will decline 3% in the third quarter while revenues rise 3%. Excluding energy, earnings would be up 1% with revenues advancing 4%. Conditions should improve in the fourth quarter, with consensus expectations pointing to a 6% earnings increase…..

Source: Weekly Investment Commentary from Bob Doll | Nuveen

Is the market overpriced? Episode IV

In my last post I said that, with interest rates, tax rates and real wages at historic lows, corporations are likely to make fat profits over the next few years and stocks remain reasonably buoyant. But at least one of these factors can be expected to change.

  1. Recovery of the housing market would cause the Fed to lift interest rates;
  2. Revision of the tax code by a President who can work with both sides of the House; or
  3. A dramatic fall in exchange rates placing upward pressure on wages as manufacturers regain export markets.

What I did not emphasize is that none of the above are likely to occur without a strong economic recovery — and the net effect of any change could well be a boost to corporate earnings.

What also dawned on me after reading The Inequality Puzzle by Larry Summers is that there may be a common thread. The impact of new technologies over the last two decades and access to cheap labor through increased globalization may have created a sustainable increase in corporate profits as a percentage of GNP. Could this time really be different? Only time will tell. I will be watching sales growth and profit margins over the next few years with interest.