Who Loses Money in the World’s Safest Investment … Banks of Course

DJIA:  32246

Who loses money in the world’s safest investment … banks of course.  So how does this work again – rates go up, bond prices go down?  Having tired of lending money to Third World countries, trying to rig LIBOR, writing “liar loans,” the banks have found yet another way to screw up.  Still, there was a perverse predictability to SVB, no one was looking there, and that’s what usually comes back to bite you.  Scary/disappointing as it all might be, it’s an ill wind, and all that.  SVB and the rest just may have done the Fed’s job for it.  At the very least, it should help ease the Fed’s foot off the rate hike pedal.  The idea that the futures were up prior to the CPI release Tuesday morning tells you inflation is less of a worry.  Now it’s about a loss of confidence, and that takes time to resolve.

After Tuesday’s calm came Wednesday’s turmoil, thanks to those almost forgotten problems at Credit Suisse (2).  Tempting to say let those problems remain forgotten, but that didn’t turn out so well in the case of Bear Stearns or Lehman.  The latter were seen as being small enough to allow to fail, though in retrospect they were not.  It seems clear that bank profits will be hurt, which means lower share prices.  What’s not clear is that dirty word contagion – to what extent this morphs into further failures and a greater economic impact.  The latter came to the forefront Wednesday with the selling in everything sensitive to economic growth, especially Energy.  As we suggested, this banking problem is doing the Fed’s job for it, but will the Fed see it that way as well. We had thought a pause might be taken as a sign of Fed panic – they must know something.  We now think it would be taken as a sign of Fed reason.

In the midst of layoffs in the auto industry, Walter Reuther once quipped, who do they think buys these things?  Meta (205) plans to cut another 10,000 jobs and leave 5000 openings unfilled.  Investors may not have bought into the metaverse, but they have  bought into the stock.  It was up some 13 points on the news Tuesday, and another 4 points in Wednesday’s weak market.  Seems growth is out and efficiency is in.  Be lean, be mean, layoff more workers and really get that stock going.  Then, too, if this is good it’s a telling commentary on how bloated and poorly run the Company had been all this time.  In any event, we’re not here to praise or to bury Meta, we’re here to praise what has become a very good chart, and one leaving the rest of FANG behind.  And this was prior to the last few days when growth became the new defense.  It’s not just growth at any size, of course, it’s big growth –Microsoft (276), Salesforce (187), Nvidia (255) and Apple (156).

The overall technical background isn’t as bad as you might think.  The S&P had fallen below its 200-day, but you might notice it often dances around that number.  The 50-day remains above the 200 and is less prone to the dance.  Another trend following indicator we use remains up, provided there’s no weekly close below 3845.  Like most trend following indicators, it’s only right 45% of the time.  Like most trend following indicators, you make four times as much as you lose – you avoid the big losses.  The last buy signal was at the end of October.  There’s no question we have seen selling that can only be described as intense – a spate of 5 days where 3 saw 90% of the S&P components lower.  More important than the recent weakness, however, still seems the momentum surge off of the October low.  Even intense selling did not negate the positive implications of this kind of surge, at least historically.

When things change, Keynes once observed, you should change as well.  Things change but rarely as quickly as they did this week.  While we should be leaving time for the dust to settle, a couple of things seem clear. The economically sensitive stocks fell out of favor this week, on the perception the economy will suffer from the banking debacle.  While perceptions aren’t always reality, in the stock market they often can be more important. At the same time, areas perceived to be immune to such problems were the winners – growth stocks turned to defensive stocks.  And clearly, bigger was better.  The economy won’t fall apart, so stocks like Grainger (681) and Parker Hannifin (314) will recover, as the dust settles.  Gold caught a bid finally, and that “safe haven” Bitcoin did as well.

Frank D. Gretz

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US Strategy Weekly: The Ides of March

The famous soothsayer warning of “beware the Ides of March” to Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play of the same name, could be fitting advice for today. In Roman times, March 15 was a day of religious observances and a deadline for settling debts, but it will always be famous as the date of Julius Caesar’s assassination. Wall Street has adopted this phrase because equity performance in the first half of March often begins in a promising way but ends on a weak note. This year a mid-March alert is interesting because it comes at the intersection of February employment statistics, the consumer and producer inflation reports, three bank failures and an important FOMC meeting, among other things.

Bank Failures

However, it is the bank failures that have captured all of the media’s attention. It began with the cryptocurrency-focused Silvergate Bank (holding company Silvergate Capital Corporation SI – $2.21) which announced early in March that it would be forced to liquidate due to large losses in its loan portfolio. On March 10, Silicon Valley Bank (holding company SVB Financial Group SIVB – $106.04), which concentrated its business on technology startup companies and venture capitalists, was seized by regulators to abort a run on the bank. Both of these banks were California-based banks. Signature Bank (SBNY – $70.00*), a New York-based bank with sizeable business with cryptocurrency firms, was closed by regulators on March 12. None of these were small issues; in fact, the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank marked the second- and third-largest bank failures in the history of the United States. However, all of these, and Silicon Valley Bank in particular, appear to be examples of poor risk management on many levels, and not similar to the 2008 banking crisis, in our view. Still, the risk of contagion still exists, and it could take weeks to understand all the fallout.

Nevertheless, we would like to point out that there were many important announcements taking place this week aside from Silicon Valley Bank. Credit Suisse Group AG (CS – $2.51) was forced to delay its annual report due to questions from the Securities and Exchange Commission. The report, eventually filed on March 14, confirmed there were financial control weaknesses in 2021 and 2022, and the company reported a loss of $8 billion for 2022. This was Credit Suisse’s largest loss since the 2008 financial crisis. Not surprisingly, customers continue to withdraw money from the bank. This is Switzerland’s second largest bank and one of nine global bulge bracket banks providing services in investment banking, private banking, and asset management.

Alaskan Oil

And in an unexpected turnaround, the Biden administration approved the ConocoPhillips (COP – $101.36) oil drilling project in Alaska’s North Slope on March 14. This $8 billion Willow project is expected to produce over 600 million barrels of petroleum over a 30-year period.

*March 10, 2023

The Rise of China

But the most important event of mid-March may have been that Chinese President Xi Jinping brokered a diplomatic truce between Saudi Arabia — a long-standing American ally — and Iran — a long-standing American antagonist. This deal will end seven years of estrangement between these two oil-producing countries, but more importantly, it signals a major increase in China’s influence in a region of the world where the US had been the main power broker. For Iran it eases the international isolation that the country has experienced for years and for Saudi Arabia, it creates more leverage in terms of negotiating with the Biden administration. In the longer run, this deal may prove to have a lasting impact on global politics or become a significant turning point. And it comes as Russia continues to bomb Ukraine and Russian fighter jets clip the propeller of an American spy drone flying over international air space in the Black Sea. The economic significance of all this is unknown at the moment, but we are watching the performance of the dollar. Dollar weakness could persist if the US is perceived to be weakening politically and economically. And a weak dollar makes imports more expensive, i.e., it is inflationary.   


Three bank failures will make next week’s FOMC meeting more interesting than anyone had anticipated. However, the announcement of the Federal Reserve’s lending program might give the Fed the flexibility it needs to raise rates 25 basis points next week. Under the Bank Term Funding Program (BTFP), the Fed will provide banks with one-year loans at the rate of a one-year overnight index swap (OIS) plus 10 basis points. Banks can use eligible government securities like Treasuries and agency mortgage-backed debt to guarantee the loans. And most importantly, the program values these at par rather than at mark-to-market. Selling Treasury bonds as rates were rising is what put pressure on Silicon Valley Bank. We do not expect the Fed to surprise the equity market, but to the extent that traders have already priced in a 25 basis points increase, the Fed is apt to take that opportunity and raise rates.

History shows that tightening cycles rarely end without the fed funds rate reaching at least 400 basis points above inflation. By these two standards, even if inflation falls to 3% YOY, which is optimistic, we should expect interest rates to move higher and stay high longer than expected. This is most likely to end in a recession. As we have often noted, whenever inflation reaches one standard deviation above the norm, or higher, a series of recessions have followed. One standard deviation above the norm is currently 6.5%. See page 6. In short, we believe investors should focus on defensive and recession-resistant stocks.

Technical Update

Our focus index is the Russell 2000 index this week due to its sizeable exposure to regional bank stocks. Currently, the index is rebounding from a very sharp decline; nonetheless, the overall pattern reveals the index is in a broad trading range. This is much in line with our long-term view. See page 9.

The 25-day up/down volume oscillator is negative 3.36 this week and has been in oversold territory for four consecutive trading days. This follows an eleven-day overbought reading that ended February 8. The February overbought reading was an indication of a shift from a bearish to a positive trend, or at least from bearish to neutral. However, this week’s return to oversold territory clearly defines the current market trend as neutral. See page 10. The 10-day average of daily new highs is 69 and new lows are 131 this week. This combination is now negative since new highs are less than 100 and new lows are above 100. The advance/decline line fell below the June low on September 22 and is currently 40,117 net advancing issues from its November 8, 2021 high. This collection of indicators has shifted from neutral to negative this week.

Gail Dudack

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US Strategy Weekly: If History is a Guide

Economic data has been a tale of two cities in recent months. And after reviewing the latest survey releases, it is clear one could build a case for or against an economic recession in the coming months. However, those arguing that current data is much too strong for a recession should remember that recessions are rarely visible at their onset and are notoriously acknowledged only in hindsight by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

In terms of data, February’s ISM non-manufacturing index fell 0.1 to 55.1 but remained well above the 49.2 reading in December when it was signaling a decline in economic activity. Five of the nine components deteriorated in February, but business activity declined from 60.4 to 56.3 and accounted for most of the decline. The manufacturing survey was below the 50 benchmark for the fourth consecutive month, yet the components of the index were mixed. The main manufacturing index rose to 47.7, up a notch from January’s 47.4 reading, which was the lowest reading since May 2020. Manufacturing production fell from 48.0 to 47.3 and prices paid rose 6.8 points to 51.3. See page 3.

In the non-manufacturing survey, new orders rebounded from January’s 60.4 to 62.6. In the manufacturing survey, new orders also rose strongly from 42.5 to 47.9, however, the index remained below the 50 benchmark which is a sign of declining economic activity. Employment indices were also mixed. In the non-manufacturing survey, employment rose from 50.0 to 54.0 representing an expansion, while in the manufacturing survey employment fell from 50.6 to 49.1, representing a contraction. In general, both surveys displayed an erratic slowdown in employment during the October to December period. See page 4.


Given the dramatic response of the equity and fixed income markets to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s testimony to Congress this week, it seems appropriate to repeat some of our historic charts on inflation and interest rates to see what history can disclose. In our view, a good deal of today’s statistics suggests a recession is ahead and possibly as soon as the second half of this year.

Over the last 80 years, whenever inflation has reached a standard deviation above the norm or greater — for the CPI this equates to a level of 6.5% or more – not one, but a series of recessions has followed. One could say it will be different this time, but we think that would be a high-risk judgment. From our perspective, the two negative quarters which appeared in early 2020 were the first, in what may become a series, of recessions. See page 5.

More importantly, monetary tightening cycles have rarely ended before the fed funds rate was at least 400 basis points above inflation, i.e., reaching a real fed funds yield of 4%. In other words, if inflation falls to 4% this year, a history of fed funds rate cycles suggests the fed funds rate should reach 8%. Clearly, this possibility has not been discounted by the market. But even if the current cycle is different and the economy is more interest rate sensitive than in prior cycles, we should still expect interest rates to move higher than 6% and stay high longer than expected. Unfortunately, this scenario is apt to end in a recession. See page 5.

On a happier note, debt levels in the financial, corporate, and household sectors are not as extreme as those seen in 2007 or at other economic peaks. From this standpoint, any future recession should be relatively mild.

Yield Curves

As already noted, Federal Reserve Chairman Powell’s hawkish testimony to Congress was a wake-up call for those believing interest rates were at or near a peak. And by the end of the trading session, as shorter-term yields soared, the closely watched inversion between yields in the two-year and 10-year Treasuries reached negative 103.1 basis points. It was the largest gap between short- and longer-term yields since September 1981. As a reminder, in September 1981 the economy was in the early months of a recession that would last until November 1982, becoming what was at that time the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. What history shows, and what is obvious in the charts on page 6, is that an inverted yield curve has always been followed by a recession. However, the lag time can be long. Equally important, recessions are always accompanied by an equity decline.


Despite the fact that inflation has declined from the June 2022 peak of 9.1% YOY to January’s 6.4% YOY pace, inflation remains historically high. February data will be released on March 14, and it will be closely followed. In our opinion, investors are underestimating the impact inflation has on equity valuation. A simple way of defining the negative relationship between inflation and PE multiples is expressed by what we call the rule of 23, formerly known as the rule of 21. Historically, if the sum of the S&P’s PE multiple and inflation exceeds 23, the market is extremely overvalued. This typically results in lower stock prices and lower PE multiples. After this week’s sell-off, we estimate the trailing PE of the S&P 500 to be 20.2 and the forward PE to be 21.8. A more optimistic earnings estimate of $220 for this year could bring the 12-month forward PE to 18X, nevertheless, this combination of PE multiples and an optimistic assumption of 4% for the CPI, still places equities at the very top of the fair value range. See page 7. 

On page 8 we show the inputs to the Rule of 23 to demonstrate that PE multiples are well above average despite the fact that inflation is also above average. Historically, double-digit inflation has resulted in single-digit PE multiples. And though the June inflation high of 9% did not reach double digits, it was high enough to put pressure on high PE stocks and in time this should result in PE multiples closer to the long-term average of 15.8 times. See page 8.

The relationship between the S&P price index and earnings is not perfect, but earnings cycles typically lead price cycles. This has been particularly true since 1990 and since 2008 the 5-year rate of change in earnings and the S&P price have been strongly correlated. At present both trends are decelerating, which explains why the next few quarterly earnings reports could be market-moving events. We do not see anything on the horizon that could trigger an acceleration in earnings growth, on the other hand, the persistent rise in interest rates could certainly be a headwind to earnings growth. Last, but far from least, higher inflation means higher interest rates, and at present, the yields on both Treasury bills and notes are close to or higher than the earnings yield on the S&P 500. This makes fixed income an attractive alternative to stocks for the first time since 2000. See page 9. In sum, we remain defensive and would emphasize stocks that are both inflation and recession resistant and/or have attractive dividend yields.

Gail Dudack

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One Thing Leads to Another… Or Does It? 

DJIA:  33003

One thing leads to another… or does it?  Inflation leads to Fed tightening, Fed tightening leads to an economic slowdown, and slowdowns lead to declining earnings – or do they?  Our take is that when it comes to the stock market, what we all know isn’t worth knowing – it’s already discounted.  Tom Lee of Fundstrat has done some work here and what he found is interesting.  The key is what the market did in the previous year, down in the case of 2022.  When earnings were up the following year, the market’s median gain was some 18%.  When earnings were down in the following year, the market’s median gain was 15%.  So earnings didn’t prove an issue even when poor – seems they were discounted by the previous year’s weakness.

We can make the case for a new bull market, though not exactly your father’s bull market.  To buy into this case you have to realize the bear market ended last June, not last October.  Sure the low in the averages was last October, but most stocks made their lows in May-June.  So the October low is what technical analysts call a secondary low, a lower low in the averages but one with less selling pressure – clearly the case when looking at 12-month new lows.  Since then we’ve been in some form of base building, punctuated by the selloff in October and the buying spurt in January.  While we can’t always remember what we had for lunch, we recall pretty well the pattern of most bear markets.  Last year pretty much duplicated 1962, while this year is off to a good start, much like 1963.

January‘s momentum surge was impressive, with a variety of positive implications for future returns.  It did, however, serve to get things a bit overcooked – the near 50% surge in Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK-39) being a prime example of speculative fervor.  After all, the fundamentals of these stocks didn’t change that much in a month. Rather, after a bad year short covering and the end of tax loss selling seen the likely impetus, as well as down the most turning to up the most in rallies.  Most of those names, whatever their financial credentials might be, are tied to their stay-at-home world.  You may want to write this down – things change.  Meanwhile, most of Oil was up big last year, in large part because it was under-owned.  To that point, how much Parker Hannifin (355) or Grainger (684) do you own?

Grainger is a chart we particularly like, and that for two reasons.  Back on February 2 the stock had a price gap – a low that was higher than the previous day’s high.  It takes a lot of buying to cause a price gap, making it our favorite chart pattern.  Gaps of course usually leave patterns somewhat extended, so some consolidation was to be expected.  In Grainger‘s case it has been a very high-level consolidation, with the stock giving up very little.  Yet to happen is the breakout from this pattern.  And that would take place with a move above roughly 680, preferably with a pickup in volume.  Another gap just a few days ago was in Nvidia (233). While a strong pattern, keep in mind a sideways consolidation is preferable to any real pullback, awaiting the eventual follow-through.

The idea of a trading range it’s not so much of a prediction as it is an observation.  The S&P is around 4000, a level where it traded in May, September, and December.  A difference now is the S&P has traded in an uptrend since October, and broke its overall downtrend in December.  The pattern in 1963 was similar, a trading range but with enough of an upper bias to end the year 18 percent higher.  While just about everything is stalled for now, the question as always is what comes out of this as leadership.  We still like the economically sensitive names we’ve mentioned recently, Aerospace and Defense ETFs, XAR (120) and ITA (171), and the Global Infrastructure ETF (PAVE-30) – though components like United Rentals (471) and H&E Equipment Services (55) actually look a bit better.  We would still avoid most of FANG, though META (175) looks betta.

Frank D. Gretz

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US Strategy Weekly: Unraveling the Fed Pivot Theory

Last week was a busy time for economic releases and unfortunately, the data was not favorable for those looking for a Fed pivot. The middle of the week was dominated by the release of minutes from February’s FOMC meeting, and it revealed that a few participants favored a 50-basis point increase. All board members were in favor of continuing rate increases in order to reach their target of inflation of 2% but some members wanted to get to a restrictive stance more quickly. The minutes also disclosed that Fed officials felt wage growth of 3.5% YOY would be compatible with a 2% inflation target.

But Friday’s economic releases showed that personal income rose 6.4% YOY in January and disposable income rose 8.4% YOY. The big surprise, however, was that real personal disposable income rose 2.8% YOY in the month — the first gain in real personal disposable income since March 2021! January’s CPI was already reported to be 6.4% YOY, so this gain in personal income closed a 21-month gap between inflation and income growth. See page 3. The savings rate also ratcheted up from 4.5% to 4.7% in the first month of the year. This data was better than expected.

While personal income rose 6.4% YOY, personal consumption expenditures rose 7.9% YOY, up nicely from the 7.5% reported in December but down considerably from the stimulus-driven peak rate of 30% YOY in April 2021. However, current household consumption is coming at a price. The Federal Reserve’s Z.1 report for the third quarter of 2022 showed that debt as a percentage of disposable income rose to nearly 103%, the highest level recorded since the end of 2017. See page 4.

Household Debt on the Rise

According to the Federal Reserve of NY’s latest Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, total household debt rose $394 billion, or 2.4%, to $16.9 trillion in the final quarter of 2022. The $394 billion growth in the fourth quarter represented the largest nominal quarterly increase in twenty years according to the FRBNY. The $16.9 trillion total at the end of 4Q 2022 represented a year-over-year gain of 8.5%, the highest pace of debt accumulation since the first quarter of 2008.

Still, credit card balances were the most worrisome segment of debt. Credit card balances rose by $61 billion, the largest increase in FRBNY data going back to 1999. For all of 2022, credit card debt surged by $130 billion, also the largest annual growth in balances. After two years of historically low delinquency rates, the share of debt transitioning into delinquency increased for nearly all debt types. See charts on page 5. Unfortunately, credit card delinquencies are rising the fastest among 18 to 29-year-olds as compared to all age categories. This may become an even greater problem as interest rates rise.

Mortgages and auto loans grew at a relatively moderate pace in the fourth quarter. Mortgage balances rose to $11.92 trillion; auto loans rose to $1.55 trillion, and student loan balances rose to $1.60 trillion.

All in all, the increase in credit card debt and other revolving forms of credit will be unsustainable in a rising interest rate environment and consumption is apt to slow later in the year. But generally, most of January’s data releases pointed to a surge in economic activity. For example, January included an increase in new home sales to 670,000 (SAAR), an 8.1% rise in the pending home sale index to 82.5, and an increase in the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index from 64.0 to 67 in February. This sentiment index was offset a bit by the Conference Board consumer confidence index, also for February, which slipped from 106.0 to 102.9. Nevertheless, the present condition component of the Conference Board survey increased from 151.1 to 152.8.

The Fed Problem

Last week’s final straw was the report on the Fed’s favorite inflation benchmark, the PCE deflator, which rose by 0.1% in January to 5.4%. This aligns with the CPI which had inflation picking up at the start of the year. The combination of good economic statistics and no significant slowdown in prices sent interest rates higher all along the yield curve. Conversely, stocks fell. The decline in equities is understandable. As we show on page 6, the gap between inflation and the fed funds rate has been narrowing, particularly versus the PCE deflator. But without a further slowdown in inflation, the prospects for higher interest rates will become open-ended. With an effective fed funds rate of 4.57% and the PCE deflator of 5.4%, this 100-basis point gap implies more than two 25-basis point hikes will be required in coming months. And if the Fed is serious about attaining a positive real fed funds rate, it could be even more.

The ISM manufacturing and service surveys will be released this week, but in general, there is little in terms of important economic reports until the February employment report scheduled for March 11. In the meantime, investors will continue to ponder earnings reports and the FOMC meeting on March 21-22, 2023.  

Technical Update

Last week we discussed the 2000 level in the Russell 2000 index and its importance. The RUT has been a leader in the recent advance and the 2000 level was the first significant level of resistance. In our view, the 2000 level would be an important test of the strength of the rally. Unfortunately, to date, this level has rebuffed the advance.

Now our attention shifts from the Russell 2000 to the S&P 500 and its confluence of moving averages, but in particular, the 200-day moving average at SPX 3940. This is an important level of support, and if broken, it could trigger further selling in our view. The SPX’s 200-day moving average currently sits between the 50-day moving average at 3,979.23 and the 100-day moving average at 3919.32, creating a significant range of support between SPX 3919 and 3979. If this range does not hold as support, we would expect the optimism that increased during the January rally will dissipate.

Summary As we noted a few weeks ago, the easy part of the rally may be behind us. Our view calls for a broad trading range until inflation is clearly under control. As seen by January’s data, this process could take another 12 to 18 months. Historically, the popular stock indices have spent 50% of the time in flat trends, so this is not unusual. We expect the broad indices will be contained between the January 3, 2022 SPX high of 4796.56 and the October 12, 2022 low of SPX 3577.03. If we are correct about a trading range market, leadership may rotate throughout the year. But note, while “flat” cycles are unable to sustain an advance above the previous market peak, they can include several bull and bear market moves of 20% or more. In short, the days of a “buy and hold” strategy may have ended for a while. Core holdings in portfolios should include inflation and recession resistant companies and stocks with attractive dividend yields and predictable earnings growth.

Gail Dudack

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US Strategy Weekly: Earnings, the Fed, and Russia/Ukraine

Last week we pointed out that the 2000 resistance level in the Russell 2000 index (“Russell 2000 at 2000” February 15, 2023) could be pivotal for the near term. Similar to the less delineated DJIA 34,000 level, the RUT’s 2000 resistance level presented the first real challenge for the advance initiated from the October 2022 low.

The market also revealed signs of exhaustion with daily NYSE volume falling consistently below the 10-day average and sentiment indicators reaching short-term extremes. The AAII bull/bear sentiment indicator had a sizeable 7.6% jump in bullishness to 37.5%, the highest level in over a year. Bearishness fell 9.6% to 25%, its lowest level since November 2021. It was too much, too soon in terms of a sentiment switch. Not surprisingly, in this week’s first session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 697.1 points, or 2.06%, to 33,129.59, and wiped out its year-to-date gains. The S&P 500 lost 81.75 points, or 2.00%, to 3,997.34; the Nasdaq Composite dropped 294.97 points, or 2.5%, to 11,492.30; and the Russell 2000 fell 58.14 points, or 2.99%, to 1888.21. These indices shaved previous gains but remained positive for the year.

There were numerous reasons for the market sell-off, but the main catalysts have not changed: concerns about earnings growth, the risk of more-than-expected Fed rate hikes and worries of an escalation of the Russia/Ukraine conflict. As the fourth quarter earnings season draws to a close, it is the results of retail companies that now come into focus. To date, these results have been less than stellar. More importantly, forward guidance has been sobering as corporate leaders warn of an earnings slowdown.

Earnings Growth

On page 15 we display our quarterly and annual forecasts for S&P 500 earnings as well as those from S&P Dow Jones and IBES. It is worth noting that the S&P Dow Jones 2022 earnings estimate for 2022 is currently $196.31 and for 2023 it is $220.16. As recently as July 22, 2022, the 2022 estimate was $220.70, or higher than the current 2023 estimate. IBES currently estimates this year’s earnings to be $222.85, but as recently as October 7, 2022, it showed a consensus estimate for last year’s earnings of $223.34. In sum, earnings estimates are coming down, but the question is how much further might they fall? This is a difficult question since economic signs are mixed and to a large degree, confusing.

More Fed rate hikes

There are some worrisome signs for the economy. The Conference Board Leading Economic Index slipped 0.3% in January to 110.3 and represents the 11th consecutive monthly decline in the LEI. A long steady decline in the leading indicators has been a good predictor of a recession in previous cycles.

On the other hand, the latest S&P global flash PMI composites are telling a different story. The January US PMI Composite index rose from 46.8 to 50.2 to an 8-month high, led by strength in the service sector. The rise above 50 indicates an economic shift from contraction to modest expansion in the PMI indices. February’s Eurozone flash PMI rose for the fourth consecutive month to 52.3, indicating the strongest business activity since May 2022. The UK flash PMI for February also rose sharply from 48.5 to 53.0, registering the strongest expansion since June 2022. All in all, these flash economic surveys depict a rebound in economic activity in both the US and Europe.

An improvement in economic activity is usually good news, but when it is coupled with recent inflation data, it is a recipe for further Fed rate hikes, and this is upsetting for those who were expecting another “one and done” rate hike in March. It has been our view that the Fed would have to raise rates higher and keep them there longer than the consensus was expecting.

In January, the CPI rose 6.35% YOY, down fractionally from the 6.44% YOY rise in December, yet a major improvement from the 9.1% YOY seen in June 2022. Still, prices are not falling as quickly as some had hoped. The PPI for finished goods rose 8.7% in January, down only 0.2% from the 8.9% reported in December. Wages rose a healthy 5.4% YOY in January but after adjusting for inflation, household purchasing power declined 1% YOY in January. We have been concerned about the disparity between inflation and wage growth for the last year. The spread is narrowing but it has not closed, and the consumer remains under pressure. See page 3.

Nevertheless, households continue to spend. Total retail & food services sales rose 6.4% YOY in January, and sales excluding motor vehicles and parts, rose 7.3% YOY. However, when nominal retail sales are adjusted for inflation, real retail sales only grew 0.2%. This is down from 1.1% in December, but up from the 1% decline seen in November. See page 4. Total vehicle unit sales rebounded strongly from December’s 13.9 million (SAAR) to 16.2 million in January, and this makes the 7.3% YOY rise in January’s retail sales excluding autos, and 7.4% rise in sales excluding autos and gas stations, even more impressive. The 25.2% increase in food services and drinking places was noteworthy. See page 5.

However, this spending comes at a cost. The latest Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit from the New York Federal Reserve showed total debt balances grew by $394 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022, the largest nominal quarterly increase in twenty years. The increase in credit card balances between December of 2021 and December of 2022 was $130 billion, the largest annual growth in balances seen in the data history which began in 1999.

In terms of debt and mortgages, housing remains in a slump. December’s new home sales totaled 616,000 annualized units, down nearly 27% YOY. Existing home sales fell to 4 million units in January, a decline of nearly 37% from a year earlier. See page 6. The NAR housing affordability index improved from 94.3 in November to 101.2 in December, yet it remains at one of the lowest readings since 1986. This is not favorable. Nonetheless, in February, the NAHB housing index reflected a bit more optimism about the next six months and rebounded from the year-end 2022 cyclical lows. See page 7. 


Our view has not changed. We expect a trading range market until inflation is clearly under control, a process that is apt to take another 12 to 18 months. In terms of the indices, we anticipate a 12-to-18-month range as high as the January 3, 2022 peak of SPX 4796.56 and the October 12, 2022 low of SPX 3577.03. The February overbought reading in our 25-day up/down volume oscillator is in line with this forecast. To date, the rally has been led by large-cap technology stocks, but we do not believe technology as characterized by FAANG stocks, will be the leadership of the next bull market cycle. Typically, a long-term trading range market will see leadership rotate throughout the year.

Keep in mind that the popular stock indices have a history of spending 50% of the time in flat trends. These trends are not boring; they can include several bull and bear market moves of 20% or more. However, these cycles are defined as “flat” since market rallies are unable to sustain an advance above the previous market peak. In short, the days of “buy and hold” may have ended for a while.

Gail Dudack

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Value… It’s in the Eye of the Beholder

                                                                                                                                    DJIA:  33,697

Value… it’s in the eye of the beholder.  And the eye of the beholder, that’s likely a function of the market’s trend.  What they call fair value is a function of many things, but in the end does it really matter?  Stocks sell at fair value twice – once on their way up and once on their way down.  The rest of the time they are overvalued or undervalued, and the trick is to figure out whether they’re on their way to becoming more overvalued or more undervalued.  In other words, figure out the trend which determines as much as three quarters of the movement in individual stocks.  Then there’s group or style rotation.  Most of Energy was up 50% last year, with virtually nothing to do with the market’s multiple.    The best performing individual names indeed are about earnings, but earnings which surprise.  What multiple do you put on earnings that you’re not expecting?  Seems easier to go with trend versus valuations.  Money is made in the stock market when for the S&P the 50-day moving average is above the 200-day moving average.

If you believe history of sorts repeats, there’s plenty of reason for optimism.  As we pointed out last time, there’s a pre-election seasonal pattern that’s quite positive, even for the usually not so wonderful month of February.  And from February through July it’s quite positive.  Tom Lee of FundStrat published a note regarding the first 25 days of the year.  When up 5% or more the market was higher at year-end 16 of 17 times.  And finally, the Nasdaq Composite has outperformed the Dow Jones Average to an unusually large degree, the greatest since 2000.  Over the next six months there was never a negative return for the S&P, according to SentimenTrader.com.  Obviously this time could be different, though we cringe to say that.  Those words have cost many of us more money than we’d like to remember.

If it’s true this time is not different, the numbers seem to back that up.  Stocks above their 200-day moved above 70%, historically indicative of bull markets.  The level of 12-month New Highs seem to say the same.  That said, this is unlikely your 2009 bull market, or others of that ilk.  The washout this time was last June, so while the numbers so far have been good, they lack some of the drama of past bull markets.  Even last week saw a little glitch in the rosy scenario, as some reversals took NYSE stocks above their 200-day from 74% to 64%, a not so insignificant drop in just one week.  In turn, this made Monday’s rally all the more important, not for its 300+ Dow points but for its 3-to-1 A/D numbers.  Following what you might call a sloppy week, it’s important not to rebound with what we call a weak rally – up in the averages with poor A/Ds.

Recent data seems to confirm getting inflation under control will be, as the Beatles once suggested, a long and winding road.  Recent data also seems to confirm the economy is in his own world, one which seems more than fine with things.  Bull markets come around when stocks become sold out.  And as has been the case recently, new uptrends see stocks down the most turn to up the most.  That said, there also seems a new leadership has evolved in old industrial names like Parker Hannifin (355), Eaton (174), Dover (155), and names sensitive to economic growth like Cintas (441) and Grainger (670).  Obviously, there’s some contradiction here, as continued Fed tightening does not bode well for the growth story.  So what is the market missing, or is it what are we missing?  Rather than overthink it, for now, we will just go with the charts.

Our comments above notwithstanding, a common complaint is about leadership.  This can be pretty much summed up in saying Cathie Wood is having a good year finally, or at least so far.  While short covering seems a part of this rally, what bull market ever started without short covering?  We find it a bit upsetting that stocks like Deere (403) and Caterpillar (247) have not done better, but Boeing (212) and GE (84) at least have held their own.  Commodity-related stocks also have been disappointing, though oil equipment/drilling stocks look poised, so to speak, more than the exploration names. Cyber and defense stocks, to look at their respective ETFs, CIBR (42) and ITA (116), are much improved — wonder what that’s about?  Last year’s winners like Staples and Pharma are going through and out of favor phase, but this too should pass.

Frank D. Gretz

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US Strategy Weekly: Russell 2000 at 2000

Technical Indicators in the Spotlight

The easy part of the 2023 rally may now be behind us. We are concerned that daily volume on the NYSE has been consistently lower than the 10-day average for seven consecutive trading sessions. It is a sign of fading demand. More importantly, the Russell 2000 index, which was an excellent leading indicator at the 2021 peak and has been a decent leader at the October low, is now facing stiff resistance at the 2,000 level. The Russell index has the most attractive technical pattern of all the major indices and if it can better the 2000 level, the Russell could rally another 10%. However, in our view, it is more likely that the equity market is extended, a consolidation process has begun, and part of this process could include a retest of the lows. See page 10.

Another warning sign is found in the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) survey which had some surprising shifts last week. The AAII readings showed a 7.6% increase in bullishness to 37.5%, its highest bullish reading in over a year. It is also the first time in 58 weeks that bullish sentiment is at or above its historical average of 37.5%.

Investors who indicated they were neutral, neither bullish nor bearish, rose 2% to 37.5%, and were also at the highest level in over a year. Conversely, a huge 9.6% decrease in bearishness took the bullish ratio to 25.0%, its lowest reading since November 11, 2021, or 15 months ago. Bearishness is now below its long-term average of 31.0%. The Bull/Bear Spread remains positive but it is moving toward neutral for the first time since January 2022. Sentiment readings were most extreme on September 21, 2022, and equity prices tend to be higher in the next six and/or twelve months following such extreme readings. Nevertheless, last week’s readings are a display of too much optimism appearing too quickly and it is a negative omen for the near term. See page 13.

Some technical indicators continue to be positive. The 10-day average of daily new highs is 130 and new lows are 26. This combination remains positive since new highs are above the 100 benchmark that defines the trend, and new lows are well below 100. The NYSE advance/decline line is currently 28,517 net advancing issues from its November 8, 2021 high, which is further away than it was a week ago. In general, the AD line is negative, but it has been improving since the end of the year. See page 12.

Inflation, the Fed, and PE multiples

January’s CPI data, on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, showed prices rising 6.4% YOY versus the 6.5% YOY reported for December. Core CPI rose 5.6% versus 5.7% a month earlier. This was slightly worse than the consensus expected, but not bad enough to change the outlook for Fed policy. Inflation is slowing, but at a slower pace than some had expected. The energy component of CPI rose 8.7% YOY in January versus 7.3% YOY in December, which was a surprise because the price of the WTI future fell 10.5% YOY in January versus a 6.7% YOY gain in December. The good news is that the energy component of the CPI remains well below the peak of 41.6% YOY seen in June 2022. See page 3.

Many inflation watchers like to exclude the owner’s equivalent rent component from the CPI to moderate inflation, however, the OER has been a part of the CPI for decades and without controversy prior to this cycle. What is interesting to us is that when we compare the OER and the fed funds rate, it is clear that the Fed had been far more aggressive in terms of fighting inflation in the past. The Fed typically increased rates ahead of any significant rise in the OER, or at the first sign of inflation. Today, the Fed remains well behind the curve and behind the rise in the OER. More importantly, housing is not the problem for the Fed since interest rates have had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on mortgage rates, housing demand and housing inflation. The problem has switched to the service sector where inflation is rising broadly. In January, service sector inflation rose from 7.5% to 7.6%. See page 4. All told, inflation may be more entrenched than previously thought and the Fed will need to keep interest rates higher for longer than many expect.

Lowering inflation is critical for many reasons, but in terms of equity valuation, high inflation usually translates into lower PE multiples. The current trailing PE for the S&P 500 of 20.9 times and the forward PE is 22.3 times based upon our 2023 estimate of $180, or 18.8 times based upon the current S&P Dow Jones estimate of $220.31. All of these PE multiples are extremely high with inflation over 6% YOY. The risk in the market is that equity valuations can only be supported if inflation is 2%. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to materialize this year. In other words, breadth has improved on this rally, but valuation has not.


There was a small increase in the University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey for February and it was due entirely to the present conditions component, which rose 4.2 points to 72.6. Ironically, the present conditions index is now more than 10 points above the expectations index. More confusing is the fact that this is in complete contrast to December’s detailed survey on personal finances, where personal finances were falling throughout 2022, but expectations rose in the final months of the year. The University of Michigan consumer sentiment is a timelier survey, so hopefully, this improvement in present conditions will be sustained.  See page 5.

The NFIB small business optimism index rose 0.5 points to 90.3 in January but remained below the long-term average of 98 for the 13th consecutive month. Eight subcategories improved this month and five deteriorated. However, even though the outlook for business conditions rose from -51 to -45, it lingers well below the zero line, although 16 points above its June 2022 low of -61. See page 6. Plans to increase capital expenditures or inventories declined in January while plans to increase employment and expand rose modestly. Small businesses were gloomier about the prospect of real sales increasing even though plans to raise prices also rose in January. See page 7. There were small increases in actual sales and earnings in January which may have contributed to the rise in the uncertainty index to 76, up 5 points for the month and up from the June 2022 low of 55. See page 8.

Summary We expect the equity market will remain in a broad trading range until inflation is clearly under control, a process that is apt to take another 12 to 18 months. In the interim, we expect the broad indices will be contained between the January 3, 2022 SPX high of 4796.56 and the October 12, 2022 low of SPX 3577.03. The improvement in our 25-day up/down volume oscillator is in line with this forecast. To date, the rally has been led by large-cap technology stocks which we do not believe will be the leadership of the next bull market cycle. Technology stocks had been at the center of heavy short selling, and it is likely that short covering contributed to the current advance. If we are correct about a trading range market, leadership may rotate throughout the year. Keep in mind that historically, the popular stock indices have spent 50% of the time in flat trends. Flat trends can include several bull and bear market moves of 20% or more, but we define them as “flat” since rallies are unable to sustain an advance above the previous market peak. In short, the days of “buy and hold” may have ended for a while.

Gail Dudack

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Stock Charts Tell a Story… and For Now, That Story is a Good One

DJIA:  33,699

Stock charts tell a story… and for now that story is a good one.  Clearly not all charts tell a story, and when they do it’s not always a good one.  We’ve come across a couple where the story not only seems a good one, it also seems an important one – with important implications for the economy and by extension the stock market.  Take for example WW Grainger (661), where one of their segments is called “endless assortment.”  In other words, they sell “stuff,” and they sell it to everyone.  Then there’s Parker Hannifin (352), whose engineered solutions go to a range of businesses.  The company was used by Alan Greenspan as an economic indicator.  Both of these stocks are in long-term uptrends, and came through the bear market reasonably well.  The real point is their recent significant breakouts.  The stocks of these companies, who seem to have their finger on the pulse of the economy, are telling a very positive story.

Investor psychology has shifted from pessimism to skepticism.  It’s apparent the market is acting better, but this better action isn’t really trusted.  The distrust, of course, relates to earnings which seem likely to disappoint.  And therein lies the point of the matter.  How disappointing can earnings be when even we technical analysts know earnings will be disappointing?  One of our long held tenets is that when it comes to the stock market, what we all know isn’t worth knowing.  What we all know already is priced in.  And if you insist earnings are your big worry, how is it last year‘s earnings were good and the market went down?  Why can’t earnings this year be bad and the market go up?  Amidst the media’s onslaught of warnings, it’s easy to forget that these forecasts likely will prove old news.  Market averages make their lows some eight months ahead of the news.

The anecdotal positives aside, the numbers also have turned positive.  The percent of NYSE stocks above their 200- day reached 74% last week.  Historically readings above 60% have been followed by above-average forward returns in the S&P, and spikes toward 70% marked new bull markets in 1995, 2003, 2009, 2013 and so on.  Last week also saw more than 10% of NYSE issues traded reach a 12-month New High.  And more than 8% did so on the NASDAQ.  It’s difficult to argue numbers like this fit with an ongoing bear market.  Because this was in its way a different kind of bear market, with a washout in the middle rather than at the end, a bull market likely will be different as well.  Rather than eleven months like January, we expect more of a trudge higher.  We have likened last year to 1962, and would liken this year to 1963 – up some 18%.

February can be a difficult month, especially when January is a good one.  The numbers go something like up only 46% of the time, with losses far outweighing gains.  SentimenTrader.com points out, however, those and other numbers change rather significantly in pre-election years, with February up some 68% of the time.  Even more impressive is what follows in these years.  The period from February to July has a success rate of close to 85%.  The top performers in this pre-election period are Materials, Consumer Discretionary and Tech.  We favor the Materials ETF (XLB-82) and there is a Consumer Discretionary ETF (XLY-150).  The good news/bad news there is that Amazon (98) is 23% of the holdings.  As for Tech generally, our feeling is stay away from last cycle’s names, including the FANGs.

Winston Churchill once remarked Americans always do the right thing, once they’ve tried everything else.  We were reminded of that watching Tuesday’s market following Powell‘s remarks.  The market had a great day, after doing all that it could to have a bad one.  We always find it impressive when the market has its chances to go down, but does not.  Still, after January’s run it seems reasonable to expect some flattening out.  While Tuesday’s reversal in price was impressive, the reversal in the A/Ds was at best adequate.  And Monday was the first bad day of the year – 3-to-1 down against a loss of only 35 Dow points.  Bad down days, however, are not the worry.  It’s the bad up days that get markets in trouble – up in the averages against lagging A/Ds.  The elephant in the room for now is leadership – always difficult this time of year and during changing market cycles.  A rising tide lifts all ships, but some of these were sunken ships – Carvana (12) from 5 to 20?  These “January Effect” bounces are nice, but keep in mind they’re not called February Effect.  We expect Commodity leadership to return, but they have lagged so far.

Frank D. Gretz

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US Strategy Weekly: Technical Upgrade

There were a number of developments in economic, fundamental, and technical data over the last week, but the most significant change was technical and the performance of our 25-day up/down volume oscillator. In our last strategy report, we indicated that it would be important to monitor this indicator because it could be close to making a positive shift. That is what it did this week. The oscillator has now been in overbought territory for ten consecutive trading sessions. Ten is an important number because bear markets rarely have rallies that can sustain an overbought reading for five to ten days. The initial advance in a bull market will have an extended overbought reading and it usually includes an extreme reading of 5.0 or greater. Currently, the oscillator has been as high as 4.81 but it has not exceeded the 5.0 reading generally seen at the start of a new bull cycle. Nonetheless, this long overbought reading is a positive change in this indicator. See page 12.

And there are other positives in the technical arena. The 10-day average of daily new highs has been over 100 for the last week and the 10-day average of daily new lows has been below 30. This combination is bullish since 100 or more defines the trend. The current rally also carried the popular indices above their 200-day moving averages, including the lagging Nasdaq Composite Index. And as we noted recently, the Russell 2000 has an attractive technical chart after bettering the 1900 resistance level. The move above this resistance price is a good near-term sign for small cap stocks and the market overall. However, the 2200 level in the RUT represents significant resistance for the advance which means, the current advance may be a good trading opportunity, but investors should be cautious. 

Our longer-term view is that the market is apt to remain in a broad trading range until inflation is clearly under control. We believe this will take another 12 to 18 months. But in the interim, we expect a broad trading range to contain stock prices with the January 3, 2022 SPX high of 4796.56 as a ceiling and the October 12, 2022 low of SPX 3577.03 as a probable floor. This signal from our 25-day up/down volume oscillator is in line with this forecast. And even though this is a better outcome than we expected earlier this year, we would not chase the current rally. Much of the shift is taking place in large capitalization technology stocks which we do not believe will be the leadership of the next bull market cycle. Technology stocks have been at the center of heavy short selling, and it is likely that short covering is contributing to the current advance.

Nonetheless, the technical improvement seen in recent sessions implies that the underlying bear cycle is diminished, and a neutral range is ahead. We reviewed our concept of a flat market trend last week (“Reviewing Flat Trends” February 1, 2023) and showed that historically, the popular stock indices have spent 50% of the time in flat trends. Flat trends can include several bull and bear market moves of 20% or more, but we define them as “flat” since rallies are unable to sustain an advance above the previous market peak. Note that flat cycles tend to be linked to periods of inflation or deflation. In our opinion, this is why it is critical that the Fed deal firmly with the current inflation cycle. History shows that inflation is difficult to control once it exceeds 7% YOY and it has only been resolved with a series of recessions. We believe the Fed understands this issue and is attempting to be a slow and steady force to undermine inflation without igniting a recession. It will not be easy.


As we expected, fourth quarter earnings season is tempering expectations for 2023 earnings. Last week the S&P Dow Jones earnings forecast for 2023 fell $2.62 and the Refinitiv IBES consensus earnings forecast fell $1.70. This brought the consensus 2023 full year estimates to $219.29 and $224.31, respectively. What is interesting in our view is that these 2023 estimates now match the estimates analysts had for last year’s earnings back in May 2022. See page 10.


Some economic data releases also suggest corporate margins may be under severe pressure this year. Labor productivity fell 1.3% in 2022. This followed a 2.4% increase in 2021 and a 4.4% rise in 2020. Keep in mind that falling productivity often means a rising cost of labor. Total labor compensation costs rose by 5.1% YOY in June 2022, the highest pace since June 1990. And the compensation cost index remained consistently high at 5.1% YOY at year end. Labor costs increased across the board, for both wages and benefits. See page 6. What may keep the Fed awake at night is the fact that while inflation peaked at 9.1% in June of 2022, the employment cost indices have not declined, and they remain high for both private and government workers. This will have two negative impacts: it will encourage the Fed to keep interest rates high long enough to reduce this trend and, in the interim, it will erode corporate profits. See page 7.

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose a surprisingly large 517,000 in January, and the unemployment rate was slightly lower at 3.4%. Job growth was widespread, but it was led by gains in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and health care. However, there were a number of reasons to not place too much emphasis on this report.

As seen on page 3, the seasonally adjusted payroll employment rose to a new cyclical high, whereas the not-seasonally-adjusted employment number fell well below the high recorded in November 2022. Nevertheless, there were underlying reasons for the inconsistencies in January’s release. The BLS introduced its annual revision of the establishment survey in January. This is a once-a-year re-anchoring, based on March 2022 data, of employment estimates from the unemployment insurance (UI) tax records filed by nearly all employers with State Workforce Agencies. As a result of the adjusted estimate for March 2022, total nonfarm employment had an upward revision of 568,000 or 0.4%. The not-seasonally adjusted total nonfarm employment estimate was revised by 506,000, or 0.3%. Over the prior 10 years, these benchmark revisions have averaged 0.1%, with a range from −0.3% to 0.3%. In short, this was a very large revision that “technically” erased January’s outsized job gain.

The household survey also had an annual update to total civil noninstitutional population based upon revised Census data. This impacted the participation rate and the employment population ratio modestly. Lastly, there were changes to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) which resulted in some work categories being delisted and others added. These changes are typical of most January reports, but this year the revisions were larger than normal. See page 4.   The ISM surveys will be important to monitor in coming months. In the December reports, the weakness seen in the manufacturing sector appeared to be spreading and the service sector fell below 50, reflecting a contraction. But in January, a rebound in the ISM nonmanufacturing index reversed most of December’s weakness. The recovery in the service sector could be significant and has the potential of boosting economic activity, perhaps even in manufacturing. In sum, it is worth monitoring the ISM indices in the months ahead. The rate of change in the manufacturing index has been highly correlated with the rate of change in the S&P Composite. It could be pivotal. See page 9.  

Gail Dudack

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