The Federal Reserve is expected to raise the fed funds rate 50 basis points this week, but this move is widely expected and unlikely to impact stock prices, in our view. What was not expected was last week’s GDP report that showed first quarter economic activity fell 1.4% SAAR.

First, it is important to remember how real GDP is calculated. Economic activity is measured on a quarter-over-quarter basis, adjusted for inflation, and annualized. Since real GDP in the fourth quarter of 2021 grew at a robust 6.9% rate, it is not surprising that the first quarter of 2022 slowed from that level. Nevertheless, an actual decline in growth was not expected.

We were surprised by this negative number, and we will remind you that last week we wrote that whatever the GDP report revealed for the first quarter’s economy, the second quarter was apt to be slower. Our thought process was that the Fed is expected to raise short-term interest rates by 100 to 150 basis points during the second quarter and more in the second half of the year. These rate hikes will weigh heavily on economic activity, particularly in the housing and auto sectors. We also reported that there were indications that residential real estate and vehicle sales were already decelerating in March. Higher financing costs would lower demand for housing and autos even further and the deceleration in these key sectors would continue.

Given this backdrop and the negative GDP seen in the first quarter, the obvious question becomes – are we already in the midst of a recession? The Bureau of Economic Research states we have already had one quarter of negative growth, yet surprisingly, we do not hear economists questioning whether or not we are IN a recession right now. The silence is deafening. And this is a concern.

There are two reasons why negative growth in the current second quarter is not totally predictable. The first is that GDP was already negative in the first quarter. It is easier to “calculate” a slowdown from a strong GDP quarter than it is from a weak GDP quarter. Simple math indicates that economic activity would have to decelerate even more in the current quarter for GDP to remain negative. This may not be probable, but it is possible, and we certainly would not rule it out. A second point is that weakness in the first quarter was centered in poor trade data, inventory depletion, and lower government spending. Notably, the strength seen in the fourth quarter of 2021 was due to an inventory build. See page 4. The March ISM manufacturing survey also pointed to low inventories which gives us hope that manufacturing and trade may return to positive in the second quarter and add to GDP. Yet, all in all, we remain cautious on the outlook for the economy and the stock market in the coming months.


The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 2000 points in the last nine trading sessions. As a result, our technical breadth indicators are as oversold as they were in March of this year. From this perspective, we would not be surprised if stock prices rebounded from current levels. However, it is clear from the charts and from statistics, that equities are in a bear market. In short, we would consider any near-term rally to be a rebound within a bear market cycle.

From a technical perspective, the 90% down day recorded on April 22nd was the first extreme breadth day recorded since June 24, 2020. The good news is that this is a sign of panic and panic is characteristic of a late-stage bear market. The bad news is that 90% panic days tend to come in a series.

To date, we have not seen another 90% down day, although there was an 88% down day on April 26th and an 89% down day on April 29th. Still, historically, 90% down days tend to appear in clusters and it is likely that there will be more. Panic days also tend to be high volume days, and while the 90%, 89%, and 88% down days we experienced recently were accompanied by higher volume, it was not a significant increase in volume. One could not say the current market is “washed out.”

Lastly, the first telltale sign that selling pressure is becoming exhausted is when a 90% up day appears. A 90% up day may not appear at the exact low, but it tends to appear near the tail end of a bear market. It is usually a sign that downside risk is minimal. Unfortunately, that is yet to be found.

Technical update

There are some technical indicators that are more favorable, particularly the AAII sentiment survey. AAII bullish sentiment fell 2.5 points to 16.4% last week and has been below 20% for three consecutive weeks. This was only the 34th time in AAII history that bullishness fell below 20%. Bearish sentiment jumped 15.5 points to 59.4% and is at its highest level since a March 5, 2009, reading of 70.3%. This combination of extreme sentiment readings is favorable. Unfortunately, sentiment indicators have rarely been good timing tools, but they do tend to keep investors from becoming too bullish or too bearish. In the current case, sentiment indicators are warning us not to become too bearish for the longer term.

Still, the charts of the major indices are worrisome. With the exception of the DJIA, all the popular indices broke to new cyclical lows this week. And while the steepness of recent declines suggest a rebound from current levels, the chart patterns are uniformly negative. See page 7.

Valuation Benchmarks Technical indicators can be especially useful at market tops, but we find fundamental tools to be best at defining “potential” bottoms. Earlier this year we wrote that the current level of inflation was a warning that PE multiples could fall to their long-term average or lower. The long-term average PE multiple is 17.5 times. Our S&P 500 earnings estimate is $220, which is conservative and below the general consensus. But applying a PE multiple of 17.5 to our $220 earnings estimate suggests that value in the broad equity market is found near the SPX 3850 level. This is important to keep in mind if we get a series of 90% down days and the market becomes emotional. SPX 3850 sounded extremely bearish earlier this year, but it is less than 8% below current prices. With many of the technology darlings, like Apple (AAPL – $159.48) also coming under selling pressure in recent days we believe it is time to start looking for a possible turnaround. In a classic bear market cycle, the large capitalization darlings of the previous bull market cycle tend to be the last to fall.

Gail Dudack

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PLEASE NOTE: Unless otherwise stated, the firm and any affiliated person or entity 1) either does not own any, or owns less than 1%, of the outstanding shares of any public company mentioned, 2) does not receive, and has not within the past 12 months received, investment banking compensation or other compensation from any public company mentioned, and 3) does not expect within the next three months to receive investment banking compensation or other compensation from any public company mentioned. The firm does not currently make markets in any public securities.

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