Not surprisingly, the second half of the year is proving to be more volatile than the first half and we believe this is due to several reasons. On the positive side is the strength seen in first and second quarter earnings results for the S&P 500 companies. This encouraging news on earnings is coupled with extremely easy monetary policy which includes low interest rates and $120 billion of monthly security purchases by the Fed, and child tax credits and a potential infrastructure bill in terms of fiscal stimulus.
On the negative side is the fact that earnings growth may be peaking. Although earnings growth should remain positive, the growth rates of 143% YOY in the first quarter and an estimated 65% YOY in the second quarter are unsustainable in the long term. In fact, consensus earnings forecasts suggest that earnings growth in the final quarters of the year will be less than half the pace seen in the second quarter. This decline in the growth rate is not a big negative; however, it does suggest that PE multiples may also have peaked. PE multiples tend to move higher when earnings growth is rising, but a decline in the earnings growth rate will not justify any further multiple expansion. PE multiples could also come under pressure in the second half given the extremely high levels of inflation recorded by all the inflation benchmarks.
Also on the negative side is the fact that monetary policy is apt to change in the second half. Although the Fed insists that inflation is temporary, it is unlikely to decrease soon, and this could force the Fed to alter its quantitative easing. There have already been some innuendos that the Fed may change its tone on inflation at this week’s post-meeting press conference. It has been our view that the Fed would initiate the discussion of reducing quantitative easing at its August symposium. The significance of this potential shift cannot be underestimated. The Fed has been flooding the US banking system with liquidity for more than 17 months. This historic level of liquidity has supported the economy, but it has also supported equities since March 2020. It has helped boost stock prices and investment in general. The absence of this support will not hurt stock prices per se, but investors will no longer have the wind at their backs.
Yet it is important to note that history has shown that the anticipation of a change in Fed policy can have a bigger and more immediate impact on stock prices and investor psychology. Therefore, any hint of a change in the Fed’s monthly purchases is apt to trigger a correction. In sum, expect more volatility ahead. Assuming this is true, some of the safest investments in the second half could be stocks with lower-than-average PE multiples and higher than average dividend yields.
Another possible negative in the second half relates to China. There are already signs that China’s growth is beginning to slow and profit margins are being negatively impacted by higher raw material costs. But the larger risk regarding China may be its increasingly aggressive posture towards corporations inside of China and its posture with the US. Beijing has begun a sweeping crackdown on companies such as Tencent Holdings (0700.HK – $446.00) which it ordered to give up exclusive music licensing rights. China fined Alibaba Group Holdings (BABA.K – $186.07) for anti-monopoly violations. And it denied Huya Inc.’s (HUYA.K – $11.96) planned game streaming merger with DouYu International Holdings (DOYU.O – $3.77). Yet, most disturbing, is China’s increasingly aggressive stance with the US. This week’s meeting between US deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi ended with Chinese officials accusing the US of “coercive diplomacy,” and warned the US to stop meddling in Taiwan or Xinjiang issues. They also presented deputy Secretary Sherman with two lists of action. These included revoking sanctions on Communist Party officials, lifting visa bans for students, making life easier for state-affiliated journalists and reopening the door for Confucius Institutes. This meeting, which took place in the Chinese city of Tianjin, was not open to foreign press, although the Chinese press were allowed. All in all, this suggests that issues with Hong Kong and Taiwan may continue to escalate.
New-home sales in June fell for a third month in a row as homebuilders contend with high construction costs and a burgeoning pipeline of single-family projects. New-home sales fell 6.6% to 676,000 annualized units in June, which was the lowest level since April 2020. We noticed that builders show that inventory for new homes for sale are currently low, but new homes under construction are up strongly. An even sharper uptrend can be seen in new home construction yet-to-be started.
Existing-home sales rose 1.4% in June to 5.86 million units annualized, fully reversing May’s losses, and breaking the four-month losing streak registered since the start of the year. The recent dip in mortgage rates along with a rebounding labor market contributed to the pickup in home sales. Single-family sales and condo/co-op-sales both rose 1.4% from the previous month. Sales were higher in all census regions except the South, where they were flat from the prior month.
Sentiment indicators are mixed with the Conference Board showing July gains in the broad index, present conditions and a flat reading in expectations. The University of Michigan sentiment reported losses in all indices and a particularly large drop from 83.5 to 78.4 in expectations. The difference may be due to timing of the surveys and the dispensing of stimulus checks. See page 3.
The 25-day up/down volume oscillator is at negative 1.27 and neutral this week after recording one day in oversold territory on July 19. This is an unusually low value for this oscillator particularly since there have been two 90% up volume days in the last 25 trading sessions. We do not remember ever seeing strong 90% up days with our oscillator remaining in the negative half of the neutral zone. This means that over the last 25 days there has been more volume in stocks declining than in those advancing.
The last time the 25-day up/down volume oscillator showed strong buying pressure was when it recorded one day in overbought territory on April 29. Prior to that there was a minimal five consecutive trading days in overbought territory between February 4 and February 10. In sum, the February readings confirmed the record highs in the broad indices at that time; but since then, there have been no confirmations of recent highs. The July 19 drop to negative 3.49 was the first oversold reading since the pandemic, or in March-April 2020.
Our 25-day up down volume oscillator is warning that demand is fading, and investors are selling into strength. The longer this volume non-confirmation of new highs continues the greater the downside risk to the broader market. In short, the recent erratic trend in the market has been expected and should be considered healthy. However, if a new rally fails to generate a new overbought reading, it would be a signal that the major trend is weakening. Should a future pullback in the equity market generate an oversold reading without an intervening overbought reading, it will confirm that the major cycle has shifted from bullish to bearish.
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