September has a poor reputation for equity performance and for good reason. The month ranks last in terms of price performance and has generated declines in the S&P 500 index in 50 of the last 91 Septembers. It is the only month that has closed with price losses more than half the time. The historical record shows that since 1931, September produced an average loss of 1%. The average decline narrows to 0.7% in all years since 1950.

We think there are a number of reasons for this weak performance. First, September does not have the positive liquidity factors that November, December, and January have in terms of IRA funding, tax-loss selling and reinvesting. Nor is it a fiscal year end for most pension funds or mutual funds which usually provide portfolio inflows and readjustments. On the other hand, it is a time when investors look ahead to next year’s earnings, economic, and/or political forecasts and this is often murky. Stocks do not like uncertainty. This September includes a number of events that could move stock prices, such as the G20 New Delhi summit September 9-10, the FOMC meeting on September 19-20, a potential government shutdown October 1, and the impact of Saudi Arabia and Russia extending the oil cuts until year end. Given that the equity market is currently trading at an estimated 2023 PE of 20.3 times, there is little room for disappointment. We remain cautious but believe the equity market remains in a wide neutral trading range best represented by the Russell 2000 between support at 1650 and resistance at 2000.

Narrow is Not Noble

The Nasdaq’s weekly digest called Smart Investing had a table of stocks it called the “magnificent seven” that has been leading the Nasdaq Composite index and S&P 500 higher in recent months. Not surprisingly, it includes stocks such as Apple Inc. (AAPL – $189.70), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT – $333.55), Alphabet Inc. (GOOG – $136.71), Amazon.com (AMZN – $137.27), NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA – $485.48), Tesla, Inc. (TSLA – $256.49). and Meta Platforms, Inc. (META – $300.15). See page 3. From this table we see that these 7 stocks represent 40.43% of the Nasdaq Composite and 30.625.637% of the S&P 500. Apple and Microsoft represent nearly 21% of the Nasdaq Composite and nearly 14% of the S&P 500 and these two stocks have had year-to-date gains of 46% and 39%, respectively. However, it is NVIDIA, Meta Platforms, and Tesla that have been the biggest drivers of the indices with outsized year-to-date gains of 232%, 149%, and 108%, respectively.

The problem with a narrowly driven rally is that it forces portfolio managers to own these stocks in order to perform in line with the benchmark averages. In the longer run this means the market becomes more and more momentum driven and less driven by value. This can persist for a long while much like the bubble market in 1997 to 2000, but the eventual decline in the averages becomes greater the longer stock prices are based upon momentum rather than earnings.

August Payrolls

The pace of job creation came in slightly ahead of expectations at 187,000, but July’s number was revised down by 30,000 to 157,000 and June’s payrolls were lowered by 80,000 to 105,000. These are very large downside revisions, and it gives rise to questions about BLS statistics. The unemployment rate rose from 3.5% to 3.8% which materialized not just from the 514,000 newly unemployed, but also from the 736,000 increase in the civilian labor force. See page 4. We wonder if this increase in the labor force is a result of financial pressure experienced by many households and the need for an additional paycheck. We see other signs of stress in consumer finances. According to the credit agency Equifax, credit card delinquencies have hit 3.8%, while 3.6% have defaulted on their car loans. Both figures are the highest in more than 10 years.

Yet, despite the declining trend in employment growth, the establishment survey shows jobs grew 2% YOY, above the average rate of 1.69%. The household survey showed employment growth of 1.76%, also above the long-term average of 1.51%. In short, neither are at negative-growth recessionary levels.

Personal income grew 4.7% YOY in July and real personal disposable income increased 3.8% YOY. RPDI growth is down from 4.9% in June, nevertheless, it is the seventh consecutive month of real gains in income. At the same time, personal consumption expenditures grew 6.4% YOY in July, primarily from an 8.3% increase in services. Durable goods expenditures rose 4.5% YOY and nondurable spending increased 1.8% YOY. In general, the post-pandemic stimulus-driven economy appears to be fading. See page 6.

Strains in household finances can also be found in the savings rate. After hitting a peak of 26.3% in March 2021, it fell from 4.3% in June to 3.5% in July. Higher interest rates are also taking a toll on savings and spending. Personal interest payments rose 49.4% YOY in July, down from 55.3% in June, yet still increasing at a record rate. Personal interest payments were $506 billion in July after averaging $330 billion in 2018 and 2019. This is a huge jump in interest payments. See page 7.

Watching oil

The United States has stopped selling oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) and has begun to buy oil in order to replenish this important reserve which is at a multi-decade low. Meanwhile, despite a rally in the oil market and analysts’ expectations of tight supply in the fourth quarter, Saudi Arabia and Russia said they would extend voluntary oil cuts to the end of the year. These two events are sparking a breakout rally in oil which could jeopardize the consensus view that inflation is trending lower. And as we already noted, the White House has called on Congress to pass a short-term “continuing resolution” to keep the government funded past Sept. 30 and to avoid the fourth shutdown in a decade. This is impacting the fixed income market. The 10-year Treasury yield bounced back up to 4.27%, closing in on the important 4.33% resistance level. See page 9.

Technical Update

The S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the Nasdaq Composite, are rebounding from their 100-day moving averages and the Russell 2000 is bouncing from its 200-day moving average, but the near-term trends are indecisive. Unless, or until, all the indices exceed their all-time highs (which we doubt), the longer-term pattern remains characteristic of a long-term neutral trading range. See page 11.

The 25-day up/down volume oscillator is at a negative 1.79 reading this week, relatively unchanged from a week ago, and at the lower end of neutral. The oscillator generated overbought readings in 10 of 22 trading sessions ending August 1. However, none of these overbought readings lasted the minimum of five consecutive trading days required to confirm the advance in the averages. Strong rallies should also include at least one extremely overbought day which was also missing.

As this indicator approaches an oversold reading of minus 3.0 or less, the same will be true – five consecutive trading days in oversold would confirm the decline. See page 12. Another sign of the market’s longer-term neutral trend is found in the new high/new low list. The 10-day average of daily new highs is averaging 93 and new lows are averaging 77. This combination reverts from negative to neutral this week since both new highs and new lows are below 100.

Gail Dudack

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