After a long delay, the equity market finally realized that the Federal Reserve has much more work to do in the months ahead in order to combat inflation. It has become clear that the focus on the timing of a “peak fed funds rate” was premature. Last week the Fed raised the fed funds rate 75 basis points to a range of 3% to 3.25%, and the November meeting could see another 75-basis point increase which would carry this benchmark to 4%. The December meeting will be data-dependent, but it could also result in short-term rates moving higher. This combination of rate increases has had a dramatic impact on all interest rates and on the dollar, while keeping the government yield curve relatively inverted. See page 3.
However, the chart of government interest rates on page 3 shows another important detail which is how much interest rates have risen since the end of August. In particular, the two-year Treasury note yield has jumped 105 basis points in less than a month. To date, this is the largest monthly increase in the two-year Treasury note yield since the 1980 to 1981 era, which is an interesting era to compare to today’s situation, since inflation is also the highest in 40 years. In that inflationary period, inflation peaked at 14.8% YOY in March 1980, fell to 9.6% YOY in June 1981, but quickly rebounded to 11% YOY in September 1981. The Fed first raised rates dramatically until the effective fed funds rate hit 17.6% in April 1980. The Fed then cut rates due to a recession (January 1980 to July 1980) and the effective fed funds rate fell to 9% in July 1980. But when inflation reignited, the Fed boosted rates once again and the effective fed funds rate rose to 19.1% by June 1981. This hawkish policy triggered a second recession between July 1981 and November 1982.
We believe the current Fed hopes to avoid the erratic tightening policy of the 1980-1981 timeframe and will therefore continue to steadily raise rates until data shows prices are not simply decelerating, but in fact, the inflation cycle has been broken. This will take time and unfortunately, it is likely to result in a full-blown undeniable recession.
Canary in the Coal Mine
We have been watching the debt markets more carefully in recent days since the spike in the dollar can have consequences in areas least expected. The SPDR Bloomberg High Yield Bond ETF (JNK – $87.57) tracks the US high yield corporate bond market and it is spiraling downward, approaching the March 23, 2020 closing low of $84.57, which tested the March 2009 low of $77.55. However, while the bond market is displaying substantial concern about the future, the VIX is at $32.60, and remains well below its $82.69 close of March 16, 2020. See page 4. In our view, the equity market is too complacent about the current combination of rising interest rates, a higher dollar, and declining earnings.
Moreover, the bond market is more closely connected to the global environment where the mixture of rising debt loads (both sovereign and corporate), higher interest rates, and a strong dollar can be an explosive combination. In short, the decline in the high yield market concerns us and we fear the next unexpected event may materialize outside the US and be related to defaults.
Despite some comments by well-respected analysts, earnings estimates for 2022 and 2023 are falling. This week S&P Dow Jones consensus earnings estimates for 2022 and 2023 fell $0.78 and $1.33, respectively. Refinitiv IBES consensus earnings forecasts fell $1.50 and $1.24. The S&P consensus EPS estimate for 2022 is now $208.21 and the IBES estimate fell to $223.83, bringing EPS growth rates for 2022 to 0.3% and 7.5%, respectively. See pages 6 and 13.
We recently reduced our 2022 S&P 500 earnings estimate from $218 to $209 and for 2023 our estimate declines from $237 to $229. However, we must admit that we fear we may have to lower these estimates after third quarter earnings season. Nevertheless, our $209 estimate coupled with our valuation model which suggests that a 14 X multiple is appropriate for this environment creates a downside target of roughly SPX 2915. The yearend range is SPX 3452 to SPX 2380. This implies that there is more risk in the market. An alternative method would be to take an average PE of 15.8 X with our $209 estimate, and this equates to SPX 3302. See page 5. Either way, the market has not yet reached a level of table-pounding good value.
Technical Indicators may be weakening
Technical indicators have not been reassuring this week – quite the opposite. The charts of the popular indices look quite similar this week, unfortunately, all four of the popular indices appear to be in the midst of a capitulation-style decline. As we have indicated in recent weeks, the key to defining this bear market’s low will be whether breadth data is less negative on a new low in price. If so, it would be a positive sign of a bottoming formation. The alternative is not favorable for the intermediate term. See page 7.
At the moment, the jury is still out, but recent breadth data is not encouraging. The 25-day up/down volume oscillator is now at negative 4.35 and recording its sixth consecutive day in oversold territory, i.e., a reading of negative 3.0 or less. (On September 26, 2022, the 25-day indicator also hit a low of negative 4.95.) Since this oscillator was in oversold territory for six of eight consecutive sessions between July 6 and July 15 and hit an extreme oversold reading of negative 5.17 on July 14, 2022, a successful test of the June lows would require a shorter and/or less intense oversold reading on any new low in price in the S&P 500. Although the oscillator is slightly less oversold than it was in June, it is by a very narrow and tenuous margin. Another extreme sell-off day would take this indicator to a deeper oversold reading, turning this indicator negative, and indicate that lower lows may be ahead. In short, the market could be only a day or two away from an unsuccessful test of the June low. See page 8.
In addition, the 10-day average of daily new highs is 32 and daily new lows are 896. This combination is negative with new highs below 100, and new lows above the 100 benchmark. More importantly, the 10-day moving average of new lows at 896 has now exceeded the previous peak of 604 made in early May. Again, the market is showing underlying weakness. The advance/decline line fell below the June low on September 22 just prior to the SPX breaking its June low. The NYSE cumulative advance/decline line is currently 53,150 net advancing issues from its 11/8/21 high – a large number and a negative sign for the near term. See page 9. On a more positive note, last week’s AAII readings showed a decrease of 8.4% in bulls to 17.7% and an increase of 14.9% in bears to 60.9%. The 17.7% reading is among the 20 lowest readings since the survey began in 1987. Optimism was at a similar level in May. Equity prices tend to be higher in the next six and/or twelve months following such extreme readings in sentiment. See page 10.
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