Sunday, November 19, 2017

NFIB Small Business Optimism Index Highlights Tight Labor Market

Last week NFIB's October report on Small Business Optimism fell short of expectations, but remained at a high level at 103.8 versus 103 in the prior report. A few highlights from the report:
  • "The tight labor market got tighter for small business owners last month, continuing a year-long trend. Fifty-nine percent of owners said they tried to hire in October, with 88 percent of them reporting no or few qualified applicants."
  • "Consumer sentiment surged based on optimism about jobs and incomes, an encouraging development as consumers account for 70 percent of GDP," said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg.

And continuing to track the market's performance from December of last year (January's report) when NFIB reported one of the highest NFIB readings, the current S&P 500 Index return is outpacing prior market returns associated with high NFIB readings as seen in the below chart.


With a surge in consumer sentiment and a small business environment that is showing continued strength in hiring, these two factors alone should serve as a tailwind for the economy and market in the months ahead.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Are Bearish Investor Sentiment Responses Translating Into Actual Action?

The S&P 500 Index is only down .60% from its November 8, 2017 high yet individual investor and institutional equity sentiment has turned significantly less positive. This negative sentiment has not translated into broadly lower equity prices though, but knowing sentiment measures are contrary indicators, they are approaching levels that would be suggestive of higher equity prices ahead.


In this week's American Association of Individual Investors' Sentiment Survey, bullish sentiment fell 15.8 percentage points to 29.4%. This was the largest weekly decline since the bullish sentiment reading fell 16.2 percentage points in April of 2013.


The NAAIM Exposure Index is indicating a less bullish posture by active investment managers as well. As noted by NAAIM, the index "provides insight into the actual adjustments active risk managers have made to client accounts over the past two weeks."


Although markets remain near all time highs, investor sentiment has become significantly less bullish and possibly beginning to be reflected in fund flows. Thomson Reuters Lipper notes weekly flows into domestic equities have turned negative with money market and municipal bond funds generating positive inflows.
"The net-positive flows [including both mutual funds and ETFs] stemmed from money market funds (+$2.7 billion) and municipal bond funds (+$418 million), while taxable bond funds (-$1.9 billion) and equity funds (-$240 million) both saw net money leave their coffers."
One market area continuing to show positive inflows and rewarding investors from a performance perspective is international equity markets. The below flow table from ICI details weekly flows across the various asset classes.


In spite of a very limited decline in equity markets, investor sentiment is at a level where one might say investors remain on edge. Historically, significant market pullbacks do not occur when investor positioning is correct and raises the question whether ones sentiment responses are translating into actual investment action.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Equity Corrections Will Occur Again, Maybe Sooner Than One Expects

If there is one factor that perplexes me about the current market environment it is the lack of volatility since the election. The last time the market experienced a greater than 5% correction was in June of 2016 and the last double digit pullback was in February 2016. Going back to 1980 the average intra-year market decline for the S&P 500 Index is 14.1%. I have written a number of recent posts on the positive global economic environment, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, that may be serving as a tailwind for equity market returns around the world.

On the surface, if one knew mutual funds were holding elevated cash positions, they might conclude that this is a bullish data point since the cash can be deployed in additional equity investments. On the other hand, elevated liquidity in equity funds may be a sign of investors rapidly allocating more funds to equities and this might actually be a negative sentiment measure. In fact, as the below chart shows, there is a high correlation to elevated liquidity in equity funds and market tops.



Friday, November 10, 2017

If History Repeating; Another Five Years For Equity Bull Market

Shortly after the 2016 election in a post titled, Equity Market Beginning To Resemble Bull Market Of The 1950's And 1980's, I discussed how the equity market continued to trace a similar path as the market in the those two earlier decades. A part of my conclusion indicated the anticipated policies under a Trump administration would resemble policies implemented in the 1950's and 1980's, like tax reform and infrastructure spending. Reality is setting in and not much seems to be getting done in Washington on those two fronts; however, the current market continues to follow a similar path as in the 50's and 80's. Better sentiment and regulatory reform, even though by executive order, seems to be having a positive influence on companies. If the past is any guide then, the bull market might have at least another five years to run as can be seen in the below chart.


Thursday, November 09, 2017

Biases Influence Investment Decisions

Every investor makes investment decisions that are influenced by ones biases that form over time. These biases may come in many forms but they tend to fall into a couple of categories, emotional or cognitive. I mention this because it is not that uncommon that I sit down to write a blog post on a certain topic thinking the post's conclusion will go in one direction, but end up with a different conclusion after evaluating some of the research. Some of these blog topics are developed by flipping through a lot of charts, which I do frequently. One such chart is below and shows the relative performance of the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats to the S&P 500 Index.



Monday, November 06, 2017

Investment Opportunities Outside The U.S.

In a post yesterday I somewhat rhetorically titled the post wondering if the equity market was at a top. In short, I do not know, but offered suggestions for investors about reviewing their asset allocation vis-à-vis their spending needs.

Not all markets have traveled the same path as the S&P 500 Index though. A number of markets outside the U.S have lagged the U.S. since the end of the financial crisis. The below chart compares the cumulative performance of the S&P 500 Index (SPY) versus the MSCI ACWI ex U.S Index (ACWX). The chart goes back to the beginning of 1992 and clearly the S&P 500 has a performance advantage with a widening gap beginning to develop around 2011.



Sunday, November 05, 2017

Is This The Market Top?

I read an individual's commentary this weekend that was titled Is This As Good As It Gets, and I will have more comments on this later in this post, but it coincides with some clients/investors inquiring whether they should raise cash now. The 'raise cash now' question is certainly understandable when one looks at the strength of the market since the February low last year, up nearly 40% on a price only basis in less than two years.



Thursday, November 02, 2017

Individual And Investment Manager Sentiment Is Diverging

At the end of August bullish investor sentiment reached a year low of 25% and since that time individual investor sentiment has risen to 45.1% as reported by the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) today. During this time period the S&P 500 Index has increased nearly 5%, providing some support to the contrarian nature of the individual sentiment report.


Conversely, the National Association of Active Investment Managers reported a decline in their Exposure Index to 60.2% from 71.7% in the week earlier. As noted by NAAIM, the Exposure Index,
"is not predictive in nature and is of little value in attempting to determine what the stock market will do in the future. The primary goal of most active managers is to manage the risk/reward relationship of the stock market and to stay in tune with what the market is doing at any given time. As the name indicates, the NAAIM Exposure Index provides insight into the actual adjustments active risk managers have made to client accounts over the past two weeks."

Nonetheless, investment managers are positioned for a less constructive bullish market while the individual investor seems more optimistic from a sentiment perspective. One should keep in mind these sentiment measures are most predictive at extremes and it can be argued neither the AAII sentiment reading nor  the NAAIM Exposure Index is at an extreme level. However, sentiment expectations for institutions and  individuals are moving in opposite directions and both will not be right.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Time Period Matters For Outperformance: High Beta Versus Low Volatility

I have read commentary over the last few days noting the outperformance of the PowerShares High Beta Index (SPHB) versus its counterpart, the PowerShares Low Volatility Index (SPLV) over the past 1-year time frame. However, much of this outperformance was generated in the couple of months following the November election.



Saturday, October 28, 2017

Sizable Declines In A Few Individual Stocks; Time To Review Allocations

Much is going right as it relates to the equity markets around the globe; however, this past week saw the market punish companies that reported earnings that did not match market expectations. The below 2-week chart only lists a few of those companies, but companies like Celgene (CELG) down 28.1% and Expedia (EXPE) down 17.5% suffered much of their losses on one or just a few trading days.