The Song Remains the Same

Tom Connolly’s Equity Market Forecast

for the upcoming week beginning April 4, 2016

With Market Questions and Answers

 

Summary Comments:

The market does not appear to be a bargain at this stage.  The current pricing implies growth that is greater than what is forecasted, as the market trades on a very low to negative interest rate environment.  Economic data in the United States does reflect a stabilizing environment with some growth potential, but the lack of a more robust expansion gives pause to the idea of investing greater levels of capital to the equity market.  One can chase the favorable dividend yields of equities vs fixed income, but that is a path with risk that seems to outweigh the reward at this point in time.  The discussion below attempts to highlight the strengths and weaknesses I see.

 

YTD Connolly portfolio gain as of April 1, 2016 equals        +4.40%

S&P 500 Index YTD gain as of April 1, 2016 equals              +1.41%

NASDAQ Index YTD loss as of April 1, 2016 equals              -1.85%

 

Portfolio composition as of April 1, 2016 is as follows:

  • Equities                  34.9%
  • Cash                        47.8%
  • Gold                         13.7%
  • Fixed Income          3.6%

 

Forecast for the week:   I think I should reprint my commentary from the prior weekly market assessment.  My sentiments remain the same (reminds me of the Album “the Song Remains the Same” by Led Zeppelin).  Yes, the market is more highly valued than I believe it should be.  It is not dramatically overpriced, but executing on any entry points at this time feels imprudent.  At the same time, I have no desire to further sell down my portfolio as I know the market can run higher from here.  We are not in nose bleed territory, at least not yet, but we are not in a place where true bargains are present either. 

In this environment I maintain an E-Mini short position, a healthy allocation to precious metals that is somewhat hedged with put options, and an array of strong dividend generating equities.  While I am frustrated, I continue to sit on the sidelines believing a better entry point to more aggressively allocate capital to equities is nearing.

On the flip side, I do see some evidence of economic bottoming and maybe, just maybe, some growth.  See the chart below.  This is not strong enough to justify the multiples the market is currently valued at, but if we continue to get improvement then maybe we will see that translate into upward revisions to future earnings and a reason to buy at the current market levels.  Presently, the S&P 500 earnings forecast for 2016 is only 2.23% above the 2015 earnings.  Not strong enough to justify the current S&P 500 PE multiple of 22.86X (forward multiple of 17.63X for earnings and 18.44X for cash flow).  Patience is often the right choice, but that is not easy for one who thrives on that adrenaline of urgency.

 Economic trends

 

For the upcoming week, I expect some uncertainty to begin to build as we move closer to the first quarter earnings’ announcements.   The warm winter should be a net positive for US centric companies, and for global businesses the stability of the dollar comparison quarter over quarter should remove the FX headwind.  The positive catalysts to earnings will be offset by the market turbulence of January and February, as well as the softness in economies throughout the world.  All in all, I see a less volatile market with no meaningful moves up or down absent an external catalyst.

 

Market Questions and Answers

What are DJIA, DJT, DJU, S&P and NASDAQ metrics indicating?

The DJIA, NASDAQ and S&P are now in very over-bought territory.  The 12-week Relative Strength readings are 80 for the DJIA, 76 for the S&P, and 71 for the NASDAQ (RS in the 30s and below typically indicates an oversold market and hence a buying opportunity, while north of 60 typically indicates overbought conditions and a selling opportunity).  Reaching the current levels often provides a signal that the market will turn lower in the near future as profit taking actions are pursued by the professional investor community.

While I expect the market to be relatively sanguine this week it is important to note that we are near the prior highs.  Should the market turn lower as a result of some catalyst, the speed and degree of the decline could be breathtaking. I say this because prior support levels were breached during the January/February declines and the recent dramatic move higher could stall from exhaustion and fall back to prior lows.  Those lows would only bring the market back to fair value territory, so revisiting them sometime over the next few weeks or months is not out of the realm of possibility. 

The DJT is the one metric that has faltered of late.  It led the prior decline and the prior rise, and for the past two weeks it has not joined the other market indexes in the move higher.  While the other indexes are all moving higher, the DJT has declined from 8,077 on March 18th to 7,888 on April 1st.  You should keep an eye on the transports as it reflects the movement of goods/trade and people who provide services.  It is often the canary in the coal mine, so pay attention to the daily changes here. 

The DJU continues to be strong reflecting the safety of yield in a nervous world of Central Bank easing and Negative interest rates on foreign government debt.  The DJU exceeded its prior peak this week by closing at 671, a real reflection of the high dividend yield from Utilities versus the low interest rate returns from bonds.  Keep an eye on this index as it presently gives an indication of investor pursuit of safety rather than economic expansion (economic expansion would be evident if electric usage was accelerating thereby driving Utility profitability, and electricity consumption is not expanding at this point).

 

What is the current score on the Market tells metric?

The Market Tell indicator, which is a comparison of the market’s current cash flow and valuation metrics to its historic medians, closed the week at negative 58 as compared to last week’s reading of negative 41 (meaningfully lower than its high reading of +44.8 when the market made significant lows on February 12th).   When we have a high positive reading this is a strong buy signal and when we have a high negative reading it is a strong sell signal.  The Portfolio’s Cash flow multiple is 18.44X on expected 2016 full year results and 16.76X based on projected 2017 results.  These are relatively high readings of price to cash flow when compared to the historic medians of 16.8X and 14.8X, respectively.  Comparing current equity prices as the week closed on the 187 portfolio companies to their Discounted Cash Flow values indicates 72 companies were priced above their DCF value, which exceeds the historic average of 60 for the portfolio.  This supports an expected fall in the market as more companies have become overvalued.  I should note that at December 31, the number of companies in this category totaled 72 prior to the January decline.  The dollar spread between the Current Price and the Forward DCF price on the 187 portfolio continues to narrow and is now at $17.48, pulling back from the February high of $25.14.  This implies there is less potential price gains in this market.

 

What is the position of the net up down Vol/Issues? 

The week’s volume and issues did not provide any meaningful measure of confirmation or refutation of the week’s rise in the major equity indexes.  Volume was low during the week which surprised me given the expected quarter end portfolio activity of investment managers and pensions, but the Easter/School break timing may have taken many traders away from the market last week.  Having said this, on Friday it was curious to see that declining issues on the New York Stock Exchange of 1,610 exceed the advancing issues of 1,484 when the DJIA rose by 77 points.  This indicated that leadership on Friday was narrow as the broader market had more declining prices then rising prices even though the index went up.  Something to be concerned with.     

 

What are the daily point vs issues and point vs volume measures indicating up or down? 

The daily metrics of (1) index point moves vs volume in rising and falling issues and (2) index point moves vs rising and falling issues, were generally supportive of the daily point changes during the week.    

 

Where are the New Highs and Lows moving toward?

Confirmation of the positive trend continues to be evident as New Highs are on the rise indicating a possible new trend is being put in place.  Actual new highs for the past five days were the strongest yet this year at a cumulative net of 838 new highs (each days’ net of new highs over new lows for the day summed over the five day week).

 

How well are Market Tells correlating with Market trading internals?

The 5-day activity in volume and issues correlates very well with the major equity index changes.  Technically the market is supporting the buying and rising prices.  The fundamentals of the Market are indicating a contra-story.  For example, at this point in time one-third of the market is forecasting cash flows that are less than the prior year.  Additionally, the earning yield on the S&P 500 less the rate on the 10-year treasury equals 2.59%, which is a low return for the risk and volatility inherent in equities.   As noted earlier the Price Earnings ratio is high, as is the cash flow multiple for the current year and for the following year.  So we have a divergent set of conditions that will need to be resolved either through unanticipated earnings and cash flow growth or through a downward re-pricing of equities.  Time will tell.

 

What is the composite reading of the Calendar, Environment, Duration, Action, Trend, Emotion and Valuation (“CEDATEV”)?

The reading is +1 the same as last week.   Contributors are:

 Negative in the following areas:

Valuation

Duration

Trend

Positive in the following areas:

Calendar

Environment

Action

Emotion

Neutral in the following areas:

None

Other:

Bitcoin is at $418 and is showing some stability and higher valuation.  I continue to hold a position in Bitcoin as we move ever closer to digital currencies vs paper money and coinage.  Please note I also own PayPal given the success and penetration of the Venmo platform. 

Gold was volatile on the week and showed a weakening trend as it closed the week in the $1,223 per ounce area.  Miners were up and down, and did not perform very well.   I continue to hold a position within the precious metals complex but I have begun to hedge my gains to protect against any pullbacks. 

The Ten-year bond yield closed at 1.78%, down materially on the week as risk-on became more pronounced given the Fed’s dovish commentary.

The High Yield vs Investment Grade spread was very supportive of rising equity values over the first two weeks of March, but since March 15th it has showed some trend reversal tendencies as it has risen by 40 basis points.  The spread between HY and IG closed on Friday at 4.932%. The HY closing quote on Friday was 7.965% vs the Investment Grade close of 3.033%.  Keep an eye on developments in the oil patch for any re-emergence of HY concerns and potential spillover into the broader markets.

 

Have a great week!

 

Tom

Author: Thomas Connolly

Tom possesses a rich and diverse background that includes deep investing experience, senior corporate executive positions, and roles as a Regional Managing Partner and Global Industry Leader within Ernst & Young. He has advised executives on some of the largest acquisitions and dispositions in the Media and Entertainment industry, including clients such as Comcast, Citibank, Sony, Dalian Wanda and Publicis. Tom is a Certified Public Accountant with a Masters Degree from Columbia University. His skills are further accompanied by a personal passion for the study of economic trends and evolving market dynamics.

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