With the stock market falling on trade war fears, the pullback/correction that many traders have waited for has finally arrived. Considering that this pullback is so close to the October 2018 high, many traders are wondering “is this the start of a much bigger decline, like Q4 2018?”
The economy’s fundamentals determine the stock market’s medium-long term outlook. Technicals determine the stock market’s short-medium term outlook. Here’s why:
- The stock market’s long term risk:reward is no longer bullish.
- The medium term direction (e.g. next 6-12 months) has a bullish lean.
- The stock market’s short term is neutral (last week it was short term bearish).
We focus on the long term and the medium term.
The stock market and the economy move in the same direction in the long run, which is why we pay attention to macro.
U.S. macro is decent right now, which suggests that:
- A recession is not imminent.
- The risk of a big bear market decline like 2007-2009 or 2000-2002 is low right now.
This stands in contrast with Q4 2018, when macro was deteriorating from August – December 2018.
However, the U.S. economy is also in the vicinity of “as good as it gets”. This means that while the stock market can keep going up for another year, the long term risk on the downside is much greater than the long term reward on the upside.
Let’s recap some of the leading macro indicators we covered:
*All economic data charts from FRED
Housing is a slight negative factor, but could improve
Housing – a key leading sector for the economy – remains weak. Housing Starts and Building Permits are trending downwards while New Home Sales is trending sideways. In the past, these 3 indicators trended downwards before recessions and bear markets began.
You can see that the deterioration right now in housing is not as severe as it was before historical recessions. Hence why this is a slight negative factor for macro.
Labor market is still a positive factor
The labor market is still a positive factor for macro. Initial Claims and Continued Claims are still trending sideways. In the past, these 2 leading indicators trended higher before bear markets and recessions began.
Here’s Initial Claims.
And here’s Continued Claims
Inflation-adjusted corporate profits are still trending higher. Corporate profits leads the stock market by approximately 5-6 quarters. This remains bullish for stocks in 2019.
Financial conditions remain very loose and banks have not significantly tightened their lending standards. In the past, financial conditions tightened along with banks’ lending standards (i.e. trended higher) before recessions and bear markets began.
Here’s the Chicago Fed’s Financial Conditions Credit Subindex
Here’s banks’ lending standards.
The 10 year – 3 month yield curve has already inverted, while the 10 year – 2 year yield curve is close to inverting.
While this may seem ominous (especially considering all the media hype around the yield curve), it’s important to remember that the yield curve tends to invert before recessions start.
*For reference, here’s the random probability of the U.S. stock market going up on any given day, week, or month.
The stock market’s medium term (next 6-12 months) leans bullish. There is a theme that’s common among most of these market studies: the first pullback/correction after a very strong rally is usually not the start of a major bear market. Bull markets peak on weakened rallies that are more volatile.
Still in a short term uptrend
By one measure, the NASDAQ still remains in a prolonged short term uptrend.
Both the S&P and NASDAQ remain above their 50 day moving average this week, a prolonged streak that could soon end.
Here’s what happens next to the NASDAQ when it is above its 50 dma for 81 consecutive days.
Here’s what happens next to the S&P when the NASDAQ is above its 50 dma for 81 consecutive days.
There is a bullish bias for both indices over the next 9 months, and a slight bullish bias for the S&P over the next 2 months.
Bull traps and flat tops
Considering that the S&P today is exactly where it was at the January 2018 high, many traders are thinking “is this just a big flat top?”
Here’s what happens next to the S&P when it is within 1% of where it was 321 days ago, while still within 3% of a 1 year high (e.g. flat top from January 2018 – present).
So why isn’t this flat top consistently long term bearish? Because major historical bull market tops were usually more V shaped over a 1+ year basis.
“Flat tops” are usually bull market continuation patterns, like the most recent case in this market study.
But what about the S&P’s bull trap? Is it normal for the S&P to make a new all-time high, and then promptly pullback?
It is normal.
Various breadth indicators are starting to weaken as the stock market falls. For example, the NYSE McClellan Summation Index has fallen below 730 for the first time in 2 months.
Here’s what happens next to the S&P when the NYSE McClellan Summation Index falls below 730 for the first time in 2 months.
While the NASDAQ has rallied over the past 3 months, the % of NASDAQ stocks above their 50 dma has been trending downwards.
Is this a bearish breadth divergence?
Here’s what happens next to the NASDAQ when it rallies more than 5% in the past 56 days while the % of NASDAQ stocks above their 50 dma falls more than -34%
This is rare, but not consistently bearish. Why not?
Because the % of NASDAQ stocks above their 50 dma closely mirrors the NASDAQ’s distance from its 50 dma. When the NASDAQ first rallies after a big decline, it goes very high above its 50 dma. Then as the NASDAQ’s rally inevitably slows down (it can’t go up at a rate of 5% per month forever), it gets closer to its 50 dma. Hence the % of NASDAQ stocks above their 50 dma falls.
This is a normal feature of strong medium term rallies like the one we’ve seen from January-April.
The same thing applies to the S&P’s “deteriorating breadth”.
AAII Neutral % is finally starting to fall after remaining high throughout this entire rally.
Here’s what happens next to the S&P when AAII Neutral falls below 35% for the first time in 2 months.
Mostly bullish for stocks 2-12 months later.
*The stock market’s short term is always extremely hard to predict. This is because too many random and unpredictable factors impact the short term (e.g. trade war news), no matter how much conviction you have. It is impossible to consistently and accurately predict all of these factors.
While the stock market’s short term was bearish over the past few weeks, the short term is now neutral. Perhaps the stock market will fall for a few more days, but remember that this is the first pullback in a very strong rally. The first pullback usually isn’t the end.
After a long streak of strong momentum, momentum is weakening. The S&P’s 14 daily RSI fell below 45 on Thursday for the first time in 4 months.
Historically, this was mostly bullish for the S&P over the next 1 month.
The Equity Put/Call ratio spiked on Friday to its highest level since December.
Historically, the forward returns were mostly random up to 2 months later. You can see a clear dichotomy in the 1 month forward max drawdowns:
- Either the max drawdown over the next 1 month was very large (e.g. -5%), or…
- The stock market went straight up from here (i.e. no drawdown).
Most market studies consistently demonstrate “red” max drawdowns.
Short term moving average
The S&P’s 20 day moving average fell on Wednesday for the first time in more than 3 months.
That’s the end of a very steady short term uptrend. (The 20 dma can be used to measure short term trends).
Historically, this was mostly bullish for the S&P over the next 1 month and 3 months.
Here is our discretionary market outlook:
- The U.S. stock market’s long term risk:reward is no longer bullish. In a most optimistic scenario, the bull market probably has 1 year left. Long term risk:reward is more important than trying to predict exact tops and bottoms.
- The medium term direction (e.g. next 6-12 months) leans bullish
- We don’t predict the short term because the short term is always extremely random, no matter how much conviction you think you have. Focus on the medium-long term.
Goldman Sachs’ Bull/Bear Indicator demonstrates that risk:reward does favor long term bears.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.