The Nasdaq closed at a new all-time high (ATH) on Friday. It has risen 6 days in a row. A number of studies suggest that it should continue to rise further, and that SPX should follow it, probably also to a new ATH. That is the near term set up as equities enter March options expiration week.
The macro data from the past month continues to mostly point to positive growth. On balance, the evidence suggests the imminent onset of a recession is unlikely.
The long term trend in US equities remains firmly higher. Expectations should be for equities to rise in the months ahead. The near term directional edge is more muted. Worldwide, equities are in the process of retesting their February lows. The US is being held up mostly by technology and financial stocks.
S&P sales grew 9% over the past year, the best growth in 6 years. Earnings rose 23%, the best growth in 7 years. Profit margins expanded to a new all-time high of 10.8%. Overall, corporate results in the fourth quarter were very good. Earnings during 2017, in fact, rose as much the SPX index itself. The outlook for 2018 appears to also be strong: the consensus expects earnings to grow as much as 18% this year.
After falling into their first correction in two years, US equities regained half of their loses in just 6 days. The rebound has been strong enough and persistent enough to suggest that it has further to run. Sentiment and volatility backwardation support that view. However, a low retest over the coming weeks is still a viable risk.
Corrections during bull markets have had a strong propensity to form a double bottom. Since 1980, only 16% of corrections have had a "V bounce" where the low was never revisited. The current bull market has been different. Since 2009, about half of the corrections have had a "V bounce." So what happens this time? It's a good guess that if sentiment quickly becomes very bullish, then a retest of the recent low is probably ahead.
Prior falls like the one suffered over the past two weeks have led to quick recoveries. That likelihood is further supported by a washout in breadth, volatility and several measures of sentiment. Moreover, the fundamental backdrop remains excellent. Risk/reward is heavily biased towards upside in the near term.
US equities have already gained more in the first few weeks of January than they do in many full years. The recent trend is being termed unprecedented, but these types of gains have happened before. The current trend is also being called unsustainable, but in most prior cases, equities have continued higher.
As 2018 begins, cash levels have fallen to the lowest level in 4 years. Allocations to global equities have risen to the highest level in nearly 3 years. In most respects, investors are now bullish. Fund managers remain underweight the US. US equities should outperform their global peers.