For the broader market, we’ve long followed a concept we call the “volatility smile.” Simply put, broader stock market volatility is high early in the stages of a bull market, falls to low levels in the middle of a major rally and then rises again in the latter stages of a bull market. And, of course, volatility usually rises sharply during a bear market.
The recent upsurge in commodity prices and early signs of a pick-up in inflationary pressure could indicate that the bull market has entered its latter stages. However, until market leadership narrows or our favorite forward-looking economic indicators exhibit signs of deterioration, we’re inclined to regard dips as opportunities on the long side.
On only five occasions over this period has the S&P 500 given up more than 2 percent of its value in the final month and a half of the year. We’re not inclined to fight that seasonal record. Looking ahead to 2018, 65 weeks have passed since the S&P 500 last endured a correction of 2 percent or more. We’d be surprised if stocks don’t break this historic winning streak at some point in the first quarter of 2018.
Narrowing market leadership since April made us wonder whether the market could be due for a pullback. While a relatively small number of stocks powered the index to new highs, many small- and mid-capitalization names lagged over this period. As recently as mid-August, for example, fewer than 50 percent of the names listed on the NYSE traded above their 200-day moving average. Today, almost two-thirds of NYSE-listed stocks are in an uptrend, the highest proportion since April.
While the risks of today’s low-volatility stock market are clear, we continue to believe the next sell-off in the broader market will be a correction, not the beginning of a new bear market. Look for a rotation out of the growth-oriented fare and into cyclical and value groups.
The so-called FAANG stocks–Facebook, Amazon.com, Apple, Netflix and Alphabet–are up an average of 28.8 percent in 2017 compared to a 7.5 percent gain for the S&P 500. These large-cap names have paced the index’s gains so far this year. Should any or all of these stocks falter, the S&P 500 could quickly lose altitude.
Last week, the S&P 500 endured its worst one-day selloff since the immediate aftermath of Britain's surprise vote to exit the EU last summer. Although the S&P 500 gave up only 1.25 percent of its value yesterday, the decline felt more serious because the market has exhibited low volatility and traded within a tight range over the past 12 months.
OPEC's Nov. 30 meeting yielded an accord to cut oil production by 1.2 million barrels per day, sending the price of West Texas Intermediate 9 percent higher on Wednesday and 3.5 percent higher on Thursday. After this exuberance subsides, the market's focus will shift to whether OPEC members honor their agreement and a potential recovery in US oil production.
Gold prices initially surged on the news of Trump's triumph, but the yellow metal sold off in subsequent trading sessions to about $1,200 per ounce. An uptick in economic growth and inflation from fiscal expansion would take pressure off the Federal Reserve to be the sole engine of economic growth, which could result in two potential outcomes for gold.
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