Relative valuations of Staples and Utilities sectors already reflect a “flight to quality” effect. Investors looking to add some economic/stock market defense should focus on the cheaper Health Care groups.
Industrial commodity prices and the latest ISM figures both point to a stabilization in the manufacturing sector following a two-year deceleration. Expectations for this year’s earnings have turned more optimistic as a result, but are the hopes warranted?
Last year’s economically defensive winners held their grip on stock market leadership in January. This action is consistent with our view that the bull market is an aged, overvalued one that has begun a final “distribution” process that will eventually erupt into a cyclical bear.
The S&P 500 record median profit margin of 10.3% is now almost a full percentage point above the last cycle’s peak of 9.4% (second quarter of 2007). Trends across S&P sectors are not as uniform as one might expect, though, with only half of the ten sectors last quarter at profitability levels that exceeded their 2001-2007 expansion highs.
While we expect an eventual break in this relationship, today Emerging Market equities are following, fairly tightly, the cycle of industrial commodities—a cycle that rolled over (on a secular basis, we believe) in 2011.
The post-2009 stock market upswing now qualifies as only the sixth cyclical bull market since 1900 to last five years or more. But only three of the previous five-year-old bulls lived to see a sixth birthday.