S&P 500 New Highs

Despite the soft finish last week, the overall trend for the S&P 500 remains positive. In fact, it was really close to breaching its all-time high last week. And, as of now, futures indicate it should hit new all-time highs Monday.

The trend appears to be all that matters right now. How is the trade evolving?

In an election year, with a controversial pandemic, with the Fed printing money, and Congress debating more stimulus, there’s a lot of guesswork to this market. Stocks are pricing in what they can and waiting to see what new information shows up (what else is new? Stocks always do this). So, follow what the market is showing us.

As of today, there’s been a two-month ‘melt up’ with very low volatility for the SPX as it has recovered to near-all-time-highs again. And this has been in the face of all the economic uncertainty out there.

So the trend is pretty straight-forward: the markets march higher.

This has been a difficult market to have confidence in given the massive government intervention in the way the economy operates. Between major shut-downs in public facilities, schools, restaurants and recreation, we’ve seen some permanent changes in our economy. Some jobs are gone… like… gone gone.

And now the clock is ticking on unemployment benefits and the political gamesmanship is at hand.

Yet the trend is pretty straight-forward: the market marches higher.

If we’ve learned nothing over the past few years, it’s that the Fed has forced the market’s hand in many regards. By keeping rates low (ostensibly in the fight against deflation), money was left with little option but to seek risk in the stock markets. The risk/reward profile was — and is — simply unattractive for the rate of return what gets parked in cash or cash-like assets.

So, money flows into the stock market. Stocks go higher.

The kicker is, it keeps working until it doesn’t.

The Warren Buffets of the world — deep value investors — will say stocks are expensive and unattractive. This may even be true. But that doesn’t mean prices aren’t going higher from here.

When looking at the underlying quantitative data for the stock market, there is still a case to be made that prices go higher. Much of the performance in the indexes has been attributed to their over-weight to Large technology companies (do primarily to the way the indexes are constructed in the first place.) Smaller cap stocks and value stocks have had much less recovery that the large cap growth stocks. So there may yet be room for asset rotation and more growth in indexes.

So the first question is, does the market go higher? And if it does, do you ride get in here or wait for a more attractive entry point?

Only history will vindicate the answer to this question.

The quantitative story is somewhat in conflict with the economic narrative. The quant data says things go higher from here. Stocks are expensive, but the prices are justified by ultra-low interest rates and the fact that there is nowhere else to get much of a return on capital.

On the other hand, the economic narrative, at least in some circles, is one of structural economic damage on a global scale that will lead to a reduction in global GDP, an extended period of joblessness, soaring government deficits and debts, and large-scale credit defaults by both individuals, corporate entities, and unhealthy state and local balance sheets (and we won’t even touch the public pension debate on this one).

The question may be more one of time frame. All of the structural economic problems are real. And money printing doesn’t make them go away. Nor does infinity stimulus or universal basic income or any other free-money scheme. It just changes the pricing variables for the economy and temporarily masks a problem.

Nevertheless, the structural problems move slower than the markets. And markets can — and often do — get out well ahead of the economic data.

This appears to be the case right now as markets trend higher in spite of the uncertainties that lie ahead.

And, of course, in a week, this could all look different…

But for today, the S&P 500 is suggesting all-time highs this week, with a target number of 3422, and a challenge number of 3460. Support is at about 3333, although it appears unlikely we’ll test that low. Instead, look for generally lower volatility, new all-time-highs, and perhaps a string of a few all-time high closes for the index over the week.

And next week? We’ll do the analysis all over again. Until then, have a great week!

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