Fund managers have become more bullish, but not excessively so. Cash balances at funds remains high, suggesting lingering doubts and fears. Allocations to US equities dropped to their lowest level in 9 years in April: this is when US equities typically start to outperform.
A week ago, a number of notable short-term extremes in sentiment, breadth and volatility had been reached, suggesting a rebound in equities was ahead. In the event, US equities gained 1% and both NDX and COMPQ made new ATHs. But new uptrends are marked by indices impulsing higher as investors quickly reposition and chase price. Momentum quickly becomes overbought. Neither of these has happened, at least not yet.
US indices closed lower this week, but not by much. SPX lost just 1% and is just 3% from its all-time high. A number of notable short-term extremes in sentiment, breadth and volatility were reached on Thursday that suggest equities are at or near a point of reversal higher. The best approach is to continue to monitor the market and adjust with new data. That said, it's a good guess that SPX still has further downside in the days/weeks ahead.
US indices made their all-time high in early March; aside from the Nasdaq, which made new highs this week, these indices have since moved sideways. SPX has alternated up and down 5 weeks in a row, producing little net gain. Seasonality is particularly strong in April, so a fuller retest of the March highs might still be ahead this month. And indications that 2017 will be a good year for equities continue to add up. But there is a notable set up in place for the first correction since November to trigger. This week is likely to be pivotal.
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.
US indices have fallen nearly every day since the FOMC raised the federal funds rate on March 15th. There are a number of reasons to expect equities to be at or near a point of reversal higher. A retest of the recent high is likely. That said, it's a good guess that the market's period of smooth, persistent strength over the past 4-5 months has come to an end. Higher volatility and more days with 1% losses (and 1% gains) lie ahead.
A tailwind for the rally over the past year has been the bearish positioning of investors, with fund managers persistently shunning equities in exchange for holding cash.
Households have 30% of their financial assets in equities, the same proportion as they held at bull market peaks in the 1960s and in 2007. Does this mean another bear market is imminent? No.
The FOMC is likely to enact a third hike in the federal funds rate this week. With economic data continuing to be good, the risk to equities of a rate hike is small. Higher rates indicate continued economic growth, so equities, commodities, the dollar and yields generally respond positively. However, the recent picture is more mixed: in particular, the dollar and yields have sold off after rates have been hiked. This was not the consensus' expectation, nor is it this time. Is another surprise likely now?
2017 is off to a remarkably similar start to 2013. No two years are ever exactly the same, so there's no reason to suggest that 2017 will repeat the 30% gains achieved in 2013. But many of the technical and fundamental similarities between these years suggest that 2017 may continue to be a good year. There are two watch outs, however, that make 2017 much higher risk than 2013. It's also worth recalling that equities fell 3-8% at six different points in 2013. Expecting 2017 to continue to ride smoothly higher will probably prove to be a mistake.