U.S. Equity Rally Is Fraying

While advance/decline lines have firmed, participation in the U.S. equity rally has been uneven and may be fraying around the edges.

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The number of groups trading above their 40-week moving average has been diverging negatively from the broad market in the last few months, suggesting diminishing breadth. The industrials (I) and financials (F) sectors (i.e. “IF”) have carried the market since November. Other deep cyclical sectors, such as energy, materials and tech, have mostly matched market performance. The “IF” rally is based on an expected upgrade to the economic growth plane that matches the surge in various sentiment gauges. If validation does not occur, then the “IF” rally will become iffy indeed, unless sector breadth improves.

Another unconventional sentiment gauge is observed from sub-surface market patterns. The number of defensive groups with a positive 52-week rate of change, in relative terms, is in freefall, plunging to virtually nil. In the last two decades, investors eschewing capital preservation and non-cyclical sectors so aggressively has typically preceded major market peaks.

The Fed’s tightening bias, contracting U.S. dollar-based financial liquidity amid the strong U.S. dollar all threaten to keep a lid on corporate sector sales prospects. As such, we remain biased toward non-cyclical and consumer sectors. We expect momentum to steadily build in these sectors towards sustained outperformance by mid-year.

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