For more than a year, we’ve characterized the U.S. economy and policymakers’ decisions as increasingly late-cycle in nature, but that probably doesn’t do justice to the U-turn in the investment backdrop. Short-term rates are up 500 basis points in just 16 months, M2 money supply is contracting nearly 5% year-over-year, the yield curve remains deeply inverted, and shrinkage of the Fed balance sheet is back on auto-pilot after the temporary bounce associated with March’s bank bailouts.
Many commentators have marveled at the stock market’s ability to gain ground against this backdrop. But a broader view—offered by this familiar chart—reveals a stock market that seems every bit as late-cycle as the economy itself. Yes—all eight of the “Red Flags” are flying; none of those bellwethers plotted beneath the S&P 500 have confirmed the index’s late-May and early-June rally highs.
The confounding thing is that this fractured picture has appeared less than eight months off a major bear market low. A healthy bull market will often run for many years before exhibiting the internal disparities shown in the chart.
We think the upswing since last fall will ultimately prove to be a bear market rally. Admittedly, though, there’s no example in our database that shows such a well-defined narrowing pattern as the current one—perhaps because no previous bear market rally ever lasted this long.
Recession forecasts have been wrong for long enough that many investors have begun to dismiss them. Technicians, of course, want to see the market first broaden out before they pile in. But we wouldn’t be surprised if that broadening—possibly triggered by a bounce in Small Caps and depressed Cyclical stocks—represents a last gasp for this upswing. When the really beaten-down stuff finally joins in, it’s sometimes a sign the party is about to end. And unlike the endless market celebrations of the last decade, this one lacks a punch bowl.