It’s hard for a mechanic to tell you what’s wrong with your car without lifting the hood to see what’s inside. In the stock market it’s no different. We often hear people giving a diagnoses of the market’s health simply by using the S&P500 or some other popular index. To me, that’s irresponsible. This is not a stock market, it’s a “market of stocks”. There are 500 stocks in the S&P500. The market is not a thing, it’s a lot of things.
Sector rotation is the lifeblood of any bull market. Some sectors are indicators of risk appetite while others point to risk aversion. Consumer Discretionary stocks include companies where we spend our discretionary income: retailers, homebuilders and autos for example. Consumer Staples, on the other hand, consist of companies that consumers would use regardless of whether times are good or bad. No matter how the economy is doing, we’re still going to drink beer, smoke cigarettes, brush our teeth, wash our dishes and clean our clothes. These types of companies are the Staples.
If you’re a buy side long only manager, you can’t short stocks and you can’t go to cash. The mandates of these mutual funds require managers to be long at all times. It’s the PMs job to outperform the benchmark, not necessarily to make money, just to outperform. The way they outperform in a bull market is to overweight Consumer Discretionary stocks relative to Staples. When stocks are falling, one way they beat their benchmarks is to overweight Staples over Discretionary. [Read more…]