Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How far can this momentum rally run?

Mid-week market update: How far can this momentum rally run? Already, the momentum frenzy is exceeding the pace set during the height of the Tech Bubble.

The WSJ recently published an article about the dominance of price momentum: "The Momentum Game Has Returned to the Stock Market".
Forget fundamentals: Momentum is back in the stock market. For the first time since the 2008 financial crisis a simple strategy of buying the stocks that had already gone up the most delivered a remarkable outperformance last year. Is it a sign of excess or the start of a new bull run?

Momentum is a formal way to capture two old Wall Street dictums: The trend is your friend until the end, and let your winners run. It can be measured over any period from microseconds to years, but investment strategies typically look for three-, six- or 12-month trends.
The article went on to lay out the bull and bear cases for momentum, and, by implication, the latest bull run:
There are two prevalent explanations for momentum, and today the choice will make you more or less worried about the power of the trend.

The bearish explanation is that investors put far too much weight on the past, and buy what has gone up without properly assessing whether that is likely to continue. Momentum is created by this blind buying, and pulls prices further and further away from where they should be, until they snap back and crush those chasing gains.

The bullish explanation is that it takes time for investors to price in a new environment.

On this view prices rose as investors slowly woke up to the unexpected global economic strength and slowly came to believe in higher profits. Perhaps company analysts still haven’t included U.S. corporate tax cuts in their profit forecasts due to their complexity, which could mean still more good news to come as the earnings season brings tax guidance from CFOs.
Certainly, a number of sentiment indicators are looking stretched. Bloomberg reported that the prices of call options are extremely expensive relative to the price of put option protection.

Strategist Jim Paulsen, who had been very bullish, sounded a word of caution in a recent CNBC interview:
The stock market has incredible price momentum and broad participation but the challenges are "truly increasing," widely followed strategist Jim Paulsen told CNBC on Tuesday.

In fact, he called the optimism of late "really overwhelming."

"It's so striking because we haven't had it in the entire recovery. The wall of worry was probably the cornerstone of this bull market. … That is gone," the chief investment officer at the Lethold Group said in an interview with "Power Lunch."

"That opens you up to the bear's bite," he added.
Is the combination of a pause in stock prices Tuesday and the carnage in crytpocurrencies* represent a warning that the momentum run is nearing an end? If so, does that mean the stock market is destined to suffer a near-term correction?

* Sorry, the cryptos aren't tanking, that's just a dead-cat bounce in the value of the fiat paper currencies.

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