Investors using so-called quantitative momentum strategies — which speculate that the worst stocks in the past 12 months will continue to decline — have become this year’s biggest losers after banks and companies that rely on consumer spending surged. Quant momentum techniques may have lost 27 percent this month in the U.S., the most since at least 1993.
While momentum investors have suffered in 2009, last year’s worst performers, Miller’s Legg Mason Value Trust and Harry Lange of the Fidelity Magellan Fund, are making comebacks with bets on technology companies. Both lost more client money than 98 percent of their rivals in 2008 by clinging to or doubling down on shares of financials. Now, Miller is outperforming 68 percent of his peers with a 1.2 percent gain in 2009 after boosting his stake in Hopkinton, Massachusetts-based EMC Corp. in the fourth quarter.
With financial institutions weakened by the recession, public and private markets began displacing banks as the source of most corporate financing. Bonds rallied strongly in 1975-76, providing underpinning for the stock market, which rose 75%. Some high-yield funds achieved unleveraged, two-year rates of return approaching 100%.
Just as in the 1974 recession, investment-grade companies have started to reliquify. Once that happens, the market begins to open for lower-rated bonds. Thus BB- and B-rated corporations are now raising capital through new issues of equity, debt and convertibles. This cyclical process today appears to be where it was in early 1975, when balance sheets began to improve and corporations with strong capital structures started acquiring others.
- Hussman Funds: Trading Volume Separates Bull Markets from Bear Rallies
If March 6th proves to be the bottom of the market, Anatomy of the Bear author Russell Napier can put off his next edition for awhile because the most recent bear market won’t qualify as a great bottom. That’s because even though the market’s decline since 2007 has been one of the largest on record, it didn’t bring the market to truly great values. In his analysis of the stock market bottoms of 1921, 1932, 1949, and 1982 Mr. Napier chose to use two measures to gauge the valuation of the market. One was Robert Shiller’s PE ratio based on trailing earnings. As I noted in Market Valuations During U.S. Recessions , this ratio has fallen to the mid-single digits during periods of extreme undervalution. It’s currently 15. The second valuation tool Mr. Napier used was the q-ratio, a measure of market valuation relative to the replacement cost of assets. Deep undervaluation for this measure tends to be when market prices are roughly 35 percent of replacement costs. According to the most recent data the q ratio is about twice that.
An important observation that Mr. Napier makes in his studies of the most damaging bear markets is that even if the initial move off of the bottom is lacking volume, once a new higher level is reached, the market should begin to attract buying interest. In each of the bottoms he studied, volume expanded noticeably after the intial rally. This idea also holds up for the majority of bear-market bottoms. In the graph below the axes are the same as the graph immediately above. The vertical axis shows the percent change in the S&P 500 while the horizontal axis shows the percent change in volume. But this time the period is 6 months from each bear-market bottom.