The business cycle is maturing but has not ended yet. It is probably entering the late-cycle stage, according to Stouff capital’s estimates. Their US Long-Term Macro Index gauge reached the 90% threshold, an early indicator for economic recessions. That’s relevant because recessions had a perfect track record for bear markets in stocks. Every NBER recession in the past 170 involved a bear market in US stocks.
Nonetheless, entering the late stage of the business cycle does not imply that equities are in a bear market. On the contrary, equities developed positively during the late stage of the business cycle during the past century. The recession stage of the business cycle is the time window that investors want to avoid if they believe in statistical evidence. Other leading indicators, which have been reliable historically, do not signal an imminent recession yet. The labor market has been constructive until the last report. Moreover, the conference board Leading Economic Index (LEI) marked an all-time high on its latest reading. Historically, the labor market and the LEI reached their cycle peak several months ahead of the economy. Most often, both indices peaked even ahead of the US stock market before the US economy went into recession. Likewise, the yield curve is not flashing recessionary signals yet. Historically, it inverted shortly before a recession arrived and was also a leading indicator for cyclical stock market highs. That’s neither the case today.
However, equities corrected 5%-10% from their most recent highs into early December. The drop was not surprising because the market was running hot, as explained in our mid-November article. Sentiment and technical indicators signaled an imminent 5%-10% correction. Nonetheless, the correction is probably not finished short term. Some more weakness remains the base case during the next couple of weeks.
Moreover, there is something peculiar about the current cycle. It is unfolding at an unprecedented speed. Therefore, the late-cycle stage may surprise many by not lasting as long as it usually does. Further, the current environment might prove extraordinarily challenging for central banks as inflation increases rapidly. The chart above shows that European purchasing prices are more than 20% higher versus last year. That’s the steepest increase of the index since the ’70s. The ’70s were the latest period that recorded double-digit inflation after the breakup of the Bretton-Woods exchange-rate system. Inflation pressure is also mounting in the United States as well. Not only do goods become expensive due to supply shortages, but services also joined the party lately. The development is a problem for central banks as they have no effective tools against supply-side shortages. Consequently, we are unlikely to witness monetary easing short-term. That has been a headwind for equities in recent years. Yet again, that’s not a hit-and-run event and we are not there yet. Historically, equities reached their cyclical high typically well after the initial rate hike.
Technicals support the macro evidence outlined above. Most of the major indices probably unfolded bearish Elliot waves from their November highs. The S&P 500 counts best as an extending leading diagonal into the December 6th low. That’s a signal that the short-term correction may not be over yet. The pattern will probably morph into a three-wave corrective leg towards 4250-4390 instead.
All in all, there is potential for more damage short term. Technical evidence hints at another attack at the 4390 S/R before seeing the next sustainable leg up. Time will tell if it that will be the last leg up before the cycle ends. Some of the macro indicators discussed above will probably provide further hints before things turn sour. The bottom line is that the bull trend is most likely intact despite further short-term correction potential.