Relative strength leadership
Comment of the Day

June 23 2011

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Relative strength leadership

Eoin Treacy's view Over the decades, delegates at The Chart Seminar will have observed that we place a great deal of emphasis on instruments, sectors and shares which show relative strength; particularly at market bottoms. We can split this leadership into two distinct categories; one is temporal, the other relative performance.

Leaders find support early, break upwards early, take out old highs ahead of the wider market and often peak early. This gives rise to our saying that "Leaders tend to lead in both directions" This temporal leadership means that they will also often be among some of the best absolute performers in a particular move which accounts for the performance attribute.

While sectors tend to move in and out of relative outperformance over the course of medium-term trends, they tend to hold onto their temporal leadership throughout. This characteristic has been particularly evident in ASEAN stock markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines since late 2008. (Also see David's piece in Comment of the Day on March 8th 2011).

Wall Street, represented by the S&P500, lost upward momentum from mid February and has completed a reversion towards the 200-day MA where it has at least steadied this week. It is too early say with confidence that a medium-term low has been found. To confirm such a hypothesis, the Index will need to find support above last week's low near 1250 on a pullback to confirm a return to demand dominance beyond some steadying following a sharp decline.

"Leaders tend to lead for a reason" is another saying from The Chart Seminar. At present, investors are worried about high commodities prices and the Eurozone's sovereign debt crisis. In the USA, fiscal deficits, high unemployment, continuing weakness in the housing market, the end of the second round of quantitative easing among other factors are conspiring to weigh on sentiment. However, it is reasonable to assume that shares currently hitting new highs when the wider market is attempting to find support are less affected by the above concerns than the majority. There must be a reason they are outperforming.

This morning I conducted a Chart Library High/Low Filter of the S&P500 and Nasdaq 100 in an effort to identify shares which are hitting new highs and to ascertain whether there is any commonality between them. Here are detailed instructions on how you can create filters for the shares you might be interested in.

Based on yesterday's close, of the 513 shares scanned 30 have made at least a new 3-month high and 11 are making new all time highs.

Invariably some of the better performers will have defensive characteristics which make them more attractive during periods of uncertainty. This is at least part of the reason that health insurers such as Cigna Corp, Humana Inc, United Health Care and Coventry Health Care have outperformed. The same is probably true of why aerospace/defence companies such as Goodrich Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp and L-3 Communications are outperforming.

Fullermoney's secular themes such as shares leveraged to the growth of the global consumer are well represented on the above list. McDonalds and McCormick & Co have appeared in the results of High/Low filters since at least August 13th 2008 and remain relative strength leaders. Tiffany is currently somewhat overextended relative to the 200-day MA but is highly leveraged to the increased spending power of the global middle class. (Also see Comment of the Day on March 8th).

O'Reilly Automotive is not leveraged to global growth but has been cropping up as a relative outperformer for quite some time and remains in a consistent medium-term uptrend. (Also see Comment of the Day on July 21st 2009).

Discount retailers also continue to perform. Dollar Tree Stores is quite overextended while Best Buy appears to be in process of finding support. Ross Stores which appeared in a review with O'Reilly Automotive above has not made a new high yet but is worthy of mention because of the consistency of its medium-term uptrend.

Drinks in the broadest sense of the word are also outperforming. This is a global theme with brewers in particular among some of the best performing shares globally. Starbucks (Also see Comment of the Day on May 27th). Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which is becoming increasingly overextended relative to its 200-day MA and Brown-Forman which is a dividend aristocrat and appeared in Comment of the Day on December 1st are all worthy of mention.

Colgate-Palmolive has a similar pattern to Unilever but has outperformed recently. It hit a new high last week and paused this week. A sustained move below $80 would be required to check medium-term scope for additional upside. Bristol-Myers Squibb remains in a consistent medium-term uptrend defined by a progression of higher major reaction lows.

This list also confirms which sectors have exhibited relative weakness over the last few months, most notably the financial sector. There has also been a dichotomy between the performances of different segments of the technology sector. Companies leveraged to cloud computing have been going through a period of consolidation and reversion towards the 200-day MA. The only two on this list are Apple and EMC Corp. Apple bounced impressively this week and EMC Corp also found at least short-term support at the lower side of the four-month range. (Also see Comment of the Day on June 7th). The recent pullback in the oil price has had a negative effect on the energy sector, where a number of shares had been quite overextended relative to the 200-day MA.

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