We all know about how the U.S. could be thrown into a recession if Congress and President Obama fail to agree to anything before year-end, because the "fiscal cliff" was meant to be a doomsday machine to unravel our economy.
It's hard to believe, but at the time the politicians set up the cliff, they meant it to be so onerous that even fractioned and partisan leaders could arrive at a compromise. In retrospect, I don't know why the Republicans went with it, given that so many had pledged to implement no new taxes. However, I think very few Republicans knew how bad Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would be as a candidate; most likely thought Obama would lose handily, given the economic weakness and poor U.S. payroll numbers.
Yet, right now, despite the meetings, the pressure that's set to come from the cliff just isn't great enough to move the rank and file. When it comes to the prospects of a recession vs. the certainty of breaking the no-new-taxes pledge, it seems so stark to go against the Democrats that the stalemate makes a ton of sense. Also, it isn't as if the Democrats are saying, "Let's raise the age of Social Security or lets raise the cost of Medicare Part B." They aren't doing anything of note on spending, other than trying to increase infrastructure dollars. They are totally in the face of the GOP, for certain.
That is why, when I looked at the charts this weekend, I was so confused. There are so many good-looking charts, and from so many good areas, that you have to believe this market is expecting a deal either now or later -- because these stocks, for the most part, are economically sensitive.
Let's just go over some of these so you know what I am thinking. First, if the U.S. is to head into a recession, you'd have to think we shouldn't be seeing such good performance out of Ingersoll Rand (IR), Ametek (AME), Pentair (PNR), Precision Castparts (PCP), Xylem (XYL) and Rockwell Automation (ROK).
Sure, regarding Ingersall, after some activist pressure from Nelson Peltz, on Sunday night the company announced that there will be some disposals. There's an aerospace cycle in the works, which explains Precision Castparts, but this company would be hit by a sequestration. Same goes for Ametek. Rockwell Automation? Is anyone really building new factories? I guess they must be, because that's a big part of Ametek, too. Pentair and Xylem are signifying infrastructure spend. Could that be a result of Hurricane Sandy? Again, it's very hard to figure.
I know the home trade seems to have been stopped in its tracks by the Toll Brothers (TOL) beat, raise and then collapse. But Vulcan Materials (VMC), which you need to develop new developments, is very strong. Whirlpool (WHR) and Leggett & Platt are integral to fixing up your home and making the place nice. There are also two oddball home plays worth noting: Discovery (DISCA) and Time Warner (TWX).
Now, it isn't as if everyone is thinking the U.S. could stay on the expansion path no matter what. The strength in Kellogg (K), Heinz (HNZ), Clorox (CLX), Procter & Gamble (PG) -- yes, Procter & Gamble! -- Sysco (SYY), International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), Smuckers (SJM), Hormel (HRL), Kroger (KR) and Tyson (TSN) can only be regarded a sign of deflation. Or, at least, it might point to plastic and grain deflation.
One could argue that insurers are doing fabulously, too, because of the possibility of a deflationary recession. Again, though, some of that could be an increase in premiums post-Sandy, which explains the strength in Travelers (TRV). Perhaps some of it is a comeback of some bad invested assets, as in Aflac (AFL).
But there are plenty of other stocks whose strength has to be simply because people believe the worst won't happen. We're seeing incredible strength in Brinks (BCO), the security company; Thermo-Fisher (TMO), the biotech-tools company; and business-services firms Insperity (NSP) and Fiserv (FISV). Then there are travel stalwarts Marriott (MAR) and Royal Caribbean (RCL), both of which need a strong economy.
Now, there are hardly any retail names with good-looking charts. PetSmart (PETM) holds in, and so does Limited (LTD). The same applies to Hanesbrands (HBI), to stretch the topic. There are no banks with good charts, no utilities, and only one positive-looking tech chart -- Adobe (ADBE), which is a mystery. As for healthcare, unless you consider Tenet Healthcare (THC) to be a play on that sector, you don't have many here, either -- and I consider Tenet to be more of an Obamacare story. There are no oils or minerals, precious or otherwise, anywhere near looking good.
But I come away from the chart exercise emboldened that the strength is widespread -- it's just not clustered in areas where people know to find them.
All in all, I found the charts to be incredibly positive vs. the backdrop. It's just another instance of exactly how hard this market has become as it remains dominated by Washington -- and not Wall Street.