Watch Out: The Cyclical Stocks Are Trading At An Extreme, And This Could Portend Trouble

(This is a guest post from the Crossing Wall Street.)

One of the quick-and-dirty metrics I like to look at is the Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index (^CYC) divided by the S&P 500 (^SPX). The Cyclical Index is composed on stocks that are closely tied to the economic cyclical. This means industries like autos, chemicals and mining.

When we divided these two indexes, we can tell if cyclicals are outperforming or underperforming. The thing about cyclicals is that they, well, move in cycles. Check out the chart below:


As you can see, there’s historically been a consistent up-and-down wave that averages a few years. This usually, but not always, corresponds with how well the economy is doing. Investors favour cyclicals during the good times, and flee them during the rough patches.

I urge you not to place too much faith in this metric, but I want to show you that the market does, in fact, move in cycles. These are powerful and once the market is locked it, the cycle can last for some time. Therefore it’s important for us to understand where we are in a cycle.

On top of that, the cycle has a double-whammy effect since the market generally does much better when cyclicals are outperforming, meaning they’re outperforming a market that’s already doing well (note the bottoms in 1982, 1990 and March 2009).

You can really see how the last 18 months have dramatically impacted cyclicals. The ratio held up fairly well until September 17, 2009. Within six months, that ratio dropped from 0.7 to 0.42. The Cyclical Index dropped from 871 on September 19 to 283 by March 9. Youch, that’s a staggering loss so you can see that the non-cyclicals provided some shelter from the storm (though not as good as cash).

But once the ratio hit bottom, cyclicals put on an explosive rally. Although the Cyclical Index is still well-below its high from 2007, the ratio has surpassed its high and has gone on to make several all-time highs. That’s about the shortest cycle I’ve ever seen. In fact, it was more like a panic mini-cycle. Last Thursday (pre-Fab), the ratio made its most recent all-time high of 0.786.

Picking cycle peaks is a tricky business and I won’t attempt to do so now, but I’m on the lookout for a harsh drop off in the Cyclical Ratio. Once it gets going, it could down, down, down for a few years.

Read more market commentary at CrossingWallStreet >

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.