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Momentum, Thy Name is Healthcare?

When you read the word “momentum,” what’s the first sector that comes to mind?

I’m guessing it wasn’t Health Care. Looking at today’s market, though, there is no question about it – healthcare has become a momentum sector.

We can see this clearly in looking at the largest momentum ETF from ishares (MTUM), which now has almost a third of its portfolio in Health Care names.

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This is significantly larger than Health Care’s weighting in the S&P 500 of 14%.

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The momentum ETF chooses its holdings by evaluating “each stock’s 6-month and 12-month risk-adjusted excess returns.”

Using this methodology, it should come as no surprise that Health Care is the top weighting as it has been the best performing sector in the market this year (see chart below). It also should come as no surprise that there is only a 1% weighting to Energy as it is the only sector with negative performance in 2014. What is surprising is the relatively low weighting (1.79%) to Utilities, which is the second best performing sector this year.

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Of the top twenty names in the momentum ETF, eight are in the health care sector, including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Gilead (GILD), Amgen (AMGN), Celgene (CELG) and UnitedHealth (UNH). Technology is also a big portion of the index, mostly from large cap holdings in Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), Intel (INTC), and Facebook (FB).

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The top performing health care names in the ETF include Intuitive Surgical (+149%), Allergan (+103%), Actavis (+99%), Illumina (+79%), Edwards Lifesciences (+68%), and Amgen (+60%). Biotechs are highly represented in this list.

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Concluding Thoughts

Health Care is now an important part of the equity momentum factor given its outsized performance relative to the broad market over the past year. As momentum is an objective process, it will remain a large factor as long as it remains a top performer. Should we see a reversal in health care strength, it will have more sizable negative impact to momentum-leaning portfolios today than in prior periods given its larger weighting.

We saw this early in the year when Biotechnology stocks were hit hard (see black line in chart below) in March and April. They have since rebounded to new highs and over the past four years biotechs have outperformed the S&P 500 by an astounding 84%.  The health care sector in general has outperformed the S&P by 34%, also a sizable margin given that the sector is usually considered “defensive” and we are still in a bull market and economic expansion.

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Will the outperformance, particularly in biotechs, continue in 2015 or is it time for another sector to emerge as a leader? Perhaps we should ask Janet Yellen who still has a “sell”  rating on the shares.

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This writing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell, a solicitation to buy, or a recommendation regarding any securities transaction, or as an offer to provide advisory or other services by Pension Partners, LLC in any jurisdiction in which such offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The information contained in this writing should not be construed as financial or investment advice on any subject matter. Pension Partners, LLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken based on any or all of the information on this writing.

CHARLIE BILELLO, CMT

Edward M. Dempsey Pension Partners New YorkCharlie Bilello is the Director of Research at Pension Partners, LLC, an investment advisor that manages mutual funds and separate accounts.  He is the co-author of two award-winning research papers in 2014 on Intermarket Analysis and investing. Mr. Bilello is responsible for strategy development, investment research and communicating the firm’s investment themes and portfolio positioning to clients. Prior to joining Pension Partners, he was the Managing Member of Momentum Global Advisors, an institutional investment research firm. Previously, Mr. Bilello held positions as an Equity and Hedge Fund Analyst at billion dollar alternative investment firms, giving him unique insights into portfolio construction and asset allocation.

Mr. Bilello holds a J.D. and M.B.A. in Finance and Accounting from Fordham University and a B.A. in Economics from Binghamton University. He is a Chartered Market Technician (CMT) and a Member of the Market Technicians Association. Mr. Bilello also holds the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certificate.

You can follow Charlie on twitter here.

 

 

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