MARKETS

I turned off my TV yesterday, boycotting news of Middle East revolutions and Japanese disasters.

Instead, I listened to the market for a change, its message writen large in the excellent heat maps available at Finviz.com. The market always has a lot to say, though recently it’s been drowned out by the global turmoil.

But now that the first quarter is all but done―now that stocks have corrected but not (so far) caved―it's worth discerning the big picture painted by the recent price action. Here's what I found:

1. Global Economic Growth Is on Track
A reasonable proxy for global growth, the Industrial Select SPDR ETF (XLI) has not only noticeably outperformed the market since the start of the year (gaining 5.9%, versus 3.6% for the SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)), it’s actually slipped a bit less over the last month, when economic worries were most prevalent.

Another tell: Gold (GLD), which is largely used as jewelry or as a store of value, is flat on the year, badly trailing commodities with industrial uses, be they silver (SLV, up 17% this year), gasoline (UGA, +16%), food (DBA, +4.8%), or a generalized commodity basket (GSG, +7.2%).

For all the talk of large-cap outperformance, small caps (IWM) and especially midcaps (MDY) have handily beat the large-cap proxy, SPY. What’s more, among the midcaps and the small caps, growth has fared better than value. These are not tell-tale signs of a looming economic slowdown.

2. The Energy Boom Is Still...Booming
The Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE) is up 14% year-to-date, and if you want to blame it on high (and possibly temporarily high) oil prices, I would point out that natural-gas producers (FCG) have gained no less, despite persistently depressed natural gas prices.

Notwithstanding the threat of diminished European subsidies, solar energy stocks (TAN) have risen 13% in 2011. Post-Fukushima, nuclear stocks (NLR) are down more than 6% on the year, though the post-meltdown scare already seems to be giving way to some bargain-hunting.

Among leveraged exchange-traded funds, the Direxion Daily Energy Bull 3X Shares (ERX) shines with a 41% gain year-to-date, and looks attractive on the next pullback that doesn’t invalidate the basic premise.

Following petrodollars abroad has also generated good results: Canadian (EWC) and Russian (RSX) stocks are up 7% year-to-date.

Next: 3. The European Debt Crisis Is Easing