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03162015 March 16, 2015

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, gold, markets, oil, silver, stocks.
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Current Positions  (Slight Changes)

I(Intl) – exit; S(Small Cap) – exit; C(S&P) –exit

F(bonds) – up to 50%; G (money market) – remainder

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 03/13/15

(S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

-26.06, -13.71, +20.39, +49

(Today from 3 Fridays ago/2 Fri’s fm 4 Friday’s ago/3 Fri’s fm 5 Friday’s ago/4 Fri’s fm 6 Friday’s ago)

Another better-than-expected jobs report came out last week. This time, the stock market reacted negatively. The reasoning behind the drop is that this continued string of above-expectations jobs reports (this is currently the best sustained jobs trend in 15 years) is quickly raising the odds that the Fed will begin hiking rates at the June FOMC meeting.

Therefore, investors appear to be going through with withdrawal pains ahead of the FOMC announcement next Wednesday. This is premature and unwarranted since there is very little chance the Fed is going to make a material change before June and probably September. The Fed can’t withdraw stimulus by raising rates with the dollar surging nearly 1% per day. That would send the dollar into hyper drive and S&P earnings into the cellar.

Market Statistics

YTD03132015


Margin Debt

MarginDebt01 (click chart to expand in separate window)

Repeated/updated from the four previous reports, an accurate count of margin debt, or, levels of borrowed money at all brokerage firms for each month is carefully watched by the financial media.  It’s this combination of a) margin debt, b) Fed money loaned to investment banks (finished), and c) stock buybacks by corporations (no significant increases over last year) that have provided a vast majority of the power to the markets for much of the past 6 years. The result of margin debt figure through January is shown in the chart above, for comparison to all months of the past 4 years.  (The last two dots have been recorded since the last report)

Update – Notice that the peak in debt for the year, once again, has STILL not exceeded the February ‘14 high, after which the primary indexes channeled sideways, with no price appreciation, for 12 weeks. And, for the first time since 2011, the figure is below the average of the past 12 months.  At that previous decline below the 12-month average, the markets weakened significantly, and quickly, losing nearly 20% of it’s value within 6 weeks. For the past eleven months, the debt level has stalled under $466 million.  This STILL indicates that a primary source of fuel for the market (loans and borrowed money) has stalled and is not likely to resume.  When combined with the now missing portion of Fed stimulation through Quantitative Easing (QE), which ended on October 29th, this removed the bulk of what has sustained the markets back up to the peaks above and below the peaks of 2000 and 2007, depending on the index.

Not so coincident with the weakening trend in margin debt, the S&P celebrated its six-year anniversary of a ‘bull’ market this month. It is up over 200% during that period. Remember that this increase is measured from a 2009 level that had wiped out 12 years of gains.  This 200%, repeated quite frequently in the media, represents much of the same level gained from 1997 to the previous high in 2007, with a loss of over 50% from 2007 to 2009.   And, unfortunately this is the third strongest six-year gain since 1907. The other two times were in 1929 and 1999 and neither ended well. Both resulted in major market crashes.  The biggest difference between this increase and the first two is that only this one required trillions in ‘float’ from the Federal Reserve balance sheet that still has to be repaid, at some point stretching into the next decade.

(click chart to expand in separate window)

SP500-HistoricalRallies-Nominal-030815

The current rally of 154.08% is also the 6th longest in history and very close to becoming the 5th if it surpasses the rally from 1982 through the 1987 crash of 156.62%.

This data alone doesn’t mean much in isolation. It would be relatively easy to argue, according to the charts above, that the markets could go significantly higher from current levels. However, price data must be aligned to valuations.

At 27.85x current earning the markets are currently at valuation levels where previous bull markets have ended rather than continued. Furthermore, the markets have exceeded the pre-financial crisis peak of 27.65x earnings. If earnings continue to deteriorate, market valuations could rise rapidly even if prices remain stagnant.

While stock prices can certainly be driven much higher through global Central Bank’s ongoing interventions, the inability for the economic variables to “replay the tape” of the 80’s and 90’s is not likely. This dramatically increases the potential of a rather nasty mean reversion at some point in the future. It is precisely that reversion that will likely create the “set up” necessary to start the next great secular bull market.

Funds

 (click chart to expand in separate window)

FundsJantoMar15

Fund positioning in the past two months has been difficult, at best.  Notice from the combined charts above of our primary funds, a miniscule loss on the F, to tiny gains on the C and S, to a more measurable gain on the riskiest fund at the moment, the I fund, a gain that is only attributable to the start of a quantitative easing program (QE), the same as which we have just finished last October.  Remember that the I fund and S funds were the weakest performers in the past 12-15 months. While there might be a presumption of gains or strength in the I fund, based upon this QE program initiation, the actual risk can be seen with the anticipation for the first few weeks, now followed by a corrective phase now underway that coincides with weakening in a broader cross-section of world financial markets, including ours.  The jury is still out on whether or not the QE will have a similar effect on European markets, due to their lack of singularity, as opposed to our more unified and somewhat redundant markets, where QE worked, for a while, and, diminished in impact over time.

It was a volatile week in the markets but the damage was muted. Short-term, last week’s price action was bearish. The cash S&P 500 both broke a prior week’s low and closed below the rising 20-day Moving Average for the first time in a month. This altered the bullish price structure. In addition, the market also closed well below the late December high of 2093.55 (WD Gann rule: Old price resistance, once it has been broken, becomes new price support). Despite two days out of the last six with -300 point Dow declines the Dow only gave up -197 for the week or -0.6%. That was the best performance of any large cap index. The Russell 2000 actually gained +1.2% for the week and that is the bright spot this weekend. Obviously the large cap indexes are suffering from dollar pressures where the impact of the dollar on the small caps is minimal.

For instance Hewlett Packard said they could lose $1.5 billion in 2015 because of the dollar and it has only strengthened since that warning. They could be up to a $2 billion loss before the quarter is over. Most small caps don’t even generate $2 billion in annual revenue. The difference in scale is the key. The earnings capacity of the small caps is not being harmed while the big caps are losing billions.

For instance, IBM gets 55% of its revenue overseas. Pfizer 66%, Wynn Resorts 72%, Applied Materials 78% and Phillip-Morris 99%. Even with active hedging programs a 26% increase in the dollar over the last 9 months is a dramatic difference. Companies earning money in euros, yuan or yen have seen their purchasing power drop considerably when products have to be purchased in dollars. In the case of companies like Hewlett Packard they can sell their products in foreign currencies after marking them up but then they have to convert those currencies back to dollars to bring the money home.

In theory we could just ignore the large cap stocks and concentrate only on small caps. Unfortunately the large caps control the major indexes and that is what represents the market. If someone asks you at dinner what the market did today you more than likely would not say the Russell 2000 gained 4 points. They would look at you like you said aliens visited the NYSE today. The market is represented to the public by the changes in the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq.

The S&P gave back -18 points for the week or -.86%. Given the big intra-day swings I feel fortunate it was only -18 points. The index bounced off the 100-day average at 2044 for the last four days without a breakdown. So far that support is holding and the 150-day at 2019 is untested. If you only look at the chart of the S&P it would appear that test of 2019 could come this week. However, if you look at the rebound in the Russell it suggests the S&P could rally into the FOMC meeting on expectations for no change in the post meeting statement.

When the S&P rallied on Thursday it came to a dead stop at 2065 which was resistance in January. With the three-day dip to 2040 and solid stop at 2065 that gives us our breakout targets for next week. A move outside either of those levels should give us market direction. I would not be surprised to see the 150-day average at 2019 to be tested.

Support 2019, 2040, resistance 2065, 2080.

SPX

At the low on Friday the Dow was down -265 points at 11:30. That makes the -145 at the close appear relatively tame. The Dow inexplicably rebounded off the 100-day average at 17,655 for the last three days. The Dow rarely honors any moving average but apparently somebody was watching last week and decided that was a decent place to put buy orders. Since very few people actually buy a Dow ETF that means somebody was buying Dow stocks. If we delve into this a little closer the answer appears. It was the three financial stocks, GS, AXP and JPM, that held up the Dow and kept it from falling under the 100-day. It was not that they powered the index higher but they did react positively to the banking stress test capital expenditure news and that kept the Dow from declining. United Health, Du Pont, Disney, Travelers and Verizon also contributed. They offset the obvious losers of Exxon, Chevron, GE, Visa and IBM.

When the Dow rebounded on Thursday’s short squeeze it came to an abrupt halt at 17,900 and resistance from January. This gives us our trading range for next week from 17,640 to 17,900. A move outside that range gives us market direction.

Dow

The Nasdaq lost -55 points or -1.1%. A funny thing happened on the Nasdaq. The decline came to a dead stop at old uptrend resistance at 4850. The index held up remarkably well and I think it could follow the Russell 2000 higher if the small caps continue their rebound next week. The Nasdaq chart is still in much better shape than the Dow and S&P and could be poised to return to the highs if the Fed makes no changes.

Apple quit going down and that was a major factor in the Nasdaq minimizing its losses. The other big caps were still bleeding points as you can see in the table below but Apple is the 800 pound gorilla and the post Apple Watch “sell the news” event knocked off $5 early in the week but remained flat the last three days.

Resistance 4900, 5000. Support 4850, 4730.

Compq

The Russell 2000 rebounded to close within 6 points of a new high on Thursday. Friday’s early decline was almost erased with only a -4 point loss to end -10 points from a new high. This is very bullish given the Dow and S&P losses on Friday. Per my comments above the lack of dollar impact on the small caps could make them the favorite of the investing class over the coming weeks. That does not mean they will soar while the rest of the indexes collapse but all things being equal if the big cap indexes are at least neutral the Russell could break out again. That could trigger buying in the bigger indexes.

Watch the Russell 200 closely next week. If the Fed does nothing the Russell could be the leading index. However, they would be hurt significantly by a change in Fed policy because they have a lot of debt and higher rates will hurt. Obviously nothing will change in the near future but a change in Fed policy will make investors more cautious well ahead of any rate hike.

Resistance 1242, support 1220, 1205.

RUT

Bonds/Interest Rates

Declining oil prices will likely continue to lower the consumer price index as well. Also known as the CPI, the inflation metric for the last two figures released on February 15th and March 13th showed a rate that is still falling under expectations. Inflation targets have been hard for the Federal Reserve to maintain and the drop in oil prices isn’t helping matters.

If inflation metrics can’t maintain high enough levels, that may force the Fed to refrain from raising interest rates later this year.

Morgan Stanley economist, Ellen Zentner, said the Fed will not raise rates until March 2016. She pointed out that for every 1% gain in the dollar it is the equivalent of a 14 basis point hike in rates because of the negative impact on the U.S. economy. The dollar is up +26.6% since May. That is the equivalent of a 3.72% hike in interest rates. While the Fed wants to raise rates the rapidly falling inflation and potential deflation risks simply point to the “data dependent” Fed being forced to wait on the sidelines. Zentner said even if the Fed does remove the word patient from the statement they are still not going to raise rates in 2015. They may remove the word just to create some volatility in the bond market and that will force real rates slightly higher without the Fed actually making a move. If they remove the word the equity market could have a tightening tantrum and the Fed has to consider that as well.

The building angst over the soaring dollar is finally translating into the equity market. With 45% of the S&P getting 50% of their earnings from overseas the dollar strength is going to be a major drag on Q1/Q2 earnings. Investors ignored this for the last several months but the daily decline in earnings estimates and the daily rise in the dollar has finally hit critical mass.

Dollar

In the ‘Art of War’, Sun Tzu said that ‘..the threat of an attack is almost as effective as the attack itself..’  The prospect of an interest rate hike in the US while the rest of the world is still easing catapulted the US cash US dollar index to a new eleven and a half year high.

At today’s high of 100.06, the 10 month and 4 day duration of the move from the 2014 low is the second-longest leg up since 1971. To match the record 11 month and 18 day run into the February 25, 1985 high, the greenback would have to post new highs on April 26.

On the monthly time-frame, the cash US dollar index has posted gains for eight-consecutive months. This is a record monthly winning streak.

Furthermore, the 27% rally from the May 8, 2014 low ties for second place as the largest leg up in history. It was bested only by the 30% advance off the March 1984 low.

The rising dollar continues to pressure oil and other commodities. The dollar index closed at 100.18 on Friday. That represents a 26.6% gain since May. This is almost unprecedented.

DollarDaily

DollarMonthly

The idiot light on investor dashboards is blinking red and warning of an impending crisis.

Market volatility has returned with back to back days of alternating three digit moves on the Dow and the 100-day average on the S&P acting like last ditch support. With 2.5 days left before the FOMC statement there was very little short covering ahead of the weekend.

Oil prices collapsed under the pressure of the dollar, rising inventories and a new U.S. production record. Falling oil prices helped drag equities lower and the $40 level for Crude could be hit next week.

Economic news did not help. The Producer Price Index (PPI) fell -0.5% for February after a -0.8% drop in the prior month. This is the fourth consecutive monthly decline. Expectations were for a +0.5% increase. For once it was not energy prices dragging down the index. Energy prices were unchanged thanks to that rebound in oil prices in February. It was a -1.6% decline in food prices that pushed the index lower. This comes after a -1.1% decline in January. How did this happen? Food prices almost never decline. You can thank the rising dollar pushing the prices of all commodities lower and slowing exports.

Core PPI, excluding food and energy, fell -0.5%. The headline PPI is now -0.7% lower than year ago levels and when compared to the +1.0% YoY in December it shows how fast prices are falling.

Not only is inflation nonexistent the risks of deflation have increased in recent months. There is almost zero chance the Fed is going to hike rates in the near future given the strong dollar and deflation risks.

Oil

LightCrude

Oil prices declined to $44.75 intraday and closing in on the January low of $43.58. Inventories rose 4.5 million barrels to another 8- year high at 448.9 million. Cushing storage rose to 51.5 million and just under the record of 51.9 million barrels. Active rigs declined another -67 to 1,125 and -806 below the September high of 1,931. Oil rigs declined -56 to 866 and -46% below the 1,609 high on October 10th. Baker Hughes is targeting a 50% decline as normal in a bear market so another -60 rigs if they are right. At the pace they are dropping I expect to be well below 800 active oil rigs. Active gas rigs declined another -11 to 257 and a new 18 year low.

Offshore rigs declined -3 to 48 and a multi-month low.

The conversation level over shrinking storage is reaching a crescendo. However, numerous energy analysts have come out over the last week saying there is 25-35% storage still available. The additional capacity is in the Houston area and in some tanks around the U.S. shale fields. That is like a driver looking for a 5 gallon gas can in Denver and having the service station attendant saying, “On the computer we have a dozen in Dallas.” If the storage is not where you need it then you still have a problem. With the futures delivery point at Cushing Oklahoma rapidly filling up the pipelines into Cushing will have to be turned off if/when capacity is reached. That means wells will have to shut down if the oil in the pipelines is not moving.

We could be 3-4 weeks away from a critical point for crude pricing. Refineries will come out of their maintenance cycle in early April and begin to produce summer blend gasoline ahead of the Memorial Day weekend that kicks off the summer driving season. Until then we should continue to see inventories build. However, imports did decline about 600,000 bpd last week to 6.79 mbpd. Refiners may also be feeling the storage crunch and will have to cut back on imports in the weeks ahead.

Analysts are expecting the January low of $43.58 to be tested and most believe we will see $40 before March is over. If Cushing does halt or curtail the inflow of oil we could see the prices decline in a hurry.

Precious Metals

Also due to pressure from the rising dollar, gold and silver prices are also being slammed. Gold declined to $1,150 and a 3-month low. Silver has fallen back to January 2010 levels at $15.50 and the 2011 spike to $50 has been completely erased. The drop in silver has been due to the dollar but in silver’s case it also represents a decline in the global economy. Like copper, silver is used in electronics manufacturing and demand has declined as fewer large devices are sold and more phones and tablets with less silver and copper. About 25% of the silver mined today is non-economic. That means they are losing money on every ounce they sell but they have to keep the mines running at a minimum level to maintain operational capability.

Gold

Silver stockpiles are shrinking as the current mine production is less than demand. Eventually prices will rise in spite of the soaring dollar but until the global economy recovers I expect copper and silver to remain weak.

Silver

Copper

Forecasts

The Bloomberg ECO Surprise Index measures the number of economic data beats and misses in the USA economic forecasts. The index has fallen to its lowest level since 2009 when we were in the middle of the Great Recession. Forecasts have been missed by the largest majority in the last six years. The only major report to beat has been the payrolls. Everything else has been routinely missing the estimates and the market has been ignoring it. Citigroup has their own chart of economic misses by country. The U.S. is at the bottom of the list on that index as well. Both charts from Bloomberg.

(click charts to expand in separate window)

Missing

Dissapointed

The Atlanta Fed’s real time GDPNow forecast fell from +1.2% growth for Q1 to only +0.6% growth after the retail sales report on March 12th. How could the FOMC raise rates in these conditions?

AtlFedWe are less than 2 months away from the 3rd longest streak of gains without a 10% correction. The last correction was in 2011. If the S&P did crater again next week all the way down to 2,000 that would still be only a garden variety -5% dip like we have seen many times before in this bull market. It is not the end of the world. The S&P could easily retest that 2,000 level soon.

SPX-W

The rebound by the Russell might give some hope for next week but the market will remain headline driven ahead of the FOMC announcement on Wednesday. What happens after that event is entirely up to the Fed.

I expected a market decline after option expiration and the last two weeks may have been just a testing phase ahead of that event. With earnings declining, GDP revisions sinking, China weakening, oil prices potentially testing $40, retail sales and consumer confidence falling and Greece threatening to exit the EU again, it would not take much of a push by the Fed to crash the market. Hopefully they understand the box they are in.

Greece

The Greek government announced it was going to use cash belonging to pension funds and other public entities for its own use. The amendment submitted in parliament said “Cash reserves of pension funds and other public entities kept in the Bank of Greece deposit accounts can be fully invested in Greek sovereign notes. Pension funds and public entities will be able to claim damages from Greek state in case of overdue repayment or partial repayment. The finance minister said pension funds are not required to transfer their reserves to the Bank of Greece. At least not yet.

The Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said last week, “Greece is the most bankrupt country in the world and European leaders knew all along that Athens would never repay its debts.” Greek Prime Minister Tsipras said, “Greece can’t pretend its debt burden is sustainable.” Apparently the house of cards is about to crumble.

Very Important

The Debt Ceiling debate returns next week. The temporary reprieve on the $18 trillion debt ceiling expires and congress will have to deal with it in some form. Whenever this has happened in the recent past there has been numerous headlines and market volatility. With a new crop of republicans in office there is bound to be some grandstanding even if it is just temporary. President Obama is not likely to compromise since it is in his favor to have the republicans self destruct over the debt fight. There is not likely to be a Obama-GOP compromise and that means there will be some ugly headlines before the GOP caves in and extends the ceiling. This is just one more reason why other nations want to be freed from using the dollar for their trading. The uncertainty is a headache for them because they really don’t understand American politics.

This is a quadruple witching option expiration week. This happens four times a year and historically these produce bullish weeks for the Dow and S&P about 2 out of 3 times. Since 1983 the Nasdaq has posted 19 advances and 13 declines in the March week. However, the week after quadruple witching, especially in March, is typically negative.

Random Thoughts

On March 16th, 2004 the post Fed statement had the following sentences.

(Hat tip to Art Cashin)

The Committee perceives the upside and downside risks to the attainment of sustainable growth for the next few quarters to be roughly equal. The probability of an unwelcome fall in inflation has diminished in recent months and now appears almost equal to that of a rise in inflation. With inflation quite low and resource use slack, the Committee believes that it can be patient in removing its policy accommodation.

In the May 4th, 2004 statement the Fed said:

The FOMC decided today to keep its target for the federal funds rate at 1%.

The Committee perceives the upside and downside risks to the attainment of sustainable growth for the next few quarters are roughly equal. Similarly, the risks to the goal of price stability have moved into balance. At this juncture, with inflation low and resource use slack, the Committee believes that policy accommodation can be removed at a pace that is likely to be measured.

In the June 30th, 2004 statement the fed said:

The FOMC decided today to raise its target for the federal funds rate by 25 basis points to 1.25%.

Apparently the Fed reuses its prior language a lot and conditions could be shaping up for a repeat of that 2004 scenario. However, economic conditions are significantly worse than in 2004 and that should keep these statements from being repeated.

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